I'm not sure what I did with my life before podcasts, because these days, I listen to about 20 on regular rotation. What was I doing before when I was cleaning the house, driving, on a bus or subway, or out running or walking? I have no idea. But these days, I would qualify myself as a podcast junkie (though I consider it one of my healthier habits).
And podcasts keep getting better and better, with more variety in voices, topics and perspectives. For those of us who are auditory learners (that's second only to reading as a way for me to learn), it's a great way to pick up new information on subjects you love and unlike the written word, it's a great place for real-time debates and conversations.
In no particular order, my favorite new podcasts of 2015:
"Another Round" with Heben and Tracy is a variety show at its core, but it's way modern: Interviews with famous and influential guests; jokes (many of which are absurdist — my favorite kind!); advice about mental health (the ladies provide real-life tactics for managing anxiety and depression, which they have experience with); and awesome rants about being a black woman in America that are brilliant, thought-provoking and that amazing mixture of being plain old funny and butt-kickingly smart. Listening to these women makes me want to do something to make the world a better place.
"Invisibilia" has gotten lots of press this year, and for good reason. Co-hosts Alix Spiegel's and Lulu Miller's show is "... about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions." It's always compelling, and by turns disturbing, weird and assumption-shattering. From stories about a woman with mirror-touch synesthesia to a man who sees with his ears because he's blind, to first-hand reporting on what it's like to live without fear, "Invisibilia" will challenge what you think you know about being human. The podcast will be joined by Atlantic magazine's Hanna Rosin for season 2.
"Criminal" is "Stories of people who've done wrong, been wronged, or gotten caught somewhere in the middle." The show's host, Phoebe Judge, never approaches a crime the same way twice, and the episode I listened to yesterday even covered what it's like to handle the media when a family member's brutal shooting makes headlines. That's definitely not a side of a crime story I've heard tackled before. Ultimately, many of the episodes are just human stories, with a crime at their center (but others are more procedural). I find this show fascinating.
"Death, Sex & Money" is hosted by Anna Sale and covers the aforementioned topics, which Sale rightly points out "We need to talk about more." This is one of the few podcasts where I don't listen to every episode. Sometimes, the guests don't interest me, but when they do, Sale's interviewing skills knock other hosts' out of the park. Her conversation about how women's rights have and haven't changed over the past 50 years with Ellen Burstyn was by turns funny and weepy, and I listened to it twice. Her series of conversations with New Orleans residents 10 years post-Katrina had me sobbing in the car — and also ebullient. (This podcast debuted at the end of 2014, but I didn't find it until 2015, so I'm including it here.)
"Reply All" is a show "about the Internet" but as anyone who spends time online knows, the Internet covers the vast spectrum of being human and humanity — and so does this show, finding the utterly unique ways online culture is changing us. I learn something every time I tune in even though I spend my days (and too many nights) online.
"Mystery Show" has some serious quirk going on (not to mention rambling off-topic reports, questionable reporting and a whole lot of heart), so it's definitely not for everyone, but I loved it. Each episode revolved around solving a real-life mystery — without using the Internet. Clocking in at just six episodes, I remember two of them vividly even months later, which to me says quite a bit about the power and fun of Starlee Kine's epic storytelling of what amount to mundanities.
"Gastropod" also first debuted at the end of 2014, but it didn't get into full swing until 2015. A show about the science and history of food, co-hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley brave all kinds of culinary challenges, from seaweed (which got a full and fascinating episode) to foods grown from ancient seeds, to vintage cocktails. I love "Gastropod" because it makes me question why I eat what I eat — and how I cook it.
And if you're new to podcasts and want some more recommendations, here's my list of Old Favorites That Are Still Killing It:
"Lore," hosted by Aaron Mahnhe, is a new podcast to me; I just found it a few months ago, so I'm very much enjoying listening to the archive of bite-sized horror stories. They are well-researched, expertly told and creepy as all get-out.
"Strangers" is about the "...true stories about people we meet, the heartbreaks we suffer, the kindnesses we encounter, and those frightful moments when we discover that we aren't even who we thought we were." Host Lea Thau gets very personal on some episodes and lets her guests go there in other episodes. Whether the episode is about Lea herself or her guest, she always succeeds in getting you very close to a person you will likely never meet.
"Love & Radio" has the greatest collection of absolutely weird stories about strange people I've found. If you're into the self-told stories of elderly sex maniacs, shut-ins with guns and random street teenagers (and I confess that I am!) you can hear them on this podcast.
"Selected Shorts" are fiction (and sometimes nonfiction) stories performed by actors, sometimes quite famous ones, and it's amazing how stories really come alive in a whole new way when voiced by professionals.
"The Moth" is a long-running set of live shows in various cities that describes itself as "true stories, told live without notes." The podcast compiles the best of the best stories told live by regular people (and occasional celebs and actors). All nonfiction, the stories run the gamut from hilarious to heartbreaking.
Slate's "Culture Gabfest" is one of Slate's prolific number of podcasts, including ones on parenting, sports, politics and more. I love the culture gabfest for its thoughtful coverage of books, movies, music and TV shows.
Slate's "DoubleX Gabfest" is the best discussion of ideas, events and controversies about women's issues out there, with erudite, funny and thoughtful hosts and guests and balanced coverage of both serious topics (rape culture, female politicians, abortion legislation, books) and frivolous ones (Kardashians, "Jane the Virgin," Justin Trudeau's hair).
"Freakonomics Radio" still baffles me with how, week after week, it makes economics topics completely fascinating and relatable to someone like myself, who can hardly pay her bills on time.
"The New Yorker Fiction Podcast" features well-known writers reading their favorite stories from the magazine (which could be recently published or from 35 years ago).
"Radiolab" is a show about curiosity (and most often covers science-based topics with a twist), that features some of the best storytelling I've ever heard (no put intended!)
"This American Life" is to my mind at least, the grandfather of all the other shows on this list, the (formerly radio-only, now podcasted) multi-story audio show.