Outside editors leaned into escapism this month, spending our weekends consuming culture that transported us from faraway planets to the beaches of Oahu. As always, we watched plenty of Netflix, too. Here’s everything we loved in September.
What We Read
Part classic science fiction, part epic Arctic adventure, Ursula Le Guin’s 1969 novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, may be even better suited to our time than its own. The book follows Genly Ai, an envoy from an interplanetary confederation trying to convince the residents of the planet Gethen to join the rest of the galaxy. Gethen, a planet deep in an ice age, is populated by gender-fluid humanoids for whom skiing is a primary mode of transportation. I won’t lie: the complex world-building almost put me off, but the book eventually won me over. Ai and his companion Estraven spend much of the novel trekking across a desolated and dangerous ice sheet, in scenes that would fit in among the best of the outdoor adventure canon. Out on the ice, the book explores gender and sexuality, the pressures of survival, and the impact of isolation—all themes that could be plucked from the pages of a 2020 newspaper. —Maren Larsen, buyer’s guide deputy
This month, I read The Death and Life of Aida Hernandez: A Border Story, by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, and haven’t stopped talking about it since. It’s an incredible work of narrative nonfiction about a woman whose life spans the increasingly militarized Mexico-U.S. border. It’s so good that trying to explain why you must read it is overwhelming to me: it offers a crash course in U.S. immigration policy and history, dives into the lives of Mexican revolutionaries, and tells the story of a profoundly bright, complicated, resilient woman caught in the middle of it all. —Abbie Barronian, associate editor
What We Listened To
Unlike many of my favorite bands from when I was 17 (oh hey, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), I don’t need to be embarrassed about still loving the Fleet Foxes. (Post Malone agrees.) Each new album, while retaining the band’s distinctly lush, baroque harmonies, has felt fresh and original. Such was the case for 2011’s Crack Up, the band’s first album in six years, in which band leader Robin Pecknold introduced dark, dissonant elements to the bands’ previously pleasant, uplifting sound. This month, the Fleet Foxes came out with their fourth album, which reclaims the warmth of their early music while still creating a new, meticulously crafted sound. It feels contemplative but hopeful, the perfect vibe for these strange times. —Luke Whelan, senior research editor
I’m late to the game, but I only just discovered the Articles of Interest podcast from the 99% Invisible team. Each episode of the miniseries is devoted to a different aspect of how we dress: there are deep dives into perfume, suits, pockets, and—my personal favorite—knockoffs. Hosted by Avery Trufelman (who now hosts the reboot of The Cut’s podcast), the show covers much more than fashion. Trufelman delves into the history, environmental impacts, and cultural implications of what we wear. Each episode packs in a huge amount of information (and an impressive range of sources), but the writing makes for very entertaining listening. Consider it the perfect antidote to the stress of a daily news podcast. —Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor
What We Watched and Otherwise Experienced
I just watched a documentary called My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. It was recommended to me by numerous friends and seems to be the kind of story we’re all longing for right now. It’s about a South African filmmaker who’s adrift in life and looking for a way to reconnect with nature. He grew up spending a lot of time in the ocean, so he decides to start swimming in the cold waters off the coast of South Africa. While exploring a kelp forest, he discovers a female octopus and makes a commitment to go see her every day for a year to learn about her life and to see if she will befriend him. What ensues is an incredibly beautiful film about the ecosystem of the kelp forest, the intelligence and amazing abilities of the octopus, and a man’s poignant relationship with a wild creature. It’s the feel-good movie of 2020, providing an assurance that the natural world still has the power to heal us all. —Mary Turner, deputy editor
I’m thoroughly enjoying Away, the new Netflix series starring Hilary Swank as the commander of the first crew to travel to Mars. While the majority of the show is set in deep space, it focuses less on the glory of being an astronaut and much more on human connection and the challenges Swank’s character faces as a woman in leadership. At a time of great uncertainty, I’m finding it especially cathartic—while I sorely miss seeing my friends and family from around the globe, at least we occupy the same planet. And while the future feels more unknown than ever, I’m comforted that most of my decisions are unrelated to life and death. —Jenny Earnest, audience development director
Back-to-school season had me craving a good teen rom-com, so a few weeks ago I binge-watched Never Have I Ever, Mindy Kaling’s Netflix series that premiered earlier this year. The show focuses on 15-year-old Devi Vishwakumar, who’s trying to navigate her sophomore year of high school while dealing with the sudden death of her father. While the series’ tone is mostly lighthearted, it also manages to offer a nuanced exploration of loss and grief. Eighteen-year-old Maitreyi Ramakrishnan gives a charming and often very funny performance as Devi, while Poorna Jagannathan is equally great as her mother, Nalini. —Sophie Murguia, assistant editor
In the mid-aughts, Scottish climber Dave MacLeod was one of the best climbers on the planet, making the first ascent of Rhapsody, at the time the hardest trad line in the world, in 2006, and freesoloing a 5.14b in Spain in 2008. Recently, the 42-year-old has become, for lack of a better description, a YouTuber. He posts around once a week, delivering climbing how-to’s and quasi trip reports in a smooth, ASMR-inducing Scottish brogue. He is, as one poster described him on Mountain Project, the Bob Ross of climbing. —Matt Skenazy, articles editor
If you, like me, loathe to see summer end and dread waking up to temperatures in the single digits, let me recommend my daily pick-me-up: Hawaii Magazine’s Instagram account. With ocean photos of every blue hue, waterfalls dropping hundreds of feet, windblown palms, a pink prickly pineapple popping out of the foliage, and surfers paddling out to the lineup at Waikiki, I’m reminded daily that somewhere someone’s always enjoying summer weather—and someday next year I’ll finally get to visit. —Tasha Zemke, copy editor
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