Nonfiction November Week 2: Book / Podcast Pairing

I had such grand plans for pairing week, a Nonfiction November favorite, this year. But then, as you already know, 2020 happened, and for some reason I was barely even listening to podcasts, so that went out the window.

A reminder of this week’s prompt, hosted by Julie @ Julz Reads:

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

Since I don’t read fiction, I pair books with podcasts. Although my attempts to branch out in new and unusual directions this year failed miserably, I did follow a few favorites, and discovered one glorious new-to-me podcast.

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Every year I try to spotlight shows I haven’t before, but since Last Podcast on the Left is a continuous delight and better than mostly everything else, they always deserve attention. (Sadly, I was only so-so about their book, which came out earlier this year.)

Here are a few more books connected to their favorite topics:

They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper – I’m not 100% sold on Bruce Robinson’s theory of the Ripper’s identity and Masonic connections, but is this ever a wild, entertaining ride worthy of one of Henry’s most fired-up conspiracy theory rants.

The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained – In the wake of the 2016 election, with its outsized influence of conspiracy theory and all that came after, Colin Dickey began investigating many of our fringier beliefs and where they originated — the Loch Ness monster, the Lost Continent of Lemuria, Betty and Barney Hill’s alien abduction, among others. Dickey is a meticulous researcher and debunker, and this is so smart and readable that I already know I need to read it a second time to absorb everything. It’s outstanding.

Fringe-Ology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable – And Couldn’t – I doubt I’ll review this, too much time has passed since I read it without getting around to writing about it, but it’s worth mentioning. Journalist Steve Volk looks at new agey, fringey topics like near-death and out of body experiences, UFOs, hauntings, the afterlife, and lucid dreaming. Volk advocates for a middle ground between science and spirituality — namely, there are some things we’ll never be able to explain. It’s an idea I can sort of get on board with, although I’m more skeptical than he is. It gives interesting perspectives on topics that LPOTL frequently covers (and debunks).

Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties – Journalist Tom O’Neill spent decades obsessively researching connections between the CIA and the Manson family, and could barely write this thing because there was just so much. The result is a mesmerizing trip. Lots of oddities in the official story, including missing files and bizarre behavior from people close to Manson, including Hollywood types. If even a fraction of this is true, it’s already insane.

The Mothman Prophecies – I don’t think LPOTL’s done a full Mothman episode, just included him with regional monsters, and the author, John Keel, in their multi-parter on the Men in Black. Did you know that the Men in Black were connected to the Mothman? So much to learn in this world, isn’t there? This was distracting, entertaining, deeply weird, very much a product of its times, and not always believable, even while it’s obvious that Keel VERY MUCH believes it. A lot of bad or menacing things happen via landlines, which is so funny to consider. Can aliens interfere with cell phones? It’s much less scary than the classic cliche of a ringing phone with a mysterious voice on the other end.

Crime Writers On and Strange Arrivals

Four New Hampshire-based journalists and authors with backgrounds in public radio and true crime/crime fiction writing host this podcast about journalism, media, and true crime. If you want more recommendations for podcasts (mostly nonfiction) and shows, both documentaries or scripted, it’s a treasure trove. It’s mostly crime-related, but not only. They skewered Netflix’s abysmal-sounding remake of Rebecca last week, for instance, and frequently cover politically-themed media. 

They’re wryly hilarious and have a great blend of personalities (two are married to each other) and they’ve helped me in how I think about critiquing, since they have impressive ways of parsing what works and what doesn’t and arguing their points and opinions with each other. I even like listening to them discuss podcasts I know I don’t want to listen to and shows I have no interest in watching; it’s that good.

One host, author Toby Ball, has a Patreon bonus podcast, Toby’s Deep Dive Book Club. I haven’t made the leap to their multiple Patreon spinoff shows yet, only because see above, I’m not even caught up on free podcasts yet. But I may yet do for this one. They sometimes tease what book will be discussed with his guests and we share tons of reading interests.

As another bonus, Toby’s podcast Strange Arrivals is an in-depth, mythbusting look at the Betty and Barney Hill story, also in The Unidentified.

Some of his book club picks:

The Real Lolita, by Sarah Weinman 

The Cadaver King and the Country Dentistby Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington

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Lost Girls, by Robert Kolker (Bonus on this one – LISK: Long Island Serial Killer is the first good meaning actually researched and thorough podcast about this rabbit-hole of a case I’ve come across, and Kolker is interviewed!)

Adnan’s Story: Murder, Justice, and the Case that Captivated a Nation, by Rabia Chaudry

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Fatal Vision, by Joe MacGinniss and The Journalist and the Murdererby Janet Malcolm

The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi — I read this before I started book blogging so no review, but it’s a gem: reportage about an unsolved serial killer in Italy active between 1968 and 1985. The prosecutor from Amanda Knox’s case is involved, blaming his old favorite standby, Satanic cults. Preston and Spezi even get accused of being the murderer. 

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, by Michelle McNamara

Killers of the Flower Moon:The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann

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Finally, my favorite podcast discovery this year: Radio Rental. Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Payne Lindsey’s podcasts (see Crime Writers On for more of why he’s pretty dickish, and gets things wrong or skewed in his reporting) but I’m obsessed with this one. He’s barely involved; the premise is people telling their own stories of the worst things that happened to them — real-life horror stories.

It’s hosted with commentary from Rainn Wilson, in character as a video store rental clerk sharing his vaults of creepy tapes. He’s irreverently funny, which makes the gasping shock of some of the stories easier to take. If nothing else, listen to “Laura of the Woods”. I listened to it while doing some mindless work and no joke, I was sitting at my desk biting my fist and silently screaming/deep breathing at the end. If you like a twist, it’s a mind-blower.

Although scary, sometimes very much so, it’s in a true-life way. They’re not murder or ghost stories, they’re the scary turns life can suddenly take, including mental illness, drug abuse, stalkers, plane hijackings, scary memories that you’re not sure are real, and near-misses with murderers. So it’s often sad, and can be triggering, but if people are willing to tell their stories of terrible things they’ve lived through, they deserve to be heard. Wilson’s jokiness is necessary comic relief and never disrespectful. And some are more just bizarre and twisty, not so devastating.

In that vein, some books of weird happenings with strange twists, suspicious circumstances, things not being what they seem, trusting your instincts, and Russian spies (this podcast truly has it all):

An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere, by Mikita Brottman – Like Radio Rental stories, this one, about an eerie incident that’s indeterminable as murder, suicide, or accident will haunt you. (It’s also covered on Netflix’s Unsolved Mysteries reboot.)

Russians Among Us: Sleeper Cells, Ghost Stories, and the Hunt for Putin’s Spies, by Gordon Corera – One Radio Rental story has a surprising twist involving a maybe-Russian spy. This look at deep-cover sleeper agents and the significance of modern spycraft under Putin’s regime is page-turningly fascinating and chilling.

Cold a Long Time: An Alpine Mystery, by John Leake – I recommend this constantly, but it’s terrifying, an injustice, and should be better known. A young Canadian disappeared on an Austrian ski slope, and things only get stranger and darker from there.

The Case of the Vanishing Blonde – Mark Bowden’s long-form true crime stories cover some of the twisty-turniest cases I know, perfect examples of things not always being what they seem at first glance.

The Gift of Fear: And Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence, by Gavin de Becker – Many of Radio Rental‘s survivor stories involve trusting your instincts to get out of a situation that just doesn’t feel right. This is the bible for learning how to do that. Some of the stories are unnerving, but this book helped me so much and I regretted not reading it sooner in life.

Have you read or listened to any of these? What good podcasts have you been listening to?

38 thoughts on “Nonfiction November Week 2: Book / Podcast Pairing

Add yours

  1. Rennie.

    I think you know what I’m going to say.

    This entire list! I’ve had The Fact of a Body on my list for ages, same with Adnan’s Story. I read The Lost Girls this year and am in the middle of the LISK podcast! Did you listen to the Mothman episode of My Favorite Murder? I’m hopelessly behind on all podcasts – without a commute I have a hard time finding time to get in listening! I HAVE to read The Monster of Florence like yesterday. And I know what you’re saying about Payne Lindsay but I really did enjoy Monster: DC Sniper.

    How about this comment? It is ALL OVER the place. My brain is too busy processing all these new books to read to function properly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Fact of a Body is so, so good. Like one of those few examples where memoir blended with true crime really works. I liked Adnan’s Story a lot when I read it but I’m not sure what I’d think if I read it again because I think my opinion on that case kind of…shifted over time? It’s worth the perspective if you’re interested in the case though for sure!

      Did I miss your review of Lost Girls?? It’s one of my favorites so I’d love to hear what you think of it! I loved the LISK podcast because I’d heard it mentioned on other podcasts and it was kind of astonishing how little research anyone bothered to do into it, it really irritated me. So the deep dive with tons of research was just perfect. And Bob Kolker is interviewed too and I just love him.

      I feel like I’ve heard My Favorite Murder discuss the Mothman, but I can’t remember it specifically? Did they also lump him in with another story? I’ll have to go back and listen. I’m really behind on podcasts too but I’ve worked at home without a commute for several years so I have no excuse. I just got out of my usual habits with EVERYTHING this year!

      I haven’t listened to DC Sniper but I was turned off by stuff that came out about his research being questionable, or that he presents biased information (I think that was about the Atlanta one). Plus he seems to just have an arrogant attitude. But on Radio Rental he only narrates a bit of the stories and I guess did the interviews. But even there he messes things up a bit, which is why I’m glad he had limited involvement on this show. Like one woman telling her story specifically describes a middle-aged woman with graying hair, but when he describes it later, it’s “a little old lady”. Uh, no, it wasn’t and that’s not what she said! It’s stuff like that that drives me crazy about him, he distorts little things but it changes the meaning.

      Anyway, SO glad I could give you some recommendations and excited to see what you read!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The Fact of a Body is one of the books that Georgia on MFM is always talking about. I think she’s listened to it multiple times (to help her fall asleep lol) and I keep meaning to read it but then I don’t.

        I posted about Lost Girls on my instagram. I read it this summer when I really wasn’t regularly blogging (so continued from 2018 hahaha). I did really like it – I appreciated that Kolker took the time to get to know the women and their families. I’m only a few episodes into LISK but I’m really enjoying it. Might start forcing my pup to go on longer walks so I can listen more.

        I liked DC Sniper a lot more than the Atlanta Children’s season but I didn’t finish either of them. There is something about his voice that I don’t like and that’s before deep diving into everything you’re talking about!

        Podcast listening is the one thing that I miss about my commute.

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      2. Yes, I know what you mean, there’s something about his voice that irritates me. He only does some brief narration in Radio Rental but I can’t stand it and can’t wait until he’s done.

        I haven’t heard her mention Fact of a Body on MFM, I guess I only listen to it sporadically now. I do still really like it but I started falling out of love with it at some point and once you get behind on them it’s hard to catch up!! I can’t imagine reading that book to fall asleep, it’s so creepy and disturbing. But I remember her saying she did that with I’ll Be Gone in the Dark which I couldn’t even read in the evening, so she’s braver than I am in that!

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  2. I didn’t realise that you didn’t read any fiction at all 🙂
    I’ve yet to listen to The Last Podcast on the Left though I did add it to my list after your earlier recommendation, Seems I’ll have to add Radio Rental too, and try and find some time to listen to them.
    Great recs as always, thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to read fiction almost exclusively, and then somewhere along the way things just shifted! I still have my favorites but just no interest in picking up anything fictional anymore.

      I love Last Podcast but definitely with some caveats if you’re unfamiliar with them. They’re pretty raunchy and not totally politically correct, although better in recent years than they used to be. They also took awhile to grow on me but if their style appeals and they win you over they’re just hilarious and surprisingly informative.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, this is a treasure chest! And it has a Janet Malcolm on the list as well. 🙂 Monster of Florence reminded me of Mysteries of Udolpho (gothic historical) which I read recently, so I think will give that a shot. And yes, they really all love Jack, given how many Jack the Ripper shows and books are out there. Haha. Seriously, all amazing titles.

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    1. Do you like Janet Malcolm? I wasn’t a big fan of that book in particular though I’ve enjoyed her essays. Monster of Florence is excellent, and really compelling. They All Love Jack is the only Ripper book I’ve read, besides The Five, which was a fantastic social study of the victims. People do get obsessive about that story. This one is more interesting than most for the wider angle he takes with it, that it would be odd if these were the only murders he committed. The title is the name of a song written by the suspect he identifies 🙂

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  4. Oke…now I’m stepping out of my comfort zone! I have not read ANY of these books. Where do you find them? Really, where? I am going to start a TBR list Out Of My Comfort Zone 2021 and see if I can digest some of these books.
    Podcasts: now I have a few on my Spotify….but I end up subscribing and never listening.
    During my Spring morning walks…I listed to The Pepper Pod (13 episodes). It was a GOLF themed podcast and I listened b/c I love the Scottish commentator Andrew Cotter’s voice and his sense humor. He is the owner of the famous Labradors on twitter: Mable and Olive. I stumbled onto the podcast by Dr Osterholm about covid “The Osterhlolm Update”. Listened while walking b/c he sounded like the adult in the ‘covid room’. I also listend the The Economist’s “Checks and Balances” for the UK perseptive about USA politics. So my podcasts are hit and miss. I would like to try some of your suggestions. When do you find time to aftern work, writing, blogposts, housework…to listen to podcasts? What are the moments of the day that you fill with podcasts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lots of these were from when I went through more of a true crime reading phase, which I was way out of this year! Then once you start reading in a genre you seem to easily find more and more connected to it.

      I agree, so many podcasts are hit or miss. Or it’s something weird that turns me off, like a host’s voice or how fast they talk or if they laugh too much or loudly. Checks and Balances sounds interesting. I’m constantly telling friends that they have to consume at least some news source from outside the US, it’s just invaluable to have a different perspective that’s not right in the middle of things, but I don’t think anyone believes me. I had to laugh at “the adult in the covid room”. How embarrassing but true. I think I’ll check out those two, thanks for the recommendations!

      It is hard to find time to listen, especially this year. Housework is my go-to for it at the moment. I always listen while cooking, but since I’m in the US and my husband is still in Europe, my cooking has been minimal compared to before. My heart’s not in it as much and even when I do it it’s not nearly as involved or frequent as when I was cooking for us two. I realized that reduced my listening time significantly.

      It’s great that you have a place you can walk outside and listen! I never listen outside because city noises makes it too difficult and I miss too much. I used to have a client I did some mindless work for that ate up endless hours of time and I would get through whole seasons then, but they also disappeared with Covid and put me way behind on podcasts! But if you do anything like sewing, knitting, painting or drawing, anything that keeps you busy but frees up your mind is a good time for listening.

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  5. Your post is a treasure trove of great reading and listening options. Thanks so much! I can think of one book and one podcast that are loosely linked and that I deeply appreciated. The podcast is Season II of Serial which tells the story of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier, who deserted his post in Afghanistan. The book is Jon Krakaur’s Where Men Win Glory. This is the story of NFL player, Pat Tillman, who deserted his promising career in the NFL to join the war effort in Afghanistan and unfortunately was killed. There are more parallels between these two stories than simply the setting. In both cases, the army presented a less than clear version of events. Thankfully, Krakaur and journalist Sarah Koenig doggedly tracked down the details of what actually took place, considering many different perspectives throughout their reporting. My favorite podcast of all time is S-Town, by Brian Reed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you so much, I’m glad you found so many that interested you here! That’s great to know about the second season of Serial. I tried listening to it years back and just couldn’t get into it but sounds like it’s worth trying again. I’ve liked Krakauer’s other books I’ve read too, he’s an incredible journalist and writer. The idea of the army not presenting a clear version of events is very compelling.

      And I loved S-Town too!! That was such a good one, and so well done. Nothing quite like that one!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, what a tour de force. I’m going to be generous to myself and say how great it is that this one topic / week can include such a huge list and resource and someone who only managed to pair up two books!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh please, don’t worry! Participating at all is wonderful! (Before I hosted, I barely did, that was how much effort anything felt like to me. So I’m very impressed with everyone’s contributions!) I try to prepare for this one a bit in advance at least. I’d already started collecting book titles from the podcast book club every time they mentioned them and the draft of that has been open for like, two years already. So don’t feel bad 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Full disclosure, none of these books were actually their recommendations (aside from Mothman Prophecies, I think Henry has explicitly mentioned that one!) They’re just ones I associated with the show or thought went well with their topics. Hope it gave you some good ideas, so glad you liked it!!

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  7. I’ve barely been listening to podcasts at all this year (except one or two favourites) – for some reason I’m much more easily turned off them than I used to be. I quit listening to an Agents of SHIELD podcast because one of the hosts had a slightly annoying laugh, even as I felt guilty about having such a ridiculous complaint!

    That said, I am curious about Adnan’s Story – I listened to Serial years ago and enjoyed it at the time, though some of the criticism about it has shifted my opinion over time. I’ve never read the associated book.

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    1. I completely understand. For some reason if someone’s laughter bothers me on a podcast it’s over. There was one that a lot of people had recommended to me and one of the hosts had this loud, shrieking laugh, and sounded almost like he was leaning into the microphone to do it. I was appalled! So you’re definitely not alone in that, I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all!

      That’s interesting that your opinion has shifted about Serial too! Do you mean the criticism that she became too close to him/attached to his side of the story? I was convinced of his innocence when it first came out, and obviously this book is too, since it’s written by the family friend who first brought the case to Sarah Koenig’s attention. But maybe a year or two ago, I had a bad migraine and couldn’t sleep or do much and just wanted to listen to something distracting that I already knew very well since I wouldn’t be able to concentrate that well either. I relistened to Serial and felt this kind of creeping, dawning realization that maybe I do think he’s guilty, or there’s more of a possibility than I’d entertained before. I still absolutely think the interrogations and trial and all of that were ridiculous and unfair and reasonable doubt abounded, so for those reasons alone I don’t think it’s just that he’s still imprisoned. But I’m not so clear cut on his innocence anymore.

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  8. I always enjoy your spin on this topic! I’m not as into true crime podcasts as I am true crime books. For some reason, they feel a bit more grim to me. There are lots of books on your list I want to get to though, especially Lost Girls, which I’ve heard great things about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. I’ve definitely stepped back from both listening and reading true crime over the past year. It felt like a natural break was necessary. I’d been compiling this list from his book club recommendations for awhile though 🙂 Lost Girls is wonderful, and feels less true crime-y, honestly. It’s all about the victims and the economic/social circumstances that put them where they were. It was very moving and well done.

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