Last month, Outside editors tried to stay sane amid a stressful news cycle by replacing a Twitter habit with some poetry, listening to a podcast about couples therapy, and reading a book that encourages getting in touch with all five senses.
Last month, Outside editors tried to stay sane amid a stressful news cycle by replacing a Twitter habit with some poetry, listening to a podcast about couples therapy, and reading a book that encourages getting in touch with all five senses. (Photo: Westend61/Cavan)

Everything Our Editors Loved in October

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

Last month, Outside editors tried to stay sane amid a stressful news cycle by replacing a Twitter habit with some poetry, listening to a podcast about couples therapy, and reading a book that encourages getting in touch with all five senses.

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This October, Outside editors tried to stay sane amid a stressful news cycle by replacing a Twitter habit with some poetry, listening to a podcast about couples therapy, and reading a book that encourages us to get in touch with all five senses. Here are our favorites from the past month. 

What We Read

I spent virtually my entire pregnancy in pandemic lockdown, and lately I’ve been daydreaming hard about all the places I hope to take my baby someday. Outside contributor Kate Siber’s beautiful family book 50 Adventures in the 50 States has been one of my favorites for bedtime-bump reading. Each state is treated to a lush illustration by Lydia Hill and showcases a fun local activity—Washington’s sea kayaking, Nevada’s dark-sky viewing, North Carolina’s shipwreck scuba diving. It’s going to be quite a while before my kiddo starts plotting his bucket list, but it’s never too early to start planting the seeds for exploration. —Aleta Burchyski, associate managing editor 

Tired of finding myself mindlessly scrolling through Twitter whenever I had a free moment, I recently replaced my Twitter bookmark with one tracking to the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day page. Besides being a refreshing interlude, it has helped me discover new poets that I wouldn’t have read otherwise. My favorite poem so far has been “Forgetfulness,” by Billy Collins: “as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor / decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, / to a little fishing village where there are no phones.” —Kelsey Lindsey, associate editor 

As the world spins madly on, I’ve been doing a lot of mindfulness work. One of my favorite exercises is to count off all the things I can hear, see, smell, taste, and touch in any given moment. The senses are our tethers to the world—the real world, the one we’re in right now, not the one on our screens—and it calms my mind every time I check in with them. I’ve also been reading A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman. Ackerman is a poet and a journalist (she was a New Yorker staff writer when this work was published in 1990), and it comes through in the text: she is inquisitive and insightful, and her prose is equal parts playful and profound. Her book reminds us to do more than check in with our senses. It encourages us to revel in the gift of being alive and engaging with the world. —Abigail Barronian, associate editor

A well-curated website called Letters of Note has been running since 2009, with two corresponding popular book titles, a 2019 theater performance, and, this year, a themed book series under the same name devoted to such subjects as music, war, and mothers. I circled back to the site again to read some recent additions, including a letter that Frida Kahlo wrote to Diego Rivera right before her leg was amputated, in which she lambastes him for sleeping with her sister and renounces any further commitment to him: “I’m releasing you. I’m amputating you … If there is anything I’d enjoy before I die, it’d be not having to see your fucking horrible bastard face wandering around my garden.” Then there’s the prescient letter penned by Scott Burns, screenwriter for the movie Contagion, in which he defends his scientific research on the project, advising the world to be prepared for “a highly transmissible and novel respiratory virus” before it “faces a real-life pandemic like the make-believe one in the film.” That was 2011. Prefacing each letter is a paragraph or two of helpful context. And you can choose from most-read entries, scroll through the archive, or click on “Surprise Me”—when I did, a 1990 letter from Marge Simpson to Barbara Bush popped up (followed by the first lady’s response), in which the two hash out Bush’s criticism of the TV show. These little letters make for quite a bit of entertaining reading. —Tasha Zemke, copy editor

What We Listened To

I’ve been going through some stuff in my personal life lately, and long drives have become a double-edged sword: I enjoy the quiet time to be alone and reflect, but sometimes it’s too much time to think. When things get overly heavy on a seemingly endless stretch of road, I’ve been turning on Esther Perel’s podcast Where Should We Begin? Perel is a couples therapist, and each episode features a real counseling session—names and identities, of course, are omitted. The people in her office are grappling with issues that range from the everyday relatable (a married couple who love each other but don’t have sex anymore) to the more serious (a young husband dealing with chronic health problems who has become emotionally abusive to his stepkids). Perel’s podcast reminds me that we’re all struggling with something, even if we’re holding it together publicly. In doing so, it provides something much more helpful than simply a distraction from my problems: it reminds me that my problems are, in fact, part of what connects me to the human experience. —Gloria Liu, features editor 

In late September and early October, a podcast called The Fall Line, which focuses on murders in marginalized communities in the Southeast, did a four-part special series on the victims of Samuel Little. Little has been linked to more than 50 murders that span from the early seventies through the late nineties. He claims to have killed more than 90 people. I really liked how, rather than placing the spotlight on the serial killer, as most true-crime podcasts do, hosts Laurah Norton and Brooke Gently-Hargrove highlighted the victims, who were mostly sex workers and whose deaths often weren’t taken as seriously as they should have been by investigators and the media. This victims- and survivors-first perspective is a refreshing reframing that I wish more true-crime series would embrace. —Abigail Wise, digital managing director

The podcast Literary Friction has been one of my favorites for a while, and lately it’s been a particularly welcome break from all the political podcasts in my feed. The show, hosted by literary agent Carrie Plitt and writer and academic Octavia Bright, features interviews with authors like Carmen Maria Machado and Garth Greenwell, along with themed discussions on topics like masculinity and small towns in literature. The hosts are smart and incisive interviewers, and I’ve added plenty of books to my to-read list thanks to their recommendations. I particularly enjoyed a recent episode with Ann Goldstein, Elena Ferrante’s English translator. —Sophie Murguia, assistant editor

What We Watched

I watched David Attenborough’s new documentary A Life on Our Planet. He calls it his “witness statement and my vision of the future.” The 93-year-old naturalist has spent a lifetime exploring the planet and has watched it drastically change for the worse. “Humans have overrun the world, and we’re heading toward disaster,” he says, as the film documents species going extinct, rainforests being felled, and ice caps melting—all while the human population skyrockets into the billions. The first part of the film makes you want to cry, as you see the resulting destruction to such beautiful creatures and wildernesses. Thankfully, Attenborough spends the latter part of the film talking about solutions and how to rewild nature, with simple long-term goals. It’s worth watching to hear them and to walk away feeling like there’s some hope. Plus, much of the footage of the natural world is awe-inspiring. —Mary Turner, deputy editor 

Last month I enjoyed the new season of The Boys on Amazon Prime. In the series, a group of superheroes called the Seven are beloved in their fictional society for protecting citizens and looking glamorous while doing it—they’re essentially real-life Marvel characters who work for a corporation called Vaught, which exploits them for films and merchandise sales. Behind closed doors, though, they abuse their superpowers and don’t give a damn about “non-supes” (the term they use for those without superpowers). The Boys follows the story of a motley crew of mere mortals working to bring this elite group of superheroes to justice for the horrific deeds they’ve performed under the radar. It’s dark and quite gory at times, but if you can handle it, it’s well-done and has viewers like me begging for a renewal. —Jenny Earnest, audience development director

In October I watched Boys State, a documentary about the hundreds of teen boys who take part in the über-competitive Texas Boys State mock-government program. The film highlights four characters from the 2018 class, all of whom share an intense, precocious passion for politics but come from very different backgrounds—and often embrace opposing ideologies. Boys State chronicles their weeklong quest to run for various fictional offices and develop a platform for their respective (also fictional) political parties. I’m a sucker for this kind of movie, and the cast of Boys State is incredible: a handful of the kids are easy to root for, while others are mildly terrifying. A lot of drama ensues. The dysfunction of the Texas Boys State elections is an ideal distraction from our very real presidential election, with none of the real-world stakes. —Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor 

Lead Photo: Westend61/Cavan

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