Culture Notebook

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Everything Our Editors Loved in January

The books, movies, podcasts, music, and more that our editors couldn't stop talking about

What we’re doing when we’re not reading. (Elena Baran)
Photo: Elena Baran

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The books, movies, podcasts, music, and more that our editors couldn't stop talking about

It’s a new year, but we’re still here watching Netflix, listening to true crime, and finally getting around to reading the books everyone else has been talking about. Let us tell you why you should spend your time, post-snow activities, doing the same.  

What We Read

I finally got around to reading Tommy Orange’s literary breakout There There, and does it live up to the hype. A member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, the debut novelist penned a nail-biting narrative about the interconnected lives of 12 Native Americans in gentrifying Oakland, California. It’s suspenseful and heartbreaking and important reading for all Americans.

—Alison Van Houten, editorial fellow

You might also have read Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming (after all, it was the number-one bestselling hardcover book of 2018). And while you might scoff and wonder why it belongs on a list of Outside’s favorite new media, know this: when Michelle Obama became First Lady of the United States and felt increasingly cloistered in the White House with an uptight Secret Service–security detail, the only place she felt totally free was on the ski slopes. That’s right: Michelle shreds.

—Axie Navas, digital editorial director

I’m currently working my way through A Field Guide to Losing Your Friends (not to be confused with the 2008 film How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), which I picked up in a bookstore on a recent trip to Bozeman, Montana. This isn’t a how-to but a series of stories about how the author, Tyler Dunning, coped with the deaths of people close to him by seeking solace in nature—like when he tries to climb Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park not long after a friend is killed in a terrorist attack in Uganda. I’m only about a third done, and it’s poignant, tough reading at times. I can only imagine the strength it took for Dunning to put these experiences into words. In the signed copy I bought, he wrote, “Explore your demons.”

—Will Egensteiner, senior editor

I read Educated by Tara Westover. Wow, I couldn’t put it down; I stayed up until like 3 A.M. and had to finish it. The book is a memoir about Westover’s childhood living off the grid in Idaho’s mountains with her survivalist family, which also meant no formal education for any of the kids. At times there is a serious amount of frightening family dysfunction, including a violent brother who repeatedly threatens Westover, and accidents in the junkyard her father runs. But in the end, what stands out most is how Westover managed to educate herself and get out of there. After never going to grade school or high school, she goes on to graduate from college and now has a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. If you think climbing mountains is hard, read this book. 

—Mary Turner, deputy editor

I received the new Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas (thanks, Mom and Dad!) and have been absolutely addicted to the thing. So far this month, I’ve managed to read a book a week. My favorite has been Get Money by Kristin Wong. If you’re looking for a foundational book on money that’s easy to understand and will probably make you laugh out loud, this one is a shrewd investment.

—Jenny Earnest, audience development director

Vanessa Friedman wrote in The New York Times fashion section about some intrigue in Paris’s renowned shopping scene: construction workers recently discovered a 10-by-20-foot oil painting from the 17th century while remodeling a shop into a new Oscar de la Renta boutique. Although the massive artwork’s origin has been traced, mystery abounds as to when and why it was glued to a wall and hidden behind a layer of particleboard (some are positing it was concealed for protection during World War II). In any case, it’s slated to be restored and will remain in place while the brand is a tenant there. 

—A.V.H.

I read the book This Is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kheryn Callender. I think reading romance novels is a guilty pleasure of mine, and I couldn’t put this one down. It’s pretty clearly aimed at young adults, with a John Green sort of style, but it focuses on LGBTQ characters, which was a breath of fresh air. I finished this book in about three days and completely nerded out about the writing style.

—Johanna Flashman, digital editorial fellow

What We Listened To

The folks who made the podcast Atlanta Monster (which I wrote about last February and also highly recommend) are back with season two: Monsterabout the Zodiac Killer. This individual committed anywhere between 7 and 37 murders in the late 1960s, making him one of the most notorious serial killers of all time. Monster revisits his crimes and explores his strange fascination with the spotlight and how he taunted police, who were never able to catch him. 

—Abigail Wise, online managing editor

I can’t believe no one ever told me about Night Call, a podcast that frequently explores several of my top interests: the Southwest, space, paranormal goings-on, and smart women’s opinions on all the pieces of pop culture that I will definitely get around to consuming one day. The show has existed for about a year, but hosts Molly Lambert, Tess Lynch, and Emily Yoshida were doing conversational podcasting together long before I became a late adopter, and it shows in their rapid-fire banter (and excellent ghost stories). 

—Erin Berger, senior editor

In Hot and Drya new podcast about climate change in New Mexico, local Santa Feans Cally Carswell and Collin Haffey go deep on the political and environmental challenges—and opportunities—facing the state. Carswell is a contributing editor at High Country News, and Haffey is a fire ecologist. Together they bring an intimate knowledge of state government to some heavy questions, such as: How does a state whose current economic reality depends on oil and gas revenues transition toward a more sustainable future? New Mexico is on the front lines of climate change—the rest of the country should take a lesson from the folks here—and Carswell and Haffey are exceptional guides.  

—A.N.

Maggie Rogers’s new album, Heard It in a Past Life, has been the perfect soundtrack to the amazing ski season we’ve been having here in New Mexico. It was three years ago now that her song “Alaska” (inspired by a National Outdoor Leadership School trip she went on) went viral. Since then she has released an EP and an ad for the North Face, and she finally dropped an LP earlier this month—12 whole tracks of Rogers’s vulnerable, earthy pop. Side note: while reading this profile of Rogers, I learned that, even before meeting Pharrell, she hung out with Sharon Van Etten, who also recently released an album, Remind Me Tomorrow, that I haven’t been able to get enough of.

—Luke Whelan, research editor

What We Watched and Otherwise Experienced

I recently watched the documentary Minding the Gapand I was totally caught off guard by how good it was. Going into it, I only knew that it was a film about skateboarding. But really it’s about a group of boys (including the filmmaker, Bing Liu) growing up in Rockford, Illinois, and navigating serious issues like racism, parenthood, and violence. (Of course, it’s also packed with lighter moments of the kids messing around on skateboards in their hometown.) Liu spent years filming his friends, and at one point turns the camera on himself when he confronts his mother about his own family trauma—and the result is shockingly intimate and powerful. The movie is up for an Oscar this year, and I’d highly recommend it to just about anyone. 

—Molly Mirhashem, senior editor

I got the chance to see The Radicals on tour at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival this month. The documentary showcases some professional and semiprofessional snowboarders’ and surfers’ journeys into activism (the biggest name being snowboarder and climate activist Marie-France Roy). There are breathtaking shots of backcountry snowboarding and Pacific Northwest surfing, combined with tense scenes of frontline conservation fights.

—Ruben Kimmelman, editorial fellow

I binge-watched all of You, a Netflix series starring Penn Badgley (of Gossip Girl fame) as a stalker turned murderer living a double life as a nice guy who works in a bookstore. The narrator of the series is Badgley’s character, Joe, whose inner thoughts move the story and warp the viewer’s opinion of him as he stalks a woman who once walked into his store. He’s an obsessed killer, but his acting is so good that you start to rationalize his actions right along with him. In his mind, he’s not creepy—he’s just romantic and protective! The second season is already in the works, but in the meantime, I’ve been scared out of using geotags, and I’m much more aware of what I’m doing when my windows are open. 

—Abbey Gingras, social media editorial assistant

I’m in the minority, but I loved Bird Box. Yes, it borrows obviously and heavily from The Happening and The Road to deliver a plot in which Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her kids flee through the wilderness from an apocalypse monster that makes everyone who sees it go insane. It’s easy to dismiss this move as the mildly entertaining sum of recycled parts, but let’s acknowledge what Bird Box really delivers: Bullock as a mama-bear queen of outdoor survival. Her confidence also truly sold me on her mauve Uniqlo puffy shacket, which I now own since it thankfully came back in stock. Regrettably, the bulk of the film is spent developing and picking off characters in flashback scenes; I used these to switch laundry and refill snacks, and was intermittently tempted to hit fast-forward. (That is, after all, the huge plus of home streaming, right?) But as soon as Bullock was back in the wild, I couldn’t look away.

—Aleta Burchyski, associate managing editor

I wish I could travel around the world, to 52 amazing destinations, and have The New York Times pay for it! But living vicariously through the fun Instagram posts of this year’s chosen one, Sebastian Modak, will keep you dreaming while you’re at your desk. 

—Tasha Zemke, copy editor

Filed To: Podcasts / Media / TV / Culinary / Running / Movies / Books