Everything Our Editors Loved in August

Halloween is still a long way off, but as summer ends, some Outside editors are getting in the spirit early with a new HBO horror series, an unsettling novel about the dangers of technology, and a book all about death rituals. Others are sticking to lighter fare, like a heartwarming film about food and human connection. 

What We Read

This month I couldn’t stop thinking about Little Eyes, the most recent book by acclaimed Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin. The novel centers around a technology called kentukis, stuffed animals with a camera inside that can be remotely controlled by a stranger on the other side of the world. Users can choose to be either “keepers” (those who keep kentukis inside their homes) or “dwellers” (those who control the kentukis from afar). In the novel, Schweblin weaves together the stories of several keepers and dwellers around the globe, exploring factors that lead them to connect with a person in a way that feels both intimate and invasive. Some characters buy the gadgets out of simple curiosity or a desire for companionship, while others use the technology for more sinister ends. It’s an odd concept, but in Schweblin’s hands, it works, and the result is an eerie, fascinating meditation on privacy, surveillance, and performance. —Sophie Murguia, assistant editor

With fall (read: spooky season) approaching, my ever present morbid curiosity drew me to mortician and death-positive activist Caitlin Doughty’s exploration of death rituals, From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death. Rather than treating unusual (to many American eyes) funerary rites as something to be gaped at and dissected, Doughty describes how people bond with and grieve over our dead with earnestness, reverence, and even humor and joy. Her unblinking and sympathetic look at the diverse ways humans come to their final resting places is an oddly comforting reminder of what a compassionate burial can do for the living. —Maren Larsen, Buyer’s Guide deputy editor

I just read The Milagro Beanfield War, a 1974 novel by John Nichols about a little town in the mountains of New Mexico, the singular people who live there, and a generations-long fight over water, land, and resources. It’s wildly funny and smart, and I never tire of reading books about the state I live in—especially since it would take multiple lifetimes to get to know a place like this. —Abbie Barronian, associate editor

Like many privileged white people, I emerged from the wake of George Floyd’s killing and subsequent racial-justice protests with a long list of reading material to learn more about anti-Black racism in America. I started with The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, which outlines the methodical yet supposedly “colorblind” racism that has led to African Americans being incarcerated at a rate 5.1 times that of whites. The book helped me understand the scope of mass incarceration and the laws, decisions, and systems that perpetuate it. It was astonishing and brutal. But the most powerful book I’ve read so far is Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This 2015 National Book Award winner is a letter to the author’s son about the struggle, weight, and fear of growing up Black in this country. This firsthand portrait of life as a young Black man painted a picture for me that no op-ed or prison statistics could. —Will Taylor, gear director

What We Listened To

I’m a huge fan of Gillian Welch, the folk singer who became popular after her cover of “I’ll Fly Away” with Alison Krauss was included on the Grammy-winning soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Welch records and performs with her partner, David Rawlings, and their spare songs—heavily influenced by old-time and bluegrass musical traditions—manage to sound both timeless and fresh. I was very excited when they released not one but two albums this summer: All the Good Times comprises covers of folk songs (including those by Bob Dylan and John Prine), and Boots No. 2: The Lost Songs is a cache of previously unreleased tracks recorded quickly in 2002 to fulfill a contract. A tornado hit Welch and Rawlings’ studio earlier this year and almost destroyed their archives, inspiring them to release the music as soon as they could. I, for one, am happy it’s now out in the world. —Luke Whelan, senior research editor 

This month, a new version of The Cut’s podcast reemerged after a long hiatus. I was a devoted listener of the old Cut on Tuesdays show that ended last year, and the first few episodes of the redux—featuring a new host, Avery Trufelman—have kicked off with a strong start. One of my favorites so far was all about the outdoors (surprise!), exploring who feels welcome in nature, the rise of the pandemic-inspired “nature is healing” meme, and how people in cities are getting outside in surprising ways right now. Like the rest of The Cut’s coverage, the podcast highlights a wide range of topics, including culture, politics, and more (another recent episode took a deep dive into sexting), so you won’t get bored after a few listens. —Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor

What We Watched 

The famous Indian film star Irrfan Khan died in April. One of his more charming performances was as Saajan, an older accountant nearing retirement in The Lunchbox. Saajan is mistakenly delivered a hot lunch intended for the ungrateful husband of an unhappy housewife, a man who doesn’t appreciate the care that’s gone into her cooking. Instead, happily, a correspondence blooms between Saajan and the housewife, who share with each other their longings for a different, better life via short handwritten messages deposited into the lunch tins that are transported between the woman’s kitchen and Saajan’s office each day. The footage of the incredibly complex network of dabbawalas, the men responsible for running some 200,000 meals around Mumbai throughout the workweek, was mind-boggling but wondrous to watch. And the idea that two people could come together over a meal in such an unexpected way made it all the better. —Tasha Zemke, copy editor 

I’m loving HBO’s horror series Lovecraft Country. Set in 1950s segregated America, the show follows Army veteran and sci-fi fan Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he searches for his missing father. Given this summer’s call for social change, the first episode feels especially timely, as Atticus road-trips from Chicago to Massachusetts with the threat of deadly racial violence lurking at every pit stop. Fantastical monsters await in the woods, too, but Lovecraft Country is a stark history lesson on the very-real-life horrors of traveling while Black in the Jim Crow era. —Aleta Burchyski, associate managing editor 

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