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Need a Distraction From the Nonstop News Cycle? We’ve Got You Covered

You're tired. We're tired. Get off the proverbial hamster wheel with this list of (not super political!) things to read, listen to, and watch, straight from 5280's editorial staffers.

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Do you need a break? From the 24/7 news cycle; the never-ending election coverage; the incessant intrusion of politics into your everyday life? Same. Which is why we decided to take a much-needed reprieve from the heavy to ask our colleagues: What do you read in your downtime? What books, shows, podcasts—whatever—help refill your cup? Here, 5280 editorial staffers’ share what they’re tuning into after-hours.

Geoff Van Dyke, Editorial Director

Listening to: Stay Tuned with Preet. He’s just so smart, such a voice of reason in these crazy times. I learn something every time I listen to his show.

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Watching: My boys turned me onto Bob’s Burgers, and it’s hilarious. Like laugh-out-loud hilarious. Crude, creative, a little dark, but very sweet. The new season is on Fox, but you can find past seasons on Hulu.

Reading: A Double Life by Flynn Berry. I read Berry’s first novel, Under the Harrow after reading a review of it in the New York Times Book Review, and I loved it. When I read fiction these days, I often turn to mysteries or thrillers. Berry’s writing and plotting is taut, without any unnecessary flourishes. I wish I could write novels like this.

Denise Mickelsen, Food Editor

Listening to: Serial, season three. This time around, uber-producer Sarah Koenig and reporter Emmanuel Dzotsi spent a year recording the goings-on in the Cleveland courthouse, sharing ordinary criminal cases week by week and exploring the repercussions on individuals and the community once each case is settled… or not. It’s a gripping, often disturbing glimpse into one city’s criminal justice system and I cannot stop listening!

Reading: After Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s untimely death from cancer in July, I immediately did what I’d been meaning to do for years: I bought his Counter Intelligence: Where to Eat in the Real Los Angeles. Not because I intend to eat at the 200-plus restaurants Gold so masterfully chronicles in this delightful compilation of his reviews, but because reading a few of his stories every night before bed inspires me as a writer, an eater, and a human.

Kasey Cordell, Features Editor  

Reading: I’m almost done with The Fighters by New York Times’ C.J. Chivers. The book chronicles the experience of our modern wars in Iraq and Afghanistan through six combatants who fought in them. It’s been a painstakingly slow read, not because the material is particularly complex, but because it is emotionally exhausting to accompany the characters on their terrifying and often tragic journeys. We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for more than 17 years. And in Chivers’ book we see what we have—or more perhaps more accurately, what we do not have—to show for it.

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Mary Clare Fischer, Assistant Editor

Watching: I was a late adopter of The Good Place, but that’s probably a good thing considering I’ve worked it into every conversation I’ve had in the past two weeks since binging the seasons on Netflix. It’s such an intelligent yet relatable look at what it means to be a good person, how people can change, and the importance of friendship in a world that often seems designed to torture us. And it just happens to be hilarious. #10outof10

Reading: A few months ago, some friends moved to North Carolina and raffled off a bunch of stuff they didn’t want to take with them at their going-away party. (Everyone should do this, btw.) My boyfriend got a book called Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century, which weaves together how adventure and conflict sparked innovations in the medical field. As a health writer living in our outdoors-loving state, I was immediately interested—and anesthesiologist-turned-NASA-consultant-turned-author Kevin Fong did not disappoint. He weaves personal anecdotes, metaphors, and riveting historical stories into the jargon so well that by the time I finished it, I was already gunning for a sequel.

Reading: I’m a bit obsessed with newsletters (who isn’t, right?), and Quartz Obsession, run by the Atlantic‘s business site Quartz, is by far my favorite. Every day, the writers pick a different trend—La Croix, fleece vests, astrology—and delve into everything from the origin story and related, often ridiculous numbers to GIFs it spawned and the need-to-know vocabulary around it. It’s like Wikipedia but fact checked or, put another way, the perfect outlet for your friend who loves to dive down internet rabbit holes.

Shane Monaghan, Editorial Assistant

Listening to: Slow Burn, a podcast from Slate reexamining Watergate (season 1) and the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal (season 2). Many folks had recommended this to me, but I demurred for some time thinking our present moment had given me all the political scandal I could handle. When I began listening to host Leon Neyfakh’s deeply reported and thoughtfully presented tale, I realized that the neat and tidy way both events exist in the American consciousness has led us to forget or ignore certain aspects of each. Every episode left me thinking about how the parts of history—even recent history—we chose to acknowledge color our reaction to current events.  

Jerilyn Forsythe, Digital Associate Editor

Listening to: Somebody Knows Something, a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) production with four—soon to be five!—seasons, each covering a different cold case. Like many, I’ve been swept up in the true crime podcast wave, and this series is undoubtedly one of my favorites in that genre.

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Watching: I just finished the second season of Big Mouth, and wow do I love this show. Yes, it is a crass cartoon about middle schoolers going through puberty—but it is so much more than that. I love the creative and outrageous ways the writers tackle relationships, sexuality, identity, and even reproductive rights. Though it’s often absurd, it’s also a reinforcer of inclusivity, equality, and self-love. I just want to tell its writers and creators “good job” every time I watch it.

Reading: I just finished Wild (finally). It wasn’t groundbreaking, but I grew to love and admire Cheryl Strayed and her journey. Wild also had the healthy side effect of making me want to become a better outdoorswoman. Ask me about that in a year…

Callie Sumlin, Associate Food Editor  

Listening to: The Ezra Klein Show podcast, particularly the October 18 episode titled “Jay Rosen is pessimistic about the media. So am I.” In an age where our president regularly vilifies the media, it might feel like the wrong time to critique journalism. But I found this conversation to be smart and helpful.

Watching: Salt Fat Acid Heat on Netflix. Samin Nosrat’s new show is groundbreaking for a few reasons. It reinvigorates and modernizes the instructional cooking show format in a beautiful way, but more compellingly, it’s the first culinary show of its kind to feature a woman of color eating with gusto. I blazed through all four episodes and was re-inspired to cook from Nosrat’s book of the same name, which food editor Denise Mickelsen gifted to me last year.

Hilary Oswald, 5280 Home Editor

Listening to: The Moth, though I confess that I pick and choose episodes because I don’t like anything gory or political or too intense. My all-time favorite episode is “Mission to India,” in which an American doctor tells the story of being whisked away to treat Mother Theresa in the late 1980s. It’s tender and funny, and it underscores the simple beauty of one human being caring for another.

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Reading: I first read Peace Like A River by Leif Enger, and it is one of those rare books that I’ve read multiple times. (I have low-grade but persistent anxiety that I’ll never live long enough to read all of the great books there are to read, so I rarely pick up a title twice.) Peace Like A River has excellent writing and a compelling plot, and this month, Enger released Virgil Wander, the first novel he’s published in a decade. It’s at the top of my stack of books to read.

Watching: My kids (ages 9 and 6) are passionate bakers (a pastime I encourage, despite the fact that I found flour on a living-room lampshade not long ago), so we’ve been watching episodes of The Great British Baking Show. I realize we might be the last people in the Northern Hemisphere to dive into this series, but please note my previous sentence: I’m the mother of two elementary-aged kids. I’m not the cutting edge of anything.

Jay Bouchard, Digital Assistant Editor

Listening: The classic song “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” I revisited Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 protest song a few weeks ago in an effort to learn the guitar bit. With national politics in turmoil and Thanksgiving approaching, I haven’t been able to get enough of it.

Reading: A few months ago, a friend of mine who works as a nurse recommended Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande. The way modern medicine interacts with aging and elderly patients is perplexing. As my 97-year-old grandmother transitions from one assisted living facility in Denver to another, this book has offered me some fresh thinking about how we ought to care for our oldest generation.

Watching: The forecast. It’s ski season. See you in April. 

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Sarah Boyum, Associate Photo Editor  

Listening to: I’m a podcast nerd. A few of my mainstays are Reply All, This American Life, Modern Love, and How I Built This. Recently, I’ve been really riveted by the third season of Serial that’s digging deep into the justice system in Cleveland. I’ve also been listening (on repeat) to Gregory Alan Isakov’s new album, Evening Machines.

Watching: While I’m not a climber, I’m fascinated by films and books retelling epic climbing adventures. To that end, I made a point to see both The Dawn Wall and Free Solo. Both films came out around the same time. While Free Solo‘s cinematography and imagery can’t be beat (Jimmy Chin, y’all!), I connected with The Dawn Wall so much more. Tommy Caldwell is a real person and his harrowing, heartbreaking, triumphant story was really neat to watch play out on the big screen. Also, currently binge-watching Netflix’s The Great British Baking Show.

Reading: During a layover earlier this year, I picked up Celine by Peter Heller (local author!) in an airport book shop. The main character, Celine, is an investigator specializing in reuniting family members separated by bizarre experiences. I loved the strong, capable female lead character; reminded me of Miss Marple in Agatha Christie novels! I’m about to jump into Whiskey When We’re Dry, a novel by John Larison set in the post-Civil War West, which also features a strong female main character, 17-year-old Jessilyn Harney.

Spencer Campbell

Reading: I’m in the middle (so about 500 pages in…) of Annie Proulx’s Barkskins. I love her novel The Shipping News, which, admittedly, can be a little dense. But the language was beautiful and the story so poignant. Barkskins, on the other hand, reads easily—almost like a violent children’s book. (Just in case you didn’t catch that: It’s violent so don’t let kids read it.) It traces the family trees of two men who arrive in New France, now Canada, in the late 17th century as indentured servants. Their descendants find work in the New World’s burgeoning timber trade, albeit at opposite ends. Although the book is long, the pacing through the generations is quick—which leaves the characters a lot less developed than you’d like (or at least that I liked in The Shipping News). But Proulx has a different agenda here: Rather than a character study, the families’ narratives are really just vehicles for describing the short-term, naïve thinking that led to the decimation of forests stretching from Canada to Maine to Michigan. You can find any sort of message you want to in there (global warming, anyone?). But to be honest, I’m a little disappointed, which is my fault. I was looking for The Shipping News: The Sequel, so to speak.

Robert Sanchez, Senior Staff Writer

Listening to: Lots of podcasts—The Sunday Long Read (journalism), Two Writers Slinging Yang (journalism), The New Yorker: Fiction (writing), The Joe Rogan Experience (comedy), Wax Ecstatic (baseball cards). I might live the farthest from work of all the 5280 staffers, which means I get about 90 to 110 cumulative minutes in the car on many days. I enjoy journalism podcasts the most—I’ve listened to all the Esquire Classic Podcast episodes at least three times—and I try to get both sides of political commentary. I’m also a huge nerd who, at 41 years old, still collects baseball cards.

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Watching: Whatever television time I’ve gotten lately has been spent on the Major League Baseball playoffs. I was born outside Boston and moved to the Denver-metro area long before we had the Rockies (Bears and Zephyrs for life!), so I naturally became a fan of my father’s team and then ultimately surpassed his love for the Red Sox. True story: In 2004, my daughter was nine months old when Boston won its first World Series of my lifetime. I woke up my kid, pulled her out of her crib, and held her in front of the TV so she could see the final out. “She might never see the Red Sox win the World Series again,” I told my wife as she yelled at me to put our daughter back to bed.

Reading: The Night of the Gun (by David Carr), North Toward Home (Willie Morris), Tales of Two Americas (John Freeman, editor), Literary Nonfiction (Patsy Sims, editor), The Vintage Contemporaries Reader (Marty Asher, editor), Contemporary American Poetry (Donald Hall, editor). I read lots of anthologies if only because I like getting an entire story in one sitting and I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve moved to some autobiographies, and my son and I have been reading Carr’s book at bedtime. Even though my son is in middle school, I think it’s important for him to hear written words at night. I read one poem from Hall’s edited collection every morning while I’m brushing my teeth.

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