From your ears to your brain: What are you listening to?

I've always been a big reader. In kindergarten, while everybody else was in reading group learning what sound "a" makes, I was in the library reading books. Book-books, things that might be considered for middle schoolers today.

I plowed my way through 80 or so Hardy Boys books by the time I was in fourth grade.

I don't mean to brag, just to give you a frame of reference for this post.

I have a fairly retentive memory. If I write something down, by hand, I probably don't need to look at it again. I can write a grocery list at home, forget to look at it until I get ready to check out, and find that maybe I missed one of 20 items.

Again, not to brag. That kind of steel trap memory is as much a liability as it is a boon: I can remember grocery lists and account numbers (I used to remember a lot of phone numbers but I rarely dial by number anymore), but I also remember every insult from elementary school and man, can I hold a grudge.

Reading is a primary activity for me. I sit down to do it, and I don't do anything else while I'm reading, except maybe listen to classical music. I used to walk and read, but the older I've gotten, the slower my reflexes are and, frankly, the less I care about things outside the book, so I'm more likely to walk into someone. Or something. Like a building. Or a car.

But listening is a secondary activity. I listen to audiobooks while running or cleaning or cooking. I listen to podcasts while working or working out or doing mundane things that require my body and hands.

Sometimes I'll go back and listen to something a second time as a primary activity, if, for example, I want to take notes (see, for example, my notes on Bert Kreischer's conversation with Bobby Kelly or Mike Baker on Joe Rogan's podcast), but by and large, I can listen and absorb the important stuff.

People spend more than half their waking hours reading, listening and watching:

In an average week, the typical American spends approximately 38 hours watching television shows and movies, 8 hours reading books, magazines, and newspapers, and 18 hours listening to recorded music and radio.

While none of these studies addresses podcasts, which fall somewhere between talk radio and audiobooks (I guess?), we know a few things.

Audiobooks are more engaging than films or TV, for example.

Listening is a shortcut to assimilating our brains to our surroundings:

Listening, which meanings giving attention to sound, "tunes our brain to the patterns of our environment faster than any other sense, and paying attention to the nonvisual parts of our world feeds into everything from our intellectual sharpness to our dance skills. ... The richness of life doesn’t lie in the loudness and the beat, but in the timbres and the variations that you can discern if you simply pay attention."

Arielle Pardes says listening isn't like reading at all — thanks, primarily, to the attention required to read something, while listening is a secondary activity. Daniel Willingham, who actually studies such things, says, actually, they're more or less the same.

Here are three audiobooks I'm enjoying right now, and why I'm listening instead of reading:

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. OK, I'll admit this is the lazy move. Have you tried reading this thing? Better have young eyes, lots of coffee, and a boatload of patience. I've started and stopped a bunch on the 1,000-plus-page piece of work, and 63 hours of audio seems like a deal for a $6.95 credit bought on special.

This is the sort of book that people eat, and it takes a long time. Jason Segal (who played Wallace in a movie) told Marc Maron that when he went to buy a copy for his research, the young lady behind the counter said, "Ugh, Infinite Jest. Every guy I’ve ever slept with has an unread copy on his bookshelf."

Don't worry, honey. I didn't sleep with her. And technically my copy, which was purchased used and handed down after that, is not unread. Probably. It seems to have passed through many hands to have not been read.

Digging Up Mother by Doug Stanhope. Comedian Stanhope's memoir — centered around not quite "assisting" in his mother's suicide (she was terminally ill and under hospice care; you can watch his comedy bit on it here) — includes a cast of characters including his partner, Bingo, some of his friends, and some of the people from the book.

They have side conversations (obviously not available in the print version), and I'm sure the print version is sadly corrupted by at least some editing (Stanhope yells, "fake name!" on the audio in each place the lawyers made him change someone's name.

Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins. Goggins worked with Alex Skolnick to write his memoir — a memoir of a rough childhood that included brutal beatings from Dad, running away with Mom and living in a $7/month apartment in a mostly white town; life as a very overweight exterminator; and losing 100 pounds in a few months to be accepted into the military. He went on to become an ultra-runner and a world-record holder in pull-ups.

Skolnick narrates the audiobook, and stops after each section to have a conversation with Goggins, so the audiobook is really part podcast as well.


Let's talk about some podcasts, as well. I'll just assume you're listening to Better Humanhood and JKWD. You are, aren't you?

Here are some things I'm filling my earholes with.

Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan are probably getting bigger audiences than CNN at this point, so I won't say much about their shows. Here are four others you should consider.

Big Questions with Cal Fussman. Fussman traveled the world with no money and then spent 25 years as a freelance writer with an exclusive contract at Esquire, so you'll be forgiven if, like me, you hadn't heard of him before Ferriss had him on. Fussman is a consummate storyteller who has breakfast with Larry King every day the two of them are in the same city.

He gave my daughter several minutes of an episode when she was just a couple weeks old, and one of his sponsors, Sportiqe sent along a blanket and a lovely letter.

Five more suggested episodes:

Mick Ebeling, of Not Impossible Labs
Joe de Sena (Spartan Races) and Lil Misty Diaz (obstacle race athlete with spina bifida)
Melanie Whelan of SoulCycle
Radha Agrawal of Daybreaker
Scooter Braun

Timesuck with Dan Cummins. You might know comedian Cummins from his bit Here Come the Spoons. He's created his own little world with characters from an evil Russian wrestling coach to a three-legged hound to a dark mistress and an overlord. He does a weekly deep dive on some topic of interest to him, often a conspiracy or serial killer, but sometimes something more uplifting.

He sprinkles in fake facts and ads, and has a super-engaged following. Most episodes include regular segments related to the topic, such as a timeline and "idiots of the internet," his response to ridiculous comments on YouTube videos and reddit threads and the like.

The podcast website isn't permalink friendly, so I'll drop the YouTube versions here for some favorite episodes.

Five suggested episodes:

Casey Anthony: Free and Guilty?
Ed Kemper: The Co-Ed Killer
The Pinkerton Detective Agency
The DB Cooper Hijack Mystery
Mikhail "The Werewolf Popkov: Russia's Most Notorious Serial Killer

Duncan Trussell Family Hour. Trussell is an absurdist comedian who is a seeker. He's survived testicular cancer (with one testicle removed). He lost his mother to cancer. His father died recently, and he and his wife welcomed their first child as well. He's a believer in peace, meditation, psychedelics and bringers of light, from Jesus to Ram Dass.

His episodes are often surprising — from spiritual discussions with creators of comedy shows to funny conversations with spiritual advisers to discussions about the practice of both light and dark magick/alchemy through the centuries.

It's hard to pick where to start, but here are five suggested episodes (and don't let any weird ads get to you — his humor often isn't mine and some come off just odd; you can always just skip through to the episode). These episodes all happen to be male interview subjects, but yes, he regularly has women on the show.

Steven Kotler
Zach Leary
Daniele Bolelli
Raghu Markus
Shane Mauss

Astonishing Legends. It's been fun following Forrest Burgess and Scott Philbrook as they took this show from a hobby to a career. They run the definitive show for the world's real-life mysteries, along with some urban legends. I learned about shadow people and black-eyed kids from the show, but they've done in-depth series on things like the Mothman, the Betz Sphere and the Black Monk of Pontrefact.

They have a team of volunteer researchers and they have fans send in segues to read the shows back in from ads. They have a release schedule that, after four years of listening, I still haven't wrapped my head around; they take a week off every three or four weeks or so. When they do a series, they never know how many episodes it will be, because sometimes people come out of the woodwork for interviews or with new information after the first episode comes out.

Five suggested episodes:

• The Sallie House: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
• The Devil and Anneliese Michel — Exorcism on Trial: Part 1 Part 2 | Part 3
• Oak Island Money Pit: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
• The Betz Sphere: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
• Skinwalker Ranch: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

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  • […] Links: • JoshShear.com: Notes on Bert Kreischer’s conversation with Bobby Kelly • JoshShear.com: Notes on Mike Baker on Joe Rogan’s podcast • How much time do people spend reading, listening and watching? • Audiobooks are more engaging than films or TV • Listening is a shortcut to assimilating our brains to our surroundings • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace • Jason Segal on Marc Maron’s podcast • Digging Up Mother by Doug Stanhope • Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins • JKWD Podcast • Tim Ferriss’ podcast • Joe Rogan’s podcast • Big Questions with Cal Fussman • Timesuck with Dan Cummins • Duncan Trussell Family Hour • Astonishing Legends • JoshShear.com: What are you listening to? […]

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