A Twist in the Tale: Narrative Podcasts

I have a four hour commute to and from work to look forward to every day. The only way to keep your sanity intact through such an excruciatingly long journey is to be armed with entertainment.

Music is cool, I suppose. I also see the appeal that Candy Crush seems to have for every second person in the train. And a commute is as good a time as any to stay in touch with friends, I guess?

But with the mad amount of things I want to read in this lifetime (I’m seriously considering coming back as a ghost to haunt libraries and catch up on the to-read list I would have most certainly left unfinished when I die), a book is my go-to option. This is perfect in the train where I nearly always get a seat. But to get to the train, I travel by bus. Reading anything on buses (even an innocuous text message) makes me nauseous. Coupled with walking from the station to work and back, means two precious hours of my reading day lay utterly unutilised.

Audio books, as I discovered only a few months ago, are a brilliant solution. But an audio book requires a certain level of commitment. I haven’t become one of those self-actualized readers yet who can guiltlessly abandon an unfinished book if it’s just not their thing. I still have to finish a book (even in audio form) no matter how much I dislike it. Case in point: The Swiss Family Robinson. Oh, how I detested listening to that one every single day!

But a few weeks ago, I discovered podcasts. I used to listen to a couple of Harry Potter podcasts several years ago. But that was different because

1) I listened to the episodes in the comfort of my own home, via the computer.

2) They featured fans talking about Harry Potter. At that point, there were very few people in my life who wanted to talk about Harry Potter. Listening to people discussing Rowling’s world was great.

But now I’d much rather listen to stories than to people discussing stories. Which is where narrative podcasts step in. The two I’m currently following are Welcome to Night Vale and Serial.

welcome to night vale

Welcome to Night Vale is superbly strange and surreal – two of my favourite things! It’s set in the fictional desert town of Night Vale where a radio presenter announces the bizarre news and events.

For example: He died doing what he loved best … letting his guard down around birds.

Creator Joseph Fink describes it best – He came up with this idea of a town where all conspiracy theories are real, and just went from there with that understood.

So there’s a sinister dog park, a dragon that runs for mayor, mysterious disappearances, the Sherrif’s secret police that watches over your every move, hooded figures, an old woman who may or may not communicate with angels, poisonous glow clouds and secrets and conspiracies galore.

Each episode is about 25 minutes long and can be listened to independently. You don’t need to listen to the previous one for this one to make sense, even though familiar characters and past incidents do pop up from time to time. 25 episodes in, I absolutely love how surprising and experimental this podcast is. Its unpredictability is its best quality.

To get a taste of the wonderfully reality-bending world that is Night Vale, check out this Buzzfeed post. And this one if you’re still not convinced.

To start listening to the show, you can download episodes here.

Image courtesy here.

While Welcome to Night Vale takes care of my fictional needs, Serial is a stellar non-fiction accompaniment. I just started listening to it yesterday and even though I’m only one episode in, I already love the format it’s using and the story it’s choosing to tell.

Serial is essentially a documentary in the form of a podcast where journalist Sarah Koenig is investigating the murder of 18-year-old Hae Min Lee, who was strangled to death in 1999. Her ex-boyfriend Adnan Syed was arrested, tried, found guilty of murder and sentenced to prison. However, one of Adnan’s friends thinks the story doesn’t add up and approached host Sarah Koenig to figure out if there’s more to it.

There’s no sensationalism in the storytelling, which I appreciate. Koenig simply talks to as many people as she can, tries to get their stories straight, checks and double checks statements and tries to provide a factual, unbiased and objective view of what happened. She’s careful not to condemn or sympathise with Adnan. She’s just trying to understand what happened by exploring the case and the people connected to it.

Since I’ve only listened to the first episode, I haven’t researched Serial too heavily for fear of spoilers. But I can’t wait to see where this unconventional podcast goes. The season finale was released earlier this week, and there are a total of 12 episodes. Even at this early stage in my listening, I hope there’s a season 2 which follows another case.

You can listen to and download episodes here.

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