Everything Our Editors Loved in July
Fiction by Colson Whitehead, a Tokyo 2020 video game, and a fascinating history of coyotes
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By the end of July, most of us at Outside had our eyes glued to this year’s action-packed Olympic Games. But when we weren’t watching athletes like Carissa Moore, Sifan Hassan, and Katie Ledecky triumph in Tokyo, we found time to read classic short stories, stream a soothing gardening documentary, and learn all about coyotes. Here’s everything we loved last month.
What We Read
I picked up a copy of Denis Johnson’s story collection Jesus’ Son at the recommendation of associate editor Abigail Barronian, who shares my enthusiasm for writers such as Lucia Berlin, Raymond Carver, and Eve Babitz. Jesus’ Son, at less than 150 pages, delivers beautiful and crushing portraits of uniquely American iconoclasts. These are characters who seem to walk out of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and onto the eerie backdrop of Jim Jarmusch’s Midnight Train. If you’re a filmmaker, a photographer, or a person seeking some relief in the poetic tragedy of human life, this is a great one for you. —Evan Grainger, assistant video producer
In July, I started reading Coyote America by Dan Flores, which tells the ecological and cultural history of coyotes in North America. First revered by multiple Indigenous peoples as a mythical character—Coyote Man, a clever, anthropomorphized trickster—and later deeply misunderstood by the colonizers in the United States, coyotes have long held a complicated relationship with humans. They’ve inhabited the continent for millions of years and managed to survive cruel eradication attempts by westward-moving Americans in the 1800s and 1900s (who, it should be mentioned, also slaughtered millions of wolves, bison, and other wildlife that got in the way of settling the West, many of which never fully regained their population numbers). Flores argues that the animal’s resilience has made it an emblem of North America, where it has learned to live comfortably around bustling communities, having even migrated as far east as New York City. I grew up in East San Diego, where seeing coyotes on the trails where I rode my horse was common, if not a little unnerving when their familiar yipping howl began around dusk. Reading this book helped me understand why these animals are so important to North America’s ecosystem and took me back to those special moments when I’d lock eyes with a coyote on a path before it darted into the brush. —Maura Fox, assistant editor
Although I haven’t yet had a chance to escape to the beach this summer, I’ve been living vicariously through two works of literary fiction that take place in seaside locales. The first is Maggie Shipstead’s 2012 debut novel, Seating Arrangements, which follows a WASPy East Coast family over the course of a disastrous wedding weekend on the fictional New England island of Waskeke. The second, Colson Whitehead’s Sag Harbor, is a series of vignettes about a teenager named Benji Cooper spending the summer of 1985 in a predominantly Black enclave of the Hamptons. The novels’ plots are comfortingly low stakes, and both Whitehead and Shipstead write in lavish, evocative prose. (For instance, here’s Whitehead’s teenage narrator on the joys of Coca-Cola: “How could one not be charmed by the effervescent joviality of a tall glass of the stuff—the manic activity of the bubbles, popping, reforming, popping anew, sliding up the inside of the glass to freedom, as if the beverage were actually, miraculously, caffeinated on itself. That tart first sip, preferably with ice knocking against the lips for an added sensory flourish, that stunned the brain into total recall of pleasure, of all the Cokes consumed before and all those impending Cokes, the long line of satisfaction underpinning a life.”) Both writers have new novels out this year; I’m looking forward to reading those next. —Sophie Murguia, associate editor
What We Listened To
My recommendation this month is a podcast called The Greatest Story Ever Told—and to be transparent, I’m blood-related to half of this podcast team, which is made up of my brother Payton Barronian and his friend Courtney Bush. They’re reading the entire Bible and making an episode about each book, which is weird, considering that Payton is an ex-Christian with some religion-related trauma and Courtney has basically never stepped foot in a church. But they’re both brilliant, funny, and deeply curious, which makes the whole experience fascinating. Christianity has, of course, profoundly shaped the Western world and many of our psyches, and this extended conversation between friends offers a welcome way to take a lighthearted, sideways look at the book that made it all happen. These old stories are weird and wild, and it’s been a gift to encounter them defanged and refracted by the lens of two joyfully agnostic minds. —Abigail Barronian, associate editor
What We Watched and Otherwise Experienced
The Gardener, which you can stream on Amazon Prime, is a documentary about a massive garden created by Frank Cabot in Quebec. When Cabot inherited the land from his parents, he slowly built on the garden his mother had started years before until it morphed into a 20-acre work of art. Each section has a different theme: there’s a Japanese-style garden complete with a teahouse; a “living room” garden, where shrubs are shorn into shapes resembling a couch and a table; two rope bridges over a huge ravine; a forest and wildflower section…it goes on forever. Though he began it as a private garden, Cabot, who also founded the Garden Conservancy in 1989, slowly opened up tours to the public. Since Cabot’s death in 2011, his son has stepped in as caretaker of his father’s life’s work. While The Gardener is a far cry from an edge-of-your-seat adventure film, there’s something soothing about watching the beautiful shots of flowers, vegetable gardens, and unique architecture play across the screen. —Abigail Wise, digital managing director
When I was a kid, one of my favorite original PlayStation games was Nagano Winter Olympics ’98 by Konami. This was before the era where you could easily look up online reviews of new releases, so I had no idea that it was, in fact, a bad game. But I liked the music and spent hours mashing the arbitrary combinations of buttons needed to perform aerial skiing tricks, sweep the curling ice, and navigate the short track. So when I saw the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Official Video Game for PS4 on the sale shelf, I had to get it. To be clear, the Tokyo 2020 game is also not particularly great, though it’s certainly more polished than its ancestor, and the custom avatars are fun. I just enjoyed buying something off the shelf (with no research!) that I could play on the couch with my friends until we got frustrated enough to stop. This, to me, is how console gaming should be. —Jon Ver Steegh, digital project manager