Our Editors’ Culture Picks of the Month
The books, movies, music, and podcasts we couldn't stop talking about
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We’ve been doing a lot of reading and listening in September, because who has time to sit down and watch things when you need to pack all the fun into the final days of summer?
What We Read
I read My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent. A note to the reader: This book is dark. A conspiracy nut/survivalist-type father is raising his daughter, Turtle, alone on the Mendocino coast, where he both trains her to become an expert marksman and outdoorswoman and repeatedly rapes her. Grim, yes. But Turtle is one of the all-time great characters in literature. To watch her grapple with her future, her father, her place in the world, makes for the most arresting book I’ve read in years. I can’t stop telling people about it. Tallent’s description of the California coast is breathtaking, too.
—Jonah Ogles, articles editor
Quartz launched a newsletter this month called Quartz Obsession, which zeros in on a different topic every afternoon. I’ve been reading it since its launch and can confirm it’s something to be obsessed with. Topics thus far have included fatbergs, 808 drum machines, and elevator buttons.
—Jenny Earnest, assistant social media editor
I just read Sour Heart, a book of short stories by Jenny Zhang. Based on the early reviews, my expectations for the book were pretty high, but that turned out to be a nonissue. Each story is written from the perspective of a different Chinese-American girl, and Zhang brings poignant observations and a blunt sense of humor to all of them. Her characters are endearing and often hilarious, even when tackling heavier elements of their experiences as immigrants. I’ve been impulsively buying books since I finished this one but haven’t found anything else that I’m as excited to read.
—Molly Mirhashem, associate editor
I’m admittedly behind the times on this one, but I cannot stop reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies. The Pulitzer Prize–winning book is a biography of cancer that’s as gripping as it is terrifying.
—Scott Rosenfield, digital editorial director
I’ve been reading Christine Burke’s new book, The Yoga Healer. Christine has been teaching yoga for 17 years and has an awesome studio in Los Angeles called Liberation Yoga. I’ve always wanted to go, but now I can get a taste of it from this book, which is set up with really clear instructions and helpful photos for each pose. (Full disclosure: Christine is the daughter of Outside founder Larry Burke, and I’ve known and admired her for years.)
—Mary Turner, deputy editor
I finally read John McPhee’s Coming into the Country this year, and it gave me this jealous feeling that I’ll never see anything with as much detail and clarity and sharp sense for the interesting parts as he does. Unfortunately, John McPhee is not as enamored with himself as the rest of us, so he rarely does interviews. Except for this week! Sam Anderson’s profile of McPhee in the New York Times Magazine is fun and confirms that McPhee actually is as scarily smart as he sounds. I’m now excited to read McPhee’s new book, Draft No. 4, which is all about his writing process. Probably won’t help my jealousy.
—Erin Berger, associate editor
I’m reading the newly released, 1,146-page, 17th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. Exciting, right? Yet it’s essential for anyone who works, as I do, in a word factory, extremely useful for writers aspiring to be one of the next generation’s senior editorial darlings, and a nerdy source of linguistic trivia for the next time you need to entertain a crowd of English majors. Here’s a little-known nugget, sure to impress: The verb “decimate,” which dates back to Roman times, literally means “to kill every tenth person.” You know you can fit that into conversation somehow.
—Tasha Zemke, copy editor
What We Listened To
—Elizabeth Hightower Allen, features editor
I, along with much of the world, have been digging Odesza’s new album, A Moment Apart. It’s not as immediately catchy or revolutionary as their first album, In Return, but that’s often the case with second releases that flow into an already established sound. Nonetheless, there are still some banger songs, several of which have been the soundtrack of my daily bike commutes and a recent trip to California. I’ve yet to see the band live—because I’m a dad of two and have no time—but there’s no one else I’d rather pay $100 (maybe even $200) to blow my mind onstage.
—Jakob Schiller, online gear director
Mike Powell has been a fixture in the ski industry for more than two decades and has worked for brands like K2, Red Bull, and Powder magazine. In his weekly podcast, The Powell Movement, his humorous interviews with professional athletes shed light on the past, present, and future of the action-sports industry.
—Ben Fox, assistant editor
I am a shameless First Aid Kit fan. I never even got tired of “My Silver Lining” after its run in ski season 2014. So I was very excited when the Swedish folk-pop duo came out with their first single in three years. “It’s a Shame” has the expansive harmonies, twangy guitar, and percussive beat that will scratch the First Aid Kit itch you forgot you had. Fingers crossed that this means a new album is around the corner!
—Luke Whelan, assistant editor
What We Watched, Read, and Listened to at the Same Time
I’ve been liking The Vietnam War on PBS. I learn something new every single episode. It’s incredible.
—Madeline Kelty, deputy photo editor
There’s something about Vietnam in the zeitgeist right now. Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War (on PBS) pairs really well with new podcast LBJ’s War, which features audio of President Johnson calling friends, advisers, and cabinet members to discuss the war from its beginning to the end of his presidency. Tack on Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, and you have a great primer on one of the most consequential events in American history.