Like pretty much everyone else, when Sarah Koenig’s "Serial" podcast came out, I was hooked. The gripping tale of the murder of a high schooler, and the possibly wrongly-convicted (or sociopathic) culprit was addictive in the best way. It was like a mystery novel that you couldn’t put down. But you didn’t have to put it down, because you could listen to it while getting in your workout, tidying up the ever-growing mountain of Lego bricks, or commuting to work.
"Serial" got me hooked, and the abundance of really excellent – and free – podcasts out there have fed my obsession. So I am excited to get to share with you, over the next few months, some of my favorite podcast discoveries. I have listened to scores of podcasts for kids, real crime podcasts, just plain fun podcasts, NSFW podcasts, and yes – parenting podcasts. Every few weeks, I’ll tell you about one of the best out there, often a hidden gem, and why it’s worth listening to.
To start out, let me tell you about "By the Book," produced by Panoply. "By the Book" is tagged as half reality show, half self-help podcast. But that really doesn’t tell the half of it. (Ba-dum-dum.) More than anything, this is a podcast about relationships and friendship and that nagging worry that many women (read: I) have that we just aren’t good enough. But also guys – it’s funny!
What it’s about
The premise of "By the Book" is that serial self-improver and comedienne Jolenta Greenberg and her more skeptical friend Kristen Meinzer dive deep into a different self-help book every episode. For two weeks, they follow every tenet of the book, from the helpful to the downright bizarre, in an effort to improve their lives, their bodies, their memory, their relationships, and whatever else life throws out them.
Although not an official part of the cast, the duo’s husbands play an important role in the show, as they help them along on their journey, offer words of support, and occasionally get roped in. (Most memorably in the episode on Marie Kondo’s best-seller, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," when Kristen’s husbands goes apocalyptic about having to open a drawer to take out the soap. “Did you say thank you, soap?” Kristen asks helpfully.)
Why we love it
True confession: I used to be a bit of a self-help book addict. As a new parent, when I had that “oh-my-gosh-these-things-don’t-come-with-instruction-manuals” moment (or years) of panic, I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. Through my reading, I learned that you should never co-sleep, that you should always co-sleep, that you should take time for yourself, that you shouldn’t take too much time for yourself (because attachment parenting), that you should never say “good job,” that you should encourage your child, and don’t even get me started on the toddler years.
By the time I got to kid number three, I settled on the parenting philosophy of “keep them alive,” and let the self-help books go by the wayside. But this podcast speaks to that desire (doubt?) that compels the search for betterment.
The best part of this podcast, though, is the relationships. Kristen’s relationship with her husband is almost too perfect, but you love them for that (even as you envy them, maybe just a little). But it’s the relationship between the co-hosts that really makes the show. They so clearly care about each other and see the wonderfulness in each other that they are trying so hard to achieve. Their honesty with themselves and with us make you feel like they’re your friends too. (BTW Kristen and Jolenta, if you’re reading this, my contact info is below – call me!)
Start with this episode
All of the episodes are worth a listen, but the one that got me truly hooked is the episode on "French Women Don’t Get Fat." The book was triggering for Kristen, who struggled with disordered eating in college. The book took her right back to that place. Her honesty about her struggle – as well as Jolenta’s and Kristen’s husband concern and support for her – will have you in tears while nodding along with her.
If you like this podcast, you might also like…
"Try "My Favorite Murder." The podcast also features two women friends, with the draw as much about their relationship and rapport as the underlying show.
Rating: Listen with teens/earbuds, mostly due to explicit language.
Subscribe to "By the Book" on iTunes.
Want more podcast suggestions? Find all our picks here.