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One of TV’s best slow-burn couples

One of TV’s best slow-burn couples
One of TV’s best slow-burn couples

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Welcome back to The Daily’s Sunday culture edition, in which one Atlantic writer or editor reveals what’s keeping them entertained. Today’s special guest is Karen Ostergren, a deputy copy chief who has worked at The Atlantic for more than a decade.

Karen is an avid runner who enjoys listening to other people talk about running—Ali Feller’s podcast is her favorite—and who recently visited an exhibit in New York about the sport’s history. On the other end of her content consumption spectrum, she likes tuning in to Abbott Elementary, escaping into the lush world of fantasy and romance novels, and watching football (and keeping up with the latest Jason Kelce memes).

First, here are three Sunday reads from The Atlantic:

The Culture Survey: Karen Ostergren

My favorite way of wasting time on my phone: When Elon Musk bought Twitter—even before he turned it into X—I decided to ease my reliance on the site, and deleted the app off my phone as a way to break my habit of checking it during any spare moment. But the scrolling impulse is strong, and instead I’ve just transferred it to the Instagram Explore grid. I don’t necessarily feel good about my life choices when I look up and realize I’ve spent 10 minutes beaming joke reposts and reality-TV updates into my eyeballs, but it is a very efficient way to keep up on pop culture: In that 10-minute span, I can get the gist of a Bachelor episode that I have no intention of watching, see who from the latest season of Love Island has already broken up, and find a Jason Kelce meme to throw into the group chat. [Related: When the fantasy of The Bachelor finally met reality]

The television show I’m most enjoying right now: I’m happy that the writers’ and actors’ strikes are over for plenty of reasons, but one is that Abbott Elementary is back on the air. I missed Janine and Gregory’s slow burn, Ava’s shade, Barbara’s church-lady exclamations, Melissa’s Philly fandom, Jacob’s try-hard nerdiness, and Mr. Johnson’s, well, everything. In a TV era when cultural attention mostly focuses on intense, 10-episode-a-season dramas, Abbott turned out almost two dozen episodes last season and hit the right note of smart and sweet and funny in every one. [Related: The 15 best TV shows of 2023]

A favorite story I’ve read in The Atlantic: “Fire on the Mountain,” by Brian Mockenhaupt, is a sprawling, over 12,000-word feature published in the June 2014 issue that has always stuck with me. He describes in visceral detail the path of the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013, the conditions that turned it into a disaster, and the lives of those who died trying to stop it. Fire season isn’t something I paid much attention to growing up in Texas and the Midwest, and its effects are something we East Coasters have only recently had to contend with, but as the climate gets hotter, I fear that the fires will only get bigger and more destructive. (Fun fact: the other feature story that ran in the same issue? Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant “The Case for Reparations,” which is also well worth your time.)

A good recommendation I recently received: My beige flag, as the kids say, is that I love fantasy and romance novels, and almost never read nonfiction outside of work (in my defense, I read a lot of nonfiction at work). A former college roommate suggested that I give Shannon A. Chakraborty’s books a try, and I’ve spent the past two months working my way through her Daevabad trilogy. The books are set in the Middle East and North Africa around the turn of the 19th century—some locations fictionalized and magical, some not—which is a refreshing change from the lightly disguised Europes and North Americas of most fantasy series. There’s a Chosen One narrative and at least one slow-burn romance (my favorite kind, if you couldn’t tell), and throughout the author beautifully weaves in Islamic culture and traditions and history. Even though each book clocks in at more than 500 pages, I couldn’t stop reading until I knew what happened to all the characters in the end.

An online creator whom I’m a fan of: How do you know if someone is running a marathon? They’ll tell you. That old joke is regrettably accurate to my life as a capital-r Runner. I not only like to talk about running; I enjoy listening to other people talk about running, and no one does the latter better, in my opinion, than Ali Feller, whom fans know as Ali on the Run. If I have an easy run planned, there’s a good chance I’m turning on the latest episode of her podcast to keep me company. Her interviews, which spotlight professional, celebrity, and everyday runners alike, are simultaneously deeply informative and a whole lot of fun, mixing detailed recaps of major races and record-breaking performances with Taylor Swift lyrics and tangents about TV shows.

The last museum or gallery show that I loved: Speaking of running: The New-York Historical Society currently has an exhibit on two men, Ted Corbitt and Joseph Yancey, who used athletics to advocate for integration and civil rights and, along the way, popularized the sport in New York City. The exhibit is small but features lots of cool artifacts from their lives, including the uniform Corbitt wore in the 1952 Olympics and a drawing of his proposed expansion of the New York City Marathon course to touch all five boroughs—which, if you’ve ever run or spectated that race, you know is what makes it such a special event.

Something delightful introduced to me by a kid in my life: I would like to be able to say Bluey, because who doesn’t love Bluey? But the truth is that I’ve only watched Bluey while on girls’ trips with my friends who are moms—without their kids present. The best piece of children’s entertainment that I’ve actually watched with a kid is the “Mickey’s Monster Musical” episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, an homage to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I must have watched it four times in a row while playing with my boyfriend’s niece and nephew one Halloween, and I was so charmed by the adaptation that I never got sick of it, which is surely high praise for a kids’ show. [Related: The surprisingly mature lessons of Bluey]

Something I recently revisited: Every six months or so, I realize that I haven’t listened to the Josie and the Pussycats film soundtrack in a while, and I’m never less than delighted to hear it again. The lead singer of Letters to Cleo as the primary vocalist; the late, great Adam Schlesinger as a writer and producer; and two full songs (plus a music video!) from a second fictional band? A 37-minute soundtrack for an incredibly silly Y2K-era teen movie had no reason to go so hard. I still remember leaving the mall theater with a friend and walking straight to FYE to buy the CD; 22 years later, it remains a no-skips album for me.

A quiet song that I love, and a loud song that I love: On the quiet side, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is a favorite hymn of mine. The melody is gorgeous, and the lyrics are one of the most relatable descriptions I’ve read of faith: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; / Prone to leave the God I love. / Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it; / Seal it for thy courts above.”

On the complete opposite end of the music spectrum is Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene.” The lyrics, about wanting vengeance on a cheating ex, are less personally relatable, but the assertive beat and the electric guitar make it a great song to blast when my head’s scrambled and I feel like Christina Hendricks delivering her famous Mad Men quote: “I want to burn this place down.”

The Week Ahead

  1. Splinters, by Leslie Jamison, a memoir about her shifting relationships with motherhood, marriage, and family (out Tuesday)
  2. Avatar: The Last Airbender, a live-action TV-show remake of the acclaimed Nickelodeon fantasy series (premieres Thursday on Netflix)
  3. Drive-Away Dolls, a comedy film about a road trip to Florida that goes off the rails when a group of inept criminals gets involved (in theaters Friday)


Illustration by The Atlantic. Sources: The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Getty

First Comes the Breakup, Then Comes the ‘Thrive Post’

By Isle McElroy

If the thrive post has a patron saint, it is Nicole Kidman. Specifically, Kidman the day she finalized her divorce from Tom Cruise, when she was photographed by paparazzi leaving her attorney’s office with her arms blissfully extended, her mouth a wide, Whitmanian yawp. She is undeniably free. The image has since become a meme—and inspiration for people leaving relationships. If you catch a friend posting this photo, assume that they’re recently single.

Read the full article.

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A fireworks display throws off spirals of sparks at Yuwan Scenic Spot in Lianyungang, in China’s Jiangsu province. (CFoto / Future Publishing / Getty)

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