Friday, December 19, 2014

Four Books to Read if You Love the Podcast Serial

Podcasts are having a major moment right now. At the forefront of that moment is Serial, a This American Life spin-off that has shot to the top of the charts and spawned the first major podcast about a podcast.

It’s a good time to be a podcast nerd. The only problem finding a way to get your Serial fix now that the first season is over. But, as usual, books are here to help obsessive nerds like us. If you’re looking for something to fill the void, you can count on one of these great reads to satisfy your Serial craving. (Looking to satisfy your cereal craving instead? I recommend Honey Nut Cheerios.)

A Case for Solomon: Bobby Dunbar and the Kidnapping That Haunted a Nation by Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright

A Case for Solomon is an expansion of my personal favorite This American Life episode, about a hundred-year-old mystery reexamined. As with Serial, a cast of fascinating people shed light on a puzzling crime and a probably legal injustice. But, in this case, the crime took place generations ago and the question of mistaken identity (one of my personal genre Kryptonites – see also: my second favorite This American Life episode) looms large at the center of the story.

The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm
One of the things that makes Serial so intriguing is that host Sarah Koenig takes listeners along on her journalistic investigation. Beyond being a story about a murder, Serial is a story about a journalist investigating a murder. In The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom investigates another real-life murder mystery and possible wrongful conviction, but she also examines the ethics of journalism and, like Koenig, lets readers inside her investigative process and comments on her own experience.

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
One of the questions that comes up a few times in Serial is the possibility that the man at the center of the story, who seems like very nice person, could instead be a “charming sociopath.” I always recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interesting in psychopathy/sociopathy (the terms are interchangeable). Jon Ronson, himself an occasional contributor to This American Life, explores psychopathy in fascinating and highly entertaining detail. This is one that definitely sticks with year years after reading it.  
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Though it’s not exactly lacking for press, I couldn’t compile a list like this and not include In Cold Blood. A must-read for fans of true-crime and narrative non-fiction, this pioneering masterpiece defined a genre and continues to enrapture readers today. Also, though it pains Capote fans to think of it, new evidence suggests In Cold Blood may be an example of very bad journalistic ethics indeed, which certainly gives historical context to Koenig’s very careful reporting and how far journalism has come in the last half century.

Don’t despair, Serial-addicts. There’s a book to fulfill your desires, whether you’re interested in submerging yourself in another true-crime mystery, delving deep into questions of journalistic ethics, or even exploring the spin-off subject of psychopathy (a spin-off of a spin-off, a podcast about a podcast – things are getting really meta around here!) As usual, books have your back.


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