Readers, I hate choosing superlative anything, but today I’m going to keep torturing myself and share my best listening experiences of 2017.
For me, the mark of a truly great listening experience is that I’m still thinking about it, even months later. Bonus points to anything that’s so listenable (is that a word?) it makes me want to run another mile, fold another load of laundry, or sit in my car in the driveway so I can keep listening.
This started out being a post devoted exclusively to podcasts, but I split my listening time between podcasts and audiobooks, and it made sense to share both here.
My favorite podcast episodes
1. Off Camera with Sam Jones
I’m not tuned into the Hollywood scene, so I’m a little surprised at how much I enjoy this one. In each week Jones chats with a successful creative professional on how they got to be where they are. I especially loved episode 94 with Maggie Siff, someone whose work I wasn’t familiar with. MMD readers will love her thoughts on how painful it is to say goodbye to the characters she plays once the role has ended. And months later, I still circle back to Ron Howard’s explanation in episode 100 of why he hires athletes all the time.
2. Just the Right Book
I love this literary podcast hosted by independent bookstore owner Roxanne Coady. I especially enjoyed episode 55 with Alice Hoffman. In this episode, I also chat with Roxanne about my favorite recent reads. (There’s nothing like being back to back with Alice Hoffman to give you a serious inferiority complex.)
Always a quality podcast; episode 226 with Terry Gross is especially fantastic. If you’re new to the show, episode 159 with Ira Glass was my first introduction to the show, and a good one.
4. Henry Cloud’s Leadership University hosts Amor Towles: How to Bring Life to the Intimate Experiences of Writing
Two things about this title: 1. This is a conversation with Amor Towles, and a conversation with Henry Cloud, but they are not in conversation with each other. (Bummer.) 2. That is not the strongest description of either conversation.
The important stuff: If you have ever read anything by Amor Towles, considered reading anything by him, or think you might one day do so, go listen to this episode. The man can talk (and the man can write!). The bulk of the conversation centers around A Gentleman in Moscow, but they also dip into Rules of Civility and what he’s working on now (hurray!).
5. Making Oprah
A friend told me I had to listen to this podcast from WBEZ Chicago, which describes itself as “the inside story of a TV revolution”: it’s all about the making of the Oprah Winfrey show. It’s only 3 episodes (plus a few bonus episodes, which I found interesting, but wouldn’t call “must-listens”). I never watched Oprah when it was on the air, but I still found the story of how the show came to be absolutely fascinating.
I always enjoy Megan’s podcast, and have recommended two specific episodes like crazy this year. The first is Leaning into the squirm: how to talk to your kids about bodies, sex, and sexuality (episode 99), which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. As a parent who found this episode aptly titled (squirm is right), I found this to be practical and empowering.
The second is The truth about anxiety, part 2 (episode 101) in which Megan and co-host Laura Tremaine revisit a topic they first covered in episode 26 (go listen if you haven’t). They cover the difference between worry and anxiety, how you can tell you or a loved one needs help, how to find a good therapist, anxiety dynamics in marriage, helping children cope with anxiety, and a new-to-me phenomenon called Perfectly Hidden Depression. So good.
7. Note to Self
I’ve enjoyed Note to Self this year, especially their “bored and brilliant series” about our all-too-common smartphone addictions, but the I Didn’t See Your Text episode about how easy it is to ghost friends and family these days made me think the hardest.
I’ve heard my fellow podcast listeners say great things about Song Exploder for year, and I finally started listening (albeit sporadically) in 2017. In each episode, a musician tells the story of how a song was made, and as a podcaster myself I’m impressed by how Hirway pulls this show off each week. Favorite episode: The Killers, telling the story behind “Rut.” I also loved this episode about The Fools Who Dream from La La Land (and enjoyed listening to it with my music-loving daughter, after she’d seen the movie three or four times).
9. Death Sex & Money
Host Anna Sale interviews guests about the big questions that people never talk about in polite conversation, and her episodes are consistently top-notch. Our Student Loan Secrets made me sit in my driveway to finish listening, and it wasn’t just me—the topic took on a life of its own on the podcast, and Sale went on to devote many more hours of audio to the topic, including a live call-in show.
10. The Robcast
I admire the way Rob Bell comes at familiar topics from fresh angles, and my favorite 2017 episode is a good example. We Are the Committee (Ep 170) turns a Chariots of Fire scene into a metaphor for how to live your life.
My favorite What Should I Read Next? episodes
It is SO HARD to pick favorite episodes of my own podcast—much harder than picking the above favorites, and that was brutal! I’m choosing a combination of episodes that stand out in my mind and those that have a weirdly high number of listens.
1. Ep 89: Ask Anne Anything. Our very first mailbag episode. If you’re curious about the inner workings of the WSIRN team, what my typical day looks like, how to get on the show yourself, or what book changed MY life, this one’s for you. This was so much fun and we’ll absolutely be doing this again in 2018.
2. Ep 80: Books that make you want to skip dinner, work, and the rest of your life. Listen to this conversation with Cori Jara if you want to broaden your reading horizons.
3. Ep 71: A super-elegant apocalypse. I chat with the original WSIRN producer Knox McCoy about how we first got What Should I Read Next? off the ground, star-studded audiobooks, strange reading habits, and his controversial pick for his hated book. We can tell from new fancy podcast stats that a huge percentage of listeners played this episode to the very last moment.
4. Ep 82: Obsessive readers and bookish kindred spirit angels. Listen to this conversation with Claire Diaz-Ortiz if you love travel memoir OR if you want to hear a self-aware reader talk about what it means to be “obsessive” about the reading life.
5. Ep 64: The next best thing to reading: how 15 WSIRN listeners track their books. In this one-of-a-kind episode, I chat with a number of podcast listeners and avid readers about how they keep track of what they’re reading and what they want to read.
6. Ep 76: Book people are the best people (LIVE!). Our very first episode, live from The Novel Neighbor bookstore in St Louis, where attendees and listeners get to see just how good (or not) Anne is at playing literary matchmaker on the fly. This was so much fun and we’ll do it again in 2018! (If you loved this episode, don’t miss Ep 108, live from Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville.)
7. Ep 83: An epic birthday bookstore road trip. Listen to this if you want to get pumped to visit some independent bookstores this summer OR if you want inspiration and ideas to read the classics. I love how this episode inspired many of you to make bookstore pilgrimages of your own.
Psst—if you’re new to podcasts, check out this beginner’s guide. Or get in-person help at your local library: your reference librarian will be happy to show you how to listen.
Readers, what were YOUR favorite listening experiences of the year?