Everything Our Editors Loved in February

As we shivered our way through February and awaited warmer weather, Outside editors spent time with dystopian fiction, award-winning films, and moody Fiona Apple songs. Here are the books, music, and movies we enjoyed most last month—plus one virtual film festival we can’t wait to see in March. 

What We Read

Last month I read The Memory Police, a novel by Japanese author Yoko Ogawa that was published in 1994 but translated into English last year. My roommate got this book from the library and loved it so much that she passed it to my other roommate, who in turn passed it to me. It’s well overdue by now, but it’s worth the fine. The story centers on a writer living on a small island where things keep disappearing. A loosely drawn fascist regime systematically removes everyday objects from the lives and consciousnesses of the residents: roses, candies, boats, photographs, and, occasionally, people. The residents’ memories of the disappeared things fade, and eventually they can’t recall what it is they’ve lost. Ogawa’s writing is taut and spare but so beautiful. A story about loss and forgetting resonates deeply at the moment (though I wish this weren’t the case). It’s a quiet, dark, and lovely book. —Abigail Barronian, associate editor

As I watched friends and family start to book their vaccine appointments, it felt like a particularly appropriate time to pick up Eula Biss’s 2014 book On Immunity. This slim work of nonfiction is both a cultural history of vaccination and a memoir about giving birth to a son in the midst of the H1N1 pandemic. Although some of the 2009-era safety precautions Biss describes seem quaint in light of our current crisis—at one point, she describes churches guarding against swine flu by “serving holy wafers on toothpicks”—much of the book feels highly relevant today. In some of the most satisfying passages, Biss eloquently dismantles the myths of self-reliance and individualism that underlie anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. “Those of us who eschew the herd mentality tend to prefer a frontier mentality in which we imagine our bodies as isolated homesteads that we tend either well or badly,” she writes. But of course, it’s deeply misleading to frame vaccination as a personal choice; instead, it’s a reminder of the many ways in which we depend on each other for survival. “We are each other’s environment,” Biss concludes. “Immunity is a shared space—a garden we tend together.” —Sophie Murguia, associate editor

Say It Louder!: Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy, by Tiffany Cross, is one of the best books I’ve read in my life. Cross provides a sweeping analysis of the central role Black voters play in American democracy, combining historical research, media criticism, and personal stories from her time as a journalist. She illuminates the ways political actors and media giants have spent centuries misrepresenting and ignoring Black Americans, bringing in context from recent elections, like the 2016 presidential race and Kamala Harris’s primary campaign. This is a brutally honest book that everyone should read and learn from. —Jimmy Mills, email marketing specialist 

In February I read No One Is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood’s new novel. Lockwood is a poet who is also well known for her very funny Twitter presence. I devoured her memoir Priestdaddy a few years ago and have been eagerly awaiting this book for the past few months. No One Is Talking About This follows an unnamed protagonist who’s become famous for a viral joke she once made in “the portal,” the book’s term for the internet. Much of the novel is formatted in short bursts of text that mimic the experience of reading Twitter, and the first half largely takes place in the portal. But the second half shifts to a very in-real-life experience based on Lockwood’s own life. The protagonist’s sister gives birth to a baby with a rare disease, and as the protagonist becomes more consumed by loving the child and spending time with her family, she withdraws from the portal and feels unsure about how to interact with it. What’s so striking about all of Lockwood’s writing is how easily she shifts between tones—from hilarious, bizarre one-liners that would definitely go viral on Twitter to lyrical descriptions that you want to read ten times in a row. This book is hard to describe (I’ve done my best here!) or categorize, but I really enjoyed it. —Molly Mirhashem, digital deputy editor

What We Listened To

On February 12, I tweeted a simple declaration: “Back on my Fiona Apple shit.” I devoured the singer’s fifth studio album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, when it was released in April of last year, listening to it for hours on end and happily riding every wave of emotion and every lyrical twist and turn. Eventually, I wore the tires off the thing and moved onto other pandemic coping phases. But I’ll tell you, a year into this stupid era of our lives, the chorus of her title track—“Fetch the bolt cutters, I’ve been in here too long”—has never rung more true. I’m here to report that I am, in fact, back on my Fiona Apple shit. —Tyler Dunn, audience development editor 

What We Watched 

I watched a couple of great new films last month about often overlooked parts of America. The first is Nomadland, which just won the top prize at the Golden Globes. The movie follows a woman in her sixties (played by the always great Frances McDormand) living in her van and traveling around the country doing seasonal work. Along the way, she finds a community of older people making ends meet while living on the road, either uninterested in a traditional retirement or unable to attain it. The second film, Minari, is set in the 1980s and focuses on a Korean American man who moves his family to Arkansas so he can pursue his dream of starting a farm to produce vegetables for the Korean diaspora in the South. Both Nomadland and Minari are beautifully acted and provide nuanced portraits of people striving for an American Dream that’s not the one typically shown in Hollywood movies. —Luke Whelan, senior editor 

If entertaining friends and family with a big meal is something you miss during these times, then you might enjoy Babette’s Feast, a Danish film from 1987. Two austere, elderly sisters living in a remote part of Denmark agree to let their French cook prepare an elaborate dinner in honor of their late father, a pastor of the local congregation. These are folks who grew up satisfied with dried-fish gruel, and they are skeptical, even fearful, of the dishes that await. But the dinner is a revelation. The guests’ cheeks turn rosy as they taste everything from turtle soup and blini appetizers to cheese plates and exotic fruit, with expensive wine pairings for each course. They revel in each other’s company and experience a sense of gratitude for life and friendships. Watching them was so satisfying. I long for those kinds of meals, and I’ve decided that’s just what I’ll put together for my favorite peeps when we can all get back together again. —Tasha Zemke, copy editor 

I can’t wait to experience the No Man’s Land virtual film festival, which started March 4 and ends March 7. I recently worked on an Outside story with festival executive director Kathy Karlo, and as we were closing the story, she was busy signing up speakers and films for the festival, which got me so excited about it! No Man’s Land began with a focus on all-women’s content and has since grown to include gender-diverse identities. Expect to see rad films on climbers, surfers, mountain bikers, and skiers, in addition to international and cultural documentaries. There will also be awesome speakers, like climber Emily Harrington and the founder of Native Women’s Wilderness, Jaylyn Gough. —Mary Turner, deputy editor 

Lead Photo: Maryna Andriichenko/iStock

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