Although I usually hate New Year's resolution, I did make one this year - listen to less podcasts. Now, I've been a podcast addict for a number of years, and actually feel little guilt about spending most of the day with my earbuds in, ignoring my family. But I began to realize that podcasts were replacing books in my daily routine. Before, even if I didn't get a chance to read much during the day, I would always read a chapter or two before going to bed at night. In fact, I couldn't even really fathom people who didn't read in bed before sleeping.
But little by little, podcasts were replacing my nighttime reading. They required less mental energy, were easier to fall asleep to and helped mask my darling husband's snoring. I didn't give up reading altogether, but for the first time ever I was only reading one book at at a time, and it would take me several weeks to finish anything. My to be read list was getting longer and longer. Don't get me wrong, if I was getting pure pleasure from the podcasts, then there wouldn't be an issue (although as an aspiring writer, it really is important to read read read). But I was also starting to feel overwhelmed by the number of podcasts I had subscribed to and the episodes were piling up. I'm a completist, so I felt bad skipping over any of them and catching up was beginning to feel like a chore.
When I got a new phone for Xmas and had to reload my subscriptions, I figured it was time for a change. I cut out some very worthy podcasts that for whatever reason, I didn't listen to regularly. And gave myself permission to skip over episodes that didn't appeal to me. But, like any true addict, I've done a little back-slipping and added one to my rotation. No, it's not Serial, which I actually haven't finished (if you're interested in my opinion, it's good, but not necessarily better than any good episode of This American Life, the podcast that spawned it). It's No Such Thing as a Fish, a British podcast that's an offshoot of the tv quiz show, QI.
Now, I'd never actually seen the show QI before listening to the podcast and it is not necessary to do so. But just to give you the context, QI is a 'quiz' show hosted by national treasure Stephen Fry where a panel of comedians compete to answer questions based on odd facts (ie, what's the oldest living thing in the world? answer: lichen). I put 'quiz' in quotes, because answering the question correctly isn't really the point, just an excuse for the host and contestants to riff on whatever comes to mind.
[On a side note, watching QI without any prior explanation is a strange experience, a bit like watching the NumberWang! sketch from another British show, That Mitchell and Webb Look. In other words, there must be rules to this thing, but damned if I can figure out what they are.]
But back to the podcast. No Such Thing as a Fish is a weekly show, set up in round-table format where the QI 'Elves' (researchers) recount the most interesting/strangest fact they learned that week while preparing questions for the show. Things I've learned so far: planetary features on Venus all have female names (except for one); There's a huge number of people living underground in Beijing; In WWII, dogs were trained to parachute out of planes. I could go on and on. Each fact one of the Elves puts forth sparks ten other related ones from the others. (I'm still unclear if they're pulling these from their heads, or are doing computer searches while the show is recording). It's funny, informative, and everything is made more charming by their British accents.
If bizarre scientific, historical and social facts and trivia hold no interest for you, then keep on walking. There are many other podcasts out there to float your boat. But if you love Trivial Pursuit, pub quizzes and shouting out the questions/answers before the Jeopardy contestants, or if you simply need some fun new dinner party conversations starters, check out No Such Thing as a Fish. At the very least, you'll find out where the title comes from.