Pod Review & Misc. September 10-23

It seems that this pod review post is going bi-weekly… at least for now, because of the necessities of life rather than an editorial choice of mine. Turns out September is a bit more eventful than I wished for and prepared for, as I had a small surgery earlier this week and am now on the mend, and off work for some days. Nothing serious (don’t worry), but just uncomfortable and… boring.

I’ve probably chosen the worst time ever to stop Instagram and Facebook, but then I would be on it way too much, so perhaps it’s for the best. My unread pile at the side of my bed is getting some serious attention, and I’m racing through books, so that’s a definitely good point of this whole adventure. Posting about it will take longer, because writing on my phone is not so convenient. Of course, podcasts are a great way to pass the time, and for some topics I listened in pairs (2 different shows on a similar topic). Here are the best ones:

  • Sorta Awesome #403 Who am I if I’m not this? Discussing life transitions when your role you identified most (professional, but also as a mother, or a person of faith, or a person with certain life choices) is shaken and needs to be reinvented.
  • Chinese Whispers: How the Cultural Revolution shaped China’s leaders today. Eye-opening, and a lot of historical propaganda that Chinese people get to assimilate without ever challenging.
  • Sinica: Yuen Yuen Ang on Xi Jinping, the Party bureaucracy and authoritarian resilience. A companion episode to the Chinese Whispers’ episode. It is depressing to have the confirmation that the Chinese regime believes in its own propaganda. I can remember how different it used to be…
  • Extra Awesome: Eating less meat and more plant with Kate Nixon. This episode was very open-minded, allowing for people who choose less meat for a variety of reasons, and don’t feel very confident. I can’t wait to try some of the recipes!
  • Science Vs. (from Gimlet) Vegans, are they right? Nicely paired with the previously listed episode. And full of nuances too.
  • Normal Gossip has returned with a season 3 that starts in a HOA, it’s quite juicy and full of surprises.
  • No Stupid Questions #113 How can you improve your mental endurance? A lot of very good points are made in this discussion, and not only about the title question. Enduring myths like the finite willpower stock (I was convinced it was true!), the mental fatigue of poverty, how the brain really works… fascinating!
  • Serial Season 1 episode 13: Adnan is Out. Yes!! As a complete fan of Serial from the very beginning in 2014, I could not believe my ears. The news made it in like 5 seconds of the French radio news program (but French people got on podcasts just a few years ago, so I guess nobody understood what it was referring to). My mind is blown that what the podcast discovered has actually been confirmed in court. I might re-listen to the whole season, if I am stuck in bed for much longer.
  • Your undivided Attention: #33 Mind the (Perception) Gap with Dan Vallone. A very, very interesting episode full of ideas on how to incentivize social media to reduce the polarization of opinions rather than benefiting from it and fueling it. This episode was from April 2021, before the Facebook leaks, but still, it’s balanced between bad news and solutions.

On the social media hiatus project, it’s getting better but it’s still not easy. Especially missing the dopamine hit when you’re otherwise anxious and have nothing else to do (think medical appointment’s waiting room). I can confess that at some point, I watched Instagram from my phone’s internet browser, but I stopped after 20 minutes. I suddenly have lots of time to read and do other things, and that’s nice too!

Happy weekend everyone!

Pod Review August 27 – September 9

Every news of the world seem to have been put on hold with the passing of Queen Elizabeth… that even I need to mention it here, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with books and podcasts. I suppose it is in my mind because it signals the end of an era, or the signal that nothing is forever. Well, I didn’t mean to abruptly pass from weekly to bimonthly on my podcasts posts, although last time I expressed some… let’s say overwhelm. So much has been going on in my real life (with the return to school and other time-sucking personal worries) that I just didn’t post. But I’m definitely not going on a hiatus.

The fact is that I decided on the last minute to go cold turkey off Facebook and Instagram for the whole month of September, and the weaning off of social media on my phone is waaaay harder than what I’d expected, a tell-tale sign that I was waaaay more addicted than I admitted to myself. I’m 9 days into the experiment, and I still reach for my phone when I want some relaxation, but what do I find there? A language app, the WordPress app, my photos, my emails and Google. (Fine print: I still can reach for Facebook on my computer, but it’s not the same, and i don’t feel the pull).

Did I compensate with podcasts? Strangely enough, no. My mind is still distracted, and only the very best podcasts are able to capture the jumping squirrel of my attention span. Among those I’ll mention:

  • Sinica Podcast: Is China’s bubble finally about to pop? A conversation with Bloomberg chief economist Tom Orlik. Two very current topics were addressed: the real estate bubble and the zero Covid policy. Orlik had not only ideas on the diagnostic but also about strategies and solutions
  • No Stupid Questions #112 is it okay to hate highbrow culture? It was a light-bulb moment that explained to me some fundamental differences between the US and Europe.
  • Normal Gossip, the bonus episode called “Telephone Game“, it was simply a hoot!
  • Radiolab 9-Volt Nirvana: about a weird brain experiment, where you activate some parts of your brain with electricity (sounds icky!!) with totally mind-blowing effects.

Contrary to what I announced last week, I did try yet another podcast, Time Out with Eve Rodsky and Dr. Aditi Nerukar, because I’d already downloaded the episodes on my phone and I was still curious. I am interested in the topic of division of labor, but I didn’t like the confrontational tone of the podcast. Luckily I’m not in crisis mode where it comes to division of labor in my own home, and other women will probably benefit from the hard truths that are dispensed in this podcast, but I was not the right audience for it.

Eventually, I rejoiced in the traditional back-to-school episodes of my favorites podcasts, especially Sorta Awesome. One great tip has been stored in my mind: freeze cookie dough balls… 🍪🍪🍪

Now that does sound like a plan! I do need a good recipe. Anyone else for freshly baked cookies while listening to podcasts? Happy weekend everyone!

Pod Review August 20-26

I am back home, but as the kids are still away with the family, I still had plenty of quiet time by myself… with podcasts! As the school season is quickly approaching (over here, kids start on Sept. 1), I am trying to plan the rest of the year and reflect on how to keep my calm and safeguard my energy for as long as possible. September is for me like the New Year all over again, with a chance to reset goals and make better decisions until the year end (and stationery ❤ !). As in other areas of my life, I hope to make some adjustments about podcasts too.

Last week, I tried a podcast that was pushed to me by my podcast app: This is actually happening. I tried 2 episodes, and… It didn’t work for me. The respective situations of the narrators were tough, emotional (a person discovers a family secret about her origin, and another person’s father was delusional and abusive) but I felt like the story was engineered to push all my buttons. The lack of editing was also a problem. Not any tear-jerker is worth my limited free time.

In the self-help department, I really enjoyed the Lazy Genius podcast #273 How to Cross the Summer Finish Line (because that’s exactly where I’m at right now), and I plan to follow her advice.

I listened to a few different podcasts that highlighted political division (in the US, but it’s not much better elsewhere, sadly), in Pantsuit Politics (episode Why they did it with Tim Miller) and in Your Undivided Attention (episode How political language is engineered with Drew Westen and Frank Luntz). I really like when different podcasts address the same theme through different lenses.

I also learnt about the #Cleangirl trend through ICYMI (always quite fun and informative, but I feel old when I listen!) and about what Martha Stewart represents in pop culture and for women (in the 1990s and 2000s culture but even now) in You’re Wrong About. Maintenance Phase made me laugh about the dieting bestseller French Women don’t get fat (I would know if it was true).

Altogether, I found that I’ve been going a bit overboard with podcasts this summer. It’s time for me to limit the time I spend with my earbuds and be more selective. I tend to have this as background noise but I know my mind is elsewhere. The few new podcasts I tried recently were not quite a success, and even for podcasts I enjoy, I need not download every single episode just because. But I still plan to keep a weekly post to highlight the awesome things I’ve learnt through the podcast world. Have a great weekend everyone!

Pod Review August 13-19

I declare that train travel is the best… at least for podcasts! Since last Friday we took many train rides, and once we got on board, I put my earbuds on and just watched the landscape change while someone was telling me stories… heaven! Podcasts for waiting in a half-empty train station hall in a small town near the mountains is not bad either…

Because I was on a train, I had to listen to the episode of A Strong Sense of Place on… trains. Of course, the Orient Express and Agatha Christie had to be mentioned, but much more than that, and the whole episode was a delight as the hosts share my newly found love for this means of transportation.

This week, I binged through the complete mini-series Dead End, a New Jersey political murder mystery. I’d heard it advertised on Radiolab because it’s a WNYC Studio production. It was very good, quite scandalous in its revelations (and innuendos) but it was also frustrating because the mystery is still very much open. Needless to say, there’s not much positive said about the New Jersey political system.

I also want to mention a podcast that I tried, and followed my own rule of 2 episodes before making an opinion: How to Start Over, by The Atlantic. I remember that the podcast series by The Atlantic on Hurricane Katrina was great, but this one, which is part interview part self-help, didn’t quite convince me. I listened to How to start over when you think it’s too late and Parents are not all good and all bad, and I didn’t find that it offered really fresh perspectives on either topic.

To make it up after a small disappointment, two good podcasts episodes:

  • Throughline on The Mystery of Inflation. Frankly, it’s also one of those unsolved mysteries, and the worst is that economists themselves don’t seem to get it either… Interesting to learn how the Federal Reserve came to be so powerful and what previous experiences of price control the US went through.
  • Sinica Podcast on Chinese public opinion on Russo Ukrainian war, with Yawei Liu and Danielle Goldfarb. If nothing else I was very interested by the method of polling the population without to much bias (as they claim) in authoritarian regimes by RIWI Corp, a Toronto based research company. I will look it up when I’m home.

By the time this post will be up I’ll be back home and my train adventures will be over, too be soon replaced by the much less romantic commuter train…

Pod Review August 6-12

Over the week I had several hours of non-stop podcasts while our train slowly made its way across some mountains (I’m prone to motion sickness so I need to focus on the scenery, which wasn’t too difficult). I laughed out alone while listening to Sorta Awesome episode 399, and bit my nails while waiting for the result of a vote on school budget in This American Life episode 776 I work better on a deadline. Do you think Breaking Bad was suspenseful? Think again! My train trip flew by!

I finished the latest season of Rough Translation about work with 3 episodes: You’re@work (on the different persona one might assume at work), Alone@work (on women truckers) and Ourselves@work (on remote work and finding community with co-workers on the metaverse). I enjoyed the variety of the perspectives and look forward to the next season.

I tried a new-to-me BBC podcast with another British voice (Welsh in that case): Things Fell Apart by Jon Ronson. It’s an exploration of the origin stories of several culture wars. I listened to the first three episodes and it was full of events that I’d never heard about. The 3rd episode named Miracle is my favorite so far, how in 1985, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, televangelist Tammy Faye Messner invited a gay Christian minister Steven Pieters who was sick and not expected to live more than one year, to speak on her show. The extracts of their frank and open discussion are so heart warming and so far from those “discussions” (more like verbal fist fights) we see now on television.

Speaking of entrenched opposition, I listened to the first episode of Pantsuit Politics summer season centered on their new book Now what? How to move forward when we’re divided. It is heartbreaking to hear of these families who aren’t able to reconcile despite their differences.

Pantsuit Politics was advertising for Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History Oscar and it made me realize that I hadn’t checked it out for years! I started Season 7 The Experiment Experience and the first episode The Magic Wand Experiment was really fun and interesting, how experiments that scientists would dream of making (in the psychology area) but are too long, expensive, impractical or possibly unethical to conduct. Separate twins at birth and see the influence of their social circumstances? Remove penises to baby boys, raise them as girls and see the result? What about a 50 years comparison between a group with iPad and a group without any social media? 🤔

I have a lot more train next week so it will definitely be fun! Have a great weekend everyone!

Pod Review July 30 – August 5

Ok, who was I kidding when I said I would have a lot of time for podcasts during our trip? You guys must have been thinking “yeah yeah” when reading my post last week. Last weekend was at home and packing so there definitely were podcasts in the program. But we’re now in Austria and podcast time is limited to meal preparation, which is just throwing together whatever charcuterie and veggies we found at the supermarket… 10 minutes tops!

I rekindled my interest for Esther Perel (which is no longer only available on Spotify, luckily) and spent the duration of the flight laughing at the drama of Normal Gossip.

For people interested in China, I strongly recommend the episode: Is China’s property market about to go bust? from Chinese Whispers. I had followed the topic from afar, and the answers the experts bring to the question are very eye-opening.

I also tried a new podcast: The Purpose Show with Allie Casazza, that was recommended by someone in the Sorta Awesome Facebook group. The first episode I tried was #260 An anxiety hack for you, but I felt that the content was nothing that I hadn’t heard before. I then tried another episode: #241 How I sync my work with my menstrual cycle, because I genuinely wanted to hear from this experience, and this one made my blood boil. I really disliked how privileged and self-centered the approach was, because Allie Casazza is obviously the boss of her own business, and she basically made her whole team (most probably other women) adjust to her own cycle. Now this might be a fluke in an otherwise perfectly nice catalogue, but I’m not very interested to continue the experience.

Speaking of boiling blood, that’s what the hosts of Maintenance Phase want you to feel, and they really managed that with the episode Zombie Statistics Spectacular. They attack and debunk the figures that are in lots of pop science articles against fat people: the outrageous medical costs of overweight people, the life expectancy reduction, etc. etc. I’m really glad that someone really sat down to prove that those figures were anything but scientific.

To conclude with more rigorous science and psychology, I really laughed out loud at episode #107 of No Stupid Questions: Is it worth it for charities to harass their donors? I had wondered about it myself, being on the receiving end of countless paper mails with labels, pens, tearful pictures etc. The episode tells of a very special experiment where donors were asked how often they wanted to be contacted (with the option to say: never after that one).

Tomorrow we’re on a train so there should be some podcasts. Book-reading is going well, at least, but for the rest I’m not making any promises anymore 😉. I hope y’all have a great weekend!

Pod Review July 23-29

This week was the last one of full-time work before summer break. In France, the first half of August is the favorite period for vacation for most of the working populations. Parisians leave the capital in droves (only tourists and French loners will roam the empty streets), trains to the seaside are fully booked, bakeries shut down and some factories too, and nobody really expects anything to get done for a fortnight. Bliss… But before that, it was the rush to complete as much of my to-do list as (in?)humanly possible. And lots of podcasts supported me in this endeavor.

  • I laughed out loud at Episode 400 of Sorta Awesome (and tried a game of “Would you rather” with my own kids)
  • I learnt a lot about the history of ice cream (a must in this season!) thanks to You’re Dead To Me. Notably very weird flavors from the 1800s, and the very dangerous health risks of eating ice cream in Victorian England (ugh)
  • About motivation, and how to trick your brain to resist the temptation of a cigarette (or worse), see You vs You by Radiolab
  • I learnt a lot of scientific facts on abortion in a special Science Vs episode (whether fetus have fingernails and feel pain, and a lot more…)
  • I wondered about the weird system of student loans in the US in Throughline.

I tried several new-to-me podcasts:

  • Reading Glasses: I tried two episodes (about books, of course!) and it was all nice and good but not as great as…
  • Strong Sense of Place: that book podcast I’m falling hard for. I started with a tricky episode, one about Paris, my own city. It was a sink-or-swim case, because if the podcast had only gone for Amélie-type clichés, I would have bristled against it. (I love Amélie, don’t take me wrong, but there’s a lot more to Paris beyond Amélie, and not all is rosy and full of macaroons). The two hosts won me over with their selection: a few titles were expectedly about wine and romance, but others were not! And the second episode, on Vietnam, finished to convince me that I seriously need to listen to their back catalogue. For all the travel-frustrated friends, you need this podcast!
  • You’re Dead To Me is a great BBC podcast about History, and it’s didactic and a lot of fun. (And also, I love British accent!)

I probably overdid it with new podcasts this week, because I am so looking forward to the August break. Who knows what I will discover when I’ll have some free time? Stay tuned and have a great weekend!

Pod Review July 16-22

This week was quite long, and we got our boys back from camps (dirty, exhausted but happy)! I read lots of articles on how the accumulation of bad news is weighing on us all (I’m the first one to recognize it, although I can’t function in the morning if I don’t have the radio on, which unloads its fair share of tragedies). So for the sake of trying to counter-balance this, this podcast weekly recap will concentrate on light-hearted shows and positive news only (no dud, no meh…). You can thank me later!

  • If you want a very informed (possibly overly so) discussion on whether toilets should be free or not, head to No Stupid Questionsepisode 103. With their usual good mood and banter, the 2 hosts Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth discuss tipping, public toilets and other public goods, consumer behavior, etc. I’d never thought this question could lead to so much!
  • If you want to restore (a little?) your faith in humanity, listen to The Possum Experiment by This American Life. I’m rather a pessimistic person, and it surprised me.
  • If you’re a woman hitting midlife and you want to feel seen and normal, head to Sorta Awesome‘s episode 389 Let’s Talk about midlife: nonstop appetite and historical hysterics
  • If you want to vicariously take sides in a workplace scandal taking place in a Starbucks café, choose Normal Gossip and its episode: “Personality of a Tan Wall with Tobin Low”

I started a few new podcasts but didn’t reach the 2-episodes mark, so I’m going to stay mysterious for one more week.

Pod Review July 9 – 15

A full week without the kids (who are both in camps) that proved busier than fully relaxing. Yes, I tried probably too much to catch up on all those neglected projects, but it also meant that I had lots of uninterrupted time for books and podcasts (yeah!).

I finished the British mini-series Sweet Bobby about catfishing, that I’d mentioned last week. The ending is a bit inconclusive, in my opinion, but it’s worth a listen. The crux of the matter is: catfishing is not illegal per se in the UK (I don’t know about here), and so a victim really does’t have legal grounds to sue the person who manipulated her. The portrait of the person who did this is rather chilling and opens up a lot of questions.

I also want to mention a very different show episode, from one of my favorite podcasts: Sorta Awesome. Episode 397 is “Let’s do a mid-year check-in“, and I found it very appropriate and full of grace. Whether you have set yourself goals or not, it’s a good (if underrated) moment to take stock of the first half of the year, especially at my age when I feel that years go by faster and faster.

I tried a new-to-me podcast: Awesome Etiquette from the team of Emily Post. It’s one of those shows that need to come at the exact right moment. The first half of the first episode I tried, I was like: don’t they have anything better to do but to spend 20 minutes dissecting the best way to hang up the phone? (insert eyeroll emoji). But the second episode I tried was way better and full of genuine care of the other person. It’s also interesting to me how social etiquette might be sometimes different between Americans and Europeans.

To finish, I’ll confess that as soon as I finished Donna Tartt’s book The Secret History, I re-downloaded the episodes on the book in the mini-series Once Upon a Time at Bennington College, which had convinced me to pick up the book in the first place (I was raving about it in June). Although the host (or Tartt herself?) says it’s fiction, a lot suggests that it’s a roman à clef, and if you’ve read the novel, this podcast is a splendid companion.

Have a great weekend, and if you’re in a heatwave just like us here, stay cool!

Pod Review July 2 – 8

So much happened since last week’s post that it feels like a full month: weekend with relatives with delayed trains, last days of school, saying goodbye to the wonderful woman who took care of my younger son after school (she’s relocating), departure day for the summer camps… As always, podcasts were a terrific tool to help me during those long waits and transit time.

After being enthusiastic about the podcast Crazy Town (on climate change) and its episode “Stop saving the planet”, I listened to another episode: “The stopwatch of dooom: how the cult of productivity torpedoes sustainability and equity“. It was good, but not great, mostly unequal between moments of rather all-boys humor and in-depth discussion on why Taylorism is just fake science and has deep ramification on our society (I particularly enjoyed how they described the rise of the managers as a type of secondary, or tertiary jobs…). I have downloaded a third episode from their back catalogue.

I got into a fascinating series on catfishing: Sweet Bobby. (I just recently learnt what the term means). I don’t remember how I came across this show (which is from UK), but I was really into it after two episodes, and I just finished the 4th episode out of 6. It’s mind-boggling to see how someone has impersonated a (real, live) person for the benefit of a young woman and spun a web of lies for almost of decade to manipulate her into falling in love with the fake persona. Now, I don’t want to spoil anything here, but in terms of a judicial case, I wonder what kind of damages the poor young woman can claim, as the catfisher didn’t even do this to steal money (Obviously, I’m not a law professional).

I’m not really into board games, but my kids are (and therefore rather frustrated). I was very interested to learn everything about the origins of the game Monopoly, in an episode of NPR Throughline: “Do Not Pass Go“. It’s really not what you think! Even the story around its creation, by an unemployed guy during the Great Depression, is fake. And what about the game Anti-Monopoly that also existed?

I continued the season on Work from NPR Rough Translation, with an episode on Portugal: “Stuck@Work: Your country’s brand is escape, but you can’t.” There are a lot of Portugese people in France, but their culture and history are very much underestimated. The episode traces the abusive work culture there back to the long years of fascism in Portugal. Really eye-opening, not only on Portugal, but also on some non-obvious ways fascism can infuse into culture and daily life.

Now that the kids are gone, I’d love to download a true crime series, something to give me goosebumps even as the weather will be very hot. Any suggestion?