We often explore the same stories as books or as movies, but there’s another engaging medium we can use to fully immerse ourselves in a world: the podcast. The quality and quantity of podcasts has grown with the ease and breadth of the platforms they’re available on, and this list provides an introduction to some of the most interesting book and podcast material I’ve ever delved into.
I remember binge-listening to this podcast and being shocked when I learned it was a part of a book. The Dirty John podcast sticks to Debra Newell and her experiences with a man who conned her and drove a wedge into her family. Courtesy of Los Angeles Times journalist Christopher Goffard’s book collection of his newspaper articles, the story is retold in all its unfortunate detail. It also gives us tales about a boy whose sister’s death paves the way for his career, a mother in Syria who makes the ultimate sacrifice for her family, a boy whose father lives on death row, and many more. A Bravo TV show brings Dirty John full circle back to Debra Newell, the impact of her story evident and suspenseful in every medium. Listen to the Dirty John Podcast
This might be my favorite on this list, a podcast I discovered years ago and embarrassingly talked about as if it’s contents were real; when a friend finally told me the truth, I recovered equilibrium by forgetting the podcast’s existence entirely until I learned about this book. LIMETOWN the book is a prequel to the podcast of the same name, the latter’s eeriness and voice transitioning so well to the page that I felt compelled to listen to the original podcast again as soon as I was finished (and ready to embark on it’s season 2!). Both follow journalist Lia Haddock, who tries to determine where and how an entire town vanished without a trace, with the book showing the beginning of her investigations as student into the disappearances, which include that of her uncle Emile. With the expansion of Lia’s story in the book, the Limetown world feels even more immediate and immersive. Listen to the Limetown Podcast
I love its gifty-looking cover and its subtitle: The Horrifying, Hilarious Road to Modern Medicine. This husband and wife pair surprise and amuse as they dive into medical mysteries, antics, and facts on their podcast, Sawbones, and their conversational skills and ability to set an evocative stage also shine in book format. There they explain thousands of years of strange and unbelievable medical techniques and mishaps in four parts: The Unnerving, The Gross, The Weird, and The Awesome. Listen to the Sawbones Podcast
You may be familiar with Welcome to Night Vale, creator Joseph Fink’s previous podcast with book of the same name—Alice isn’t Dead the podcast has a similar tone and shares the feeling of endless opportunities open to exploration. With smart writing and great world building, ALICE ISN’T DEAD follows Keisha, who attempts to pursue her dead wife when she begins seeing her in the background of news reports from across the country. The reports are always ones involving tragic events, adding an even eerier element to the visions. Listen to the Alice Isn’t Dead Podcast
NO HAPPY ENDINGS may be the kind of memoir Nora McInerny never expected to write, but we appreciate her willingness to share her experiences and the wisdom that comes from tragedy. As we learned in her first memoir, IT’S OKAY TO LAUGH, her life took a severely unexpected turn when she lost her husband, her father, and her unborn child in the same year. In this new book, with honesty and humor, we hear about McInerny embarking on a second phase of life—unexpected emotions layering every page. The title is aimed at disarming the “Happy Endings” trope, but doesn’t close anything off. No endings does not say there can’t be new starts, while in her podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking, McInerny invites others to share their feelings about life events in a way The Atlantic says “. . . continuously, unapologetically, ferociously plows into subjects most people are too uncomfortable to touch.” Listen to the Terrible, Thanks for Asking Podcast
You know these names from My Favorite Murder, the addicting podcast that tells you as much about Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark’s personalities as it does about true crime. Their book, STAY SEXY & DON’T GET MURDERED, gives us an even deeper look into their lives and experiences, with little inside jokes that regular listeners can appreciate, and a bit about how the podcast has changed their lives. Listen to the My Favorite Murder Podcast
I first started paying attention to Gilly Macmillan when Lisa Ballantyne, author of THE GUILTY ONE, another book I loved, called one of MacMillan’s books, “Tightly focused and fast-paced. You won’t rest until you really know what happened.” I appreciate the promise of twists and turns, of what should be an ordinary event spiraling into tragedy, and that led me to I KNOW YOU KNOW. The novel involves a podcast hosted by Cody Swift, a filmmaker, desperate to find the killer of his childhood best friends two decades earlier. His investigation heats up when another murdered body is found in the same location, leading to questions about whether the mysteries are connected.
Here’s another book whose fictional plot focuses on a podcast. Past the fascinating cover, it’s an exploration of the wave of podcast trends that followed the explosive success of Serial, here in novel form. In ARE YOU SLEEPING, Josie Buhrman becomes a target when an investigative reporter launches a hit podcast that reopens her father’s murder case; but Josie’s long since buried those memories and any ties to her family, building a new life with her partner, Caleb, who knows nothing about her past.
I’ll never forget this title, as it makes so much sense to me. Who doesn’t need to take a moment in a safe space sometimes? The podcast and book of the same name offers advice for cultivating your own version of success, balancing goals and ideas with daily life or work demands—how to begin and maintain and grow it. Working with clients like the United Nations Foundation and the Malala fund, entrepreneur Aarons-Mele seems to know what she’s talking about, and she shares her knowledge in an approachable and relatable manner. Check out her podcast for in-depth conversations with special guests on more tailored topics. Listen to the Hiding in the Bathroom Podcast
RISK! Is an essay collection with familiar faces, including stories from Aisha Tyler, Michael Ian Black, Dan Savage, Paul F. Tompkins, and Lili Taylor. These essays are full of confessions that serve as cautionary tales and provide evidence of the life-changing events that can emerge if you inject a little risk in life. There are kidnappings and cults and fake identities. There are choices that involve health issues and choices that allow you to become your true self. And Risk! is also the name of Kevin Allison’s podcast, where people share true stories, many for the first time in public; the show turns ten this year. Listen to the Risk! Podcast
Blogger, speaker, and “professional troublemaker,” Luvvie Ajayi’s bestselling book of funny and insightful essays taps into social media culture, discussions of representation and race, and many other timely topics. The title may sound a bit harsh, but when paired with the subtitle, “The Do-Better Manual,” her message is clear: she’ll call us out so we can acknowledge issues and move forward. Her podcast with Insecure actress Yvonne Orji, Jesus and Jollof, offers more of her humor and observations distilled into stories revolving around her life and passions while her solo podcast, Rants and Randomness with Luvvie Ajayi, offers gem-dropping conversations with a variety of guests, from Glennon Doyle to Elaine Welteroth. Listen to the Jesus and Jollof Podcast and the Rants & Randomness Podcast