Various Artists – This American Life: Stories of Hope and Fear

When I was younger, whenever I listened to the radio, I listened strictly to alternative music stations. Local stations Y100, WDRE103.9, and PST97.5 were the only stations that would appear on my radio dial. AM radio was not an option, and neither was “talk radio.” They were for “old people.” This, at the time, meant all people over the age of 20. 

Now two years into being an “old person,” I have realized that my definition was a bit inaccurate. Likewise, I can credit my limited understanding of the world on my insistence to listen only to three alternative radio stations. As I have gotten older, I have given stations from the AM dial, and even some “talk radio” stations, the chance to transmit through the speakers. On one of these “talk radio” stations, which I would come to know better as a “public radio station,” I discovered a radio documentary show that came from WBEZ in Chicago called “This American Life.” 

Stories of Hope and Fear, This American Life’s third “greatest hits” record, collects 11 stories from the past three years of the show, and organizes them by theme into two records: one for “hope,” and the other for “fear.” Despite organizing the collection into two separate categories, the emotional impact of the stories on both records is not that different from each other. There is a wide range of sub-emotions within the themes of “Hope” and “Fear.”  It is a given that the stories of “Hope” will be hopeful, but there is plenty of range within that emotion to explore. For instance, the hopefulness in “Is This Thing On?” by Jonathan Goldstein and Starlee Kine is wrapped in humor, while the hopefulness in David Wilcox’s “Thinking Inside the Box,” explores the more depressing side of the emotion. 

Stories of Hope and Fear also features several popular writers. David Sedaris contributes the amusing “So a Chipmunk and a Squirrel Walk into a Bar.” In addition, John Hodgman contributes “Slingshot,” possibly the biggest surprise in the collection. The typically deadpan, absurd humorist’s story is a melancholy account of a period of his life using the metaphor of the Slingshot ride of Ocean City, New Jersey. Stories of Hope and Fear memorably illustrates the range within emotions within “Hope” and “Fear.” But, more so then just showing the range within emotions, Stories of Hope and Feardemonstrate what it’s like to be a human being. Everybody can relate to the experiences This American Life displays in Stories of Hope and Fear, even people who may not yet be an “old person.”

(Shout Factory)