Podcasts and prose: TPN’s entertainment picks for the summer


Pitt News Staff chose their favorite books and podcasts. (Photos via Flickr)

By TPN Staff

When we’re not busy writing, some of us at The Pitt News try to find time to read a book or listen to a podcast. Here are suggestions to kick back with and enjoy before classes resume in a few short weeks.


“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon — Sarah Morris / For the Pitt News

This novel should be required reading for any college-aged kid living in Pittsburgh. In the novel — a depiction of one young man’s summer with his friends following his senior year of college — Chabon brings Oakland to life in ways so stunning that if you read the book sitting somewhere in Schenley Park on a warm day, you may easily find yourself blurring fiction with reality. The book is nearly 30 years old now, but feels like it could have just as easily been published yesterday with the way it captures the experience of youth and the fleeting warmth of a remarkable summer. The novel’s protagonist, Art, takes us on a journey exploring friendship, love, sexuality, family and, most of all, what it’s like to be young in this wonderful city of ours. The entire book holds a sense of nostalgia to it — the kind that comes with remembering a summer past.

“Oil and Honey” by Bill McKibben — Lexi Kennell / Culture Editor

Although this book isn’t fictional, it’s definitely still a page-turner. And not only that, it is very topical. McKibben weaves two of his personal stories — fighting to halt the Keystone XL Pipeline and helping an old friend run an organic bee farm — to provoke readers to care about what is happening to our earth. Between sea level rise, glacial retreat and droughts in the midwest, the earth is suffering the consequences from our mistakes. This book made me understand what is so important about the protests against pipelines and why 300 people were injured and more than 487 arrested for protesting the North Dakota Pipeline in the last year. If you care about the honeybee die-off, the decline of local farming and the well-being of our planet, “Oil and Honey” should definitely be on your reading list.

“So Sad Today” by Melissa Broder — Jordan Mondell / Layout Editor

In 2012, author Melissa Broder experienced cycles of panic attacks that lasted for months. As therapy, she began the Twitter account @sosadtoday, where she used witty tweets to express her internal dread. It quickly gained a major following. As a result, Broder published this collection of essays that delve deeper into issues revolving sex, depression, illness, love and self-esteem. The book is well-written and harrowing — personal anecdotes combined with beautiful prose make it impossible to put down.

“White Noise” by Don DeLillo — Lexi Kennell / Culture Editor

I couldn’t resist adding a postmodern novel to the list. “White Noise” is a staple in postmodern literature study — and for good reason. DeLillo writes a speculative novel about what would happen if a hazardous cloud of gas invaded urban America through the use of social satire. Even though DeLillo’s absurdist humor lightens the mood, the book will ultimately get you thinking about death and how we choose to spend our time up until it inevitably comes for us. And as a bonus, the band called The Airborne Toxic Event is named after the gas cloud in the novel, and listening to their songs while reading the book has proven to be an incredible adventure.


S-Town — John Hamilton / Editor-in-Chief

From the creators of the true-crime podcast “Serial” — an innovative podcast in its own right — “S-Town” expands the true-crime genre into something more entertaining and profound. The podcast’s producer, Brian Reed, starts the first episode by investigating a crime in a small Alabama town after receiving a tip from eccentric clock maker John B. McLemore. But unlike “Serial,” “S-Town” isn’t simply a whodunit. As Reed explores the mysteries and crimes of the town, the show evolves into an exploration of McLemore’s life — told emphatically and expertly. While “Serial” played out like a TV crime drama, “S-Town” is like a novel, meandering from story to story, often ending storylines without true closure.

“S-Town” features unexpected twists, treasure hunts and crime mysteries that will keep any listener hooked. But it’s the emotional, human story that left a lasting impact on me, and makes it one of the best stories told on this still-young medium.

Pod Save America and The Ben Shapiro Show — Saket Rajprohat / Columnist

This summer I started listening to the podcasts “Pod Save America” and “The Ben Shapiro Show” — a highly liberal and a conservative podcast, respectively. I listened to Pod Save America because I thought it would be helpful to stay informed about events in Washington. As I listened to the show — headed by former Obama speechwriter, Jon Favreau — I figured it would be a good idea to listen to an opposing viewpoint to get a little perspective. I subscribed to “The Ben Shapiro Show,” a podcast hosted by a high-pitched talking, Harvard-educated conservative. I initially hated listening to the podcast, disagreeing with almost everything he said — and more than once seeing flaws in his own arguments. But over time I began to enjoy the contrast. Listening to Shapiro first, and then “Pod Save America” afterward, I had the opportunity to see commentary on daily news from both ends of the spectrum. I saw how views often become skewed as the result of bias — helping me decipher what is actually happening in politics.

Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast — John Hamilton / Editor-in-Chief

Bill Burr is the only podcast host I know who can make reading advertising copy utterly hilarious.

I listen to a ton of podcasts — most of them are shows about politics, news and journalism, which can be exhausting. I think that’s why I find Bill Burr’s brash, politically incorrect show so entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny. The podcast features no fancy editing or gimmicks — it’s just Burr ranting about whatever he feels like twice every week.

His rants range from insulting to ingenious, but they’re entertaining either way. Burr’s podcast is so great that the inner thoughts of a self-proclaimed “psycho” often sound more like a carefully constructed comedy act.

Still Processing — Grant Burgman / Staff Writer

The New York Times took a pretty simple approach to podcasting: Take two of your best writers — culture writers Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris — and let them talk about whatever is on their collective minds each week. The result is “Still Processing,” a discussion-based culture podcast which features both lighthearted and deftly poignant analysis on everything happening in our shared culture.

Each episode starts with Morris and Wortham discussing what’s on their minds that week, then picking what they’d like to get into. The range of topics is a reflection of the ranges of interests for both Morris — who writes mainly about music, television and movies — and Wortham, who writes mainly about tech and business. Recent episodes include deep dives into the significance and history of barbecue, an hour-long breakdown of Jay-Z’s newest album and his relationship with Beyonce and a reflection on America’s relationship with gay pride during pride week.

With new episodes every Thursday, the discussions provide insight that give you a new perspective on barbecue, read receipts on text messages or Kanye West by Friday.