Even pre-forced solitude, one of my most treasured—if not my greatest—pastimes was putting on a podcast, popping in my earphones, filling a large bowl with cold water, and scrubbing radishes clean.
Over the years, I’ve grown to become a very introverted person, and have difficulty remaining engaged in groups for extended periods of time. Somewhat contradictorily, I really, really love people. I love making friends and family laugh and feel cozy; I love filling their bellies with food.
However, I’ll often quietly excuse myself from a lively dinner party conversation to gather dirtied dishes or put food away—not because I’m bored or dislike the company—just that it can sometimes get to be a bit too intense.
I think I’m better one-on-one—something Jenna Wortham, Dolly Parton, and Ira Glass have shown to understand and accept about me. These are the 8 podcast friends that have been keeping me company—through this, long before this, and will continue to after this.
1. The Best Friend: Still Processing
Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris—two culture writers at the NYT—have put together a wildly informative, entertaining culture pod that’s made me LOL and hmm aloud many times. I realized the extent of my attachment to them when, on a recent episode, they watched the 2004 Catwoman together, and I listened to the whole (mostly silent) two hours (admittedly, while on a run and doing chores!) without having ever watched the movie.
2. The Friend That Bursts Into Song: Dolly Parton’s America
When Sara Coughlin told me about this docu-series, I kind of shrugged it off. I don’t have a past, let alone current, relationship with Dolly or her music. But after the first five minutes, I was hooked. Dolly’s music is ethereally layered between interviews, TV clips, and Jad Abumrad’s narration, making for really persistent (but delightful!) earworms whenever I was between episodes.
3. The Techy Friend That Keeps You Sharp: Recode Media
4. The Stressful Friend That You Love Anyway: Reply All
A show about internet culture (but really, about us humans). Popular segments “Yes, Yes, No” and “Supertech Support” follow hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman as they decode mysterious tweets and tackle seemingly simple issues (how to get a domain name back) in roundabout ways (call a mysterious business in Japan before dawn, for a week straight).
5. The Friend You Text Late at Night for Advice: Anthropocene Reviewed
Each episode, author and Youtuber John Green reviews two subjects, on a 5-star scale, from our anthropocene: Mario Kart and salt flats, Hawaiian pizza and viral Meningitis, googling strangers and Kentucky bluegrass, to name a few. It’s part rigorous review, part heart-to-heart on a park bench somewhere in Brooklyn.
6. The Shoulder You Can Cry On (in 5-Minute Bursts): Hey, Cool Life
From YA-author and host of Hey, Cool Job! Mary HK Choi comes this mini-pod/audio diary. Mary just talks through her day—or the previous one, or maybe a stressful one coming up—and how she feels (or wants herself to feel) about it. I don’t follow the pod too closely, but I do check in occasionally, especially on grey, New York days, which Mary is likely to comment and wax poetic on. There’s an odd kind of comfort knowing someone else is out there, looking at the same grey sky as me. (Also, that cello theme is really the best podcast theme there is out there!)
7. The Friend to Run or Take Long Walks With: Heavyweight
I have asthma, so it’s always a bit awkward (wheezy) when running partners try to chat. Jonathan Goldstein sees that, and does me one better—he and his guests do all the talking (and Jonathan is quick to fill in any awkward silences with his over-talking). Guests come to Jonathan for help with changing one significant thing about their past (unburdening the heavyweight, as it were); long runs and walks feel all the more cathartic when I’ve been privy to the reunion of a daughter and father, long-lost lovers, and a forgotten childhood bike gang.
8. The Shoulder you Can Cry on: This American Life
Host Ira Glass's voice has filled many plane rides and long drives, some of my most solo, quiet moments over the past few years—sometimes I misremember those stories as having happened to me.