February is supposedly a month of love and heartbreak. Accordingly, Outside editors dove into stories about marriages, pandemics, grifters, and magical mushrooms that apparently heal you—so, we’re doing just fine, thanks!
What We Read
My 75-year-old mom, 13-year-old daughter, and I all flew through Born a Crime, the highly entertaining autobiography by The Daily Show host Trevor Noah. Noah was raised in post-apartheid South Africa by a black Xhosa mother and white European father. His childhood was filled with hardships (including a terror of a stepdad), curious schemes, and shocking accidents. Noah’s thoughtful commentary on the nation’s colonization, politics, and culture perfectly set up funny scenes, a combination that has become his signature presentation method as a television comedian. The result is a page-turning history lesson told with both humor and empathy.
—Tasha Zemke, copy editor
I started reading Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s novel Fleishman Is in Trouble right when it came out, but I couldn’t finish it until this week. That wasn’t because Brodesser-Akner can’t write a great love story, but because the book was completely heart shattering and difficult to speed through. She breaks down what’s expected of a fictional book about a marriage and makes you face your deepest fears about being loved and lied to—not to mention your own selfishness in relationships. (There are no purely good people in this book but plenty of haters and self-serving lovers.) Read this for both a heartbreak and a laugh. Sad or happy, Brodesser-Akner’s voice is always clear.
—Mary Mathis, digital visuals editor
What We Listened To
I’ve been listening to Radiolab’s new series The Other Latif. It’s an incredible story about a Guantanamo Bay detainee who was supposed to be released but never was. (The series producer stumbled upon the detainee because they share the same, very uncommon name: Latif Nasser.) Both the reporting and storytelling are exceptional and drew me back into this shady part of our justice system, which I should know more about but had honestly stopped following with everything else in the news cycle over the past few years.
—Luke Whelan, research editor
The Shrink Next Door tells the twisted tale of a celebrity therapist who took advantage of one of his patients—eventually moving into the patient’s home and infiltrating every aspect of his life, from his family to his job and his will. Through a series of interviews and personal accounts, journalist Joe Nocera, who happened to be the therapist’s neighbor, explores how this level of manipulation could have happened. I binged the podcast during a weekend of long runs. Instead of agonizing about side stitches, I was fully engrossed in the story.
—Abigail Wise, digital managing director
New Mexico is beautiful, and I love it here, but I’m still a little homesick for Texas. Fortunately, this month, Texas artists Leon Bridges and the band Khruangbin put out a collaborative four-song EP, Texas Sun. The artists know the state well, having toured all over it, and the music on this EP captures many of the sounds that influence such a vast and diverse place: there’s twang, there’s R&B, there’s Tejano, there’s zydeco, and a whole lot more. I listen on my drives from work and find it fits here in New Mexico, too.
—Will Bostwick, editorial fellow
The older I get, the more I suspect most people know at least one Leonard Cohen song that breaks their heart a little with each listen, and some of us know several. If you can relate, please approach Cohen’s posthumous album Thanks for the Dance with caution and a large box of tissues. The nine-track compilation clocks in at under 30 minutes. The vocals were recorded right before Cohen’s death in 2016, with the music composed afterward by Cohen’s son, Adam, and a supporting lineup of accomplished musicians. Their gentle accompaniments highlight Cohen’s voice and turns of phrase on every track. I was especially moved by the closing track, “Listen to the Hummingbird,” which comes from an improvised poetry reading that Cohen gave toward the end of his life. (His son’s team used audio from an event recording to produce the song.) “Listen to the hummingbird, whose wings you cannot see,” the master songwriter and practicing Buddhist told his audience. “Listen to the hummingbird, don’t listen to me.” It’s a humble sign-off from one of the last century’s greatest wordsmiths.
—Xian Chiang-Waren, associate editor
What We Watched and Otherwise Experienced
I saw the documentary Fantastic Fungi. It’s all about the enormous and essential role mushrooms play in nature. They are powerhouses! They have these vast root networks underground that act as communication pathways for the natural world. The film conjectures that mushrooms are a large part of the reason humans and other species exist, because of their ability to decompose and create the conditions necessary for new life. And the medical world is making great strides by using certain types of fungi, such as psychiatrists using magical mushrooms for depression and PTSD. Go see it. It will make you appreciate mushrooms and nature in a whole new way. Plus, the wide variety of different kinds of mushrooms shown in the film are stunning to see.
—Mary Turner, deputy editor
I’ve been meaning to make a trip to this “secret” plant shop in Brooklyn—yes, I know how Brooklyn that sounds—for many months, and I finally went. February in New York is a dark time, and plants help! The shop’s owner, Jarema Osofsky, takes appointments over Instagram to visit the space, and you essentially get her undivided plant-mom attention while you’re there. She’ll look at photos of your apartment, talk to you about the light in your space, and help you pick out some new friends to take home. (She also has an adorable corgi named Topanga who only improves the ambience.) If you find yourself in the New York area, I highly recommend paying the shop a visit.
—Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor
You probably don’t need another person telling you how great Schitt’s Creek is, but here we are. When I first started watching this Netflix show (hat tip to associate editor Ariella Gintzler for the recommendation) about a wealthy family that loses everything and moves to an aptly named small town, I was expecting a story line full of Succession-style rich-person antics. I certainly saw some of that in the first few episodes, but beyond that, the show mostly chronicles the family’s various endeavors to—gasp—do the right thing and be good people. It’s both heartwarming and hilarious, thanks in part to the wonderful acting from Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Dan Levy, and Annie Murphy.
—Kelsey Lindsey, associate editor
I occasionally dabble in the world of Stephen King (especially when there are no clowns involved), so when I saw that HBO was debuting The Outsider, I dove right in. Cynthia Erivo plays Holly Gibney, a supernaturally inclined private investigator who’s a staple in many King novels; for me, Gibney’s character alone elevates the series far above a standard cop drama. The Outsider builds slowly, but it creeps into the horror-laced territory King is known for before long, and none of the episodes feels like filler. In true HBO fashion, the production value rivals a feature film: there’s a star-studded cast and a prop stylist with a spectacular knack for making old barns look even scarier. To be honest, the greatest part of this show is that I can watch it at night and still fall asleep peacefully without being haunted by Bill Skarsgard in a vintage clown costume.
—Kyra Kennedy, photo editor
I will admit to buying a few of McDonald’s value meals back in the day in the hopes of landing a million-dollar prize from the chain’s Monopoly game. As you might have gleaned by the fact that I am still just another working stiff, I was not successful. Thanks to the HBO documentary series McMillions, I now know why: it tells the story of Jerome “Uncle Jerry” Jacobsen, who rigged the game for personal gain. Jacobsen used his marketing position to score high-value game pieces and pass them on to a network of friends and relatives, which at one point included a lieutenant in the Colombo crime family. Americans often claim to be enthralled with hard work, which we consider to be a virtuous path toward comfort and stability. The reality, which this show makes very clear, is that we’re a nation of grifters with a blurred sense of morality, searching for a quick and easy path to wealth. Now, excuse me, I have to bounce so I can snag a couple of lotto tickets on my coffee break.
—Ryan Van Bibber, senior editor
Disclaimer: if you are seriously stressed out about the coronavirus, don’t watch Pandemic on Netflix. It will not soothe your anxiety. But the docuseries does offer a valuable and timely look into the ways that animal-borne diseases have spread across the world in the past 100 years. The crew documents scientific and hygienic methods that were used to prevent and contain influenza on a global scale—scenes that mirror what’s going on with the coronavirus at the moment, such as doctors immersed in wards, researchers bustling in labs, and epidemiologists scaling forests and caves with tubes and swabs. Ultimately, the series reminds us that there’s no natural firewall between us and wildlife.
—Wufei Yu, editorial production fellow