Just tell me a story: 5 podcasts I can’t get enough of

If there’s one thing I love more than anything else in the entire world, it’s a good story.

And, if you’ll allow me to brag just for a second here, I’m really good at sniffing them out wherever I can.

So, when I finally got round to listening to Serial Season 1 – the who dunnit drama that got the entire world tuning into podcasts again – sometime last year and devoured it at a furious pace,  it didn’t take me very long to find similar sorts of audio thrills elsewhere.

Here are five podcasts I’m really enjoying most at the moment:

Strangers – real life stories highlighting the pain & glory of human connection

Strangers

(Strangers/Facebook)

First impression: The first thing that struck me about Strangers was presenter, Lea Thau’s enigmatic voice. I couldn’t quite place it – was it male, female or something else entirely? Turns out she’s a woman, but I think the almost robotic androgyny of her voice is probably one of her greatest assets.

What I love about it: What really got me hooked on Strangers, was Lea’s commitment to the ordinary. She interviews everyday people about everyday things, yet manages to conjure up truly magical tales from these humble origins. Apart from this, she also isn’t afraid to dig in really deep and has even been brave enough to include painful personal confrontations in her recordings. It’s very, very real, yet often also light-hearted and humorous.

Favourite episode/s: My Father’s Bones, The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read and Jo & Fayaz

The Moth – short and punchy true anecdotes told live onstage 

The Moth

(The Moth/Facebook)

First impressions: Each episode is recorded in front of a live studio audience, which means that it’s not as neatly packaged as something like Serial or Strangers. However, the quality of storytellers who do their thing here – without notes, mind you – is absolutely astounding. They come from all walks of life and tell all sorts of stories stemming from their own life experiences.

What I love about it: One word: diversity. If I know I’m going to have a peaceful evening at home, I absolutely LOVE lining up a few 5 – 10min stories from The Moth Radio Hour section to play in the background while I go about cooking, washing up, getting ready for bed etc. While there’s a headline and a short description for each, you really never know what to expect. I’ve laughed till my belly hurt, cried my eyes out, felt inspired to get in touch with long-lost friends and almost everything in between in just one sitting.

Favourite episode/s: The Mayor of Freaks, The Prince and I and Sweet & Sour Meatballs. (Something similarly touching elsewhere: The Rabbi and the KKK from Snap Judgment)

Dear Sugar Radio – a modern-day agony aunt (and uncle) offering sage advice

dear sugar

(Dear Sugar/WBUR)

First impressions: Listening to Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond work through agonising letters from readers with empathy, compassion and firm, but kind reprimands is balm for the soul. As the opening line for each episode states: “The universe has good news for the lost, lonely and heartsick. Dear Sugar is here, and speakingstraight into your ears.”

What I love about it: After I finished reading Wild last year, it literally felt as though I had lost a close friend, which made me absolutely desperate to find more of Cheryl Strayed’s work. Amazingly enough, it was shortly after this that Dear Sugar Radio, a podcast version of Cheryl’s long-running agony aunt column of the same name, launched.

During each episode they work through one or two anonymous letters sent in by listeners who ask heartbreaking questions about a huge range of topics – from advice on surviving a break-up to whether or not to share a long-held family secret. Every episode is just so very human with lots of room to relate. Cheryl and Steve work well together and aren’t afraid to present conflicting viewpoints, making it feel like a very genuine conversation, rather than a clinical therapy session.

Favourite episode/s: The Inevitable Guilt of Motherhood, The Irrational Jealousy of Lovers & Friends and Live in Cambridge (this live audience recording is pure gold and features Amanda Palmer and her 3-month-old baby joining them on stage).

The RobCast – spiritual food for thought and great interviews

rob bell

(Rob Bell/Facebook)

First impressions: A friend first introduced me to Rob Bell’s work – a book called Velvet Elvis – sometime during my early twentiesI remember thoroughly enjoying his slightly off-beat approach to traditional Christianity and having an affinity for his way with words. Over the past 10 years or so, he’s been plagued by controversy (mostly because of a book he wrote called Love Wins) and lost his job as the lead pastor of a major US church. He has evidently used his years of suffering wisely, however, steering clear of any bitterness and rather embracing a mystical spiritual path within the tradition of Christianity. The essence of his work is summed up in the phrase “Everything is spiritual”.

What I love about it: I’ve listened to every single episode of the RobCast since its inception in 2014 and not once have I felt ‘meh’ afterwards. It’s like Rob peels away layer upon layer of the unnecessary in order to the very heart of whatever topic he’s tackling that week. He also interviews fascinating guests on a regular basis – from writers like Elizabeth Gilbert to modern-day mystics like Pete Rollins and Richard Rohr. While I’m sure it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I have to say, it’s been a primary source of soul food to me and very many other searching souls out there.

Favourite episode/s: The River, The Mountain and You, An Eye Full of Light, Learning to Lament Part 4: As Deep As the Sea, What They Did To That Wall, Good vs Perfect, The Cellular Exodus… pretty much all of them ever

FOUND – a paper trail of discarded scribbles leading to heartwarming real life stories

FOUND magazine

(Found Magazine/Facebook)

First impressions:  FOUND Magazine is a blog and occasional print publication celebrating the truly unusual things people find on the street, between the pages of a book, in the attic of their new home. Knowing just how nosy I am and that this sort of thing would bring me great delight, Imar introduced me to it many years ago. So, when I heard that they were starting a podcast, revisiting some of the most intriguing finds and following the stories behind them I pretty much spontaneously combusted.

What I love about it: It’s funny how the tiniest snippets of other people’s lives are often the most fascinating – discarded shopping lists, lost love letters, notes on the first pages of old books. While the magazine and blog are great to browse through for some light entertainment, it always leaves me wondering what the story behind each of these finds is. Well, the podcast goes that one step further with its in-depth investigative approach. It’s quite a new podcast, so there isn’t much to listen to yet, but I can’t wait to see it grow.

Favourite episode/s: Asian Oprah – an aspiring television star ends up as a dentist for the down-and-out… and the only lead to this amazing story was an over-the-top letter FOUND discarded on the street.

I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts – which would you recommend?

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