We’ve been spending our summer nights curled up on the couch with scary movies, soothing podcasts, and a cozy new Taylor Swift album that makes us look forward to fall. Here’s everything that kept us entertained in July.
What We Read
I’m in the middle of The Cold Vanish, by Outside contributor Jon Billman, and I don’t want to put it down. The investigative book dives deep into the mysterious disappearance of Jacob Gray, who vanished while biking through Olympic National Park. Billman uses Gray’s case to examine what happens and who’s involved when someone goes missing in the wild. This isn’t Billman’s first go at writing about the subject, and his expertise shines through on every page. —Abigail Wise, digital managing director
In college, I attended a talk given by Bryan Stevenson, a public-interest lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, as part of a course about criminal justice. His stories of decades of work defending young death-row inmates were both harrowing and inspiring. I put his book, Just Mercy, on my to-read list and finally picked it up this summer. The book’s main narrative follows the story of Walter McMillian, a Black man slated to receive the death penalty for a murder he didn’t commit, as Stevenson fights in court to save his life and clear his name. But many chapters stand on their own, telling the tales of other young Americans enduring cruel and unusual punishments—on death row or handed down a life sentence as a child—as a result of miscarriages of justice often rooted in deep, systemic racism. It’s a heartbreaking read, and it’s impossible to finish the book with an unchanged view of our country and its legal system. —Maren Larsen, Buyer’s Guide deputy editor
In the wake of a breakup and the election of Donald Trump, ultrarunner Rickey Gates set off to run across the U.S. The resulting book, Cross Country: A 3,700-Mile Run to Explore Unseen America, is part travelogue, part photo diary, and, in the age of polished Instagram profiles, refreshing for its honesty. “I had a website that said I was going to run across the country. It said that I was doing it to get to know my country a little better,” Gates writes. “But really, I was thirty-six years old and on Medicaid. I was a professional runner who smoked too much pot and hadn’t had a notable finish in a big race in years.” Over the course of five months, Gates meanders across the country, photographing and talking to whomever he bumps into. Think Blue Highways, but in running shoes. —Matt Skenazy, articles editor
What We Listened To
I’ve been listening to a podcast called Yonder Lies, hosted by two young residents of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In each episode, Hannah Habermann and Jesse Bryant explore a different aspect of Teton Valley, from the history of the area’s Indigenous people to the creation of Grand Teton National Park (which is basically the story of the formation of public lands in the U.S.) to ski-bum culture and the role of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in the community. During this time of reckoning with our country’s past and the histories that are often ignored, it feels very timely to take apart and examine the social, cultural, and historical layers of one of the most iconic and romanticized places in the West. —Luke Whelan, senior research editor
Lately I’ve been enjoying Home Cooking, a new podcast from Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway. In this miniseries, Nosrat, the chef and writer behind Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, teams up with Hirway, the musician and podcaster who created Song Exploder, to answer listeners’ questions about cooking in the time of coronavirus. If you’re wondering what to do with all the dry goods you stockpiled at the beginning of the pandemic, or how to safely prepare food for your neighbors, Nosrat and Hirway have the answers. They also bring in guests like Great British Baking Show star Nadiya Hussain to share their favorite recipes. Even if you’re not much of a cook, the hosts’ warm and funny banter makes a comforting soundtrack for these anxious times. —Sophie Murguia, assistant editor
I’ve been listening to the new podcast Nice White Parents, from The New York Times and the team behind Serial. It’s a fascinating look at the role white parents play in public-school education, hosted by Chana Joffe-Walt. Only a few episodes of the five-part series have been released so far, but I’m already hooked. In one early episode, Joffe-Walt spotlights a Brooklyn middle school, largely made up of Black and Latino students, that faces a sudden influx of new, white families who have all decided to try out the school together. Joffe-Walt interviews both old and new parents, attends their PTA meetings and school fundraisers, and explores the tensions between the two groups and their different visions for the school. Throughout the series, Joffe-Walt weaves together the history of school segregation with the present-day reality and personal experiences of a wide variety of families and students. If you’re looking for another podcast in the style of This American Life or Serial, Nice White Parents checks that box—and its subject matter feels particularly timely right now. —Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor
It might still be summer, but I’m fully ready for sweater weather, thanks to Folklore, the new, surprise album Taylor Swift dropped at the end of July. This 16-track alternative album is a major departure from 2019’s Lover and Swift’s other recent pop-centric hits, and it feels like a return to her roots. Her songwriting prowess is on full display, but the real reason this album is such a delight is its overall vibe: think of it as the music version of a warm mug of tea on a rainy day. Right now the world feels chilly, more for metaphorical reasons than for temperature-based ones, but Folklore keeps the cold at bay nonetheless. I fully expect to be playing it on repeat in the car and around the house for the next few months. —Abbey Gingras, associate audience editor
Although we don’t normally recommend our own content in this column, I’m going to bend the rules because I just loved this episode of the Outside podcast so much. It’s from July 2019, so it’s not new, but it’s very timely: “What Awe in Nature Does for Us.” Like many people, I’ve been feeling really stretched and stressed lately, between work, my personal life, and what’s currently happening in our country. Getting out into the mountains has been integral to recharging so that I can keep doing my job and being there for loved ones. In particular I’ve craved getting into the high alpine that’s usually under snow so many months of the year. Being up there makes me feel small, and it puts things back into perspective. It’s a feeling that lasts well after I come home, too. In this episode, Outside’s Mike Roberts explains that there’s actual science to explain why that feeling—of being insignificant in the presence of such vastness—has therapeutic benefits. It’s only 25 minutes, so it’s the perfect length for a weekday drive to the trailhead. —Gloria Liu, features editor
What We Watched
It felt pretty surreal to tune in to the NBA restart at the end of July, with fans replaced by giant screens and players having close indoor contact without masks. Given the recent trajectory of COVID-19 in the U.S., it’s amazing that they were able to make it work at all. Perhaps more noticeable than the enduring pandemic has been the effect of the racial-justice movement on the broadcast of games, from the activism of the players to the shifted tone of coverage and advertising. Also, there’s the basketball itself—the games are good. On the whole, I’m glad to have the NBA back. (And for whatever it’s worth, I’m predicting a Clippers-Bucks finale.) —Jonathan Ver Steegh, digital project manager
If a retro outdoorsy slasher flick sounds like a fun way to spend a night at home, the original Friday the 13th (1980) has popped up on Amazon Prime. As seven obnoxious (and not particularly woke) teen counselors try to ready Camp Crystal Lake for reopening despite locals’ warnings of a “death curse,” they’re satisfyingly picked off one by one by a deranged killer. Come for the cult horror, stay for the time-capsule look book of eighties gear and flannel. And after the movie, keep the vibe going with our two-part Outside podcast series about summer camp, starting with “That Time the Camp Snake Tried to Eat a Counselor.” —Aleta Burchyski, associate managing editor
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