This is Muira, your resident podcast reviewer, checking in. Thank you for flooding my inbox with your favorite episodes (from all imaginable genres and in many different languages!). Please keep them coming. This week’s podcasts take on a range of different topics, from biohacking to bawling to Buddha. I’m going to dive into fiction podcasts next week, so stay tuned, all you sci-fi, romance, and horror fans. I haven’t forgotten you, and I think many of us could use the escape.
Just a reminder, about the column, cause we’re super-duper new! I’m committed to:
- digging through the archives
- shining a light on marginalized and minority voices
- reviewing different podcasts each week
- listening to every podcast rec you send me (yep, I’m serious)
Please email thoughts, rambles, and wisdom to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM me on Twitter.
Let’s Make Mistakes
Don’t Just Jam Magnets in your Hand
Kara Platoni, a crazy cool science journalist, knows a few things about hacking perception. She’s here to talk about biohacking collectives and people, who wish their lifespans could be decoupled from their bacon intake. Platoni gives an incredible rundown of some of the legal and biological issues that human bodies face. She tackles so many questions in just under an hour. What makes us humans so unexceptional? What does it mean to be a hacker, maker, grinder, thinker, tinkerer in the 21st century? How do we make patterns out of chaos, and what in the world is vision, really? Listen to this episode, please. Just do it. It’s chock-full of gems about free speech, disability studies, neurodiversity, and the wonders of wearables. Plus, you’ll get to learn all about smell libraries and how to write a book on a zero-dollar budget.
Sentence of note: “A lot of the biohackers I met are motivated by the idea that the standard issue human body kinda sucks.”
Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
Confusion: Mudbloods and Murmurs (Book 2, Chapter 7)
Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile examine the tricky, thorny issue of racism through the beloved lens of Harry Potter. What can be gained by treating the Harry Potter series as a sacred text? What happens when confusion turns to clarity in public? How much can our guts tell us when we’re confused? This episode dives into the seamy underbelly of malice, Malfoy, and Mudbloods. It is a multifaceted meditation on how to empower people hurt by hatred words. The hosts of this show, two graduates of Harvard’s Divinity School, are digging into J.K. Rowling’s dear syllables for spiritual guidance. Regardless of your own feelings on faith, there’s a solid chance you’ll find strength and serenity in this pearl of a podcast.
Sentence of note: “I love that you would think that yes, as we grow older, we start sounding more Hungarian!”
The Loving Project
Episode 2: Olivia and John
This podcast just might steal your heart. It’s a modern celebration of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the Supreme Court case that declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. This episode—the second in the series—features an interview with Olivia, a Filipino-American woman, and John, a white guy from Pittsburgh. Olivia talks about adaptation, immigration, and getting flak from other Filipino-Americans. John reflects on his own racial identity and meeting the in-laws. Together, they probe what it means to be American and what the future might hold for biracial children in the United States. It’s a short ep that would appeal to fans of More Perfect and Modern Love.
Sentence of note: “I think she was just happy that I wasn’t going to die single.”
Games People Play
Episode 7: The Crying (Not the Movie) Game
It is okay to cry, to bawl, to weep, to wail. You know it. We know it. I know it. In this episode, two sisters out in western Massachusetts talk about tears: the good, the bad, the ugly. They look at the rules and expectations around who gets to cry. How does society dictate when, where, and how we process pain? To what extent is crying a game? Who are the players? There’s a lot of healthy debate here about norms, vulnerability, stigmas, sadness, and reflexive crying as well as shout-outs to some very topical empathy games. But, you don’t have to be a gamer to love this podcast. You don’t even have to be a person, who cries. Seriously. This one’s for everyone with tear ducts.
Sentence of note: “I have a note here that says, ‘Hannah, crying is like vaginas.’”
Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People
Episode 21: Make Fruits Baskets Great Again
The archive of this podcast is lovely, dark, and deep, but this is the one episode you should listen to before you sleep. Back in July 2016, comedian Chris Gethard spent an hour talking to a committed Trump supporter, a domestic abuse survivor. For those of you not yet acquainted with the show, all of his conversations are completely anonymous; names, when spoken, are bleeped out. We’re going to go ahead and give our highest recommendation to this ep, because it models constructive discussion instead of hateful banter. You’re not apt to agree with all opinions expressed, and that’s exactly why you should give this episode a chance, regardless of how you’re feeling, regardless of how you lean ideologically. There are some unexpectedly good tidbits on robots, love, peace, and political partisanship in this hour-long conversation.
Sentence of note: “I don’t hate anybody, just my ex-husband. And I don’t hate anybody. Just him.”
Episode 15: He’s Neutral
This is a how-to-guide for what to do when your neighborhood gets a mile-high garbage pile up. The answer is simple: Go buy a Buddha statue. That is the main message here from Dan Stevenson, a non-Buddhist, who got a little tired of a big problem facing his local community and came up with an incredibly innovative solution. This is the kind of narrative that’s simultaneously hilarious and profound. It’s the story of a shrine that was not supposed to exist, a Buddha that wasn’t supposed to be. This is a particularly good listen for folks fond of conversations about urban planning, for people who care deeply about how towns tick and tock.
Sentence of note: “If we threw Christ up there, he’s controversial; everybody’s got a deal about him. But, Buddha…nobody seems to be that perturbed in general about a Buddha.”
Cavern of Secrets
Let this be a reminder that Canada is home, not just to Justin Trudeau but also to an insane number of off-the-charts cool podcasts. Cavern of Secrets from Hazlitt is by women, but for all of us. This episode starts out with a hilarious tale involving a grandmother, a prank, and a whole lot of pot. In many ways, it’s an ode to family weirdness, to boundaries, and to wonderful accents. Canadian writer Namugenyi Kiwanuka talks to Lauren Mitchell about a hodgepodge of topics that matter greatly in our post-inaugural times: parenthood, immigration, mental health, suicide, emotional pain, and how we tell stories about ourselves.
Sentence of note: “My uncle, who was not a dummy, had given her something that looked a lot like tomatoes in the early stages. My uncle had given her seeds to grow marijuana.”
Girl Friday with Erin Gloria Ryan
Maybe you just picked up Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day (2017) from your bookstore but have some lingering questions about microdosing on LSD. Maybe you’ve never done drugs in your life. Maybe you take acid all day long. Wherever you live on the substance spectrum, this episode is special, because, well, frankly, almost everything guest Lauren Duca of Teen Vogue does is a thing of beauty. This interview is no exception. A PSA to moms wondering how to text and stay in touch with their daughters, parents trying to figure out “internet things,” women worrying about navigating life in our current America: This is empowering stuff. Is Lauren Duca the Michael Jordan of writing? What’s with parents, who capitalize every single word in their text messages? (Bless them.) How can women squash all the trolls slinging age-based insults online? Big questions, many answers, infinite laughs.
Our suggestion: Pair listening to this episode with Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People’s Episode 21.
Sentence of note: “I hope I get Japanese encephalitis in Nepal.”
Episode 14: The Things We Carry
Meet Ivy Onyeador and Rhiana Gunn-Wright. In this episode, this witty and wondrous duo grapples with the pain of mental distress; it’s a discussion on how we come to terms with the things that we carry, the feelings and thoughts that weigh us to the ground. Let’s get real about The Get for just one second. This podcast should be on your radar. It’s a cauldron of compassion for your ears. It’s produced by a team of women of color, who are asking big questions about our brains and ourselves. This episode might make you cry. It made us cry, but it also made us laugh. There’s no real way to summarize a conversation that touches on so many countless themes, that looks at so many different aspects of depression. Major thanks to Rhiana Gunn-Wright for finding such beautiful syllables to describe such a terrifying topic and for sharing such an empowering narrative in such a public sphere. And yes, we just used the word “such” four times. We simply don’t care.
NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts
You make it to the end of the roundup. So, you don’t need me to tell you about Dessa, this beautiful mind, this lovely artist from Minnesota. You just need to listen to her rap, sing, speak, and soar.
Lyrics of note: “I didn’t come looking for love / I didn’t come to pick a fight.”
Raised on a strict diet of NPR and C-SPAN, Muira McCammon is a war crimes researcher by day and a podcast reviewer for Paste Magazine by night. She can be found on Twitter @muira_mccammon or walking about the woods of western Massachusetts. Her writing has previously appeared in Slate, Waypoint by VICE, Atlas Obscura, the Massachusetts Review, and other publications.