Traveling immerses us in the world, but sometimes in the less eventful moments in between destinations, we just need to escape. “The Layover” is a weekly roundup of books, music, podcasts, and other forms of entertainment brought to you by your favorite world travelers.
This week, for a special holiday edition of “The Layover,” we reached out to the Passion Passport staff to find out what entertainment they’re enjoying this holiday season. From the republished journals of famous explorers to a documentary following the life and career of an American icon of literary journalism, here are the stories we’re turning to during the season’s quieter moments.
Britton Perelman (editorial)
“Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance” by Ruth Emmie Lang
I know they say you’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, but come on, don’t we all? At least 75 percent of the time, an intriguing-looking cover will get me to read the inside flap, maybe even try the first few pages. Such was the case with “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance.”
As I was perusing the aisles of Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, trying to kill the hour or so I had before the movie I was going to see, the whimsical cover of this novel caught my eye. It reminded me of the cover of another book I absolutely adored, “Station Eleven.” What I found on the inside flap of “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance” — sentences about an orphaned boy raised by wolves with strangely magical powers and a love affair that spans decades — made me carry a copy to one of the chairs near the Starbucks cafe. Forty pages in, I figured it was worth buying. I’ve been saving it for my cross-country plane ride home for the holidays ever since.
Devon Shuman (editorial)
“His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman
I actually first read Pullman’s classic fantasy trilogy about a decade ago, but I’ve been savoring the opportunity for a re-read ever since. Few books have enchanted me as much as these — each page is delicately woven with magical details and adventurous settings as Pullman describes the perilous and captivating journey of his protagonist, Lyra Belacqua.
The parallel universe in which he sets his story is not too different from our own, though a few small differences become evident — Texas, for instance, is a sovereign nation, and the Church exerts much more control over society. Additionally, the soul of every human takes the physical form of a talking animal that stays by their side. Despite its magical overtones, however, the trilogy is less a fantastical romp than a slow-burning philosophical journey, subtly championing a very mindful, secular way of thought. And at its heart, it’s an adventure. As Lyra’s journey takes her across worlds and universes, she explores awe-inspiring settings such as chilly Svalbard and the quietly abandoned tropical city of Cittàgazze. Each turn of the page fills the reader with a sense of wanderlust, making it the perfect companion for a long flight to a wintry destination. And, with a new BBC adaptation in the works, there’s no better time to get started.
Kari Grace (social)
“The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts
As I escape the craziness of New York City and head back to my quiet coastal town (Margaret River, Australia), I plan to spend quality time soaking up the sunshine and reading some restorative material. I’m typically drawn to books with philosophical or psychological undertones and decided to continue exploring this realm with my newest book purchase – “The Wisdom of Insecurity” by Alan Watts.
The subtitle — “A message for an age of anxiety” — seemed rather fitting as I continue to find balance in a city that runs on anxiety. Described as an exploration into our psychological need for stability and its correlation to consumerism, this book is praised for highlighting this vicious circle and suggesting more permanent solutions. I have, by no means, mastered this fast-paced way of life and look forward to applying Alan’s wise words of wisdom upon returning to “the city that never sleeps.”
Kacie McGeary (editorial)
“Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” Directed by Griffin Dunne
This documentary was released on Netflix last month, and I’ve already watched it four times. Although this is absolutely excessive, I regret nothing and will continue to talk about it with everyone I come in contact with. It’s a beautifully made film that honors the life of one of America’s literary icons, and a fellow Sacramentan I greatly admire.
“The Center Will Not Hold” follows Joan’s career, lifestyle, and thoughts on how we are shaped by our landscapes and our inevitable dance with the disorder. From her first published pieces in Vogue to her various journalistic columns, novels, and essays of social criticism, Joan Didion has used prose to create a moving narrative of the times. This documentary highlights her impact on literature through an intimate interview conducted by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, and deals with with love, grief, and what it means to be human.
“See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write — on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there … Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” ― Joan Didion
Camille Danielich (editorial)
“Master of None, Season 2” Directed by Aziz Ansari
Evening in New York now falls as early as 4:30 p.m.; there’s a surplus of darkness, which feels a lot like nature granting me permission to increase my daily allotment of TV time. Cue my (delayed) discovery of the second season of “Master of None.” This installment of Aziz Ansari’s show finds protagonist Dev (Ansari) in Italy. He’s there to soul search and make pasta — and his resulting escapades are hilarious (Dev’s buddy Arnold inadvertently swapping Italian greeting, “Bongiorno,” with the name of the Italian-style American freezer pizza, “Digiorno,” is my particular favorite).
And, while the formula: ‘American-spurred-by-breakup-moves-abroad-but-returns-to find-problems-still-exist’ sounds as dismissable as another “Eat, Pray, Love” (albeit with jokes), the show’s ability to tackle difficult subjects — the delicate line between love and friendship, the poignancy of leaving familiarity to embrace the unknown — caught me pleasantly off guard. This season swivels beautifully between visuals of Modena, Italy, and flashes of New York City in its fall glory. The charming shots of cobbled Italian streets, a symbiotic soundtrack of both old-timey and pop music, and the supporting cast’s Italian accents (melodic in their own right) are the perfect antidote to early winter blues.
Rachel Heckerman (design)
“Lewis & Clark; Journals of the Expedition” by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark
On a rainy night in Brooklyn, I hastily decided to run out to a huge antique warehouse to look for vintage decorations to go on my wall. By complete accident, I wound up stumbling upon these beautiful hardcover Lewis and Clark journals on one of the book shelves of the shop.
The journals are the culmination of their thoughts, findings, drawings, and maps whilst on the first American expedition crossing into the Western region of America in 1804. I was thrilled to find these and am really looking forward to sinking my teeth into the first-person ideas and discoveries from the men I only learned about in textbooks as a kid. Each is pretty hefty in size though, so if I happen to travel anywhere, I’m definitely only bringing one of the books with me.
Michelle Starin (business development)
“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” by Arundhati Roy
I first came across Roy when I picked up a water-damaged copy of her Booker Prize winning book, “The God of Small Things” in a Cambodian hostel. Four years later, it remains one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. I’d been waiting for months to get a copy of her newest book and it was released just before my extended trip to India this fall. It became the backdrop to the trip, somehow mirroring my own travels through the country.
The book chronicles the lives of four people who circumnavigate one another in wholly unexpected ways. From the politics of Delhi in the 1990s to the conflict in Kashmir that began long before that, “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness” was a history lesson I wasn’t expecting but was so glad to get.