Bookminded

books, art, culture, and other things I love

Category: podcasts

Live at Boston’s Paramount Theater: Cheryl Strayed in Conversation with Tom Ashbrook.

Last night my friend D. and I sat in the balcony of a packed Paramount Theater in Boston to see On Point Live: an evening of NPR radio host Tom Ashbrook in conversation with Cheryl Strayed, author of the fabulous memoir Wild as well as Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of her Dear Sugar columns from The Rumpus.  Now, along with writer Steve Almond, Strayed hosts the podcast Dear Sugar Radio, which provides advice (of the practical and philosophical sort) to letter writers.

Preshow: we had to take a selfie. Me: "This would be a better photo if we had one of those sticks." D.: "Um, we're too old for selfie sticks."

Preshow: we had to take a selfie. Me: “This would be a better photo if we had one of those sticks.”                                                  D.: “Um, we’re too old for selfie sticks.”

When host Tom Ashbook took the stage, there was thunderous applause. Once things quieted down and he spoke, there were even some tears as he paused for a moment to thank his audience and his listeners for the kindness that they showed to him in the months since the loss of his wife to cancer at the end of November. There was another point in the evening when Ashbrook solemnly asked Strayed a question for his own twentysomething daughter–how does one at that age deal with loss of someone so significant as one’s mother. Strayed’s response was heartfelt and touching–emphasizing the importance of accepting the fact that grief is ongoing, but the reason for this is that it is recalling the love that was there. That is, the origin of grief is beauty and love–not ugliness. This insight was very meaningful, and the audience sat rapt as Strayed discussed the loss of her own mother.

Our view from the balcony.

Our view from the balcony.

Their conversation touched on topics (drawn largely from audience questions) that ranged from Strayed’s writing habits to her definitions of feminism in the 21st century–the latter in light of Elinor Burkett’s opinion piece in last Sunday’s New York Times that questions the authenticity of transgender women (previously male) defining what it means to be a woman. Though Ashbrook pushed her a bit on this point, Strayed maintained that there was room for anyone in the feminist movement, and suggesting that as times change, so do boundaries and definitions.

Toward the end of the evening, Steve Almond took the stage and revealed that he and Strayed had just wrapped up three days in the studio, recording 20 (!) hours of Dear Sugar material–I can’t wait for that! The show closed with news analyst Jack Beatty commenting on the impact and growth of On Point, which began as a radio program in the days after 9/11 and has emerged as a forum for a national conversation.

All in all, a delightful and inspiring evening!

Another public radio tote bag. (I have quite the collection going!)

Another public radio tote bag. (I have quite the collection going!)

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SJP: Then and Now.

In my first year of grad school, I met and became fast friends with K. That I appreciated her intellect and fashion sense went without saying–but I especially loved the fact that she also shared an abiding interest in pop culture past and present. We were in most of the same seminar classes and I remember one night during the second semester she came to class and handed me a bag. I peered inside and this is what I found.

Yes, they were VHS tapes! (This was the 90s, people.)

Yes, they were VHS tapes! (This was the 90s, people.)

I trusted her recommendation that this show, based on Candace Bushnell’s book of the same name, was “going to be big.” That weekend, I cued up my VCR (!) and watched the first season of Sex and the City. I was hooked. Before the start of the next season, I added HBO to my basic cable package so I could watch new episodes every Sunday night. And ever the devoted fan, when the first Sex and the City movie was released in 2008, I saw it in Italian at a theater in Rome. 🙂 Perhaps the biggest appeal of the show for me was its narrator and leading lady, Sarah Jessica Parker. I loved that her character Carrie Bradshaw was a writer and fashionista living in one of my favorite cities–and that the city figured large as a character in the show. I also adored the actress herself–having first encountered her in the 80s sitcom Square Pegs. Over the years, I have followed SJP’s life and career with interest. Who can forget, for example, this 2014 Vogue video “73 Things You Never Knew About Sarah Jessica” featuring a tour of her fabulous West Village brownstone? (Not me.)

This week, Alec Baldwin, host of one of my fave podcasts–WNYC’s “Here’s the Thing”–interviews SJP herself. It is a great episode, full of interesting insights and tidbits from the actress, producer, shoe designer, and mother. Listen here.

My favorite SJP hair look.

My favorite SJP hair look.

I want a little sugar in my bowl.

Over the summer, I wrote about some of my favorite vacation books and Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar was on the listReaders may also be familiar with Strayed’s memoir, Wild, about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail–which is now made into a movie that is on my list for the semester break. Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of advice columns that Strayed wrote for the Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus and it is one of my favorite nonfiction reads in recent years. As I mentioned before on the blog, I read the book on a Boston-Denver flight and experienced the full range of human emotions as I read. My seat mate was stealing glances at me as I laughed and cried while turning the pages.

The Dear Sugar column may be gone, but now there is an exciting new project in development by WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate…a Dear Sugar podcast: hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond (who actually founded the original column)! The series officially begins in January; in the meantime, listen to this introductory podcast. Cheers and Happy Listening!  (And bonus points if you recognize my post’s title allusion.)

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Serial: The podcast that you need to know about.

First off, I have to give credit where credit is due. I first heard of the new serial podcast from This American Life called Serial from Jenny Rosenstrach’s blog Dinner: A Love Story. Though I love the idea of serial installments (which may explain my affinity for soap operas while in grad school), I’ll admit that the idea of a true-crime podcast didn’t quite pique my interest. Though I am entertained by the melodramatic (see: General Hospital), the gritty world of CSI-type investigations is not usually my cup of tea. But here is the caveat: Ira Glass is involved in the project AND Rosenstrach’s 12-year-old daughter listens to it. So I figured that it would be high-quality and not too gruesome for my taste.

I am happy to report that I gave it a chance and here’s why I think you should too.

The story begins in 1999, when high school Hae Mihn Lee disappears one day after school. Six weeks later, her classmate and former boyfriend is arrested and charged with her murder. The podcasts, which are uploaded on Thursday mornings vary in length (the first is approximately 50 min), most others are in the 30-40 minute range, making them the perfect length for an average work commute. When I tell you that the story is riveting, I am not kidding. And the website has a lot of really cool ancillary media (like this map, for example).
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But here is perhaps the most interesting (and problematic) fact of the story: it is based on an actual case. And as The Guardian reports, this is causing some issues including investigation interference on Reddit.

If you are looking for a riveting, epidodic narrative that is not driven by a teleological force–i.e. creators say that each Serial season will stay with a non-fiction story for “as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it,” look no further.

Suffice it to say, if upcoming seasons are as engaging as this one, This American Life has a true hit on its hand. Download epidodes via iTunes, or listen on the serialpodcast.org website. If you are new to the series, start here, with Episode 1: The Alibi.

Bookminded Recommends: Podcasts

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a longtime fan of radio–which is probably part of the appeal of podcasts for me. While podcasts are similar to radio, how there are a few key differences. First, podcasts do not have to fit into traditional network formats (this can include things like FCC regulations or time restrictions), they do not have to appeal to a broad audience (hence the availability of niche podcasts that cover any topic you can think of), and finally, anyone can create and produce a podcast, which allows access to voices that might never hit the airwaves of network radio.

Podcasts are also convenient–you can listen to them on demand via your computer or other device, or they can be downloaded so you can listen to them at a later time. If you are using iTunes, you can also subscribe to most podcasts so each new episode of your favorite will automatically appear in your iTunes Library upon release.

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Here are three of Bookminded’s favorite podcasts–check them out!

Literary DiscoFor serious readers, this podcast made by three friends,  Julia Pistell, Tod Goldberg, and Rider Strong is one to put on your list. At present, there are 58 episodes, each running about an hour in length. The format is this: a book club of three where you (the listener) are essentially a fly on the wall. They will introduce the work or works (sometimes they’ll cover short stories) for the episode and then they discuss it. And since all three creators are also serious writers, they will sometimes have writers on–not to interview, per se–but to select a book for the group to discuss. It is funny and interesting and a reminder of why you love your book nerd friends!
Episode Recommendation: #55 The Stranger. This episode features high school English teacher (and established book reviewer) Heather Partington leading a discussion about Albert Camus’ The Stranger. She talks about everything from Cat Mysteries, the state of reading in our public schools, how she gets students excited about reading and writing, and then leads a discussion of the book. It is witty and entertaining.

Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin–Say what you want about Alec Baldwin, the guy is a natural born entertainer. But what you may not know is that he is also a Class A interviewer. The format of Baldwin’s podcast, which is broadcast on NYC’s WHYY, is that of a traditional interview show, however, the public figures that he gets to open up are so relaxed and engaging that you feel as if you are listening in on a conversation between friends. Baldwin’s vast knowledge of the theatric and literary worlds is astounding. He is quicker than quick with a reference or a comeback and a humorous aside. I love this one! There are more than 50 episodes and include interviews with people like Jerry Seinfeld, Lena Dunham, Elaine Stritch (who played Baldwin’s mother on 30 Rock)–plus many more. Check it out!
Episode Recommendation: #4 Chris Rock. In this episode, Baldwin and Rock discuss standup comedy, New York theater, and women.

99% Invisible–Roman Mars, the creator behind this podcast is super cool. It is hard to describe this one as it is about a little of everything–but Mars calls it “a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world,” which is an apt description. There are more than 100 episodes and I am slowly working my way through them with enthusiasm.
Episode Recommendation: #117 Clean Trains. This 21 minute episode talks about NYC subways and the graffiti phenomenon (and the subsequent movement to eradicate it). Really interesting stuff!