I wish I had some good books to recommend here, but I’ve been in an odd rut lately of reading things that weren’t bad,, but ended up being vaguely disappointing. (I’m looking at you, Bradstreet Gate, because if your whole plot is centered around a murder mystery, you need to TELL ME WHO COMMITTED THE MURDER.)
But that doesn’t mean I’m not consuming media, because my lengthy commute to work means that I listen to A LOT of podcasts. Sometimes I feel as thought half the things I say start with, “So I was listening to this podcast . . .” But I just hear so many interesting things on so many different topics, told in such a personal way–it feels like I have very smart friends riding along with me in my car as I negotiate the DC highways. I do listen to a few of the big, famous podcasts that I don’t feel the need to plug–the Nerdist, Serial, and Pop Culture Happy Hour are all great, but if you listen to podcasts at all you probably knew that already. But there are some smaller podcasts that keep me sane and entertained:
Read it and Weep calls itself a good podcast about bad books, movies, and TV, and the general model is that three friends (plus rotating guests) read or watch something and then get together to make fun of it. It started when these guys decided to read the Twilight books so they could mock them in a knowledgeable way, but has expanded to them watching and reading the occasional good thing, or a childhood favorite, and they even take sponsorships/suggestions from listeners. Although the episodes where they review something bad are still the most fun–you’ve never heard anything as sad as these 20-something dudes trying to find something nice to say about Fifty Shades of Grey. I like it because the commentary is truly funny, but also smart–they’re good at breaking down what does or doesn’t work about a particular piece of media and they’re happy to admit when they actually enjoyed something. They are also quick to call out sexism or racism or other things that make them feel gross, so I can rely on them getting upset about the things that make me upset. But in a much more funny way.
Another favorite pop culture podcast is Extra Hot Great, a podcast about TV by the people who run previously.tv (and used to run Television Without Pity). This is another funny one, with smart criticism about TV. They do different features, including one I love called Is This Worse than Jazz, where they debate whether a particular pop culture item is worse than jazz (maybe this only works if you hate jazz). They also do a lengthy quiz each week, which allows me to shout answers out loud in my car.
I first found You Must Remember This through her series on Hollywood and the Manson murders, but I’ve found all of Karina Longworth’s podcasts about Hollywood history fascinating. She tends to do “seasons” that focus on a specific topic, such as Manson, the studio system, or the current series on the blacklist. One of the disappointing books that I read in recent weeks was about a scandalous Hollywood murder in the 1920s, and I think I didn’t like it because was drier and less sympathetic than Longworth’s calm, gentle storytelling. My other big take-away from this podcast is that almost everyone in Hollywood seems to have been a miserable depressive that drank themselves to death; I almost cried in my car listening to the story of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable.
I do occasionally branch out from pop culture and Hollywood, and Rex Factor is one of my favorite history podcasts. Two British guys (Graham and Ali) reviewed the history of every king and queen of England, ranked them on qualities such as scandal and “battle-iness,” and then held a bracket-style showdown to determine the ultimate monarch. They do a thorough job of reviewing the history, while also getting to the interesting trivia and being funny along the way (Ali is always so hilariously concerned when first cousins get married). I was a little worried that they would stop podcasting after they finished all the English rulers, but they’ve recently started up again with the kings and queens of Scotland. A word of warning–the early Saxon kings are a bit of a drag since they all have similar names and there’s not a lot of existing information, but things get more interesting as history moves along (there was definitely way more sex with nuns than I was expecting).
And finally, on a different note, I have talked here more than once about how I tend to recommend things that everyone already knows about. The Goldfinch? The Martian? You didn’t really need me to tell you about those. But now I’m about to tip over into parody here: have you guys heard about Hamilton? I mean, seriously folks, it’s really good. I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway at the end of March (I bought my tickets back in September and then tried not to think about them too much since I was convinced a meteor would crash into the theater before I got to go) and it was AMAZING. But I can also wholeheartedly recommend the cast album. Because the whole show is sung–there’s really no spoken bits of the story–listening to the cast album really does let you hear the whole show and it’s just genius. It’s also awesome music to listen to in the gym. I think this Hamilton thing is really going to take off! (Hamilton also won a Pulitzer prize this week, and Lin-Manuel Miranda posted a hilarious picture on Twitter of the celebratory Pulitzer pies.)