Late to the Party: On Narrative Podcasts

Since last Saturday, I’ve been dealing with an eye infection that escalated so quickly, I had to go to the emergency room. Don’t worry; I wasn’t confined and I’m doing much better now, plus I’ve reclaimed my right eye from swelling hell. The prescribed antibiotics and drops also make sure I don’t look like Manny Pacquiao punched me in the face, so that’s good.

Thing is, I had plans last weekend, both concerning my long-neglected social life and equally neglected reading backlog. That eye infection derailed both for a few days, literally adding insult to injury. Hell yeah I’m still pissed off about that part.

This unscheduled break from work and life did lead to one good thing. It made me revisit a medium I wasn’t all that interested in before: narrative podcasts, also called story podcasts.

People find podcasts addictive, and I’ve long wondered why I haven’t. Maybe it’s because it reminds me a bit of the over-the-top Filipino AM radio soap operas I listened to in college with our dorm housekeeper, for kicks. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t as into it as most people are.

Not that I didn’t try. I downloaded the podcast hit Serial back when it had just one season, but I zoned out so many times while on the first episode that I didn’t see the point of listening to the rest. I had also checked out individual episodes of diverse podcasts like Longform, This Week in Marvel, and Sleep with Me (it put me to sleep, which means it was a success!). I generally do better with straight-up interview podcasts like Nerdist — the Domhnall Gleeson episode is still the best one for me — and This Week in Marvel‘s interviews with MCU actors, but that’s about as far as I’ve gone.

Second shot at podcasts

Thanks to my current inability to read for long periods, I tried podcasts again yesterday, this time with Welcome to Night Vale via Spotify. Because I like making things difficult for myself, I’m starting with the very first episode made in 2012, and working my way down the timeline.

Night Vale is presented as an understated radio program set in a town where everything weird is true. I like it already; I find it hard to suspend my disbelief, but it’s part of the fun here.

Podcast perks

Look, this blog is called The Reading Spree for a reason. I will always, always go for the book first. But podcasts provide several advantages that books and e-books don’t:

  1. Most, if not all podcasts, are free. Either you go to the podcast’s website, use streaming services like Spotify or Stitcher, or go straight to podcast repositories like Libsyn and, and download from there. I pay for Spotify Premium, so it’s not free for me, but with Stitcher or Libsyn it can be free for you if you wish. On the other hand, print and digital books can be expensive, and not all secondhand bookstores carry the titles you’re looking for.
  2. I can’t read a book while stuck in traffic hell. Fuck, even e-books are included in the list of restricted media for this country’s Anti-Distracted Driving Act! Meanwhile, podcasts (and audiobooks) are A-OK, as long as I don’t use my phone to control playback and sequencing.
  3. I like making up voices and temperaments for characters whenever I read a book. Podcasts and audiobooks show me how differently readers interpret stories, and give me a point of comparison on how someone else read that story versus the way I did.
  4. Podcasts take up space only on my phone’s storage drive. The same goes for my e-books on my laptop and Kindle Paperwhite. In comparison, my books take up a lot of space in my small apartment.
  5. With podcasts, I’m done with an episode in an hour or less. Books, as much as I love them, take me longer to finish.

Podcast pitfalls

  1. As with books, the sheer number of podcasts available for download or streaming can make you feel a bit panicky inside. Too many shows to listen to, and no time to allocate for all of them!
  2. Even with its multiple conveniences, there’s still nothing like holding an actual book in your hands. Or, alright, an e-book reader. I’ve just recently made peace with that.
  3. I pay more attention to written words, and retain more info. Unlike with podcasts and audiobooks, where sometimes I replay specific parts because I’ve already forgotten about what was said.
  4. Nothing beats having an actual bookshelf. Or your own reading of a story. And some amazing stories just take up a lot of time.

On my to-listen list…

My strategy for this second try is to focus on narrative/fiction podcasts first, then take it from there if I like it. All my choices also have novel equivalents; hooray for safety nets, I guess.

  1. Will go with Welcome to Night Vale first, mainly because if the podcast doesn’t work for me, the series has four books I can read at my own time/pace. I remember seeing the first purple one in Philippine bookstores, although they were priced higher than expected. But of course.
  2. Because a USTNWW co-fellow suggested it, Limetown is next on my list. It’s a lot shorter with one season (six episodes), and like Night Vale, it will have a (prequel) novel version. Have to wait until November 2018 for it, though.
  3. Marvel’s Wolverine: The Long Night is interesting to me, in the sense that I wanna see how a renowned comics/movie character fares in the audio world. It’s also amazing that they can still come up with new stories for old man Logan.
  4. Tor Labs — yes, connected to US publisher Macmillan and its imprint Tor Books— has also gone into serialized/narrative podcasting with Steal the Stars. I’m curious about this because of two words: “heist” and “aliens”. There’s also a novel version of Steal the Stars that came out last year.

I also have two questions in mind:

  1. Any other suggestions/recommendations for narrative podcasts I should check out?
  2. Any Filipino-made narrative podcasts (or, OK, just podcasts) I should know about?