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My 6 Favorite Podcasts Paired with Powerful Books

by  | July 22
Big Friendship book on table with earbuds

Without my morning commute, my podcast-listening time is spiraling downward. For some reason I MUST be doing something else while listening, so I’ve discovered ample mindless activities that help to replace the lull of the subway, from playing laser tag with the cat to washing the dishes three times over. What also helps me get back in the podcast groove is returning to those episodes that I know will keep me engaged from beginning to end. Here, I’ve rounded up several powerful podcasts—and worthy books to pair them with—that do the trick for me!

Big Friendship

Big Friendship

by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

Call Your Girlfriend

Call Your Girlfriend is the podcast I turn to when I miss my friends and need a mood lift. Long-distance besties Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow have such great chemistry—which only truly enduring friends have—that they make me feel like my own bffs are whispering sweet words of wisdom into my ear. In each episode they tackle intriguing topics from current events to advice on relationships, all with quick wit and a feminist angle. The first book the two hosts have written together, Big Friendship, dives into the ups and downs of their impressively long-lasting friendship. It’s a necessary reminder that your true friends will always be there to help you through heartbreaks, and to cheer the loudest at your success.

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I Can't Date Jesus

I Can't Date Jesus

by Michael Arceneaux

Keep It

In Keep It, podcast host Ira Madison III isn’t afraid to call it like it is. He and his co-hosts, Louis Virtel and Aida Osman, mix personal anecdotes and humor with pop culture and current events in a way that’s entertaining and not too dreary news-wise. Highly recommended for anybody who prefers to take their cuppa news with a salty pinch of sass and hearty rage. Similarly, Michael Arceneaux, author of I Can’t Date Jesus, calls out all those bigots he’s encountered—and he’s encountered many as a black gay man growing up in America, plus in a Catholic household. With refreshing and unapologetic humor, his anecdotes traverse coming out in college, the inspiring impact of Beyoncé, and so much more. Michael was recently a guest on their show, so listen to that for a warm-up!

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How to Handle a Crowd

How to Handle a Crowd

by Anika Gupta

Reply All

What I love about Reply All is how the stories they delve into wind up being eye-opening, practical, and entertaining all at the same time. When I settle in for an episode, I know I’ll be fully immersed in whatever quirky journalistic endeavors they are exploring in the digital internet world (though sometimes not so digital—looking at you, wild hogs’ episode). In How to Handle a Crowd, author Anika Gupta takes this same approach. As a former tech journalist, Anika was able to find stories from all sides of the digital spectrum, from World of Warcraft guild forums to the Nextdoor sphere, and what emerges is an in-depth look into online communities that will broaden your knowledge about a place we’re spending a lot more time in these days.

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Craigslist Confessional

Craigslist Confessional

by Helena Dea Bala

Death, Sex & Money

As explained in its Twitter bio, Death, Sex & Money is a show about “big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.” Host Anna Sale isn’t afraid to talk about the deep stuff, so I couldn’t think of a better book to pair it with than an exposé into the deepest darkest corner of the web: Craigslist. Author Helena Dea Bala posted an ad on Craigslist with the promise that she would listen to whatever people were too afraid to tell anyone else. The stories are shocking and, like Death, Sex & Money, completely left out of polite conversation—or any conversation for that matter. This podcast-book pairing is perfect for anyone who enjoys stretching out of their comfort zones and doesn’t shy away from humanity’s most shameful secrets and truths.

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The Buddhist on Death Row

The Buddhist on Death Row

by David Sheff

Ear Hustle

Ear Hustle is not only an informative podcast about life in prison, but also a record breaker—the first podcast to be created entirely in prison. This incredible podcast reveals stories directly from the prisoners themselves, and was started by former San Quentin inmates: Antwan Williams and Earlonne Woods (whose sentence was actually commuted due in part to his work on the podcast). A book that pairs nicely with this podcast is The Buddhist on Death Row. Author David Sheff previously wrote Beautiful Boy, and his new work is similar in that it’s equal parts harrowing and inspiring. As the title suggests, it explores the life of Jarvis Jay Masters, who is currently on death row, where he became—of all things—a practicing Buddhist. Coming out on August 4, this book is receiving extremely high advanced praise, from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Alice Walker to Anne Lamott. Add this book to your TBR list, as well as Jarvis’s own earlier memoir, That Bird Has My Wings.

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Countdown 1945

Countdown 1945

by Chris Wallace

Slow Burn

If you look at just the subject matter of a each season of Slate’s Slow Burn podcast, you might be thrown off. In its four seasons, the hit show has covered a lot of ground—from Watergate to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, to the murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., and now, for its current season, David Duke. The idea is that they take on well-known world-changing events from recent history, and carefully cover them from all angles, so that listeners get the full picture. Similarly, Chris Wallace’s Countdown 1945 describes an event we’ve all learned about in school—the circumstances leading up to the dropping of the atomic bombs—yet does so with incredible care and research. With info gathered from everyone involved, the book structures and supports their stories with necessary explanations and narrative intrigue, and feeds it out to the reader for one intense nonfiction account.

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Emily Lewis is a marketing associate at Simon & Schuster who loves every book genre but has a soft spot for sci-fi/fantasy. She recently moved to NYC from Chicago a month before quarantine and will enjoy crossing things off her NYC bucket list…eventually. For now, she enjoys playing guitar, board games, and chilling with cats. Find her on Instagram at @emlewis22.