What we loved listening to in 2018
In a season of 'Best of' lists, host Lu Olkowski and producers Cristal Duhaime, Mira Burt-Wintonick and Sarah Geis share some of the things they loved listening to this year.
No Feeling Is Final is an audio memoir by Honor Eastly about trying to navigate her feelings about suicide. Although the series includes some very tough to hear conversations (like one with her boyfriend about whether she can go to work without harming herself; another about the trials of finding a psychiatrist who is 'The One'), there are also moments of lightness and humour. I've chosen this episode about Honor's experience in a psychiatric hospital because it's a good combination of this toughness and lightness — and because it shows what it feels like to be there. "There are no good snack options. And it's really hard to not look crazy." (Produced by Joel Werner)
"The Quevedos" from Latino USA
"I've lived most of my life with questions about my family, so I'm used to unknowns." If you follow me on Twitter, you've seen me crow about this episode of Latino USA produced by Sayre Quevedo. It's the story of Sayre's search for a grandmother he never met. Through tenacious and tender reporting, the unknowns become known — each answer leading to yet another question about his family.
"Me and You" from Short Cuts
Short Cuts is one of my go-to podcasts, so it's hard to choose a favourite, but if I'm pressed I'll go with this episode which starts with Josie Long describing "a certain kind of closeness where you forget the other person is separate from you." It includes stories from Australian radio goddess Sophie Townsend about a surprising kinship with Queen Victoria; Stacia Brown with a letter to her young daughter originally heard on her own podcast; and Sayre Quevedo (who I think you might notice is someone I'm totally in the tank for).
"Episode 1: More Issues Than Vogue" from Tara & George
This thoughtfully-produced six part series from documentary stalwarts Falling Tree is about Tara and George, a couple living on the streets of east London. It's a compassionate and raw portrait, sketched by host Audrey Gillan, that avoids veering into the maudlin or exploitative. In a podcasting landscape saturated with true crime and cult exposés, this moving series makes us re-evaluate the voices we deem worthy of giving narrative space to.
"Thunder, They Told Her" from The Paris Review
It's no easy feat to make literature sing for the ear, but The Paris Review creates something entirely new of the magazine's written word with sonic elegance and inspired casting. Performed stories mingle with archival author interviews — listening to this show often feels like stepping into a sexy speakeasy for bookworms. This episode features Sadie Stein, Jamaica Kincaid and a slow-moving train crash by James Salter voiced by Dick Cavett.
"S.E.I.N.F.E.L.D." from Imaginary Advice
When I think of people who are doing truly creative things in the audio medium I think of Ross Sutherland. His podcast Imaginary Advice is an artful blend of fiction, poetry and personal storytelling, often performed on a stage of the absurd. This episode where Ross tries to teach a computer how to do stand-up comedy is outrageously funny and surreal. (We also like using computer voices in our own work because every word you feed them gets turned into awkward poetry).
"Episode 1: The Tip" from Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo
One family's personal trauma reveals shameful national truths. I've never heard a reporting team be so tender and thoughtful about their approach to a story, all while capturing incredibly touching and devastating moments on tape. Finding Cleo achieves what any "true-crime" podcast should require of itself: discarding sensationalism in favour of compassion and purpose.
"The Grifter" from Welcome to LA
David Weinberg is one of my favourite radio writers and him having his own series was such a delight this year. All of his work seems to access a world of characters we rarely, if ever, hear from. This episode is a perfect example of his unique storytelling voice and the nuanced self-reflection he's willing to delve into.
"No Solution" from Home of the Brave
"How do you live a good life in a world that's falling apart all around you?" Scott Carrier is one of my other favourite writers in radio and his second season of Home of the Brave examines what's happening at the U.S./Mexico border. Sometimes telling other people's stories can feel a bit like being a vampire, but Scott listens to the people he records in such a deep way that it feels open and generous.
"Sally Phillips" from My Dream Dinner Party
You know that small talk question, "If you could invite anyone alive or dead to dinner…?" This series answers it, using BBC archive to brilliant effect.
*Audio player not available.
"Leland. It's a Porcupine!" from Rumble Strip
Erica Heilman's interviews are made up of all the little stuff that make up our lives. I look forward to her yearly check in with her young neighbour, Leland. Nothing extraordinary happens at all, which is why it's so good.
"A Woman's Smile is Kind" from A Woman's Smile
This is the first episode of a very trippy talk show from comedians Patti Harrison and Lorelei Ramirez.