Listening In: Podcasts and the Oral Storytelling Tradition

Stories these days come in a variety of mediums: print (books, magazines, newspapers), audiobooks, plays, musicals, film and television (live or on demand)… the list goes on and on! But long before cable TV, radio, or Gutenberg’s printing press were invented, humans were telling stories, sharing their history, entertaining one another, and teaching lessons by telling tales. Over time, human progress has changed how we remember and share stories. “Humans have employed technology to hold on to stories for as long as we’ve had speech,” explains storyteller and poet Joseph Bruchac. “Early on we carved shapes into wood or stone to create mnemonic devices…in the north-eastern woodlands of the US we made wampum, shell beads strung in patterns to record events. Now we have books and digital recorders.” And now, with the ubiquity of the Internet, a new form of oral storytelling has hit the scene: podcasts!

Personally, we think nothing beats a good book, but we’ll devour a good story any way we can get it, and sometimes, that means podcasts! If you’re new to the world of podcasts—defined by Merriam-Webster as “a program (as of music or talk) made available in digital format for automatic download over the Internet”—there’s almost certainly one out there to suit your tastes. Topics range from politics, money, creepy tales, true crime…the options are nigh endless. Some of the most popular podcasts feature ghost stories, horror, and mystery—perhaps because the medium lends itself so well to the intimate feeling of being huddled around a campfire, sharing stories—and many of them utilize the audio format to bump up the “reality” factor, mimicking found footage or radio transmissions reminiscent of Orson Welles’s radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds.

Below, we’ve listed some of the more popular podcasts online today. (We certainly can’t list them all, but if you want a larger list, Time has a comprehensive one.) We’ve also paired them with some of the books featured in the Bas Bleu catalog and on our website, so you can find a book based on your listening choices—or vice versa!

Mystery
Homecoming: A contemporary fictional mystery/psychological thriller featuring the voice talents of actors Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, and David Schwimmer (among others). It’s presented as “an enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions, and overheard conversations.”

Alice Isn’t Dead: By the creators of Welcome to Night Vale. Follows a trucker searching for her long-assumed-dead wife, and weaves fiction that straddles that line of mystery and horror.

Pair with:

   

True Crime
Serial: True crime podcast developed by This American Life. The first season raises questions about a murder case from 1999, in which the suspect was convicted despite maintaining his innocence. Each season covers one case/story.

Criminal: Another true crime podcast. Each episode covers a case/story, including the story of the first missing child to ever appear on a milk carton and a man who’s spent ten years in jail for a crime that was never committed.

Pair with:

   

Ghost Story/Horror
Limetown: A mix of Serial and The X-Files, related in a series of fictional investigative reports about the disappearance of over 300 people from a small town in Tennessee.

The Black Tapes: The paranormal and supernatural abound in this fictional docudrama about a journalist following the career of a paranormal investigator.

Welcome to Night Vale: A bizarre, Lovecraft-esque world, delivered to the listener by way of a fictional radio show.

Pair with:

   

Nonfiction
Embedded: By NPR, this documentary-style postcast dives deep into a variety of current topics.

Hardcore History: Approaches basic world history in a way you never heard in high school.

This American Life: The quintessential (and widely beloved) radio podcast featuring short stories, essays, and memoirs. Started in 1995, with over 600 episodes so far.

You Must Remember This: A podcast about the “secret and/or forgotten histories” of old Hollywood.

Pair with:

   

Happy listening AND reading, bluestockings!

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