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Diving Into Podcasts: It’s About Time, Eh?

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I have been infected with podcast mania.

Initially, I wasn't interested in podcasts. I'm reasonably modern: not afraid of computers, own an iPod, have played games on the Wii. But I often don't bother with whatever new thing has come around the bend; we're just so cluttered with stuff and media already. A lot of the time, I don't think I'm missing much. Sometimes, I feel like a dork later on when I discover how simple or helpful a new trend or technology turns out to be.

So I finally looked into podcasts. It seemed easy and interesting. In a lightning-flash of time a world of knowledge and opportunity opened up before me. Thanks to Barnes and Noble's Meet the Writers Podcast, I finally know how to pronounce Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk's last name. After listening to episode 98 of Grammar Girls' Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing —"For Whom the Grammar Tolls" — I have, for the first time in my life, a useful way to confidently choose between "who" and "whom."

And so I keep downloading more and more. My iTunes podcasts list grows (312 right now), and with its expansion my number of listened-to episodes drops. One day, I downloaded earfuls of sermons and faith-related podcasts. Today? History and biography.

Lots of podcasts are mediocre, and often you have to overlook the advertising and unnecessary musical interludes. But some are quite educational and interesting at the same time, or at least are good for a laugh. Following are some suggestions from a novice listener. I'm also including podcasts I look forward to enjoying sometime, but whose quality I can't vouch for just yet.

1. Stuff from back in the day, today! Listening to poems read aloud is more enjoyable than you might think, especially when the readers are British. I've tried, and enjoyed, Classic FM Love Poems, Classic Poetry Aloud and the Intro to Poetry Podcast.

Looking forward to: Some old radio shows, mostly Agatha Christie mysteries and sci-fi stories. The Classic Tales Podcast, featuring works by G.K. Chesterton, Robert Louis Stevenson and others. Some free LibriVox public-domain audiobooks.

2. Podcasts related to faith and theology. The Ask Pastor John series with John Piper addresses questions about topics from birth control to female pastors to using anti-depressants to Christian hope. I also like Renewing Your Mind with R.C. Sproul.

Looking forward to: The Albert Mohler Program with Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president, Albert Mohler, which offers "intelligent conversation about the issues that matter"; videos with Mark Driscoll and others at the Desiring God 2006 National Conference; the Mars Hill Church podcasts with Mark Driscoll; Desiring God sermons by John Piper; John Eldredge; Josh McDowell.

3. History and biography. Since these are all newly downloaded, they all go in the next paragraph.

Looking forward to: Ancient & Medieval History podcasts on Beowulf, Charlemagne, Pompeii & Herculaneum, and the Teutonic Knights. Various podcasts related to art history; British History 101 covering Tolkien and Guy Fawkes' Day, among others; Experience History with St. Valentine's Day, Who Was Chaucer? as topics. Great Speeches in History with the likes of "I Have a Dream," and "Television is a Vast Wasteland". The Biography Podcast – Stories of Life has provided biographies of J.K. Rowling, Vlad the Impaler, Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther and Santa Claus.

4. Popular culture. Stephen Colbert is funny in character as he reads excerpts from I Am America (And So Can You!) in the iTunes' Meet the Authors podcast. It's a treat to hear him answer questions as his normal self afterward. NPR's Movies and NPR's Pop Culture offer reviews, light stories and more thoughtful looks at their chosen subjects. The Official LOST Podcast works well when executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse talk about the show and answer viewers' questions, and crack each other up.

Looking forward to: Barnes and Noble's Meet the Writers Podcast with Dave Barry and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy. Also, Books from the Guardian podcasts with Philip Pullman and celeb-atheist Richard Dawkins and Bono's 2005 interview in The Rolling Stone  podcast.

5. Other useful information. Thanks to The Word Nerds, I now know that the British expletive "bloody" doesn't originate from a reference to the blood of Christ. Whew. Coming up someday when I take the time to listen: rhetoric! religious words! synonyms!

Looking forward to: The Metropolitan Museum of Art Special Exhibition Podcast and some photography-related podcasts from National Gallery of Art-Behind the Scenes. Writing Excuses that features a fantasy novelist, a cartoonist and a horror writer discussing writing techniques. NPR's Intelligence Squared, featuring excerpts from a debate about a particular topic such as "Global Warming is Not a Crisis," with three panelists for the motion and three against. I've listened to part of that episode; I look forward to hearing the opinions about the question, "Is America Too Damn Religious?"

6. For fun, for real. I've tried out a few "funny" podcasts — The Soup Video Podcast, and The Onion News Network. Both were OK, but not keepers. (When you have an ever-growing podcast list waiting, you have to thin some out.) One of my first podcast subscriptions is a funny one, and it's a keeper for sure: The Rhett&LinKast. I should confess that I met Rhett on a Campus Crusade for Christ summer project, so you may consider me biased. But watch these episodes for yourself: "the Dead iPod Song", "the Halloween Controversy debate", "the Facebook song" and you'll find that The Rhett&LinKast is clever, well-executed and will often make you laugh out loud, if you know what I mean.

I know these are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Like everything else that's grown exponentially with the DIY nature of the Internet, the unruly crowd of podcasts available on iTunes and elsewhere waits hungrily to be picked through more thoroughly. I'd like to hear about what tasty things you've discovered out there. Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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About Melissa Cuppett