winter reading
This December, we watched a lot of television. (Photo: SimonSkafar/iStock)

Everything Our Editors Loved in December

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

winter reading

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This holiday season, Outside editors eased into downtime and burned through travel time by bingeing on podcasts, revisiting favorite childhood authors, and catching up on lots of television. We also liked the new Star Wars, don’t @ us.

What We Read

Like millions of others, I grew up obsessed with the wonderful and peculiar worlds created by children’s book author Roald Dahl, which were always just the right combination of grotesque, fantastic, and funny. I didn’t know that Dahl’s real life was just as colorful until I read Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock, last month. With stellar research and access to Dahl’s family, Sturrock paints the famed writer as a genius (see: any of his children’s books), obstinate (he burned bridges like he had stock in ferries), and passionate (he loved his family dearly but was far from the best father and partner). At 672 pages, the book is a tome, but fans will find it worth getting through.

—Will Taylor, gear director

I read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy for the first time when I was 12—yes, the same age as Lyra and Will—and it’s remained my all-time favorite collection of books. (To this day, I’ve only cried once while reading, and that was the first time I got to the end of The Amber Spyglass.) I disliked the 2007 movie adaptation of The Golden Compass just as much as everyone else seemed to but felt cautiously optimistic about HBO’s new series. Before watching the show, I obviously had to reread all the books, so I spent the holidays with Lyra and the armored bears for the billionth time.

—Xian Chiang-Waren, associate editor

What We Listened To

During a particularly long drive through a blizzard to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, I binged on Detective Trapp to curb my road rage. The podcast follows Julissa Trapp (who must be the most badass detective in California, not to mention the only woman in Anaheim’s homicide department) as she investigates a series of sex-worker murders. Trapp’s cases are just as compelling as her personal life, and the podcast gives audiences a window into both. 

—Abigail Wise, digital managing director

I saw Little Women twice over the holidays, but you probably don’t need to hear more about how great it is. Instead, I’ll recommend this episode of the OnWriting podcast with director Greta Gerwig—it covers her writing and creative process, insights into some of her decision-making while adapting the book into a screenplay, and a bunch of other interesting tidbits. It’s a treat for anyone who’s interested in storytelling.

—Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor

Last month I drove home to Ohio from New Mexico. In total, I spent over 48 hours in the car and digested a lot of podcasts. I binged the whole Dirty John series from the Los Angeles Times, which Bravo later turned into a television show. I also started Boomtown, a new ten-part podcast from Texas Monthly about the oil boom in the Permian Basin, in west Texas and southeast New Mexico—because if you’re not paying attention to big oil, are you really paying attention?

—Emily Reed, video producer

What We Watched and Otherwise Experienced

Last year, Kelly Slater generated the biggest headlines in competitive surfing, as he has for nearly three decades. This time it wasn’t another record-breaking title that caused the commotion but rather the 11-time World Surf League champion’s preseason announcement that 2019 would be his final year competing. Would Slater really retire? That’s the question HBO set out to answer in “24/7: Kelly Slater,” an hourlong special episode of the network’s sports-documentary series, which follows Slater in the lead-up to the Billabong Pipe Masters competition (the 2019 pro tour’s last stop). The documentary gives an intimate view of the legendary athlete’s home life, his approach to competition, and his ruminations about his final (maybe, possibly, we’ll see) event as a pro. By the end of the episode, no one—not the HBO producers who funded this expensive, well-deserved hagiography, nor Slater—seems to have any idea when the big guy will put away his shortboards. Either way, Slater still makes for fascinating television.

—Chris Keyes, editor

Over the holiday break, I caught up on some of the 200-plus stories and videos I had bookmarked in my Pocket account throughout 2019. One highlight was an opinion piece from The New York Times, “The Great Recycling Con,” a gorgeously produced, five-minute video that breaks down the process of recycling. I was shocked by one line in particular: “According to the EPA, in 2017, as little as 8.4 percent of our discarded plastic went through that magic recycling process.” After watching, I’m newly inspired to work on consuming less plastic in the first place.

—Jenny Earnest, audience development director

In December, I went to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with my entire family. I know it’s supposed to be polarizing, and people are pissed about it, but honestly? Everyone in it is hot, there are cute aliens and lots of big explosions, and I don’t really understand how, in a world descending into chaos, this would be the hill you choose to die on. I loved it, and I choose not to take my space trilogies so seriously. (But for a truly groundbreaking intergalactic odyssey, I’m holding out for the new Dune movie.) 

—Abbie Barronian, assistant editor

Over the holidays, I watched all of Derry Girls on Netflix with my mom. The show is about four girls (plus their guy friend) who attend a Catholic girls’ school in Northern Ireland in the nineties during a period of historic national unrest called the Troubles. My mom and I can have a hard time finding common ground when it comes to movies and television, but Derry Girls Cranberries-heavy soundtrack and its characters that seemed pulled from our own wonderful-but-wild Catholic family brought us together. We cried from laughter and teared up during some heartfelt moments; my mom called it “funnier than Mrs. Maisel,” which for her is really saying something. 

—Maren Larsen, Buyer’s Guide deputy editor

New Year’s is a popular time to think about diet and exercise. If you’re into that sort of thing, as a lot of us at Outside are, the documentary Game Changers is worth a view. It’s about vegan and vegetarian athletes and how they believe their dietary choices affect performance. While I can’t say I’ve gone all in on the meat-free thing (I really do love a juicy aged rib eye), the accomplishments (and the abs) of the pros in the film convinced me that cutting back on meat and dairy couldn’t hurt.

—Julia Walley, marketing art director

Lead Photo: SimonSkafar/iStock

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