For the Outside staff, Thanksgiving was a great time for comfort food—both at the dinner table and in terms of cultural consumption. Over the holiday, we enjoyed a crowd-pleasing docuseries about the Beatles, a fun fantasy novel, a buzzy new sports biopic, and more. Here are our favorites from November.
What We Read
Last month, I took a trip with my family and needed a vacation read. The Golem and the Jinni, a 2013 novel by Helene Wecker, fit the bill perfectly. Wecker brings together mythical figures from different traditions—the Jewish golem and the Arabian jinni—in an entertaining and surprising tale set in early-20th-century New York. The writing is smart, and Wecker’s thoughtful research shows both in her depiction of this historical period and in her accurate representation of the mythology behind each creatures. I won’t spoil anything beyond the premise, but if you’re looking for something absorbing and fun, this one’s a winner. —Abigail Barronian, associate editor
I finally got around to reading Jo Marchant’s book The Human Cosmos, which topped a number of best science book lists in 2020. Equal parts poetic and cerebral, it tells the story of how the heavens have for centuries shaped human art, spiritual beliefs, religious institutions, social orders, and scientific innovations. As an adult, I, like many others, had lost that childhood sense of wonder that came from looking up at the constellations—recently, I’ve hardly had the chance to pay attention to the stars outside of a few camping trips. But this book helped me reinfuse that feeling of awe and mystery back into my stargazing experience by exploring the ways different cultures have celebrated celestial cycles and by explaining the world-changing ideas that emerged from humans looking up at the night sky. Ultimately, it was a really beautiful examination of how the stars have transformed civilizations and made us human. Plus, it’s made these long winter nights less depressing and a little more mystical. —Molly Hanson, associate editor
I read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson. This book, which draws from the journalist’s 1972 campaign coverage for Rolling Stone, offers a candid look behind the scenes of George McGovern’s and Richard Nixon’s presidential runs. But the candidates aren’t the stars here; instead, the book focuses on the experiences of the campaign managers, reporters, event planners, and even Thompson himself in the years leading up to Election Day. Thompson’s trademark gonzo style is an acquired taste, as popular works like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas have shown. But those tricks aren’t as prominent here, as Thompson reveals himself to be a savvy political journalist with impressive access and, at times, a surprisingly hopeful outlook on the political process, even in an industry of cynics. If you’re a fan of Veep or House of Cards, Thompson’s portrayal of the idiosyncratic cast of weirdos behind the campaigns will be as enjoyable as it is familiar. —Kevin Johnson, editorial fellow
What We Listened To
I was a teenage girl when Taylor Swift released her album Red, so I should have been in the prime demographic to enjoy megahits like “All Too Well” when they first came out. Yet somehow I never fully understood the singer-songwriter’s appeal until adulthood, which means that, as Swift rerecords all her early albums, I’ve been hearing some of her best work for the first time. Helping me on my journey is Every Single Album: Taylor Swift, an excellent podcast from Nathan Hubbard and Nora Princiotti at The Ringer. As the title suggests, Hubbard and Princiotti spend the show dissecting every one of Swift’s albums in detail, explaining the context behind each and bestowing superlatives such as “best lyric” and “the Tom Hiddleston award for showing the work” (the latter being a reference to Swift’s ex-boyfriend who famously once appeared in an “I ♥ T.S.” tank top). Listening to the podcast has not only given me a greater appreciation for Swift’s songwriting; it’s also given me a richer understanding of the mechanics of contemporary pop music, as the hosts get into the weeds of each album’s instrumentation, vocal performances, and those famous Taylor Swift bridges. Now that Hubbard and Princiotti are done going through Swift’s work, their next season is focusing on Adele—and though I’m not a particular fan of the singer’s at the moment, I have no doubt that Every Single Album will make me one. —Sophie Murguia, associate editor
Last month I listened to the NBC podcast Southlake, which follows an affluent, conservative, and mostly white Texas town struggling with racism in its community. It all started when a group of white high schoolers were caught on camera using the N-word in 2018. The video went viral, and in the show’s eight episodes, we learn how the town divided into two zealous camps: those who wanted to introduce a comprehensive program with coursework about race and identity to the curriculum, and a powerful, well-funded group of mostly white parents whose white privilege would be threatened by it. Southlake is deeply thought-provoking, and at times, listening to some of the parents speaking at public school board meetings is stomach-turning. —Kristin Hostetter, editor in chief of Outside Business Journal
What We Watched
After Thanksgiving dinner, I sat down with my family and started Get Back, a new documentary series by Peter Jackson of The Lord of the Rings fame. The show, streaming on Disney+, chronicles the Beatles’ effort in 1969 to write new songs ahead of the live album and film Let It Be. If you’re expecting a documentary with narration and talking heads, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead, Jackson has edited dozens of hours of footage into an immersive experience that allows you feel like a fly on the wall while the most influential band on earth struggles creatively, gets hit by strokes of inspiration, jokes around, and bickers. If you’re not a Beatles fan, it might be a bit slow for you, but if you stick with it, it’s incredible to see the highs and lows of the now infamous period that led to the band’s breakup portrayed in such an intimate and nuanced way. —Luke Whelan, senior editor
A couple weeks ago I watched King Richard, the new Richard Williams biopic starring Will Smith. The film tells the story of Williams’s quest to make his daughters, Venus and Serena, into tennis stars, beginning in their childhood and ending with Venus’s professional debut at age 14. Smith is getting a lot of Oscar hype for his role, but equally impressive are more understated performances by Saniyya Sidney as Venus and Aunjanue Ellis as her mother, Oracene. The film adheres fairly dutifully to the conventions of the sports-movie genre, but that didn’t stop me from being riveted by every minute. If you’re looking for a movie your whole family can enjoy this holiday season, this is it. —S.M.