Everything Our Editors Loved in January

Outside staffers settled into 2022 with essay anthologies, tales of a post-pandemic society, and a Western starring Idris Elba. Here’s everything we couldn’t get enough of this month.

What We Read

I’ve been reading more books to expand my insight into cultures other than my own, and two recent works of nonfiction that I recommend are Poet Warrior, a memoir by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, who is part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, which includes writing from journalists who hail from or have roots in the Middle East or North Africa. Both are full of brave, eye-opening stories that focus on the plight of independent women striving to reveal the inner sanctums of populations still given little or no voice in the media, much less by their own governments. And although there are dark accounts of covering war or enduring abuse, they are balanced by moments of unique delight—like all-night stomp dances in the desert—and triumph—such as when an imam attends his daughter’s university graduation. —Tasha Zemke, copy editor

Last month I re-read The Art of Racing in the Rain, one of my fiction favorites written by Garth Stein in 2008. This time, it hit home in a personal way. The story, told from the perspective of Enzo (a mutt in the novel, a golden retriever in the 2019 20th Century Fox film), is an amusing, witty lifelong account of the profound bond between pup and owner. In short: Enzo believes a dog “who is prepared” will reincarnate in his next life as a human. So he makes it his mission to learn, and learn well, because who wouldn’t want thumbs and a voice? As he follows his man, Denny Swift—a customer-service representative at a Seattle BMW dealership and wannabe professional race-car driver—from speedway to sofa, he experiences the creation of Denny’s family and the sadness that befalls them. Throughout the novel, the pair study competitors’ tactics on VHS, watching as they race in the most arduous conditions—200-plus-mph speeds over slick, wet tarmac. Enzo listens as Denny strategizes. And unbeknownst to Denny, Enzo translates that strategy into life wisdom, in the hopes of evolving. I won’t ruin the ending, but when we prepared to say goodbye to our family’s 14-year-old golden retriever, Pele, last week, Enzo’s words brought solace to a brutal, bitter decision each dog lover must make. My favorite line: “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go… Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.” —Patty Hodapp, interim digital director

What We Listened To

Elephant in the Room, by Mick Jenkins, has been on constant repeat for me over the past few weeks. Jenkins, a rapper raised in Chicago, came on the scene when I was in high school with his debut album, The Waters. This smoky, poetic, and at times heavy-hitting album was a massive awakening for me and my experience with rap music. Fast-forward eight years and with a few less commercially successful projects in our streams, I had largely forgotten how much I loved Mick Jenkins. That was until I heard “Truffles, from his newest album, Elephant in the Room. This song is catchy, and it brought me back into an all too familiar trip through Jenkins’s dark and melodic worlds. His lyricism is direct, culturally relevant, and deeply complex all at the same time. A smorgasbord of emotions that reminds me Mick Jenkins is pound-for-pound one of the best rappers alive. Give it a listen. —Evan Grainger, assistant video producer

At the end of last year I picked up Animal Collective’s 2005 album, Feels, on vinyl and it’s been rotating on repeat ever since. Each track features a whimsical, layered soundscape that makes me feel like I’m driving with the windows down at golden hour—a welcome transport from the gray of winter. The album is wonderful at first listen, but each subsequent play unlocks a new lyric or sound that I didn’t hear the first time. Animal Collective recently came out with a new album, Time Skiffsand comparing the evolution of its sound over 17 years has added another dimension to the listening experience. —Daniella Byck, associate editor

What We Watched

There’s already a ton of talk about Station Eleven, the ten-part series on HBO based on Emily St. John Mandel’s 2015 novel. I agree with a lot of what has been said about the show—from discussions about its lush cinematography to praise for the fantastic acting performances—but one point, mentioned by many, resonated with me: that Station Eleven is a rare post-pandemic-apocalypse story that’s not about despair but about hope. More than two years into our own pandemic, it’s refreshing and uplifting, a shot of humanity in a world that sometimes seems like it’s crumbling. —Kelsey Lindsey, senior editor

My wife and I are suckers for Westerns. From the spaghetti variety to modern classics like 3:10 to Yuma, we eat them up—especially since so many current ones are shot in northern New Mexico, where we live. (Nothing like seeing a canyon where you’ve spent countless hours climbing being used for a shootout.) So when we saw Idris Elba leading a cast mainly of talented Black actors in The Harder They Fall, it was an easy choice to click play. And I’m glad we did: it was a wild ride, different from any Western we’ve seen before. The soundtrack is excellent (I particularly loved that the climactic shootout was set to a tune by Afrobeat godfather Fela Kuti), the cinematography gorgeous, and the actors strong. It’s not a perfect movie—there are a lot of different elements going on and they don’t always meld—but it’s a hoot. If you’re in need of an escape to a different world, check it out. —Will Taylor, gear director

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to watching The Grizzlies, a 2018 sports drama directed by Miranda de Pencier. Based on a true story, the film follows white “Southerner” Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer), who has just accepted a teaching job in Nunavut, a Canadian territory with the highest suicide rate in North America, particularly among Inuit teenagers. In an attempt to connect with his students, Sheppard starts up an after-school lacrosse program. While the film hits all the right inspirational sports-movie feels, it avoids becoming cliché or white savior-y by honestly reckoning with Canadian colonialism and honoring lacrosse’s Indigenous origins. Shooting on location in Nunavut, more than 91 percent of the cast and over 33 percent of the crew are Indigenous, and the results—with standout performances from Paul Nutarariaq, Anna Lambe, and the late Emerald MacDonald—are stunning. —Isabella Rosario, assistant editor

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