If You're Stuck at Home and Need Something to Listen to
It occurred to me this morning that in the near future—or perhaps already—some people may find themselves stuck at home for an extended period of time, looking for something to do. And that, if that were the case, some podcast recommendations might be welcome. If that sounds useful to you, well, here you go: 36 podcasts that I find bingeable or otherwise suitable for long listens, organized roughly by genre. I'll try to include content notes where appropriate.
Audio Dramas/Audio Fiction:
Most of these are either limited run shows or have defined seasons/arcs that make them very bingeable. A couple are ongoing shows that I still find good for back-to-back listening. In alphabetical order:
- I have been a humongous fan of The Adventure Zone for years now. It's an actual-play RPG show by the McElroy family, and it is both funny and engaging, with delightful characters and excellent storytelling. So far there have been two complete arcs (each arc is a complete and independent story) and a third is ongoing, and there have been several mini-arcs and one-offs. I recommend starting from the beginning. (Content notes: strong language, comic violence)
- Mermaid Palace's audio drama Asking For It is an adaptation of the Goldilocks tale, a story about a young queer woman, music, and the cycle of abuse. Excellent writing and voice acting. (Content notes: intimate partner abuse, drugs, strong language, explicit sexual content)
- The Big Loop is an audio drama anthology, with almost all of the stories told in the first person. Includes both speculative and realist fiction, and really well done. So far, my favorite ep is the SF story "You." (Content notes: some episodes include strong language and mature themes)
- George the Poet's show Have You Heard George's Podcast? combines hip hop, spoken word, and audio drama to deliver both insightful musings about creativity and incisive social commentary. Sounds unlike any other show I know of.
- Ross Sutherland's show Imaginary Advice includes experimental audio fiction, poetry, and occasional audio-blog-style episodes. There's a playfulness to the writing and sound design that I love, and it's consistently surprising in the best way.
- LeVar Burton Reads is just what the title says: in every episode, host LeVar Burton reads a hand-picked and excellent short story. There's a heavy emphasis on speculative fiction, and Burton is a master storyteller. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language and mature themes. See individual episode descriptions for specific notes.)
- In Mija, a young Latina woman from NYC tells her family's story of immigration. It's well done and very immersive, often feeling more like a docuseries than fiction.
- James Kim's MOONFACE is about a young, closeted Korean American man who struggles to communicate with his immigrant mother, because they literally don't speak the same language. It's a beautiful and moving story about identity, queer relationships, friendship, family, and podcasting. (Content notes: strong language, explicit sexual content)
- Murmurs, by BBC Sounds, is a Twilight-Zone-esque anthology show. Each episode is a different horror/SF story about worlds bleeding into each other. The sound design uses glitching and distortion to delightfully eerie effect.
- Kaitlin Prest's audio drama The Shadows is about the arc of a relationship, beginning, middle, and end. I was completely drawn in by the performances, which are viscerally real. Amazing show. (Content notes: strong language, explicit sexual content)
- Tin Can Audio's audio drama The Tower imagines a world in which a seemingly endlessly tall tower exists, and follows one woman's haunting journey as she climbs it. Reminded me of Borges or Ted Chiang. The way that the story is told through a series of phone calls works really well—it's eerie at times, but the conversations between characters are also quite intimate.
- Finally, I'm very proud of my own audio fiction anthology show, LikeWise Fiction, in which I read excellent short stories from many genres, all written by women, nonbinary authors, authors of color, and LGBTQIA+ authors. In the first season I've featured stories by writers including Chaya Bhuvaneswar, Kat Howard, Rachel Lyon, Celeste Ng, JY Yang, and more. I'd love if you had a listen. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language and mature themes, see individual episode descriptions for specific notes)
These are all either limited-run shows or they have discrete seasons that can be listened to like a miniseries. All are strong narrative nonfiction.
- Closer Than They Appear is a 2017 show by Carvell Wallace about race in America, with a mixture of interviews and personal narrative that I found quite compelling.
- Another show by Carvell Wallace is Finding Fred, which is all about Mr. Rogers, both looking at the work he did and asking what we lessons we can take from him to help us live in the often scary world of today.
- The Washington Post's Lillian Cunningham has done three excellent series on American history. The first, from 2016, was Presidential, which looked at each US president from the beginning through today.
- The next of Cunningham's shows was 2018's Constitutional, which is all about the US Constitution and how it came to be what it is.
- And then most recently, Cunningham did Moonrise, an excellent narrative documentary about the space race and moon landing, showing a lot of the darker parts of the story that most of us don't learn about in school.
- Another excellent show about the US Constitution is Radiolab's special series More Perfect, in which each episode is a breakdown and history of one of the amendments.
- For me, the granddaddy of history podcasts is Mike Duncan's The History of Rome, which, over the course of 179 episodes, charts the history of Rome from its pre-republican era through the fall of the Western Empire.
- I also very much enjoy Duncan's current show, Revolutions, which is all about different revolutions throughout history. Each of the show's 10 seasons covers a different revolution, including the English Revolution, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, and more. The current (and final) season is covering the Russian Revolution, and it's excellent.
- Finally, Scene On Radio is, in my opinion, a must-listen. Season 2 is about the history of race and racism in the US, season 3 is about the roots of misogyny and toxic masculinity in our society, and the current season is about inequality in America. Informative, engaging, and excellent.
These are all ongoing shows, so they're not necessarily great for bingeing, but they all have great, long-form conversations about books and literature, and are excellent for a long listen. In alphabetical order:
- David Naimon's Between the Covers has long-form interviews with authors across many genres, including literary fiction, SF and fantasy, and poetry. David is an excellent reader and has some of the best questions of any interview I know.
- Rachel Zucker's show Commonplace features "conversations with poets (and other people)." Rachel gets to deep and intimate places with her guests, and I'm always impressed by what a close rapport she establishes in her conversations. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
- Maris Kreizman's The Maris Review always feels like two pals having the most interesting conversation, it's great. This one includes a lot of excellent memoir and creative nonfiction, much more than other lit shows I listen to.
- The Poet Salon is interviews with poets, and what I love about it is that it manages to have insightful and profound conversations while also showing how fun poetry can be.
- KUT's This Is Just to Say is another excellent poetry show. The host, Carrie Fountain, is herself one of my favorite poets, and I love how she gets her guests to talk not just about their own work, but also about other poems that they love. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
- VS is hosted by Danez Smith and Franny Choi, two of my favorite poets. Their interviews are top notch, and I also just love the way their friendship is so evident when they talk to each other in the intros and outros. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
- Courtney Balestier's show WMFA is another favorite of mine. She's talked to a wide variety of writers but with a heavy focus on fiction, and I like how she focuses on craft. I also quite like the minisodes she posts during off weeks, which are short personal monologues on creativity.
- Finally, I wanted to mention my own show, Keep the Channel Open, which is a series of conversations about art and creativity with people working in all different creative fields, including writers, visual artists, podcasters, curators, and more. (Content notes: some episodes include strong language.)
Last, but not least, here are some shows that didn't fit into the other categories but which I love and which I think are great for extended listening. In alphabetical order:
- Helen Zaltzman's podcast The Allusionist is all about language, and what makes it so great is that it is fun. A lot of the episodes are humorous, many are deeply empathetic, all of them are entertaining and informative.
- Maggie Tokuda-Hall's show Drunk Safari is, sadly, no longer in production, but it is still available to listen to! Essential animal facts as brought to you by dilettantes. This show is the very definition of "delightful." (Content notes: strong language)
- Ear Hustle is about daily life inside prison, and what makes it unique is that it's told by and made by residents and former residents of San Quentin prison. It's a really well-made show, and it shares stories that many of us don't hear often enough. (Content notes: some strong language, references to violence.)
- The McElroy Brothers Will Be In Trolls World Tour is a hilarious faux-documentary series that the McElroys made as a way to sort of scam their way into getting cast in the movie. Honestly, it is the reason I am excited to see that movie. (Content notes: strong language [I think?])
- Of course, the McElroys' flagship show is My Brother, My Brother, and Me, "an advice show for the modren [sic] era." (Each episode opens with the disclaimer: "The McElroy Brothers are not experts, and their advice should never be followed.) I reckon many of you already know this one but it consistently makes my day better when I listen to it, so I couldn't not mention it. (Content notes: strong language, crude humor)
- My Friend Chuck, is by comedian McKenzie Goodwin and erotica author Chuck Tingle, and it's one of my new favorite shows. Each week McKenzie reviews one of Chuck's books, they talk about movies and local news, and they prove love is real. It's very funny and deeply decent. (Content notes: sexual content, some strong language)
- Only Here is a show by the San Diego NPR station, KPBS, and it is all about the unique culture of the San Diego-Tijuana border region, the things that happen only here.
Obviously, I do hope that, wherever you are, you and the people you love are staying safe and healthy, and that this crisis passes quickly. In the meantime, I hope this list is useful to you.