It feels like there are just as many podcasts as there are books lately. Want a super niche podcast about one of your favorite shows? There’s one out there. Richmond ‘til We Die is mine. There are podcasts about politics, money, history, pop culture, books — if you can think of it, there’s probably a podcast about it. There are even sub-genres of podcasts. Book Riot alone has podcasts on romance, YA, book to film adaptations, nonfiction, mystery, science fiction and fantasy, general bookery, new releases, and personalized recommendations.
Here’s the cool thing about podcasts, other than the obvious cool thing of free entertainment and information: they are a great segue into reading more. So many are informational and do an excellent job citing their sources. Since podcasts are generally 30 minutes to an hour, it’s just enough information to whet my appetite about a subject. I can commit one day’s commute to learning about something outside my comfort zone. Sometimes, the extent of that podcast sates my curiosity. Other times, it’s just the beginning of my voracious reading adventure. All different kinds of podcasts means all different kinds of information rabbit holes to fall down. Jumping from one interesting topic to the next has me reading more critically to decide if I agree with a podcast host or not. It helps me effortlessly leap from one source to the next, expanding my reading scope to texts I wouldn’t normally seek out unprovoked.
Research Rabbit Holes
Let’s start with one of my personal favorites: Pantsuit Politics. This is a podcast discussing, as the title suggests, politics. This biweekly show is released on Tuesdays and Fridays, and hosts Beth Silvers and Sarah Stewart Holland discuss and reflect on that week’s news. They conduct interviews, have informational shows breaking down an issue, and series covering more complex topics that aren’t easily explained in an hour. Their series this summer on infrastructure was fascinating.
I am still learning about politics and how to fully understand what’s happening in the country and my community. When I decided I wanted to learn more about politics, it was overwhelming. Ever tried googling “politics” to learn more about it? I didn’t know where to start. One of my best friends recommended this podcast to me, and finally I had a week-by-week guide on current events and a place to start doing my own research. After listening to the episode “5 Things You Need to Know about Inflation,” I knew I wanted to learn more about it. I’ve been on a personal financial journey and learning more about inflation fit in with something I was already curious about. I headed to the show notes and found an extensive list of resources. From there, I started clicking. I went from a New York Times article about inflation today to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics to the origin and evolution of the word inflation. Before I knew it, I had been reading for over an hour, expanding beyond what I would normally read on my own.
This 26 minute episode sparked my curiosity and had me wanting to check Sarah and Beth’s sources. Not necessarily because I didn’t believe them, but because I wanted a deeper understanding of what they were discussing. This particular show didn’t give much context about each of their five facts because there simply wasn’t enough time. But what it did give me were resources and a place to start. I don’t always agree with everything said on Pantsuit Politics, and I’m glad for it, because it forces me to do my own research and either further solidify my opinion or change it after becoming a more informed reader.
Other podcasts I’ve done this with are RadioLab — this episode on on the worst year ever made me dive down a deep rabbit hole — and Hidden Brain, specifically the episode about the dichotomy of two things being true. The episode of 99% Invisible called “Weeding is Fundamental,” about the San Francisco Public Library after an epic 1989 earthquake that struck near Santa Cruz, had me jumping from earthquakes to architecture to current library weeding policies to the current book banning crisis.
Another way that podcasts can help you become a better reader is through read-along style podcasts. Harry Potter and the Sacred Text reads a chapter from Harry Potter every week and reflects on it through a particular theme. Vanessa Zoltan and Matthew Potts hold a close reading using ancient religious reading practices to glean new meaning from every chapter. Through rigor and ritual, the team believes there is wisdom to be taken away from the text. Examining a text through a sacred lens brings a whole new type of engagement with the material, exercising your reading muscles in new ways they haven’t been used before. The podcast condemns J.K. Rowling’s transphobia and believes the readers and the reading process are the things to be held sacred.
Fated Mates started as a read along of Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series and has transformed over the seasons to reading romance through a different theme every season. Generally, the hosts Sarah MacLean and Jennifer Prokop announce what book they will be reading at the end of an episode and give listeners two weeks to read the book before their deep dive analysis of the book. The week between “deep dives” they have what’s called an interstitial episode where Jen and Sarah recommend books around a particular romance trope. This type of podcast improves your reading by letting you read as homework, then participate in the analysis the hosts have by listening to them debate the novel. Also, it introduces you to books that may have passed you by before and through reading “seminal texts” of the genre that you may be unaware of if you’re new to the romance community — or even if you’re not new, to be honest, because a genre like romance is so vast. Spending time reading the backlog history of a genre you love helps you better understand how the genre got where it is today.
Podcasts are a valuable tool for readers. Not taking advantage of gathered resources about a new interest you have is a mistake. In the world of being able to get infinite answers through the internet, it’s useful to have an expert in that field lay out a few places to start, then let your curiosity lead you naturally to the source, helping you become not only a better reader, but a more well read individual.
Be sure to check out Book Riot’s podcasts linked in the post above if you’re a dedicated podcast listener like me. Also, if you liked this, you might like New Bookish Podcasts to Listen to in 2022 and 33 of the Best Book Podcasts for All Genres.