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so you ran out of This American Life, vol. 4

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been listening to podcasts for the past year and a half. SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED IN THE PAST YEAR AND A HALF. I know, I know. You’re sick of me talking about it. It’s all I’ve been able to talk about for, oh, the past year and a half. But, oh, that past Jessica, that 18 months ago Jessica, she used to work so many jobs and commute all over the city and generally go-go-go-go-go.

And run tiny laps around a tiny track listening to This American Life.

And then, when she ran out of This American Life, some other podcasts. You can read about those here, here, and here.

Recently, a dear friend of mine brought me a present. A dear, podcast-loving-friend with a stockpile of ancient WTF episodes stored on his hard drive. He offered me the gift of Marc Maron interviewing Ira Glass in 2010. It’s a great episode. I listened to it a while ago and it had me thinking about storytelling and how we relate to each other as humans and how one goes from Normal Human to Cultural Superhero (Ira, Marc) while maintaining personal integrity, authenticity. Last weekend, The Boy and I were unpacking and he queued up the episode on our speakers. After the second listen, I just wanted to listen to more This American Life.

So I did. Yes, there are other excellent podcasts being podcasted, but if you are in possession of a smartphone (which Past Jessica was not), then the This American Life app is well worth the three dollars.

Three dollars. THREE DOLLARS! Three dollars will buy you access to every episode that has ever existed, including episodes before the show existed as This American Life. You can skip over all the episodes that bore you, listen to old favorites, or do like me – get completely overwhelmed and just pick 2008 and start listening.

So here is a quick guide to my favorite 2008 episodes, which will be useful only to those who buy the app or time travelers. But really… THREE DOLLARS! Come on, guys.

You can also listen to any episode streaming from the website, so if you have a tedious computer task and want something to listen to, then you can just follow the links.

Maybe I’ve listened to too many comedy podcasts, but is there anything more fun than spying on the inner workings of The Onion? Onion staffers pitch hundreds of headlines a week to each other, hoping that one or two will pass muster. It’s serious. It’s intense. And it’s hundreds of potential Onion headlines, so it’s absurd. Also: guess who was a staffer in 2008? Megan Ganz. And Iiiiiii have a girl-crush on Megan Ganz.

Also, the last act with Malcolm Gladwell was so funny I forced a headphone into my man’s ear so he could listen. Then I made him buy the three dollar app.


I am a sucker for stories about education, especially after living with a teacher for four years. Act One, all about questionable disciplinary and firing practices in the New York Public School System was completely fascinating. And if anyone has had the good fortune to live in a city or neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying, Act Two will be an eye-opener.


If I am a sucker for educational stories, I am even more a sucker for Geoffrey Canada stories. This one is about baby university. Act Three is also really great, about a mother in prison and the daughter who missed her too much. One of those tear-jerking episodes. You know the ones I’m talking about.


Hey, remember 2008? That whole election thing? It sure is interesting to listen to what people were thinking about our president and the state of government during 2008, five years into said presidency. Start with these three episodes, then move onto…


… some episodes about America’s near financial collapse! I think I actually tried to listen to these when they aired, but I gave up on all that banking jargon. But five years later, I am wiser and more patient and have lived in this economy long enough to understand the terminology. Also, these episodes are just entertaining.


These two are This American Life classics – they get replayed often, so you might have heard them already. If not, then do. This is part of your cultural education! Mike Birbiglia’s story – the inspiration for his movie Sleepwalk With Me – is the highlight of Episode 361, and Episode 360 is fascinating, and will break your heart six ways to Sunday.



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