My Year in Books, 2019
Novels, Literary Fiction
- Mostly Dead Things (2019), by Kristen Arnett
- Trust Exercise (2019), by Susan Choi
- The Book of X (2019), by Sarah Rose Etter
- How to Set Yourself On Fire (2018), by Julia Dixon Evans
- My Brilliant Friend (2011), by Elena Ferrante
- Cleanness (2020), by Garth Greenwell
- What Belongs to You (2016), by Garth Greenwell
- The Fortunes (2016), by Peter Ho Davies
- A River of Stars (2018), by Vanessa Hua
- Goodbye, Vitamin (2017), by Rachel Khong
- The Golden State (2018), by Lydia Kiesling
- The Education of Margot Sanchez (2017), by Lilliam Rivera
- No One Can Pronounce My Name (2017), by Rakesh Satyal
- Winter (2017), by Ali Smith
- Real Life (2020), by Brandon Taylor
Novels & Novellas, Speculative Fiction
- The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018), by Brooke Bolander
- Tiamat’s Wrath (2019), by James S. A. Corey
- This Is How You Lose the Time War (2019), by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
- The Lilies of the Dawn (2016), by Vanessa Fogg
- Magic for Liars (2019), by Sarah Gailey
- Three Parts Dead (2012), by Max Gladstone
- The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (1974), by Patricia A. McKillip
- Binti: Home (2017), by Nnedi Okorafor
- Dealing in Dreams (2019), by Lilliam Rivera
- Trail of Lightning (2018), by Rebecca Roanhorse
- The Ascent to Godhood (2019), by JY Yang
- The Book of Joan (2017), by Lidia Yuknavitch
- Felt in the Jaw (2017), by Kristen Arnett
- White Dancing Elephants (2018), by Chaya Bhuvaneswar
- Feathered Serpent / Dark Heart of Sky (2018), by David Bowles
- Exhalation (2019), by Ted Chiang
- Stories of Your Life and Others (2002), by Ted Chiang
- Her Body and Other Parties (2017), by Carmen Maria Machado
- Nosy White Woman (2019), by Martha Wilson
- A Fortune for Your Disaster (2019), by Hanif Abdurraqib
- Calling a Wolf a Wolf (2017), by Kaveh Akbar
- If They Come for Us (2018), by Fatimah Asghar
- They Call Me Güero (2018), by David Bowles
- Soft Science (2019), by Franny Choi
- Your Strange Fortune (2019), by Chloe N. Clark
- Our Debatable Bodies (2019), by Marisa Crane
- When My Brother Was an Aztec (2012), by Natalie Diaz
- Unyielding (2019), by Karl Gilman
- Deaf Republic (2019), by Ilya Kaminsky
- Whereas (2017), by Laylee Long Soldier
- Oceanic (2018), by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
- Feed (2019), by Tommy Pico
- Junk (2018), by Tommy Pico
- Nature Poem (2017), by Tommy Pico
- Why Can’t It Be Tenderness (2018), by Michelle Brittan Rosado
- My Private Property (2016), by Mary Ruefle
- The Year of Blue Water (2019), by Yanyi
- The Pedestrians (2014), by Rachel Zucker
- The Adventure Zone: Murder on the Rockport Limited (2019), by the McElroys and Carey Pietsch
- Saga, Vol. 2 (2013), by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
- Saga, Vol. 3 (2014), by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
- Saga, Vol. 4 (2014), by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
- Saga, Vol. 5 (2015), by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
- Saga, Vol. 6 (2016), by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Nonfiction & Other
- Go Ahead in the Rain (2019), by Hanif Abdurraqib
- The Pretty One (2019), by Keah Brown
- God Land (2019), by Lyz Lenz
- Gmorning, Gnight! (2018), by Lin-Manuel Miranda
- Bluets (2009), by Maggie Nelson
- The Collected Schizophrenias (2019), by Esmé Weijun Wang
Read Aloud with My Kids
- Ramona and Her Father (1977), by Beverly Cleary
- The Dark Is Rising (1973), by Susan Cooper
- Greenwitch (1974), by Susan Cooper
- The Grey King (1975), by Susan Cooper
- Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2009), by Grace Lin
- Esperanza Rising (2000), by Pam Muñoz Ryan
- The Sea of Monsters (2006), by Rick Riordan
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1999), by J. K. Rowling
- When You Reach Me (2009), by Rebecca Stead
50 Things That Mattered to Me in 2019
Today is the last day of the year, and it has become a bit of a tradition for me to send out my year-end list on this day. Year-end lists are, of course, always at least a little bit controversial, and I do dislike the idea of being exclusive, or of trying to say that one thing is deserving of your attention and another is not. For me, though, making a list like this is really just an opportunity to reflect on my own year, to look back and remember what moved me and think about why. It’s something I find useful, and I appreciate having space to do it out loud. So, here are fifty things that I experienced in 2019 that mattered to me, in roughly chronological order:
- Christina Xiong’s poem “The Cup in the Sink” puts venom and tenderness side-by-side in a way that is so beautiful and so true.
- Helena Fitzgerald’s newsletter Griefbacon has been a favorite of mine for years, and it has sadly come to an end as of today. One of my favorites from this year was from January, when she wrote about Jenny Lewis and the phenomenon of the Sad Hot Girl Singer.
- Lydia Kiesling’s novel The Golden State had in it perhaps the best depiction of the feeling of parenting a toddler that I’ve ever read. I also loved how it engaged with a part of my home state that’s often overlooked (even by me).
- Hannah Stephenson’s poem “SHOO” is about the difference between “nice” and “kind,” and I loved it.
- Esmé Weijun Wang’s essay collection The Collected Schizophrenias was both intense and nuanced, an intimate and affecting look at mental illness unlike anything I’ve read before.
- The late Stanley Plumly’s poem “At Night”, which was published only about a month before his death, is about memory and mortality. It’s profound, I think, and all the more so for its quietness.
- All My Relations is a podcast about Native issues, hosted by Dr. Adrienne Keene and Matika Wilbur. I found the first season interesting and educational, and I’m looking forward to what’s yet to come.
- Hanif Abdurraqib’s essay collection Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest was some of the best music writing I’ve ever read, giving both historical context and deeply personal reflections on one of the most influential hip-hop groups of the 1990s.
- M. NourbeSe Philip’s poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language” is remarkable for how it makes English strange, revealing and inverting the colonial gaze.
- In their essay “Impostor/Abuser: Power Dynamics in Publishing”, Sarah Gailey talked about how impostor syndrome can keep you from recognizing and taking responsibility for the power you have, and how that can be dangerous.
- The poems in Ilya Kaminsky’s book Deaf Republic were kind of terrifying, in the most necessary way.
- I listened to Scene On Radio’s two podcast series Seeing White and MEN, which go deep into racism and misogyny, respectively. If you want to understand the fundamental tensions of our time, these are essential listening.
- This interview between Carmen Maria Machado and Theodore McCombs is one of the wildest things I read all year, and the less I say, the better.
- Literary interview podcasts are a mainstay of my listening, and a new favorite which started this year is The Poet Salon. The conversations are engaging and smart and a lot of fun. If you, like me, are still missing The Poetry Gods, this goes a long way toward filling that hole.
- This episode of The Cut on Tuesdays is about the friendship between Nicole Cliffe and Daniel M. Lavery, and listening to it just made me happy.
- Cathy Ulrich is one of my favorite flash fiction writers. Her story “The Hole in the Center of Everything” has this haunted quality that she does so well.
- Engaging with masculinity was something of a theme for me this year, both in understanding how masculinity can be toxic and in looking for healthy forms of masculinity. One essay that stood out to me was Mark Greene’s “Why Do We Murder the Beautiful Friendship of Boys?”
- This song (and video) by David Sikabwe was just so adorable.
- When I started reading Rakesh Satyal’s novel No One Can Pronounce My Name, I thought I knew what it was going to be—another harrowing story of immigrant trauma. I turned out to be wrong in the most delightful way. What a wonderful, funny, big-hearted, lovely story it turned out to be.
- Maggie Tokuda-Hall wrote about fertility and violation and baking and control and it was beautiful and heartbreaking and enraging. (CW: sexual violence)
- I liked Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach’s poem “The moon is showing” because it is about butts, and because of the way it moves from emotion to emotion, from humor to sensuality to shame to transcendance.
- Emma Hunsinger’s New Yorker cartoon “How to Draw a Horse” is so sweet and lovely, gentle to her younger self.
- Jonny Sun, who many of us know for his particularly wonderful Twitter presence or for his book Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too, gave a lovely TED talk this year about loneliness and vulnerability and connection.
- Yanyi’s book The Year of Blue Water resists categorization—it’s poetry and it’s essay and it’s both and neither. I appreciated how the book is confident in being wholly itself.
- Sarah Gailey’s novel Magic for Liars is a detective story set in a magical high school, and it is so good.
- One of my favorite literary podcasts, Storyological, had its final episode this year, which I was sad about, but which was also perhaps the best possible conclusion to a show I loved.
- Katie Ford’s poem “Sonnet 31” has this feeling of ambivalence to it, by which I mean not that it is apathetic but rather that it is pulled equally in two directions, and it is that tension in which we live, I think.
- Natalie Eilbert’s poem “Crescent Moons” is about the aftermath of sexual assault, and it is breathtaking in its immediacy and potency.
- I got to see more movies this year than I had gotten to in a while, and probably the one that has stuck with me the most is The Farewell. To me, this film was quintessentially Asian American in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced before, and it was wonderful getting to see it.
- I’ve been enjoying US poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s podcast The Slowdown for a while now. Over the summer, she read A. A. Milne’s poem “Spring Morning”, which has this lovely innocence to it, a sense of wonder that I recognized and that I try to hold onto when I’m out in the world.
- In her poem “Litany”, Chloe N. Clark writes “maybe what I want most is to grow / back into exclamations,” which is one of the things I want, too.
- CJ Hauser’s essay “The Crane Wife” is about self-erasure and leaving a bad relationship and finding her way toward herself.
- I think the book that I loved the most this year, the most beautiful book I read, was Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s time-traveling, lesbian, spy-vs-spy, epistolary novel This Is How You Lose the Time War. That description, while accurate, cannot contain how simply gorgeous this story is.
- Sarah Rose Etter’s novel The Book of X is about a woman born with a literal knot in her body. The writing is so physical, and the story is surreal, grotesque, even gross at times. For all that it is a fantastic story, though, it is one that embodies truths about being a woman in the world that resonate deeply.
- Danez Smith’s poem “acknowledgments” has in it the lines “& how many times have you loved me without my asking? / how often have i loved a thing because you loved it? / including me.” It’s one of the poems about love that felt most true and memorable to me this year.
- In her debut essay collection, The Pretty One, my friend Keah Brown discusses disability, pop culture, representation, and her own journey to self-love. I’m so happy that this book is in the world.
- Tommy Pico’s fourth “Teebs” book, Feed is perhaps my favorite of the tetralogy. It has all of the fire, humor, and insight that the previous three have, but it also has certain sweetness to it that complemented the other emotions, rounding it in a way that felt authentic and complete.
- There has been a lot of good music this year, but the album that I have listened to the most was without question the Steven Universe The Movie soundtrack. Partly this is because it’s music I can listen to with my kids, partly it’s because I like to sing along. But mainly it’s because that show and the movie are just wonderful portrayals of friendship and family, and I love the way it makes me feel.
- In September, Mother Jones published an interview between an anonymous staffer and her mother, about the mother’s abortion. I don’t think abortion is a topic that ever will be an easy topic, and maybe it shouldn’t be. The way this conversation humanizes the discussion is, I think, necessary.
- There is a moment in Lucy Dacus’ cover of "Dancing in the Dark where everything pauses for just a brief second of silence, and it was probably the most transcendent moment of music for me this whole year.
- I got to read an advance copy of Brandon Taylor’s forthcoming novel Real Life, and it is everything that I would have dreamed a Brandon Taylor novel would be. It is a campus novel, a story about what we ask of each other, how we do and don’t see each other. It’s brutal at times, intimate at others, and beautiful throughout.
- One of my favorite narrative podcasts for the past few years has been the McElroys’ role-playing show The Adventure Zone. Their second big series wrapped up this year, and, yes, the finale did make me cry.
- Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s poem “If In Its Advance the Plague Begins to Fiercen” stretches language but the message is still quite clear.
- One of my favorite new podcasts and a consistent source of joy lately has been McKenzie Goodwin and Chuck Tingle’s show My Friend Chuck. It’s funny, generous of spirit, inclusive, and just decent. Just two buckaroos proving love is real.
- Ross Sutherland’s experimental audio fiction podcast Imaginary Advice released its fifth anniversary episode this fall, an audio version of a novelization of the 1995 Jackie Chan film Rumble in the Bronx. It is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds, and it is also truly sublime.
- As I do every year, I attended the Medium Festival of Photography this October. Of all the work I saw at this year’s festival, it was Anna Grevenitis’ series Regard that has stuck with me the most. In this series, Grevenitis makes images in collaboration with her daughter—who has Down syndrome—inverting the gaze and challenging the viewer, exerting control over the image and the perspective.
- What’s Good, Man? is a new podcast by rappers Guante and tony the scribe in which they discuss masculinity, and particularly ways that men can engage with healthier forms of masculinity. We so often hear that men need to have these conversations more often, so it’s nice to see two men doing this work, and doing it well.
- One of the most talked-about new audio dramas in the past few months (at least, that I’ve seen) has been James Kim’s series MOONFACE. The series starts in media res in a sex club, so you will know right away whether or not it’s for you. For me, I thought that it was brilliant in both concept and execution, telling the story of a young gay Korean American man who literally doesn’t speak the same language as his mother, and who is struggling to make something out of his life.
- I’ve mentioned masculinity several times in this list already. Well, one of the people I’ve looked to a lot recently as a role model for a gentler masculinity is Mr. Rogers, and so Carvell Wallace‘s new podcast Finding Fred has been wonderful for me. In this series, Wallace looks at Mr. Rogers’ life and philosophy, and wrestles with how to apply those teachings as an adult in the world today. It’s exactly what I’ve been thinking about lately, and what I needed to hear.
- Finally, just this week I listened to the full 7-episode run of the audio drama The Tower, which follows a woman’s journey as she climbs a seemingly endless tower. I thought the writing and performances were top-notch, and I found the story haunting. I just love the way podcasts are continuing to grow as a medium, and this is a great example of what’s happening right now.
As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me this year. If you’re reading this then you got through 2019, and that matters to me, too. I don’t know what 2020 will bring, but I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that our work pays off, that we can find respite and joy, and that we all get what we need. I hope that you—you—get what you need.
New LikeWise Fiction: "The Friend," by Lindsay Hatton
Episode 6 of LikeWise Fiction features "The Friend," by Lindsay Hatton. In this story, a WWI veteran comes to the Big Sur coast to oversee the construction of an iconic bridge, and strikes up an unlikely friendship with an unusual stranger.
Listen to the story at:
You can also listen to the full episode and read the story text at the episode page on the LikeWise Fiction website.
Subscribers to the Likewise Media Patreon campaign at the $5 level and above can hear my special bonus interview with Lindsay Hatton. In our conversation, Lindsay and I talked about her fascination with masculinity and male interactions, the haunted quality of the Northern California coastline, and the relationship between humanity and landscape in "The Friend."
You're not a problem to be solved, you're a person
Recently I’ve been listening to the podcast Finding Fred, in which writer Carvell Wallace talks about Mr. Rogers’ life and work, and wrestles with how to apply Mr. Rogers’ ideas as an adult in 2019. It’s a wonderful show, one that I’ve been enjoying and which has been making me get choked up regularly. More than that, though, I’ve been realizing lately just how much Mr. Rogers’ approach to children aligns very much with the way I've come to see just about every human interaction. Earlier this week I was listening to episode 9 of Finding Fred, and this quotation from child development researcher Junlei Li jumped out at me:
“One of the things that Fred taught is that, in a child, every behavior is a way the child communicates an underlying need. If we were to apply that not just to children but to grown-ups, we may find a behavior objectionable, or we may find something that someone says objectionable, we may find another person's opinion objectionable, but if we look deeper and see what is the human need behind that, it doesn't mean we have to agree with their opinions and actions and words, but it does mean that we should and can have empathy and have a connection with the underlying human need.”
Let me back up a bit. Over the past few years I have gone through what feels to me to have been a radical change in how I understand myself and how I exist in relation to other people. Back in 2016 I was going through a difficult and stressful period, and in particular I was having a lot of trouble managing the anxiety and anger and shame I felt around my interactions with other people, whether that be my wife or my family of origin or just the people I talked to online. I started seeing a therapist, which led to a profound shift in how I understood the concepts of obligation, expectation, responsibility, and generosity.
In one of our early sessions, my therapist encouraged me to seek out a video showing a workshop on nonviolent communication by the late Marshall Rosenberg. The video is over three hours long, so she said I could just watch parts of it to get the idea, but I ended up watching the whole thing over the course of several days of breakfasts and lunch breaks and down time before bed. In the workshop, Rosenberg covers a lot about nonviolent communication, what it is, how to apply it, and so on. But it all rests on the same idea that Junlei Li expressed in the above quotation: that everything people do is an expression of some underlying need. More than that, our behaviors are ultimately attempts to get our needs met, but most of us go about trying to get our needs met in ways that don’t actually work. When our kids act out, when we judge or criticize, when we act in anger, when we are violent, when we exclude or even oppress, all of those are what Rosenberg describes as “tragic expressions of unmet needs.” The tragedy is, of course, that we inflict suffering on others in order to try to meet our needs, but in the end those needs remain unmet.
I think that kindness, generosity, compassion, and empathy are natural impulses common to all people. But, by and large, we cannot be kind, generous, compassionate, or empathetic unless our own needs are sufficiently met, and not just our physical needs—air, food, water, shelter—but also our emotional needs. Everyone needs to feel safe. Everyone needs to feel connection. Everyone needs to feel some sense of belonging. It’s only once those needs are met that we have the energy and awareness to spare to truly consider other people’s needs. But here’s the thing: if our needs are met, by and large, we do start considering other people more. We do get kinder and more generous and compassionate.
If I have any kind of philosophy or manifesto for life these days, it’s this: people are not problems to be solved, they are people. It goes into everything. Parenting: your children are not problems to be solved, they are people. Marriage: your spouse is not a problem to be solved, they are a person. Career: your coworkers or employees are not problems to be solved, they are people. It even, as I see it, goes into activism. That is to say, the ills of the world—bigotry, exploitation, oppression—these are ultimately the same “tragic expressions of unmet needs” as a toddler’s meltdown. People have needs, and when they’re not taught how to go about meeting those needs, they try to get them met in ways that hurt other people. But when a person’s needs are sufficiently fulfilled, they’re able to think past themselves and care about other people, and, by and large, they do.
Seeing the need behind people’s behavior helps me feel less anxious, less judged, less resentful. It helps me set boundaries without shame. It helps me be more giving, more compassionate, more kind. But, and this is important: compassion and kindness aren’t the same as condoning harmful behavior. Acknowledging the human need underneath someone else’s harmful behavior doesn’t make that behavior acceptable. If anything, it’s just the opposite—by seeing the need, we can see how that need remains unmet, how ineffective and counterproductive the harmful behavior is at meeting the true need.
In the Finding Fred podcast, Carvell Wallace spends a lot of time on the question of whether we ought to have empathy for bad people. He and his guests talk about how Mr. Rogers always said “I like you just the way you are,” and wonder whether they have to like, for example, white supremacists just the way they are. But I think this is the wrong way to frame this question, because empathy is not about excusing or condoning harm. Rather, I believe—as Marshall Rosenberg believes—that it is possible for us all to get our actual needs met, and it is only through empathy for both ourselves and others that we can understand what those needs are, and then go about the work of meeting our own needs. It’s only when everyone’s needs are met that we’ll be in a just, compassionate, and sustainable human world.
I know that it’s a big, difficult thing, to have empathy for everyone, to let go of judgment and anger and fear. It’s no less difficult for me, and I am far from perfect at it. I understand, too, how much it’s asking, to ask someone who is already suffering to do even harder work. I understand how that might seem unjust—how it might actually be unjust. And I absolutely understand how much more the burden of empathy ought to fall on the oppressor than it does on the oppressed. But I just can’t get away from the idea that the real answer to injustice is empathy. I don’t how or if we’ll ever get there. But I hope we do.
New LikeWise Fiction: "Spirit of Home," by José Pablo Iriarte
Episode 5 of LikeWise Fiction features "Spirit of Home," by José Pablo Iriarte. In this story, a migrant father and daughter on Mars are brought together by a taste of home.
Listen to the story at:
You can also listen to the full episode and read the story text at the episode page on the LikeWise Fiction website.
Thoughts on podcast intros
I was listening to Chuck Tingle and McKenzie Goodwin’s podcast My Friend Chuck this morning and thinking about how much I enjoy their introductory banter. It got me to thinking about podcast intros and how divisive they can be. Some people love them, some people hate them. I think what it comes down to, really, is whether you listen to podcasts more for their content (and therefore you mainly think of them as a conduit for delivering that content) or whether you listen to them more for their personalities. Obviously, there is a lot of overlap. I think most listeners respond to the hosts on a personal level, and want the hosts to be interesting or genial or entertaining. And I think most people also want the content to be compelling. But I think it’s a meaningful distinction and one worth thinking about when considering what kind of show you want to make and what kind of audience you hope to attract.
The most common complaint I hear about podcast intros is that they are a waste of time, that people don’t want to hear all the “blah blah blah,” and would rather just skip straight to the good stuff. I think that makes sense if you’re listening mainly for content. I think in extreme cases, this kind of listener might think of the hosts as incidental or interchangeable—it’s not the host that matters, it’s everything else. That’s a bit reductive, of course, because I think most people understand on some level that the host’s style and demeanor and the qualities of their voice does make a difference in how the rest of the content is framed and delivered.
On the other hand, there are listeners who don’t mind intro monologues or banter, or who actively enjoy such. And I think this speaks to another aspect of podcasting people talk about a lot, which is the intimacy, and the relationship between listener and show/host. You hear this all the time, right? How having a podcaster’s voice in your head on a regular basis makes them a part of your inner life. How it almost feels like you’re friends or even family, even though intellectually you know that you’ve never met or even spoken.
Again, I do think there’s a lot of overlap here, because many people who dislike intros can still feel that relationship or connection to a show or its hosts. And many people who feel that connection will still get bored with some episodes if the content isn’t there.
I suspect that part of this also has to do with what kind of shows one gravitates toward. If you’re mainly listening to interview shows or round-table discussion shows or the ubiquitous “two guys talking” type of show, I think you’re more likely to feel that personal connection. (My gut feeling is also that the more DIY or casual sounding the podcast is, the more you may feel that connection—assuming that it is interesting or well-produced enough that you stay listening.)
On the other hand, if you’re mainly listening to news or news-adjacent shows, or if you’re listening to highly produced feature shows (e.g. Radiolab, This American Life) or documentary shows (e.g. Serial, S-Town), you might be listening more for the segments than the interstitials. That format of show tends to give you a lot less visibility into the host’s life or personality, often have rotating hosts, and just generally give you less time with the host. The structure of the show reflects this—the host talks during the interstitials, not the segments.
Not to say that you never get personality in these shows. I think that long-time listeners of This American Life do have a sense of who Ira Glass is, for example. And certainly his sensibility shapes the show. But that’s not really a focus of the show. Compare this with a show like WTF, where even though ostensibly the draw is the interview, the whole episode is run through and through with Marc Maron’s personality and point of view. In a lot of ways I think people listen more for him than for the guests.
Personally, I do listen to shows like Radiolab and This American Life and other reported or production-forward shows. I listen to a lot shows in that category, actually. But I find that I’m also much more likely to skip episodes of those shows if I’m not interested in the topic. On the other hand, the shows where I come back for almost every episode tend to be the ones where I’m connecting at least as much with the hosts as with the content. Some examples: Pop Culture Happy Hour, Between the Covers, VS, Commonplace, WMFA, My Friend Chuck, The Adventure Zone. These don’t all involve intro monologues or banter, but for the ones that do, I tend to find that part just as interesting and satisfying to listen to as the “content” portion of the show. And I think that speaks to the power of that personal connection.
None of this is to say that one way or the other is better or “right.” Each has its advantages and disadvantages. But I do think that that personal connection is something that encourages long-term audience retention and deeper audience engagement. And so if that’s something you want to do with your show, it can be worthwhile to think about how to format and structure your show to allow that kind of engagement. It could mean intro monologues/banter, but it could be something else. The point here isn’t to force it or to be presentational about it, but rather to think about how you can allow opportunities for your authentic personality to come through in your show. How can your listeners get to know you? I think that’s an important question to consider.
This isn’t to say that it’s sufficient to just say “Well, I’m an interesting person so people will obviously want to listen to whatever I have to say.” There’s still craft involved in making a show for an audience. Aside from which, a lot of podcast newbies tend to overestimate just how interesting they actually are. This is why you end up with so many “three guys with a microphone talking about nothing” shows.
(To be clear, it’s perfectly fine to make a podcast just for yourself and your friends, just so that you can have fun. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But if you want to make a show other people want to listen to, it does take more than that.)
Putting yourself and your personality into your show can be a really great way to create a loyal audience, I think. And so thinking about how to do that can be useful. But I think it’s important that it not be done cynically. It needs to be something that fits you. For myself, I quit doing personal monologues in my show a while ago, and now in my intros I just introduce the guest and do some show-related housekeeping. I do like having a venue to present my own thoughts, but it just never felt right for Keep the Channel Open, and writing the monologues was a lot of work. Even without the personal monologues, though, I think that KTCO does have a lot of opportunity for people to get to know me as the host, because the way I structure the interview portion of the show is very conversational and not just question-answer-question-answer. The monologues I used to do were intentionally about trying to create a connection with listeners, to keep them coming back even if they didn’t know the guest, but doing it that way always felt forced. Letting the interactions in my conversations speak for themselves is more organic and authentic for me.
Interestingly, LikeWise Fiction has a lot less opportunity for me appear as me during the “content” portion of the show, because I’m trying to present the story and its characters, not me. But, conversely, I can put more of me into the intro and outro when commenting on the story. I find that interesting, anyway. The intro monologues I did for KTCO were modeled on what Maron does in WTF (though in my own style and voice, not his), but that didn’t work for me. It just wasn’t a good fit. Meanwhile, the intro/outro commentary I do in LikeWise Fiction is modeled on what LeVar Burton does on LeVar Burton Reads, as well as a bit on the interview portions of the New Yorker: Fiction podcast and The Other Stories podcast. And this does feel right to me.
All this is just to say that I think it’s okay for some people to hate intro monologues and for some people to love them, that finding a way to connect with your audience is good, and doing it in a way that authentically fits you is best.