Podcasts I Like: Radiolab

Radiolab logoOne of the podcasts I listen to and love is Radiolab, a public radio show produced by WNYC. It was pitched to me as, “If This American Life was primarily interested on science, but without losing the accessibility to a wide audience.” (The official description on the website is, “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”) At any rate, I’ve listened to it for a few years now, and I love how the podcast has both full hour-long episodes as well as Radiolab Shorts, which run usually in the 15-to-30-minute range.

One of my all-time favorite episodes from back in 2009 was about parasites, and for the longest time I would pitch it to people as, “Disturbing but immensely fascinating.” (The connection between the hookworm parasite and people’s allergies still makes my head explode every time I think about it.) And you can find that episode here, if you’re interested. But while catching up on episodes, I just listened to one from a month or so ago and it stuck with me. Here’s the official tag:

What’s Left When You’re Right?
More often than not, a fight is just a fight… Someone wins, someone loses. But this hour, we have a series of face-offs that shine a light on the human condition, the benefit of coming at something from a different side, and the price of being right.

It’s a fun episode, with three different stories that each approach confrontation in a different way. I liked them all, but I think my favorite was about two people (Lulu and Soo) who were on a cross-country bike trip and had two confrontations with people (a businessman and then a potentially mentally ill person) that reminded me a lot of the different ways that I and other people each approach a confrontation, and what the “right” way is. It closes with the following:

So the story leaves you with some questions, like if you agree that people are messed up… like, of course they are, we all are… then what’s the best way to heal people? I mean, do you decide as Lulu does, or did, that you should approach the world with kindness and happiness no matter how the world greets you? Or, is that kind of giving up? Like a happy hopelessness? So then, do you put your foot down as Soo did? And say, “No, you are messed up, don’t be messed up?” Is that hope? Or just being mean?

Maybe you need to hear the full story to appreciate it. Or maybe you need to have had the discussions I’ve had with others about how to deal with confrontation. But to me, it clicked, in a way that made me stop and think without ever saying, “This is the right answer.”

Anyway, I love Radiolab. You should too. Give it a whirl.

If I Could Sing, I Would Want To Sound Like This

Last weekend’s This American Life played a new single by Cee Lo Green over the closing credits, “Georgia.” (The entire episode, incidentally, was fantastic: a series of stories about different interesting people they encounted in small towns within Georgia.) And there was something about Cee Lo’s voice that… well… yeah, I think I must have listened to the snippit about 20 times.

Today I sat down and finally figured out who it was, then bought the digital single from Amazon. It’s going to be on his upcoming album Lady Killer, and if the entire album is in this style? I’m buying it, absolutely. Just listen to his voice and bask in its greatness.

On the Radio

I believe I’ve mentioned before that over the past year or so, I’ve become a big fan of NPR and its local station WAMU. On Saturday, when I was driving home after the Washington Sinfonietta’s concert, I had the radio on (I think it was “All Things Considered”) and I got a very pleasant little shock. A woman was talking about her comfort food tradition involving spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk, and how it stemmed from someone sending a can to her and her mother. (And how she would ask her mother about the war in Hungary every time she was allowed one of the spoonfuls.)

I was thinking to myself, “Where have I heard this story before?” and then a split-second before they mentioned the storyteller’s name, I realized where. It was the lovely Miriam Katin, whom I know through comics. She’d actually turned that story into “The Seven Sweet Spoonfuls of Understanding” which ran in one of the Monkeysuit anthologies. Even hitting to home some more, it was seeing her comics there that made me comment in a review of mine that she should really submit something to one of Drawn & Quarterly’s anthologies. Which she did… and not only had a story published there (which was then nominated for an Eisner Award the following year!), but her debut graphic novel We Are On Our Own as well. It’s a small, small world!

(You can listen to the story online at this link. It’s well worth it!)

And secondly, I was looking at WAMU’s schedule today and saw a note that they were making minor schedule adjustements in 2009. I clicked on that link, and the changes were mostly on early Sunday mornings, in part to fill the hole from two cancelled shows: The Infinite Mind, and Calling All Pets. And I have to admit that my first response to the latter being cancelled was, “Awwwww!” Except that, well, I never actually listened to more than the last five minutes of it. It was usually what was playing as I drove to my running group early in the morning.

It was a split second later that I then realized that what I really cared about was not so much that Calling All Pets was on, but rather, that Car Talk was not on. Seriously, I think I wrote off NPR for years because every time I turned it on, it was the weekend and it was Car Talk. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I’m sure there are people reading this who listen to it every week, and to them I say, “Better you than me.”

My Fall Listens and Reads

With everything else going on I forgot to mention it, but I became even more of an Arlington resident stereotype last week; I donated money to WAMU, our local NPR station. I started listening to WAMU around the start of the year on my drive to and from work, and I have to admit that I’ve grown to really love Morning Edition and All Things Considered. And from there, well, I’ve started adding podcasts to be automatically downloaded, like StoryCorps, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, or NPR roundups of the week’s news relating to specific subjects (my two favorites are Food and Pop Culture), and most Monday mornings at the gym I spend my hour on the rowing machine and the elliptical listening to the weekend’s episode of This American Life.

So yeah, they’ve given me a lot of entertainment, so with the latest pledge drive I finally crumbled. (It does help that I can make it split over 12 months. That’s not so bad.) But it did make me realize that I really have not picked up much in the way of new music this year. There are still a few albums I’m hoping to get for Christmas (new ones from Aimee Mann and Pink leap to mind), but I didn’t feel the need to rush out and get them. The newest album I can think of acquiring was Tod loaning me Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Trip the Light Fantastic, which was pretty darn good.

Is this a bad year for music? Or merely a bad year for me finding music that I’m interested in?

On the other hand, I’ve definitely done a lot more reading this year; getting those two hours on the bus at least once a week has certainly helped, of course. I’m almost done with Pride and Prejudice and all of you were absolutely right, it’s very enjoyable. At some point I’ll finally tackle Wuthering Heights, but that will have to wait for a little bit. I took advantage of Small Beer Press’s fall sale and ordered the “everything we published in 2008″ set (which may sound like some huge crate of books but it’s actually just five).

It helped that three of the books were already ones I wanted; a new Geoff Ryman book is reason to celebrate (Cambodia? Really? I’m in!), I’ve been wanting to read Joan Aiken’s works for a while now, and I’d heard very good things about Benjamin Rosenbaum’s The Ant King and Other Stories. So that made the decision easy; doubly so because Benjamin Parzybok’s Couch sounds entertaining, and I’ve always heard very good things about John Kessel too. (And hey, one of the stories in The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories involves the Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice meeting Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster. It’s like it was meant to be.)

Also on my radar (but for 2009) is NESFA Press’s planned six-volume set of anthologies collecting every single Roger Zelazny short story. I cut my teeth on Zelazny’s Amber novels, and from there went to his anthologies (I still vividly remember telling a friend about Unicorn Variations in the sixth grade and wishing that I could write a short story like Zelazny did) and many of his novels. With half of his anthologies out of print and the other half all scattershot and over the place, a complete, definitive edition of everything? Oh yes. Yes yes yes. It’s just as well that it’s a minimum of four months away.

(Oh, and World of Goo for the Wii is one of the coolest games out there, and for $15 at that! A steal and a half. I actually have to stop myself playing it at times because I don’t want it to come to an end. It’s that good. I would talk about wanting an Xbox 360 Pro, here, but I fear that you lot will just egg me on to buy one. And, um, no. I cannot justify one. Maybe next year.)

Almost Back Up to Speed

Well, happily, it seemed that a second good night’s sleep was what I needed more than anything else. I went to bed really early last night, and today I had enough energy for an abbreviated version of my normal Monday gym visit. (30 min on rowing machine, and 15 min on the elliptical (instead of 30).) So far, so good.

As an added bonus, NPR’s All Things Considered is offering up one of Liz Phair’s recent concerts (where she plays all of Exile in Guyville) on their website so I’ve been listening to that for the last hour or so. She’s on the final song of her encore (“Polyester Bride”) and it’s making me appreciate her that much more.

Per usual, now that I am a little more lucid/rational I am kicking myself for having barely talked to so many different people at SPX—it’s amazing how quickly two days can whip by. (And no, I am not pushing for a three-day show so that I can chat with everyone a lot more.) And there’s always at least one or two artists whom I manage to miss entirely. How does that happen? This time Kate Beaton and Paul Hornschemeier somehow fell to the wayside. Darn it.

And of course, I have a wealth of new books. Well, not that many. Normally I just buy mini-comics, and occasionally other things pressed into my hands. I mostly stuck with that, although I did make an exception and bought a bonanza of books from Fanfare/Ponent Mon, because Diamond (the main distributor to comic book stores) seems to forever be out of stock of their catalog. Amusingly almost everything I bought was by (or co-authored by) Jiro Taniguchi: The Quest for the Missing Girl, all three volumes of The Times of Botchan (can’t get enough of that Meija Era Japan, it seems), and a replacement copy of The Walking Man. (Plus Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary, the non-fiction account of Azuma’s two sojourns as a homeless person, plus a trip to rehab.) Plus, a birthday present and a Christmas present were procured, so it’s nice to check those off the list now.

Now if I could just finish getting rid of the excess junk that has built up in my home over the last month, I’d be set. If nothing else I finally need to mail Dave those promised statues, which will not only get those out of the house but also the packing peanuts that I’ve been saving for that very thing. Little by little…

Best of all, Charlie is now home from the Portland Marathon, where he rocked out a new personal record: 3:58:57. Wow. How fantastic is that? I’m so proud of him.