1. DEAR SUGAR RADIO @CherylStrayed & @
The Dear Sugar column in online literary magazine The Rumpus is one of the most beautifully lyrical advice columns of all time, and it translates perfectly to audio. Sometimes episodes will focus on one single letter, sometimes on a theme, and sometimes they’ll draft in special guests such as author George Saunders or our generation’s most awesome teenager Tavi Gevinson.
The questions really range from relatively light and easy to pretty hardcore life issues, but Steve and Cheryl seem to wrap listeners in a quilt of rich voices, telling us we will be OK, no matter what.
Most likely advice: “Time is a great healer.”
Best listened: On the sofa, when you have the flu, wrapped in a blanket, eating the ultimate comfort food. It’s a great alternative to a hug.
Hosted by: Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond of course. Both great writers but more importantly amazingly empathetic humans who have been on tough journeys to learn all of life’s lessons so you don’t have to. As an aside, watch Wild. This is very important.
*Image of Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed, the two Sugars, courtesy of WBUR
2. SAVAGE LOVECAST @fakedansavage
Dan Savage is the complete opposite of Dear Sugar. He’s blunt, rude and somewhat obnoxious in his advice, but he can get away with it like no one else. He’s been writing Savage Love, a sex advice column in the Stranger, for over 20 years, convincing his readers to be sex-positive since before sex-positive was a thing. He is ruthlessly honest, both about how he lives his life and how people can break out of the shackles of misguided social conditioning. His energy and openness are truly contagious. I challenge you to binge-listen to the 450-episode back catalogue – your outlook on life, sex and relationships will never be the same again.
As a bonus, he has a little political rant at the top of each episode, and every time I’m more convinced he’s one of the only sane people left in the US. He talks about the importance of universal health care, gun control, reproductive rights, gender equality, LGBT issues, the indoctrination of religion and capitalism… He literally nails it every time.
Most likely advice: “DTMFA!” (dump the motherfucker already)
Best listened: With a significant other, you’ll have conversational fodder for days.
Hosted by: Dan Savage, otherwise known as the legend who turned Santorum into Santorum. He also writes seriously funny non-fiction and his husband is a bit of an Instagram legend because, well, check it out for yourself.
*I stole this image from Dan Savage’s Instagram, I do hope he doesn’t mind. His drag name was Helvetica Bold, which makes perfect sense to me.
3. PLZ ADVISE @
I can’t lie, when I first started heard it, I found Molls’s voice and demeanour incredibly irritating (sorry, girl) but I kind of couldn’t bring myself to unsubscribe. Then suddenly one day I was absent-mindedly listening and it all clicked. I shamelessly stalked her Twitter feed for about four hours and have now decided we are destined to be BFFs. Molls is hilarious and gives zero fucks what anyone thinks. Her advice isn’t always the most in-depth or politically correct, but the general vibe of the podcast is advice in itself: have fun, do your thing, pick your mood-altering substance of choice guiltlessly and don’t take any shit from life.
Most likely advice: “You do you, hun.”
Best listened: Whilst doing household chores and wishing you were hanging with your girlfriends instead.
Hosted by: Molls McAller, TV writer (Two Broke Girls) and author of The Alcoholic Bitch Who Ruined Your Life. Shoutout to producer Kristina Lopez who “would drive herself to her own abortion and just listen to This American Life in the parking lot”. She doesn’t pipe up often, but when she does, it’s worth it.
*Image from Instagram, captioned “Heirlooms & heirlooms”. I TOLD you she was awesome.
Should the gay son of a homophobic father lie about his sexuality in order to be able to afford university? Is it OK to wear an antique ivory necklace with sentimental value without feeling guilty for the elephants? Would you be misleading potential employers by hiring someone to write your resume and cover letter for you?
The ethicists don’t look at what possibility will be better for your life, or even what the most moral option is. Ethics is a completely unique beast and listening to people debating these dilemmas from a philosophical standpoint is good brain exercise, and conducive to interesting introspection. It’s also nice to hear reasoned, respectful debates in a media landscape where shouting the loudest seems to be your most valuable quality.
Most likely advice: “We don’t all have to agree. Ethics is not a science.”
Best listened: After a couple of glasses of wine, alone, when you need some inspiration for that novel we’re all writing.
Hosted by: Amy Bloom, with Kwame Anthony Appiah and Kenji Yoshino. There are no words to describe how much I’d love to go for dinner with these people.
*There are no images of all three of them together, but this is host Amy Bloom, reading from Where the God of Love Hangs Out at Harvard Book Store. Thanks YouTube!
5. ANSWER ME THIS @
Proof that the UK can also do podcasts, and hilarious ones at that. Helen and Olly do what it says on the tin – they will answer literally any question you have. This ranges from whether or not there’s a connection between Ritz Hotels and Ritz Crackers, to what to do when you find your parents’ sex tapes, interspersed with personalised jingles and endless pop-culture references.
It’s been going since pre-podcast boom, back in the dark ages of 2007. It’s fast-paced and jovial and you feel like you’ve stumbled into a really colourful version of Wikipedia, with more personality and better theme music.
Most likely advice: “I think we can all agree that common sense must never prevail.”
Best listened: Whilst walking to work in the morning, for some uplifting entertainment which won’t be so engrossing that you’ll forget to look both ways when you cross the road and can withstand the odd deafening police car driving by.
Hosted by: Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann, plus ‘Martin the Sound Man’ who pops up every now and then (and happens to have a PhD in Quantum Physics, as you do). They own their geekiness like no one else and it really really works.
*Image stolen from their Facebook page. I love that they’re just casually recording the podcast in Helen’s living room in South London.
I’m not big on self-help anything, so when The Happiness Project became the revived book of S/S 2015 I determindly ignored it, rolled my eyes and added a mental #BasicBitch note to everyone Instagramming the cover alongside a Starbucks cup. I hate being wrong, but I am just going to have to bite the bullet on this one. I still haven’t read the book but the spin-off podcast is just amazing. It’s jam packed full of hints and tips and small changes you can make to your life to up your happiness levels, as well as helping with insight into personality types and lifestyle factors.
What sets Happier apart is that it doesn’t give you the obvious or often unrealistic advice (‘go to the gym more’, ‘spend time with your loved ones’ etc), but goes deeper into working out what kind of person you are and what happiness incentives you’ll respond to, whilst maintaining a bubbly and warm tone. It is, quite literally, happiness.
Most likely advice: “Make sure you know what’s going to work for you and ignore the rest.”
Best listened: When you’re feeling a bit anxious or on edge and you need something soothing to remind you that everything will be OK again.
Hosted by: Sisters Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft, who have this really adorable relationship and clearly distinct personalities, which makes you feel like you’re all in it together.
*Image from gretchenrubin.com. That one time they were in the studio together as opposed to on opposite sides of the country.