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This American Life provokes thoughtful conversation through true stories

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June 9th, 2018. It’s a warm, sun-filled day, and my mom and I are crammed into our gray, 2012 Honda Civic. All the windows are open, including the sunroof. We forgot all the hair ties at home, and our hair is blowing wild in the wind that surrounds us.

This six-hour drive to the Upper Peninsula seemed daunting at the time, but I recall it now as a joyful, fleeting moment. One thing, though, stands clear in my memory. We listened to This American Life the whole way there.

The podcast is one that never fails to spark insightful, meaningful conversation after it concludes. The host, Ira Glass, has a special kind of voice—the kind that seems to soothe and invoke deep thought all at once. He possesses the ability to make stories about sticky subjects easy to listen to, a feat not accomplished by all show-hosts.

Heard by 2.2 million people listening on more than 500 stations and downloaded by 2.5 million people weekly, This American Life is more than popular. According to the Apple Podcast app, it gets a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars by 47,830 listeners. Although I have yet to actually “rate” it myself, my stance would be similar to the masses.

This American Life is exactly what it sounds. There are hundreds of episodes to choose from, each about an hour in length. Topics range from war, love, family, and tragedy-truly an encapsulation of the “American Life.”

Most episodes feature combinations of stories from a multitude of people, ensuring that the installments never get boring. This combined with the vague, “I-have-to-know-more” style descriptions make for episodes you just can’t resist playing.

The latest episode, for example, is a perfect example of this. Titled “The Long Fuse,” it’s description simply reads, “People tossing words out into the world impulsively. And how they ignite and burn. Over decades.” This, like most other episodes, creates a need to know more, and the actual stories definitely do not disappoint.

A few of my other favorites include episode 661: “But That’s What Happened,” which covers the unsettling situations that women face. Yet another, episode 662: “Where There Is a Will,” discusses stories from optimists as well as pessimists and people who think there is always a way and those who disagree.

And, as if this wasn’t enough, the creators have yet another podcast: “Serial.” Hosted by Sarah Koenig, this series unfolds a little differently. Episodes released each Thursday tell part of a story that is spread out over an entire season. New twists and turns accompany each new week, and the conclusion of the story remains a mystery until the very end. This series currently has three seasons, so there is no shortage of episodes to keep you busy.

Speaking of being busy, This American Life is the perfect remedy for a dreaded car ride. The introspective, true stories are ones that have the ability to turn a time when you don’t want to be driving, or doing anything for that matter, into a more than bearable experience.

And yet, what comes after the podcast ends is almost as enjoyable as the actual stories themselves. Whether you listen alone or with someone else, the thought-provoking nature of This American Life is sure to spark conversations no matter what the subject.

That sunny day in June was not the first time my mom and I had listened to This American Life together, and it certainly wasn’t the last. What I remember most about our journey, totaling at 12 hours, are the conversations that followed our many, many completed episodes. We shared our opinions on war, on love, on family, and most other subjects that seem to only come up when you find yourself alone in a car with someone.

By sharing true, relevant, and curiosity-creating stories, This American Life truly encapsulates what it means to be an American.

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One Response to “This American Life provokes thoughtful conversation through true stories”

  1. Angela Barris on March 15th, 2019 8:52 pm

    Thank you for the thoughtful review of This American Life. I,too, enjoy listening to the podcast while walking. I often tune in when I am completing a sewing project. I respect and appreciate Olivia’s opinion and encourage families to utilize the podcast to encourage discussion.

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This American Life provokes thoughtful conversation through true stories