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A ’90s blockbuster that holds up

A ’90s blockbuster that holds up

This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas, and recommends the best in culture. Sign up for it here.

Welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer reveals what’s keeping them entertained. Today’s special guest is our staff writer Olga Khazan. Olga has recently written about not liking dogs (and joining a rather intense Subreddit of people who share that unpopular opinion), and why married people are happier than the rest of us. She’s also working on a book about personality change.

Olga revisited Speed recently and found it surprisingly believable, would love a lifetime subscription to all of Gary Shteyngart’s writing, and is reflecting with some confusion on her 13-year-old self’s love of Celtic ballads.

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: Olga Khazan

My favorite blockbuster and favorite art movie: I actually don’t watch a ton of blockbusters, but in the early pandemic, I got extremely bored, drank half a bottle of wine, and rewatched Speed on a cold night. It honestly holds up! You kind of believe that a Los Angeles city bus could, under the deft guidance of Keanu Reeves, jump an unfinished section of a freeway overpass. If you’re a ’90s kid, the movie is also much better viewed as an intact whole rather than broken up into 20-minute chunks on TNT, with your mom pressing a pillow to your face during the violent parts.

Instead of blockbusters, I almost exclusively watch foreign films, and a favorite of mine is Mustang, a 2015 Turkish movie about five sisters who try to resist their arranged marriages. I was going through this particularly radical-feminist era at the time, and it hit me in a way that few things do, really driving home the awful status of women in much of the world.

Best novel I’ve recently read, and the best work of nonfiction: I haven’t read many novels lately; I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction, because I’m working on my own nonfiction book. So instead, I have two nonfiction recs, both mind-blowing books about topics I was not initially drawn to. First, Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs, by Kerry Howley, is ostensibly about the “deep state,” but it is so well-written, vivid, and empathetic that it could honestly have been about anything and I would still have devoured it. Second, The Mercenary, by Jeffrey E. Stern, is ostensibly about a driver in Afghanistan, but again, it’s so beautifully told and riveting that it’s a page-turner even for people who don’t care about foreign policy. I haven’t stayed up reading this late in a long time.

An author I will read anything by: Gary Shteyngart. If I could sign up for some sort of Amazon-style lifetime subscription where every time he writes something, it gets automatically downloaded to my devices for a prearranged price, I would absolutely do it. I’ll be honest: I like him in part because he’s a Russian immigrant like me, and something about his prose feels familiar, like it echoes certain rhythms from my childhood. But also, I just think he writes excellent sentences and is extremely funny. [Related: I watched Russian television for five days straight.]

A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: Quiet: “Sister,” by TSHA; it’s hard not to snap into a sun salutation with this one going.

Loud: I first started listening to “Cha Cha Cha,” by the Finnish Eurovision contestant Käärijä, as a bit. But as so often happens, it grew on me! The man looked at heavy metal, EDM, and the human centipede, and said, Why choose? When I went to my cousin’s wedding in Finland over the summer, this song came on around midnight, and all of the Finns lost their minds and started screaming, “Cha cha cha!” in their bowties. It was infectious, really.

A cultural product I loved as a teenager and still love, and something I loved but now dislike: I think this counts as my teen years, but in early college, I was obsessed with the band the Postal Service, which was very big at the time. The fact that its hit song was about being young and lonely in D.C., where I was also young and lonely at the time, probably sealed the deal. For a while, I even lived in a gaudy apartment complex! It’s funny, because they were so big, but then they faded out rather quickly. (I was recently talking with someone four years younger than me, and she had never heard of them.) But I’m seeing the Postal Service, and their better-known associated band Death Cab for Cutie, in concert this week. So my fandom still runs deep.

One thing I’ve abandoned: When I was 13 or so, I signed up for one of those CD clubs that gave you 12 CDs for the price of one. One of the 12 CDs I chose was Riverdance, as in the backing musical track to the Irish tap-dancing show. I’m not sure what was going on with me, mentally or emotionally, that I wanted to listen to 70-some minutes of Celtic ballads. I think I was just a weird, sad little kid who thought I could escape my middle school and clog away to Ireland or something. Suffice to say that I’m no longer a Riverdance fan, though I hope they’re all doing well, wherever they are.

A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: Everyone should read “A Sea Story,” by William Langewiesche, before they die—hopefully not at sea.

A good recommendation I recently received: I read Vladimir, by Julia May Jonas, on Ellen Cushing’s recommendation in an earlier iteration of this newsletter, and I loved it!

The Week Ahead

  1. The MANIAC, a fictionalization of the life of John von Neumann by novelist Benjamín Labatut, centers the dark side of scientific genius (on sale Tuesday).
  2. The second season of Loki, a series that takes place after Avengers: Endgame (premieres on Disney+ on Thursday)
  3. In The Exorcist: Believer, a single father discovers that his daughter and her friend are possessed by demons (in theaters Friday).


Illustration by Vartika Sharma

The Parents Trying to Pass Down a Language They Hardly Speak

By Kat Chow

My mother used to tell a certain story at family parties when trying to explain why my sisters and I didn’t really speak Cantonese, my parents’ primary language. It’s probably a familiar narrative, especially to kids of immigrants in America. Still, it stung every time I heard it.

When my oldest sister, Steph, was in her suburban-Connecticut kindergarten, she returned home one afternoon embarrassed and upset, and insisted that our parents talk to her only in English. Steph was young and doesn’t remember the specifics, though the scenario is easy to imagine: some kid, probably oblivious but still cruel. Our parents, who came to the United States separately from Guangzhou, China, in the late 1960s and early 1970s by way of Hong Kong, spoke mostly the Chinese dialects Cantonese and Taishanese to us, but also possessed fluent English from their education in colonial Hong Kong. They conceded to Steph’s request, my father told me, and we became a primarily English-speaking household. Although my sisters and I could understand and speak some Cantonese (mine was the most limited, because I was the youngest; I was born a few years after Steph’s kindergarten incident), the ability faded as we aged.

Read the full article.

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Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.

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