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Everything Our Editors Loved in November

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

This month, Outside editors binged a buzzed-about Netflix miniseries that lived up to the hype, pored over thought-provoking nonfiction, and listened to a couple of captivating environmental podcasts. (Photo: Jasmina007/iStock)
Enjoying beautiful winter day

Although the holidays are looking different for many of us this year, those extra days off are still a great time to cozy up with a new book or a beloved TV show. This month, Outside editors binged a buzzed-about Netflix miniseries that lived up to the hype, pored over thought-provoking nonfiction, and listened to a couple of captivating environmental podcasts. These are our favorites from November.

What We Read

A few years ago, I got a copy of Robert Moor’s On Trails for my dad, a former National Park Service trail-crew member, and this month I finally got around to reading it myself. Much like the trails it describes, this book is a meandering read: Moor, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, traces primordial tracks in fossilized mud, scent paths made by ants, co-opted and nearly lost Native American footways, and hiking trails that are still being built. This meditation on an inherently reflective activity made me think more deeply about how paths—from shortcuts to highways—are born. And it gave me a whole new respect for the work my dad spent much of his career doing. —Maren Larsen, Buyer’s Guide deputy editor 

Lately I’ve pointed more friends than I can count to the George Saunders essay “The Braindead Megaphone,” which appears in his 2007 book of the same name. In it, Saunders argues that an “intelligence ceiling” has been placed over public discourse, and then he explains why that ceiling seems to be getting lower. In some ways, it’s reassuring to know that *gestures broadly* all of this isn’t new. The way we communicate, share information, and consume the news feels incredibly messed up.  This short, funny piece offers some insight as to why that might be the case. —Abigail Barronian, associate editor 

I recently finished reading Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time, a 2012 book that was adapted into a Netflix movie this year. The novel follows several troubled, deeply flawed characters in rural Ohio during the years following World War II as they navigate lives full of crime, corruption, and awful family dynamics. Pollock focuses the story on a young man named Arvin who tragically loses many family members early in his life. Arvin’s anger, grief, and desire to protect his family ultimately lead him to seek vengeance, and his devotion to his family makes you root for him throughout the book. Arvin’s experiences collide with those of the region’s most heinous residents, including a corrupt sheriff, a dangerous preacher, and a husband-and-wife serial-killer duo. Though this was one of the best novels I’ve read in a while, it was also one of the most brutal, in part because its plot—and all its horrors—were so believable. Pollock’s ability to weave each of the characters’ stories together to create such a dark and twisted tale made this an exciting read that I couldn’t put down. —Maura Fox, research associate

Temporarily satiating my wanderlust of late was Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes, by Daniel L. Everett, a former missionary and linguist who for decades lived in a remote part of the Brazilian Amazon with a tribe called the Pirahã, eventually conceding that he preferred their philosophies on life and religion. Although the sections where Everett elaborates on the nitty-gritty of linguistics can bog the book down, even for this copy editor, I enjoyed learning about this small group of people and their daily joys. If you’re looking for an uplifting read during the holiday season, this is it. —Tasha Zemke, copy editor 

I read The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. The book is a powerful portrait of undocumented people in the U.S. whose stories are rarely included in this country’s dominant narratives about immigration. Cornejo Villavicencio is one of the first undocumented immigrants to graduate from Harvard, but she’s tired of hearing about “inspirational” DACA recipients. Her book dives into the stories of day laborers, house cleaners, and delivery workers. Each chapter is set in a different place—Miami; Staten Island, New York; Flint, Michigan—and focuses on a specific subset of the undocumented community there. Throughout the book, Cornejo Villavicencio is direct about mixing what feels like traditional reporting with fictionalization, and she develops close relationships with the people she’s writing about in ways that journalists cannot. The result is a moving, heartbreaking collection of stories that doesn’t fit neatly into any one category of writing. —Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor

What We Listened To

I’ve been listening to How to Save a Planet, hosted by podcast veteran Alex Blumberg and scientist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who Outside recently profiled. I have so many unread tabs open with important stories about climate change’s effects on wildfires, hurricanes, and even the Great British Baking Show, but reading about the largest existential crisis to ever face humanity often feels both too depressing and too abstract. How to Save a Planet has caught me up on the most pressing climate issues and how people are addressing them, with charming banter between Johnson and Blumberg and interviews with climate journalists and experts. It puts things in context—like the fact that planting trees is a really effective way to capture carbon, but it’s not that straightforward, and it won’t single-handedly stop climate change—and stays light and funny even while being realistic about the very high stakes of the topics it covers. —Luke Whelan, senior research editor 

Recently, I’ve been enjoying the podcast California City by environmental reporter Emily Guerin. Guerin was researching water use in California when she stumbled upon California City, an isolated town in the Mojave Desert that was wasting a lot of water due to outdated pipes. When she realized that the city was the third-largest by land in the state—but only had a population of around 14,000—she knew something was up. It turns out that real estate developers had been selling the city’s nearly worthless land since the sixties, spinning it as an investment that buyers would someday make a profit on. Guerin, who spent years reporting on the town, talks to the people buying and selling to get to the bottom of what’s really going on in California City. —Abigail Wise, digital managing director

What We Watched 

If you’re craving Parisian escapism but felt underwhelmed by Emily in Paris, do yourself a favor and watch Call My Agent, a delightful French workplace comedy that’s currently streaming on Netflix. The show focuses on four talent agents at a fictional company called ASK, whose clients include French film stars like Juliette Binoche and Jean Dujardin playing exaggerated versions of themselves. In the first episode, the agents see their lives upended when their beloved boss dies suddenly, and there’s a fair amount of backstabbing throughout the series as they all jockey for control of the company. While Call My Agent doesn’t try to make its characters redeemable or justify their choices, it manages to make them extremely likable nonetheless, and the show is consistently smart and funny as it dramatizes the everyday struggles of being a talent agent. I zoomed through the first three seasons in two blissful weeks. —Sophie Murguia, assistant editor

I’m one episode away from finishing Netflix’s much talked about new miniseries The Queen’s Gambit. The show chronicles the life of Beth Harmon, who loses her mother at a young age and is sent to live in an orphanage, where learning to play chess from the surly janitor in the basement is the only bright spot in her life. Beth eventually gets adopted and convinces her new mom to travel around the world with her so she can win big at chess tournaments. I won’t spoil the rest, except to say that Anya Taylor-Joy’s Beth is at once enchanting and pitiable as she teeters between greatness and insanity. —Jenny Earnest, audience development director 

I watched the Hulu documentary I Am Greta, about the young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg. It’s an enlightening behind-the-scenes look at how Thunberg went from protesting by herself outside the Swedish parliament to eventually leading a global movement of millions. I knew about Thunberg’s meetings with world leaders, but it’s still fun to see how unflappable and focused she is when meeting France’s Emmanuel Macron or standing up to President Trump’s criticism. I also didn’t realize how grueling her mission has been: she’s constantly attending conferences and writing speeches and even sails across the Atlantic in strong, cold winds so as not to create carbon emissions by flying. Her endurance and strength are incredible—and she’s still just 17 years old! The documentary also gets into Thunberg’s experience with Asperger’s syndrome. At one point, a TV interviewer says to her, “So you suffer from Asperger’s.” And she calmly corrects him, “I wouldn’t say I suffer from Aspberger’s. I have Asperger’s, yes.” Thunberg’s influence on the climate movement has become known as the “Greta effect,” and by the end of the film, it’s crystal clear why her activism has galvanized so many people. —Mary Turner, deputy editor

If you’re looking for a brain break this month, I highly recommend the Netflix show We Are the Champions. Each of its six episodes explores the competitive community of a different bizarre sport, including chili eating, frog jumping, and fantasy hairstyling. Narrated by Rainn Wilson of The Office fame, the show’s commentary can be very cheesy (the sentence “Well, hot dog, looks like these noobs have moves!” is spoken at one point, seemingly without irony), but each episode’s roughly 30-minute run time means you’ll never get too sick of it. I’ve made it a habit to watch the show after my weekly viewing of HBO’s intense crime series The UndoingLight and sweet, We Are the Champions is the perfect palate cleanser before bed. —Kelsey Lindsey, associate editor 

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