In Review

Podcasts of the week: sleep, fraud and lexophilia

Featuring The Sink: A Sleep Aid, Boring Books for Bedtime, The Improvement Association and more

I love the feeling of drifting off to sleep while listening to a podcast, said Nicholas Alexander in The Guardian. “Sentences swim around you, stripped of their meaning. Words collect in little incoherent groups at the edge of consciousness, as you tiptoe a tightrope on the outskirts of sleep.” In the BBC Sounds “comedy-horror” podcast The Sink: A Sleep Aid, writer Natasha Hodgson, producer Andy Goddard and composer David Cumming recreate that agreeably woozy sensation.

Hodgson’s prose has a dreamlike quality: “shapes shift, locations lurch, characters change”, and the sound design is “stunning”. There is only one problem: The Sink is so good – “laugh-out-loud funny” yet strangely unsettling – that you won’t want to miss any of it by actually nodding off.

In Boring Books for Bedtime, missing the end is the whole point, said The Daily Telegraph. It bills itself as a “quiet little podcast for a noisy world” – and it provides “intentionally soporific readings” that should lull you to sleep in no time. Featured titles include Bad Drains and How to Test ThemCassell’s Book of Birds, and the US Internal Revenue Service Pub. 583: Starting a Business.

Two quirky podcasts about books and language for which staying awake is encouraged are The Verb and Something Rhymes with Purple. The first is Radio 3’s “cabaret of the word”, featuring fiction, poetry, music and snippets of drama, with the Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan as its “avuncular host”. Try Novels that Shaped Our Language as your starter episode. The second “terrific” podcast has lexophiles Gyles Brandreth and Susie Dent exploring different words and phrases with strange and interesting etymologies. It’s a “light-hearted” but “whip-smart” treat.

When it comes to documentary podcasts, one of last year’s most lauded shows was Nice White Parents, said Fiona Sturges in the FT. That series, an exploration of segregation in the New York schools system, is now being adapted for television by HBO, while its makers – Serial Productions and The New York Times – turn their attention to electoral fraud. Non-American listeners might just find the first episode of The Improvement Association a bit tough going. The five-part series examines suspected fraud, at the grassroots level, by Republican campaigners in a 2018 congressional election in North Carolina. If you don’t know much about US politics, you might feel a bit lost for a while. But I urge you to stick with it. “What starts as a slow-burner, slightly bogged down in detail, morphs into a story brimming with power struggles, scandal and division. Let the TV bidding begin.”

The Week Unwrapped: Catfishing, malaria and timelessness

Why are dating scams on the rise? Have scientists made a breakthrough in the battle against malaria? And can humans live without a sense of time? Olly Mann and The Week delve behind the headlines and debate what really matters from the past seven days.

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