Everything Our Editors Loved in June
The books, movies, podcasts, music, and more that our editors couldn't stop talking about
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As summer heats up, Outside editors have been spending their days diving into escapist novels, absorbing nonfiction, and moving historical films that inspire us to fight injustice today. These are our favorites from June.
What We Read
On several occasions, Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book Less made me laugh so loudly that I had to read the culpable passage to my roommate to prove I was not descending into hysteria. The novel’s central character, Arthur Less, is a gay, middle-aged, mediocre author who departs on an around-the-world journey to avoid attending the wedding of his old flame. He’s so endearing and pitiful that I found myself falling in love with him even as he made me physically cringe. Less is filled with stuff I miss from pre-pandemic life, like air travel and serendipitous encounters with strangers. It’s the cleverest and tenderest beach read I’ve come across in a long time. —Claire Hyman, editorial assistant
One of the “it” books of the summer, The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, absolutely lived up to the hype. The novel revolves around identical twin sisters, Desiree and Stella Vignes, who grow up in the fictional town of Mallard, Louisiana, a small Black community where residents are obsessed with the concept of skin lightness. They eventually part ways after Stella decides to pass as a white woman and live in a white society, a choice that her family will grapple with for multiple generations. Bennett’s character building and writing are so skilled, my only critique of the book is I wish it was longer—I could have easily spent hundreds of more pages in the different lives she creates. —Kelsey Lindsey, associate editor
After a few months of doing little reading, I received Lori Gottlieb’s book Maybe You Should Talk to Someone for my birthday (don’t worry, I asked for it!) and have been tearing through it. Gottlieb writes The Atlantic’s Dear Therapist column, and I encountered her work for the first time last month while taking the digital version of Yale’s popular happiness course, “The Science of Well-Being.” (The class is free during the pandemic and more than worth the small time investment.) In her book, Gottlieb recounts the midlife crisis she faced when her fiancé unexpectedly dumped her. A therapist herself, she has to come to terms with the idea of sitting in the other chair, and along the way she shares hilarious, depressing, and relatable stories from her own life and the lives of her clients (whose identities are obscured). During a prolonged period of uncertainty and heaviness, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone offers both a welcome respite and a poignant reminder to focus on the present rather than fixating on the future. —Jenny Earnest, audience development director
During a recent two-week span, I existed in a media universe operated solely by Patrick Radden Keefe. I started in late May with the bestseller Say Nothing, Keefe’s investigation into the disappearance of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, from her Belfast apartment in 1972. Figuring out what happened to McConville offers a gripping narrative through line, but just as fascinating is Keefe’s thorough chronicling of 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland known as the Troubles and the evolution of IRA leader turned politician Gerry Adams. After completing the book’s epilogue, I immediately went to Spotify and started a three-day binge of Wind of Change, Keefe’s eight-part audio series that attempts to confirm a tantalizing rumor: that the CIA wrote the Scorpions’ hair-metal power ballad about Soviet glasnost, “Wind of Change,” as part of a covert influence campaign. Did it really happen? Doesn’t matter, as every trail Keefe follows in pursuit of the truth is ridiculously entertaining. —Chris Keyes, editor
What We Listened To
The new Phoebe Bridgers album, Punisher, has been the soundtrack of the past couple of weeks in my house. Bridgers emerged as one of the most exciting singer-songwriters with her first album, Stranger in the Alps, and her collaboration with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, two other über-talented young solo artists, called Boygenius. Punisher features Bridgers’s signature hauntingly personal lyrics, set against an apocalyptic backdrop that seems very fitting for this moment. —Luke Whelan, senior research editor
I’ve been listening to Floodlines, The Atlantic’s masterful podcast about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Host Vann R. Newkirk II tells the tale of Katrina through the eyes of New Orleans residents, focusing on a woman named Le-Ann Williams, who’s 14 when she sees her life upended by the storm. In addition to these personal stories, Newkirk zooms out to examine the federal government’s negligent response to the disaster and the misleading media narratives that spread myths about looting and chaos after the hurricane. The show’s final episode, which features excerpts of Newkirk’s six-hour interview with former FEMA chief Michael Brown, is a master class in accountability journalism. It’s been 15 years since Katrina, but as Newkirk reminds listeners, “the past will always find its way back to us,” and the parallels to today’s pandemic and protests against police brutality are plentiful. Once again the federal government is fumbling its response to a catastrophe that disproportionately affects Black people, and once again officials are using stories about looting to place the blame on Black victims of police violence. —Sophie Murguia, assistant editor
What We Watched
On the recommendation of photographer and cyclist Christopher Stricklen (@creedub on Instagram), my partner and I recently watched LA 92, the documentary about the 1992 L.A. riots that followed the acquittal of the four police officers who brutally beat Rodney King. We followed that up with Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. Stricklen said the combination of the two films would be “a powerful cocktail of understanding” about the history of the Black fight for civil rights, and he was right. LA 92 was a sobering reminder of how, nearly 30 years later, the Black community is still fighting police brutality and the systems that fail to hold police accountable for their violence. Malcolm X, in addition to illuminating how the legendary civil rights leader is widely misunderstood by the white American public, is an empowering look at what Black pride, solidarity, and organization achieved during that era. Prior to watching these two films, we also watched Just Mercy, the true story of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who has worked tirelessly since the 1980s to overturn wrongful convictions on death row (Michael B. Jordan stars). I’d highly recommend this trilogy in that order: Just Mercy will open your eyes to the workings of systemic racism. LA 92 will show you how history repeats itself. And Malcolm X will make you want to get off the couch and do something about it all. —Gloria Liu, features editor