My 20 favorite listening experiences of 2017

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.)

3. Longform
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.

6. Sorta Awesome

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.

8. Song Exploder

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.

A few favorite podcasts that I couldn’t decide on any one specific episode for: Pantsuit Politics, From the Front Porch, Best of Both Worlds, The Popcast with Knox and Jamie, Five Things, Being Boss.

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.

Favorite audiobooks

Favorite audiobooks of 2017
Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

Until this past year, And Then There Were None was the only Christie novel I'd read. When I found out Dan Stevens also read the audio version of this perhaps her most famous work, I couldn't resist. A classic for a reason, and a truly fantastic listening experience. More info →
The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale

I'd been meaning to read this classic for years, and after hearing good things about Claire Danes's narration, I gave this a try on audio. SO GOOD (although definitely hard in places, because of the nature of the content. The understated narration made the story compulsively listenable (is that a word?) and extra-creepy. More info →
Interpreter of Maladies

Interpreter of Maladies

I'd been meaning to read more of Jhumpa Lahiri's fiction this year; this slim volume of short stories was breathtaking. Lahiri's characters tenuously navigate the divide between their old world and their new, and taken together, the collection highlights myriad aspects of the immigrant experience. Lahiri's gift is to turn ordinary experiences into moments fraught with meaning; Matilda Novak's spare narration was perfect. More info →

Honorable mention:Their Eyes Were Watching GodBorn to Run, Unequal Affections.

Readers, what were YOUR favorite listening experiences of the year? 


Leave A Comment
  1. Donna H. says:

    OMG-my podcast with you (#83) made the list, I am truly honored! You’re right, the best part has been hearing from people who decided to do something special for their birthday (what better way to celebrate than with books and bookstores?). Thanks for the podcast recommendations, I enjoy The Daily (to wrap my head around the news) and Channel 33 (for entertainment news when I don’t want to think about the regular news).

  2. Margaret Waters says:

    Oh, this will keep me busy for a long, long time! Thank you. But the best listening experience possibly of my life is Trevor Noah, Born a Crime. It’s more a performance than a reading, hilarious and utterly heart-wrenching. Also loved Tom Hanks reading his short stories and Alison McGhee reading KThi Appelt’s and her YA book, Maybe a Fox.

  3. Autumn says:

    Confession: I don’t even know how, but I just started listening to podcasts this year and I started my first audio books in a few years again. I don’t have a favorite audio book, but I love your podcast and I really love “Bold New Mom” and “Awesome with Alison.” Honestly, from those, any episode will do!

  4. Torrie says:

    I’m not a big podcast listener (just yours, Anne!), and I play the Harry Potter audiobooks on a loop in my car all year long, but this year, I did branch out a *little* and listened to the audiobook of Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (which I’d previously read), and fellow listeners were right—because the book is so much about music, the fact that the audiobook incorporated so much of the music into the track made all the difference in the world!

  5. Karen says:

    My favorite podcasts:
    CraftLit (annotated classics)
    Kingdom Roots (Scot McKnight)
    Sorta Awesome
    Stuff You Missed in History
    History of the English Language (I’m on #50 – 10th Century – out of 106 so far – 1200’s; it’s been very interesting, even with all the vowel & consonant shifting stuff)
    Seminary Dropout
    The 45th
    The West Wing Weekly (which I heard about on…)
    2 KnitLit Chicks

    Best audio books:
    Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
    As You Wish, Carey Elwes
    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

  6. Andrea Wells says:

    I read Anna Karenina in high school (my father was a lover of Russian lit). I decided to listen to it on Audible in December when I was spending hours (10 hours some weeks!) driving my teen son to and from a new job every week. I am listening to the version narrated by Maggie Gyllenhall and it is superb. She reads this book masterfully!

  7. Lisa H says:

    I totally agree with Murder on the Orient Express read by Dan Stevens. I listened to it a few months ago and have been telling everyone how great it is!

  8. Jane says:

    I struggle with audiobooks/podcasts for one reason… the voices! I can love the content, but if the narrators voice is just *off* for whatever reason, I can’t get through the content! I’ve found a few I love (anything read by Malcolm Gladwell, the Harry Potter series by Jim Dale, YHLHAP, yours, some random version of Sherlock Holmes on Spotify), but there are so many more I want to explore.

    Any tips for how to get around voices, or podcasts with

  9. Thanks to you, I’ve been listening to Note to Self, The Popcast, and From the Front Porch (Annie is one of my best recommendation gurus!) and love all three!

    Death, Sex, and Money sounds super interesting and I’ll now have to try it out.

  10. Meghan says:

    I love Note to Self, too! The Bored and Brilliant audiobook was great — read by Manoush Zomorodi. I listen to a billion different podcasts, mostly writing-related ones (I co-host a writing podcast, too), but one of my favorites is Happier in Hollywood because it meshes writing and life in an inspiring way. My other favorite is In Our Time, a weekly podcast from the BBC about history, literature, science, and philosophy. Topics range from the Borgias to boron.

    Have you browsed the Spoken Word genre on Spotify? My favorite finds there lately have been the collected letters of Charlotte Bronte, the Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio program, and a BBC dramatization of The Martian Chronicles.

  11. I’m already participating in a reading challenge for January but I have posted your challenge on my bookstagram because Im participating for February. of your picks is on my list(Count of Monte Cristo). Happy reading!

  12. Donna says:

    I’ve been meaning to check out Off Camera with Sam Jones. Thanks for the reminder! Making Oprah also sounds fascinating. Can’t wait to check it out.
    2017 was the year I finally gave podcasts a fair shot. I am hooked on Ear Hustle which I recommend to everyone! It’s the one podcast I listen to consistently. Favourite episodes: Cellies, The SHU, Unwritten, and Left Behind. I’ve cried legit tears while listening. It’s so moving, necessary, hilarious, and eye-opening. Each episode is 26 minutes 10 seconds long and I always walk away feeling like I’ve learned so much!
    Happy listening! ?

  13. Lyn says:

    Rick Bragg’s My Southern Journey, the compilation of many articles/essays he’s written for various magazines, is great to read, but I was blown away by the soothing drawl of the author. It may be the best thing ive ever heard.

  14. Amanda says:

    Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman was hands down my favorite audiobook of 2017. The book isn’t excellent and the narrator did a fantastic job reading it.

  15. Jennifer says:

    My favorite audio book hands down is A Gentle In Moscow. It was incredible, —like drive around the block and sit in you’re driveway – kind of incredible.

  16. Carrie says:

    As I was reading this post, I was noting the podcasts that sparked my interest and jotted down the one regarding anxiety. I suffer from it and so does one of my kids. I instantly thought of the song “Rut”, by the Killers. Lo and behold, you mention a podcast for that, too! Crazy good stuff, Anne.

  17. The Sorta Awesome episode I love is the one on friendship 🙂
    And the Best of Both Worlds one on technology made me think and have so many opinions I wrote TWO blog posts!

    My best listening experiences of 2017 were Born a Crime (Trevor Noah) and Nevertheless – Alec Baldwin. And then I re-listened to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which is an excellent read (she narrates it herself)

    • Anne says:

      I haven’t listened to that Best of Both Worlds episode yet—thanks for the reminder to get to it! And did you know Amy Chua has a new book coming out this year? I haven’t read it yet but am interested in doing so.

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