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Arts and culture

In 12 days, there will be a parade to celebrate a road unifying two regions of a country torn apart by a decades-long civil war. That is, if two contractors are able to construct the road in time.

That's the premise of Dave Eggers' new novel The Parade, a slim meditation on the difficulties of global development and aid work. The story follows two men — we know them only as Four and Nine — who work for a faceless corporation, tasked with paving this highway while making as few waves as possible.

Lindy West's 2016 book Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman is, appropriately, a holler. It's a holler of triumph, of laughter, of hurt, of anger, of joy, of frustration, of defiance ... but it is a holler. West talks about life on the Internet as a feminist and a fat woman, she talks about being loved and being at peace with her body, and she talks about learning to unapologetically occupy space, both literally and figuratively.

The Bird King is set during the last days of Muslim Granada, and focuses on Fatima, a royal concubine longing for freedom, and Hassan, the royal mapmaker and Fatima's dearest friend. Hassan has a special skill: He can make beautiful, detailed maps of places he hasn't been, and more — he can chart hidden paths that bend reality and fold the distance between a person and their destination. So long as the map exists, so does the path, and the place.

We recorded the show in San Diego this week and invited skateboarding legend — and San Diego native — Tony Hawk to play our quiz. Since "tony hawk" could also refer to a fancy bird, we'll ask Hawk three questions about the Queen's birds, swiftlets, and capercaillie — the largest member of the grouse family.

Reading the graphic novel The Night Witches, about female pilots who flew for the Russians in World War II, I thought about Jane Austen. More specifically, I thought about Helena Kelly's 2017 book Jane Austen: The Secret Radical, which issued an audacious call to incorporate creativity and imagination into women's history.

For every sexual assault survivor who speaks out, Laurie Halse Anderson knows there many others remaining silent. "If there was a way for every victim of sexual violence to come forward on one day, I think the world would stop spinning for a day," she says.

It's been 20 years since Anderson's groundbreaking novel Speak was publishedit tells the story of Melinda, a freshman in high school who stops speaking after a sexual assault.

The title character in the new movie Diane is a woman trying to save her adult son from the drug addiction he denies.

Diane is played by Mary Kay Place, whose long career includes roles in TV series from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman to Big Love, and in movies including The Big Chill, Being John Malkovich and many more.

In the film Diane, Mary Kay Place is in every scene. It's a character study of an older woman confronting loss and bearing deep-seated guilt.

One of America's most respected and enduring poets, W.S. Merwin, has died. Merwin's poetry is known for its mystery and wonder, and he was twice named the U.S. poet laureate. He also won a National Book Award and two Pulitzer Prizes.

Merwin died today in his sleep at his home in Hawaii. His death was announced by his publisher, Copper Canyon Press. He was 91 years old.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

Little known fact: Long before she was starring in a Super Bowl ad, Aparna Nancherla was an NPR intern! But the comedian and actor has a confession: "I did not know that much about NPR," she told Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. "I had friends in high school who listened to NPR, and I was like, 'Seems like something I should get in on.'" Nancherla spent time after college at NPR's Washington, D.C. office, working on the website — and struggling to recognize some well-known hosts.

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Don't Fear Math.

About Eddie Woo's TED Talk

The world is full of recurring patterns based on math. Math teacher Eddie Woo explains why human beings are naturally drawn to patterns and how we can use math to engage with our complex world.

About Eddie Woo

Part 5 of the TED Radio Hour episode Don't Fear Math.

About Adam Spencer's TED Talk

Adam Spencer is fascinated by prime numbers. These seemingly simple numbers can be found in monster sizes—the latest being almost 25 million digits long.

About Adam Spencer

Adam Spencer originally chose to pursue a law degree and a PhD in Pure Mathematics before he shifted course to pursue radio.

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode Don't Fear Math.

About Masha Gershman's TED Talk

About Masha Gershman

Masha Gershman is the director of outreach at the Russian School of Mathematics, a K-12 afterschool mathematics program with a mission to instill every child with a strong foundation and appreciation for mathematics. The schools are located throughout the United States.

Part 2 of the TED Radio Hour episode Don't Fear Math.

About Dan Finkel's TED Talk

Dan Finkel says math is often taught as a series of rigid steps—which can be intimidating. Instead, he wants kids to see the fun, creative side of math that leads to deep learning and discovery.

About Dan Finkel

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Don't Fear Math.

About Phylecia Jones's TED Talk

Why do so many teen girls lose interest in math? Phylecia Jones explores how we can get more women involved in STEM by starting with a simple idea: tell every girl in your life she's great at math.

About Phylecia Jones

Counting Other People's Blessings

Mar 15, 2019

Envy: it's an unflattering, miserable emotion. And it's universal. All of us, at some time or another, will experience that feeling of wanting what someone else has, and resenting them for having it.

Of course, like all human emotions, envy has a purpose. It's a tool for social comparison, one that can alert us to imbalances in the social hierarchy. Sometimes, these feelings of envy can prompt us to improve our lives, says Harvard social psychologist Mina Cikara.

"If you have more than what I have, I may be inspired by what you have," she says.

Lindy West did not set out to make an after school special. The new Hulu show Shrill, based on her 2016 memoir about being feminist and body positive, is not "all about the message," she says.

"The reality of being a fat person isn't that every moment of your life is about being fat," she says. "It's that you're trying to live the same kind of complicated, exciting, fun, beautiful, difficult life as everyone else."

This Friday, after months of delays, Netflix is releasing the Belgian film Girl, a controversial coming-of-age drama about a transgender ballerina. Critic Andrew Lapin broke down the movie with film and literature critic Veronica Esposito, author of The Doubles and The Surrender. Fair warning: We'll be discussing a disturbing ending. Some mild spoilers ahead.

Andrew Lapin: Hello, Veronica!

Remember Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network as the callow Harvard undergrad who cooked up a little thingie called Facebook because his girlfriend dumped him? Please welcome back both actor and, more or less, character in The Hummingbird Project, a likably cheeky but rambling and overstuffed hedge-fund romp by Canadian writer-director Kim Nguyen.

In the opening sequence of Ash Is Purest White, the female protagonist rides a clunky bus though a declining mining city. In the final chapter, the male protagonist returns to the same place on a new high-speed train. Writer-director Jia Zhangke's gently comic recent-history epic spans just 17 years, but in China that's time enough to travel from the past into the future.

Copyright 2019 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Aidy Bryant mourns the time she lost in her teens and early 20s feeling self-conscious about her body. The Emmy-nominated comic and actor says she lived in fear of judgments about her weight.

"I felt like the worst possible thing that anyone could ever do would be to think that I was fat, to call me fat," she says.

Bryant began to direct her energy into her writing and comedy career. She moved to Chicago to pursue comedy at Second City, and in 2012, became a cast member on Saturday Night Live.

Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct, maintaining his innocence amid allegations that he faked a possible hate crime against himself earlier this year. Smollett's legal team entered the plea Thursday at a courthouse in Chicago, while the Empire actor and singer looked on silently.

An odd thing about famous crimes is what details enter pop culture and stay there.

What Happens When You Get Kicked Off The 'Squad?'

Mar 14, 2019

Being a cheerleader defines Jenna's world. She spends all her time with the squad, whether it's at school, at practice, or just hanging out. It's ideal, because her best friend Raejean is also a cheerleader, and they're so close that they're practically the same person.

Henry Eliot's new book about mazes and labyrinths is a printer's worst nightmare. Follow This Thread is both a title and an instruction: To read the book, you must turn it upside down and backwards. Lines of text wrap 90 degrees on the page, and a thin red thread — illustrations by the French artist Quibe — travels playfully from page to page.

Believe it or not, this is the "reined in" version.

"When I first pitched it, the design was even more complicated ..." Eliot says. "As I described this to my editor, I could see her face just kind of falling."

Federal judges have sentenced other former aides of Donald Trump to prison, but a filmmaker is seeking a different kind of judgment on Steve Bannon, the onetime guru who thinks he's the one who got Trump elected president.

"Lost Hollywood." The phrase conjures up starlets in silver lamé and lunchtime gimlets at The Brown Derby; it does not bring to mind slimy swamp creatures or screwball surrealists starring in movies featuring walking melons. But two new books that retrieve forgotten moments in Hollywood history expand our sense of La La Land's long legacy of magic and bad behavior.

Humans are curious creatures, seekers of new lands and new knowledge. But the results of our shared explorations have often been destructive.

The first people to arrive and settle in the many islands that lay in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — the largest watery basin on earth — were certainly harmful to the ecology of those places, where species of both flora and fauna went extinct quite quickly after human settlement. Worse, however, is the destruction wrought, both purposefully and accidentally, by the arrival of humans to already peopled lands.

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