The books, movies, music, and podcasts we couldn't stop talking about in November
It’s the time of year when a lot of us start spending more time in airplanes and cars to visit family. Let our monthly culture obsessions be your educational (and sometimes weird) travel companions.
What We Read
I spent Thanksgiving break consuming the New Yorker’s tech issue. There are a lot of worthy reasons Silicon Valley is lionized in our culture, but in this issue, the magazine confronted the tech industry’s dark side. Back-to-back features on age and gender discrimination offer deeply reported—and deeply disturbing—revelations about two issues that puncture the digital economy’s egalitarian, save-the-world veneer.
—Chris Keyes, vice president/editor
I've started studying Starting Strength, a book that covers basic barbell training. Why? I’m sick of functioning like a former cyclist. That means: all legs, zero posterior chain, and a massive Tesuque Village Market belly. Will it work? Perhaps if I exercise as religiously as I read. But hey, it’s a start!
—Scott Rosenfield, digital editorial director
Full disclosure: Alex Hutchinson is our Sweat Science columnist (and I’m his editor here), but his new book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, is a must-read. Alex explores the stories of elite athletes and adventurers who have experienced the most extreme forms of pain, thirst, heat, and other challenges and where they reached their breaking point. Through some shocking anecdotes and surprisingly accessible analysis, the book questions whether these boundaries are physical, mental, or some combination of the two. Alex is a Cambridge-trained physicist and once ran for the Canadian national team, so he’s the perfect scientist-athlete hybrid to tackle these questions. But I swear you don’t need to be either to be enthralled by this book—so I will keep recommending it to my non-obsessive runner friends until they listen. (This book comes out in February. You can preorder it here.)
—Molly Mirhashem, associate editor
I recently finished John McPhee’s newest book, Draft No. 4. Its title claims to be about the writing process (and it is, mostly), but it also acts as a personal reflection on McPhee’s decades of writing for the New Yorker. He’s written on some the most interesting subjects in the outdoor world (Encounters with the Archdruid), and he’s made some of the most seemingly boring subjects (Oranges) fascinating. If you’ve ever wondered how he coaxed environmentalist David Brower onto the Colorado River with his arch nemesis Floyd Dominy, then-commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, McPhee explains it here and details how he structured the story. Yes, the book can get a bit cryptic, but like any view into the mind of someone who has pushed their respective field—be it an athlete or writer—it is fascinating and revelatory and offers more than a few takeaways.
—J. Weston Phippen, senior editor
Next up on my reading list is John Steinbeck’s A Russian Journal. After World War II ended, Steinbeck and photographer Robert Capa traveled the Soviet Union to see what life was like for ordinary citizens. The result, I’ve been told by a friend whose reading recommendations I trust completely, is an incredible blend of travel writing and photography and a unique insight into the friendship between two of the era’s greatest artists.
—Jonah Ogles, articles editor
I finally started reading Douglas Brinkley’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt, The Wilderness Warrior. If you don’t already revere Roosevelt for his obsession with wildlife and environmental conservation, this book will persuade you. Especially today, it’s easy and enjoyable to read about about a politician from another era—and it’s hard not to view Roosevelt, flaws and all, as a man on a noble crusade to preserve what so many American citizens, both in his time and ours, have taken for granted.
—Svati Narula, assistant social media editor
After telling people for, oh, decades now, that my favorite book is The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, I realized I only vaguely remembered the plotline and yet was still recommending it to everyone. So I read it again, and you absolutely must read it, too. It is just the best, most wonderful novel of all time. It’s hard to imagine a hero of fiction more perfect than Peekay.
—Tasha Zemke, copy editor
In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann writes about the Osage murder trials and the early days of the FBI as if he were a novelist. It’s the best nonfiction mystery story I’ve ever read.
—Axie Navas, executive editor
What We Listened To
I’ve been listening since the very beginning, but seeing My Favorite Murder live recently made me love the dark comedy podcast even more. I know what you’re thinking, but this is about so much more than gruesome murders: Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff have created a community of “murderinos” who work to destigmatize mental illness and addiction and encourage mental health awareness. Plus, by the time you’re three episodes deep, you’ll feel like these two are your best friends.
—Abigail Wise, online managing editor
I always assumed that cranberry bogs are wholesome half-wild little ecosystems, with lots of cheerful birds and the occasional deer or turkey picturesquely dotting the bank. But, as PRI’s the World explains, they’re actually dead wetlands done in by dams and pesticides—and it’s absolutely worth sacrificing holiday cranberry sauce to bring them back to life. (Nobody really lives for cranberry sauce, anyway. Just throw some organic lingonberry jam on that leftover-turkey sandwich—you’ll be fine.)
—Aleta Burchyski, senior copy editor
The Third Coast International Audio Festival is kind of like the Oscars for podcasts. Each year, judges from the organization listen to hours of audio, from popular productions like S-Town to pieces that haven’t made it onto the radio waves or podcast charts. Then they give out awards for the best ones. One of my favorites from this year was from the winner of the Best New Artist award, Laura Irving. The piece is called “Quiet Revolution,” and it chronicles Irving’s attempt to learn to roller skate as a middle-aged woman—at night on an abandoned tennis court, because she is too embarrassed to try during the day. It captures the intimacy of audio at its best and the vulnerability of trying something new when society says you are too old to.
—Luke Whelan, assistant editor
It’s early in the NBA season, so I’m consuming a ton of basketball content right now (in between worshipping at the altar of Brad Stevens). This week, I’m looking forward to the new incantation of J.J. Redick’s podcast, which just debuted on The Ringer. His previous podcast was a pleasant surprise last year, as Redick’s discussions with NBA athletes often grew pretty candid. It’s rare that players open up in interviews, but his veteran status definitely causes other NBA stars to put their guard down and say some interesting things. I think we’ll see more of that in the coming year.
—Will Ford, editorial fellow
If you’re not immediately drawn in by the name of NASA Johnson Space Center’s official podcast, I have nothing to say to you. Houston We Have a Podcast takes the less-than-whimsical format of interviews between host Gary Jordan and NASA employees or space experts, but it has fulfilled my need for a great space podcast—a lot of which can get condescending (fun space facts for kids!) or way too dry (because space is inherently interesting). Jordan is clearly a NASA nerd who watches every space walk, and he doesn’t try too hard to be overly earnest or a know-it-all. A favorite episode is “Spacesuits,” in which Jordan speaks with the hardware manager of NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit and manages to throw out “umbilical” (official term for the line connecting astronauts’ suits to the spacecraft) and “air gun thingy” (I don’t know either) in the same sentence.
—Erin Berger, associate editor
What We Watched and Otherwise Looked At
I’m a sucker for ski films, and what you barely ever see these days is someone laying arcs down a perfectly groomed run. When Marcus Caston’s new miniseries Return of the Turn hit the web, I was psyched that someone appreciated carving as much as I do. Caston and Robby Kelley, a World Cup racer, hit the slopes to prove you can have just as much fun slicing through corduroy as you can on a powder day. If this doesn’t get you stoked to rip some groomers this season, I don’t know what else will.
—Petra Zeiler, deputy art director
I just saw the coolest exhibit by Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia. It’s called Sip My Ocean, and it’s an interactive exploration between technology and nature. You walk into a series of rooms and watch video shot underwater and in nature that’s projected onto the floors and walls while an awesome soundtrack plays in the background. The walls explode with color and a tide-like pulsation—it’s almost like being in a video aquarium. Many of the rooms had chaises in them so you can lie down and watch video projected onto the entire ceiling. It’s super relaxing to watch, and I found myself wanting to linger all day. You can get a sense of what it was like here.
—Mary Turner, deputy editor
I’m halfway through watching Netflix’s new miniseries Godless. Smart and with a feminist twist, it’s not your average Western. It’s beautifully set and filmed around northern New Mexico, with a soundtrack produced by T Bone Burnett to boot.
—Anika Murray, assistant art director
Cards Against Humanity made a pretty great parody website announcing their pivot from cards to chips, and I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about it. (At least, I hope this is a parody…)
—Jenny Earnest, assistant social media editor