I’ve recently become a podcast convert. I used to have an audible account, but I canceled it. The selection wasn’t great and I kept returning books that I actively hated. Serial came out around the same time and that was it. I was hooked.
Two podcasts quickly became my go to listens: The New Yorker Fiction Podcast and How Did This Get Made? You can probably tell from the titles and pictures alone that they are very different.
The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is understated and exceptional. It’s gentle, quiet, polite and unnervingly intelligent – pretty much exactly what you’d expect coming from The New Yorker. In each episode, an author is invited to read aloud a selected short story from the magazine’s archives. Then the guest author and The New Yorker’s fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, discuss the story. It’s fantastic. You hear some great older fiction from the archives that tend to be a little “out of fashion,” including the likes of Nabokov, Borges, Cheever, Gallant, Sparks, and Barthelme (a lot of Barthelme). It’s been a pleasure to be introduced to some of these authors for the first time and frankly, I think story telling peaked somewhere around 1965. My only criticism with this podcast is that it only comes out once a month and I’ve already finished all the old episodes.
How Did This Get Made has a completely different tone and direction. It’s hosted by three comedians/actors who watch a bad movie each week, such as Batman and Robin or Zardoz, and then they discuss why it was so bad. They are as crass and funny as you’d expect, and the movies really are atrocious, but the hosts are also really good at explaining why the story fails. What components of it could have worked, but how did it ultimately go wrong. So in between a lot of silly jokes there’s a great discussion on storytelling taking place. You also get introduced to a lot of movies that are so bad they’re almost good. Trust me, watch Zardoz. Sean Connery runs around in a monokini for most of it.
It occurred to me the other day, that despite appearances, these two podcasts really aren’t all that different and that I’ve been listening to two sides of the same coin. Both discuss stories. One just focuses on what we can learn from good storytelling, and the other, whether it means to or not, helps us understand what makes a bad story. I’ve found it very helpful to think about writing from these two perspectives.
That and I like breaking up the seriousness of The New Yorker Fiction Podcast with the levity of How Did This Get Made. You should check them out.
What’s your favorite podcast?