Encounters with art and beauty on paper, screen, or in nature, from our hearts and minds to yours
Explore the Speech Accent Archive
Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station.
No, this is not an esoteric shopping list. It’s the foundational text of the Speech Accent Archive. Compiled by Steven Weinberger and George Mason University, this fascinating digital archive exhibits an impressive collection of accents from a variety of language backgrounds across the globe. You can click through thousands of recordings of native and non-native speakers of English all reading this one paragraph, searchable by native language or geographical location.
If you’re looking to track down the quintessential voice of a Wisconsin dairy farmer, Belfast barber, or Greek yiayia, want to hear the nuances between Brooklyn and Long Island cabbies, think it sounds fun to nerd out on consonant, vowel, and syllable deletion from native Albanian, Ukrainian, or Zulu, or simply excel at procrastinating and are looking for a new rabbit hole to tumble down, this is your new happy place.
—Kathleen Yale, digital editor
Acquiring a Houseplant
A few years ago, scientists discovered that soil contains microbes that act like antidepressants. Ah, I thought, when I read the study. Perhaps that’s why I feel so out-of-sorts during long, gray winters. Not just from the lack of sun, but from the lack of dirt—I can’t work in my garden. So, I got a houseplant. It grew, it thrived, and then it made tiny versions of itself. I repotted those—more soil!—and felt happier. I acquired even more plants, some from local nurseries, most from friends who were too busy to care for theirs, and I felt better still. Today my house is full of plants—some might say too many plants—but the winters feel much less sad now, and they look a whole lot greener.
—Amy Brady, executive director
Atlanta Season 4, Episode 9
I suppose it’s a little odd that I’m not recommending the entire series, which loosely and beautifully strung together so many moments of joy and surprise and fear and relief, or the first episode, or one of the handful of tangential episodes that make enough sense without having seen the rest of the series, or even the episode two weeks before this one, where Earn, Van, and Lottie rent out a campground and essentially answer the question: What if Orion, but Black?
I do, of course, recommend all of the above. But I just want to write about this episode, the last one before the very last one, the silence and eye-watering greenness of it. I’d like to point out that the last time the show’s writers gathered to tell a story that wasn’t the finale, they couldn’t help but send Alfred to a farm. Having survived a near miss at a mall shooting in the city, Alfred buys a few acres of land with a dream of growing stuff and suddenly now finds himself isolated and somewhat at a loss. Over half an hour we follow him around the farm with no other characters and very little story besides the body’s desire to foster growth. For a show about the music and soundscapes of Atlanta, the lengthy quiet stretches here go from soothing to unnerving to frightening and then back again.
I love this episode because it shows how nature is an escape, but also that there’s no escape. Instead, there’s blood and oil and feral hogs and sinister mushrooms and a tragic love story with a dead tractor.
—Sumanth Prabhaker, editor in chief
I’ve spent a great deal of time this winter watching Doctor Who, a personal favorite and one of the most life-affirming shows I’ve had the pleasure of consuming.
Doctor Who is a British science-fiction television series with a cult-like following and an unapologetic love of adventure and humanity. The Doctor is an extraterrestrial being called a Time Lord who, though he or she appears human, has two hearts, a seemingly endless life-span, and the power to regenerate when mortally wounded, adopting a fresh face and personality with each new life. He travels the universe and time, usually with a human companion, saving civilizations from themselves and alien threats.
But what is most astounding about this exuberant and hopeful show, is the utter empathy and awe it encourages the viewer to hold for the world beneath our feet and all of the people and creatures on it. Because with each new species the Doctor encounters, no matter how threatening or unfamiliar, he approaches them from a stance of wonder at their beauty and a state of curiosity concerning their motives.
My personal favorite Doctor is played by the joyous Matt Smith, but I recommend starting from the beginning, after the 2005 revival, with the episode titled “Rose.”
—Remie Arena, editorial intern
Cradle by Starling Arrow
In their debut album, Cradle, Starling Arrow gives flight to, according to the group’s website, “a musical offering of nourishment, melodies for restoration, healing for the pandemic-weary soul.” The band of songbirds—Leah Song and Chloe Smith of Rising Appalachia, Tina Malia, Ayla Nereo, and Marya Stark—flocked when their respective shows were waylaid during lockdown. They gathered via Zoom to write and sing, their lines and voices gracefully soaring and spiraling as one.
Featuring a cappella tracks as well as soft acoustic accompaniment, the album is a series of lullabies for a weary world, reminding us of simple gifts, like a river, seeds, wind, and togetherness. The band name is described to have come from starlings’ alluring collective murmurations, and the group’s intent to arrow their own sounds to “land in a place of unique beauty.” And that is what these tracks do. Each artist brings strong skills, and together their lyrics and ethereal vocal acrobatics are an intonation of wingbeats, a cradle of healing rhythms to rock us, a haunting synchrony. And as with starlings in arrowed murmuration, you will find it difficult to pull your attention away.
Check out their website, where you can watch captivating videos and buy song singles or the whole album. This is a group worth gathering behind.
—Heather McElwain, copy editor
What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher
If you’re anything like me, you finished reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” with more questions than answers. What did the fungi have to do with anything? What really happened to Madeline? Was this something natural, supernatural, or both? In What Moves the Dead, a queer retelling of the Poe classic, T. Kingfisher masterfully answers these questions and fully fleshes out the world of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Kingfisher answers the question of what happened, though she gives readers a scientific solution to the problem (along with an apology in her author’s note for the impacts of that solution). Additionally, she adds in wonderful and somewhat disturbing details, such as a woman who illustrates mushrooms and the mad hares of the moor, which only add to the intrigue of the decrepit manor house and its oddly behaving inhabitants. So, if you want to read a version of Poe’s story that answers its questions or if you just want to curl up with a haunting yet beautiful fungi-centric Gothic tale, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of What Moves the Dead today.
—Kim Schmidt, digital production intern
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Richard Powers’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel has garnered gushing reviews, blurbs, and accolades galore since its publication. So much so that I’m not sure you need me to recommend it to you. But on a recent trail run in the forest—looking up, of course, but also looking down so that I wouldn’t trip—I began thinking about the book differently. Trees are so often defined by their tops: broadleaf or needled, deciduous or evergreen, towering or reaching toward the ground. The canopy gives a tree its signature, shape, and direction. But a tree’s seed offers the same. “A thing can travel everywhere, just by holding still,” writes Powers. The book begins with six chestnut seeds that travel from New York to Iowa in the pocket of Jørgen Hoel, a Norwegian immigrant, and goes on to span generations and geographies. Powers divides his story into four sections: Roots, Trunk, Crown, and the epilogue, Seeds. While the characters and plot are developed through the first three sections, seeds, as both metaphor and biological wonder, are scattered throughout. A scientist travels the world collecting seeds for a subzero vault and hopes for the future. Early computer coding is compared to a tiny seed that grows into a sprawling banyan fig tree. All of these seeds are new beginnings. Some need to be digested, frozen, or set aflame to germinate. Others can wait a thousand years. Like the lone Hoel chestnut tree that survived the blight that nearly wiped out the species, seeds possess an “ancient formula: Keep still. Wait.”
—Tara Rae Miner, editorial production manager
For the last several years I have watched as two members of my community in western Massachusetts, Steve Trombulak and Martin Bridge, opened themselves to the world and let their art speak to their experience. This year they are releasing a collection of connected pieces drawn together in a book—a guide—called The Way of Gaia. Together, painter and poet distill messages that help us step aside from the cultural, scientific, and political arguments that matter so much in our daily existence and invite us to instead meditate on simple truths of experience. It is so easy to be pulled into the strategy and planning of how we can protect and restore nature, that sometimes we forget to engage with the why. For me, on a foundational level, it is simply that the Earth is not my home, the Earth is what I am. What I have seen thus far of these poems and paintings helps me to remember that fact in both my heart and mind. I’ve only had sneak peaks at what’s included but I am so excited to dive into the book as a finished object!
—Donovan Arthen, director of finance and operations