Refresh Your Head! Podcast Recommendations From an Academic Commuter

Guest Blog: Anna McFarlane, @mariettarosetta

I started a new lectureship at University of Leeds this semester, so I currently have a regular 5-hour commute. As a result, I got into a few new podcasts, so thought I’d post some recommendations since the hosts are always asking you to spread the word, and I almost never do. Thanks to Chuckie for offering to host them here, since many of them have a literary and/or fantastic theme.

Firstly, The History of Literature podcast. I got into this one because the host, Jacke Wilson, covers some of the texts I was teaching. Listening to a relevant podcast on the walk to the train station is a great way to do some seminar prep on the go, and I recommended some of his podcasts to my students, particularly some who were struggling with so much reading material. Wilson’s presentation style is completely charming, and there’s some great storytelling here (check out his recent episode Kierkegaard Falls in Love), and you could even treat it like a book club, if you were so inclined, and read the text he’s looking at in advance. I’m currently reading Edith Wharton’s short ghost story ‘The Old Nurse’s Tale’ in preparation for the relevant episode. I also recommend the three episodes on Henry James’s ‘The Beast in the Jungle’ where Wilson reads the story in its entirety, accompanied by his insightful and enthusiastic commentary.

Next up, Why Theory? Hosted by psychoanalysis scholars Todd McGowan and Ryan Engley, this podcast occasionally leaves me behind a bit when they really get on their hobby horses (I’ve just dabbled in some Lacan and Zizek really), but their topic episodes are very accessible; if you like the first one, on jokes and comedy, then I think you’ll get something out of it. They also have an episode on Twin Peaks: The Return, which is reason enough to give them a listen, in my book. For the more in-depth episodes, you may want to set the time aside to read the core text. Any excuse for some more Freud in your life, right?

These podcasts helped me with teaching and were useful materials to send to my students, but I also needed some comic relief for those late evening train journeys after a few pints with colleagues. For these situations, I recommend The Candyman. It’s the story of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory told in the style of a true crime podcast by Big Big Big, an Australian comedy trio. And if that piques your interest in some more comedy goodness, let me also mention The Beef and Dairy Network.

My next recommendation comes with a slight caveat, that I think the hosts occasionally get a bit carried away and deviate from the facts with their debunking… but much of their analysis is completely spot on, and their friendship makes for an engaging listening experience. Mike and Aubrey host Maintenance Phase, a podcast about fat issues and wellness culture. I particularly liked their episode on Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep, a book that contributed to my post-natal anxiety when I read Walker’s account of the importance of newborn sleep while dealing with a chronically exhausted 6-month-old. The Maintenance Phase episode came much later, but listening to it was cathartic, and in general I think their opinions have changed the way I think about fat issues in contemporary society.

And finally, I think, my perennial favourite is The Blindboy Podcast. It started as a way for Irish comedian Blindboy (one half of the TV-and-music duo The Rubberbandits) to promote his first short story collection. The first few episodes, and a few episodes sprinkled throughout) are lovingly-made audiobooks of his unsettling, absurdist short stories. Since then, the podcast has featured Blindboy’s ‘hot takes’, deep dives into the history of art and culture, as well as regular episodes on mental health and psychology that provided a lifeline for many during the pandemic, even as Blindboy struggled with his own issues. As a musician, Blindboy really cares about sound quality and works really hard to create a ‘podcast hug’, an intimate and warm atmosphere. Just what you need when alone and cold on a train platform, waiting to find out whether your delayed 10pm train home is actually going to arrive.

I hope this has been a handy way to refresh your podcast listening – and feel free to share your own recommendations!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s