Some time either last year or the year before I began dabbling in the world of podcasts. As with many online phenomenon, I was a little overwhelmed at first and it took me until recently to really start exploring all that there was on offer. What prompted my initial exploration of podcasting was reading a review on the first season of Serial. This was a 12 part audio documentary of a murder case in which there guilt of the accused (currently serving a long sentence for the crime) was questionable. It was incredibly compelling and I found myself listening to episode after episode as I cooked dinner, did house work or gardened. It was fabulous, so good that you’d have thought I would be a total podcast convert. But I wasn’t. By the time I finished this series, season two had been released. Two episodes in and I just wasn’t feeling it, didn’t care about the case being investigated and I never ended up finished the series. And so ended my adventure with podcasts.
Then, last year I found Litsy, an online app for book lovers which is possibly the most brilliant online space there is (it’s so good I’ll devote a whole post on it soon) and yet again podcasts came up. I asked for some recommendations and BAM, I was hooked. I had found podcasts on books, history, science, current events, politics, culture and fictionalized worlds. And most recently, S-Town, which is made by the same guys as Serial and also This American Life (another great podcast). S-Town is a seven part series which I have binged over the last two days, it is absolutely incredible story-telling and it left me reeling, lying on the rug in the fetal position kind of reeling.
The Premise: John B. wrote to a journalist at This American Life asking him to investigate some strange goings-on in his small, Alabama town, a possible murder and police cover-up and corruption. However, a couple of episodes in the story takes a dramatic and unforeseen turn and instead of uncovering a murderer, it becomes a journey of discovering center on John B. himself. Nothing is quite as it seems and, in literary fiction terms, the story is full of unreliable narrators (maybe life itself, is just a series of unreliable narrators).
S-Town is tragic and I found it terribly, terribly sad. It’s, in some ways, easy to forget that these are real people, living real lives and not fictional characters filling the pages of a remarkable novel. But it’s also impossible to separate that from the story and that’s what made it so sad. John B., his mannerisms, speech and personality could easily come straight from the imaginings of some brilliant Mark Twain-esq writer, and he propels the story forward with the same frenetic pace with which he talks – which is why I binged it in two sittings. The story twists and turns its way to the end and all who inhabit it are changed in the listeners minds by the conclusion. But like most real-life stories, the ending is unsettling, there is so much left unresolved and possibly unsaid, I found it abrupt, I wanted more.
Every year I have a goal of reading more books than the last, an easy target this year given all the extra time I have. If I’m not reading or listening to audiobooks I feel like I’m wasting some sort of opportunity I have to rack up another stat on my Goodreads account. I’ve come to realise, however, that there are many ways to get a story out there and so many of them are legitimate and worthy of my time. So while I could have listened to or read an entire novel in the time it took me to get through S-Town, I’m so glad I didn’t.
If you haven’t checked it out already – and I know so many podcast-listeners have been all over this – I really, REALLY recommend S-Town. I don’t think you will regret the time invested.