Election Day is finally here—and as America waits to find out whether we’ll elect our first female president or a man who can’t even be trusted to run his own Twitter account, a lot of us could use some distraction. Whether you’re waiting in line at the polls or trying to unclench your jaw at the office, here are some engrossing reads sure to transport you to a world far, far away.
For smart takes on the world of arts and culture:
“Watch Again,” Real Life Mag
What do our Netflix histories reveal about the patterns of our lives? Lydia Kiesling, a new mother who recently left her office job to work from home, explores the connections between mundane housework and the familiar TV shows (The Office, Mad Men, Arrested Development) that make domestic labor tolerable. “The worst thing about housework, I always think, is that it doesn’t end,” Kiesling writes:
“No sooner have you made everything tidy then you dirty a dish, or drop your laundry in the corner, leave a glass on a table. I’m accustomed to thinking about tasks as things you complete and forget about, like films. But the season of ‘finished’ housework is vanishingly short, like the life of a gnat. You have to find a way to enjoy the process, or you are doomed to disappointment as you seek to enjoy its fleeting effects. It’s a serial mini-drama, completely predictable, often maddening.”
“Why Do We Care What’s In Your Bag?” Racked
We’re endlessly intrigued by the contents of women’s purses. Fashion and women’s magazines regularly feature spreads of the lipsticks, snacks, and reading material that female celebrities purport to tote around with them, as if understanding the preferred hand sanitizer of Emma Stone will give us a unique window into her soul. But as Sheila McClear points out, the trope has little to do with authentic self-exposure—and everything to do with the performance of the private self. McClear writes:
Following this reasoning, Camilla Alves is showing the kind of wife she is by telling us she keeps Matthew McConaughey’s chewing tobacco and wallet in her purse. (Both public items, it should be noted.) She holds onto it for him so he doesn’t have to and provides it to him when needed, leaving him otherwise unencumbered. Was she telling Us Weekly—and therefore, us—that she’s a good wife? Probably yes, whether it was subconscious or not. (It should be noted that some of these messages—and by extension, the performance—is subconscious.)
Celebrity moms who details the toys and kiddie snacks that take up most of the space in their bags are telling us what good, attentive mothers they are—purses get heavy, and just look what they carry around! They also might be saying that their kids come before their career.
If you’d like to imagine a different kind of life:
“California Dreaming,” Eater
The Los Angeles restaurant Sqirl seems tailor-made for mockery. Is menu boasts everything we associate with cute-yet-virtuous California cuisine: avocado toast with crème fraîche, breakfast salads, sorrel pesto rice bowl topped with tangy French feta. But as Marian Bull discovers, it’s hard to resist the allure of the sunny LA lifestyle and the bountiful good eats it promises. Bull writes:
The bourgeois fantasy of LA is just a fantasy, sure, and people have real jobs here, and not every weekend is spent wearing soft fabrics in the desert, and the place still teems with gross inequality and poverty and misery, but nevertheless the appeal sinks into you. It falls in from the mountains and it’s creepy and pervasive and feels like butterflies. Explaining all the times I felt the wistful rush of I feel like I am in a movie, isn’t it great to be alive here that week would embarrass me even more than copping to the fact that I’m moving out there in a few days, just for the winter, or at least that is what I am telling myself. Mostly because I can, and why wouldn’t I want to be happy and warm instead of cold and sad for a few months?
Elsewhere in California, scientists in a lab just north of San Diego are building a new kind of ark. By freezing the genetic material of at-risk and endangered animals ranging from elephants, bees, and northern white rhinos, they believe they may be able to protect animal life from man-made extinction. Zach Baron works through the scientific possibilities and moral quandaries of the Frozen Zoo. As Baron writes:
Resurrection! It’s unreal but it’s about to be real. What a degenerate, terrible species we are. But also: Look at what we’re capable of! The same brutal, merciless ingenuity that we bring to ruining the world is the exact same ingenuity applied by the scientists working at the Frozen Zoo and elsewhere, poised at the horizon of existence, willfully pulling our animal brethren back from the edge. And maybe pushing us back from the brink, too. Playing with cellular matter so that it might again become life. Building an ark to save what we can’t or won’t. Most of us are ruthlessly indifferent. Some of us are ugly and blind in one eye. We live, all of us, decimated by loss. And all of us deserve to survive.
For tales of athletes and adventurers:
Annalisa Merelli’s ode to American optimism is bound to help beat back dark thoughts about the future of the country. An Italian expat living in New York City, Merelli writes that she was once suspicious of the country’s can-do spirit. But internalizing it ultimately led her to commit to running a marathon—and changed the way she thinks about the relationship between effort and success. Merelli writes:
“I’m just not sure that I can do it,” I said, over and over, to my American flatmate. His answer was the same every time: “Yeah you can.” He said it not as encouragement, but as fact. The question wasn’t whether I could do it, but whether I’d be willing to stick to the training, and commit so much of my time to the pursuit.
This is a two-step, practical form of optimism: Assuming that ambitious goals can be achieved puts all the stress on the work. That way, the work itself becomes the goal, because it’s what gives value to your achievement.
“Rebelling Against the Void,” Outside
Mountaineer David Roberts has spent his life exploring the limits of human ability—scaling treacherous mountains himself and writing about subjects ranging from the fatal exploits of an all-women climbing team in the Himalayas to one man’s harrowing survival story in Antarctica. Now, as the 73-year-old Roberts battles cancer, he’s bringing a lifetime’s experience of exploring how we react in the face of danger and death to his own confrontation with mortality. Brad Rassler writes in Outside:
Vladimir Nabokov famously rebelled against the acceptance of death and nothingness—“the two black voids, fore and aft,” as he put it—a sentiment Roberts invokes in his own writing. Nabokov had butterflies; Roberts has climbing and adventure. But he doesn’t have them now, so writing is both a fetish and a sanctuary.