Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, occasionally joins Morning Edition to talk about what she's been reading for a feature we call "Word of Mouth." This month, she recommends a trio of stories on people who've led hidden and often extraordinary lives — a businesswoman and technological giant who started life in Chinese re-education camps, a billionaire investor and education reformer whose personal experiences are too big for a series of ghostwriters, and a CIA agent whose job was to find a story among piles of forgotten documents.
Originally published on Mon January 21, 2013 11:46 am
In the new Fox TV series The Following, Kevin Bacon plays a former FBI agent asked to help apprehend an escaped serial killer he once put behind bars. The show is from Kevin Williamson, who also created the Scream horror-movie franchise.
In his new book, The Double V: How Wars, Protest and Harry Truman Desegregated America's Military, author Rawn James Jr. argues that if one wants to understand the story of race in the United States, one must understand the history of African-Americans in the country's military. Since the country was founded, he tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies, the military "has continually been forced to confront what it means to segregate individuals according to race."
After the first Obama inauguration, everybody talked about three things: the historic moment, the Arctic weather — and Aretha Franklin's hat.
If it is possible for a piece of millinery to steal the thunder of one of the most-watched moments in recent memory, the Queen of Soul's hat managed to do it. Her gray felt cloche was topped with a giant, matching bow, outlined in rhinestones that flashed in the chill sunlight as she sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee."
George Saunders has been writing short stories for decades.
Saunders, a professor at Syracuse University, was once a geological engineer who traveled the world; he now crafts stories that combine the absurd and fantastic with the mundane realities of everyday life. One story about a professional caveman inspired those Geico commercials.
"Contact with nature is not some magical elixir but the natural world is the substrate on which we must build our existence," writes Stephen Kellert in his new book Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World.
In it, he tells stories of the environment's effect on us, and ours on it. His writing builds on the traditions of Thoreau, John Muir and Rachel Carson. Modern society, he argues, has become adversarial in its relationship to nature, having greatly undervalued the natural world beyond its narrow utility.
Originally published on Mon January 21, 2013 11:28 am
Sarah Manguso's latest book is called The Guardians.
I like autobiographies that approach their subjects insidiously. My favorite ones begin as a study of someone or something else. Then, partway through, the author realizes he's the subject. And my very favorite autobiographies are the ones, in all their particularity, that might as well be about me — or you, or anyone.
The office of the president offers a lot of responsibilities and privileges. Your actions drive the world's most powerful military, billions of dollars worth of domestic policy and, perhaps most importantly, the way the country speaks.
That's what linguist and writer Paul Dickson contends in his new book, Words From the White House. It's a look back through history at the words and phrases popularized by our presidents — including the ones they don't get credit for anymore.
First lady Michelle Obama waves after addressing the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4.
Credit Chris Jackson / AFP/Getty Images
Diplomacy with style: The Obamas pose with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace ahead of a state banquet on May 24, 2011. Michelle's gown was designed by American fashion designer Tom Ford.
Credit Charles Dharapak / AP
In the garden: Michelle holds up broccoli as she participates in the White House Kitchen Garden Fall Harvest with students on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 20, 2010.
Credit Charles Dharapak / AP
Typical American: Michelle leaves a Target department store in Alexandria, Va., after doing some shopping on Sept. 29, 2011. Her style choices range from expensive, high-end designers to discount stores like Target.
Credit Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
Let's move: Michelle and a group of children try to break the Guinness World Record for the most people doing jumping jacks in a 24-hour period, at the White House on Oct. 11, 2011. Michelle's anti-obesity campaign, Let's Move, focuses on teaching children good nutrition and regular exercise.
Credit Alex Brandon / AP
Aww: Obama sneaks an extra smooch after kissing Michelle for the "Kiss Cam" at the basketball game between U.S. and Brazil, on July 16, 2012, in Washington, D.C.
Credit Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
First family: Obama walks on stage with his family to deliver his victory speech on election night on Nov. 6, 2012, in Chicago.
Credit Jae C. Hong / AP
First lady: Michelle Obama waves after addressing the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 4, 2012.
Credit Alan diaz / AP
On the campaign trail: Michelle greets supporters at Broward College in Davie, Fla., on Oct. 22, 2012, where she rallied grass-root supporters and spoke of what's at stake in the election for Floridians. Michelle was seen as an asset on the campaign trail, where she often drew large crowds.
Credit Mark Wilson / Getty Images
First dance: Newly sworn in President Obama and the first lady dance during the inaugural ball on Jan. 20, 2009, in Washington, D.C.
Credit Jewel Samad / AFP/Getty Images
First lady Michelle Obama paints a bookshelf at Burrville Elementary School in Washington, D.C., as part of the National Day of Service on Saturday.
Originally published on Tue January 22, 2013 10:28 am
Ask yourself this question: How weird would it be if you changed your hair and it was on the news?
No, seriously. Pull back from everything you know about celebrity and pretend it's about you. You change your hair. You decide, "Hey, you know what? It's been long for a while; what if I went a little shorter?" And so you go a little shorter. And then it is on the news.
On-air challenge: You will be given the first names of two famous people, past or present. The first person's last name, when you drop the initial letter, becomes the second person's last name. For example, given "Harold" and "Kingsley," the answer would be "Harold Ramis" and "Kingsley Amis."
Last week's challenge: Think of two familiar, unhyphenated, eight-letter words that contain the letters A, B, C, D, E and F, plus two others, in any order. What words are these?
The scene is Paris in the 1920s. The stars are three women: Esther Murphy, a product of New York high society who wrote madly but could never finish a book; Mercedes de Acosta, an insatiable collector and writer infatuated with Greta Garbo; and Madge Garland, a self-made Australian fashion editor at British Vogue. All three were lesbians.
Their histories burst onto the literary scene this summer in the biography All We Know: Three Lives by Wesleyan University professor Lisa Cohen.
Like everyone else in Washington, D.C., right now, we're gearing up for the long inaugural weekend, bracing ourselves for various events and balls around town that can be thrilling, patriotic, touristy and traffic-jamming, all at the same time.
When the Internet offers a superabundance of material to read, watch, listen to and play, it's easy to skim over text and half-listen to broadcasts. But the British government is inviting schoolchildren to put down their cellphones, turn off their news feeds and spend a long time lingering over a poem — so long that they learn it by heart.
For an organization that's supposed to be "secret," the British Secret Service, MI6, is awfully famous. MI6 agents turned novelists include Ian Fleming, Graham Greene and John LeCarre, and their books — together with the film franchise starring Fleming's James Bond — have made the intelligence organization a global brand.
Terry Francona probably never has to buy his own drink in Boston. He's the manager who helped steer the Red Sox to the World Series in 2004 and then again in 2007, turning the franchise from a kind of national sob story into a sleek, rich and successful sports enterprise.
Neil Jordan is best known as a filmmaker — he directed The Crying Game, Michael Collins, Interview with the Vampire and the Showtime series The Borgias — but he began his career as a writer. His first novel, The Past, was published in Ireland in 1980 to great acclaim.
The novel follows an enigmatic protagonist on his search for his family's secrets in a Cornish seaside town. Jordan joins NPR's Scott Simon to talk about The Past, which has been reissued in the United States by Soft Skull Press.
Back in the early 1990s, Melinda French was a rising star at a software company when the boss asked her out on a date. This was complicated because he was her boss, and frankly, he was kind of a nerd. But they fell in love and got married, and decided to raise a family, retire from the business, and in their spare time give away more money to charity than anyone else in the history of the world.
In the Broadway play The Other Place actress Laurie Metcalf ("Jackie" on the TV show "Roseanne") plays a scientist suffering from the dementia she studies. Playwright Sharr White discusses the play and the challenge of presenting complicated science on a theater stage.
I was weaned on horror movies and love them inordinately, but the genre has gone to the dogs — and to the muscle-bound werewolves, hormonal vampires, flesh-eating zombies, machete-wielding psychos, etc. It's also depressing how most modern horror pictures have unhappy nihilist endings in which everyone dies and the demons pop back up, unvanquished — partly because studios think happy endings are too soft, but mostly because they need their monsters for so-called franchises.
Originally published on Fri January 18, 2013 9:44 am
Annalisa Quinn is a freelance writer for NPR Books.
Lance Armstrong, in the interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey in which he admitted to doping, understood the role that storytelling played in his fall: "You win the Tour de France seven times, you have a happy marriage, you have children. It's just this mythic, perfect story. And it wasn't true."
The individuals who participated in the first Inquisition 800 years ago kept detailed records of their activities. Vast archival collections at the Vatican, in France and in Spain contain accounts of torture victims' cries, descriptions of funeral pyres and even meticulous financial records about the price of torture equipment.
As the nation gears up for the second inauguration of President Obama, NPR Books dove into the archives to find some of our favorite interviews with biographers of the first family. Here, you'll find profiles of the president's mother and father, an exploration of Michelle Obama's ancestral roots, and a portrait of the president and first lady's relationship. You'll also find books written by the Obamas themselves.
Few films trying to capture a child's experience of an adult world manage to nail the details. In real life, kids aren't typically the precocious sorts espousing wisdom beyond their years — kids fidget, they ask questions, they get scared. They act like kids.