Scott Simon

In this time of social distancing, hunkering down and chatting remotely, we might learn some new things about each other. For example, you might know Marin Alsop as the longtime music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading figures in classical music around the world and a frequent guest on Weekend Edition. But you might not know that back in the 1980s, she also led a swing band.

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If you were trying to start a music career in the early 1970s — when so many songs were aimed at the rising tide of young people — a producer probably wouldn't advise a young talent to "write a song about old people."But that's what John Prine did.

Our world has problems.

But have you heard about the planets of the Interdependency? The collapse of the Flow is at hand — that interstellar pathway of commerce between those inhabited orbs governed by the Interdependency.

Emperox Grayland II has to fight off a coup while her inamorato — or however it's said in the Interdependency — eminent physicist Lord Marce Claremont, tries to figure out how to halt the collapse of a whole system of planets and save the worlds. Note the "s."

Julia Alvarez has written what she calls her first novel as "an elder."

"It took a while to sort of process this stage of life that I'm in," she says. "And you know, what are the stories that I can tell now, from the hindsight and the insights that I've gained that is different. And you have to, you know, learn that."

The author of beloved and bestselling novels for adults and children, including How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, has brought out her first novel for adults in a decade and a half.

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Wash your hands, latch on your masks. Ready? Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Nurses, doctors, paramedics, technicians and other hospital workers earn the gratitude of the world right now. They risk their lives for others — what genuine heroes do.

But, there are many other people we might overlook who are also essential in these extraordinary times.

I took a run the other morning. It was still and quiet, but I was surprised to see how many people were up, about, and still working in a city in which "nonessential workers" have been told to stay at home.

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Throughout today's program, we hear from Americans about how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting their lives and their thoughts.

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The losses of the coronavirus pandemic became personal for many Americans this week. More people lost jobs. More people had to worry about their health. And more people died. These names are just a few among so many who gave something to our lives.

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Let's ask Samantha Irby to introduce herself, with a passage from her new book, Wow, No Thank You: "I occasionally write jokes on the Internet for free because I'm the last person on Earth who still has a blog," she reads.

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I miss work. I know as I say this that I'm blessed to have rewarding work as a lot of Americans suddenly don't. Working from home for most of the week has made me marvel at how much so many can do these days, on laptops and small screens.

But spending most of the workday in bedroom slippers, pondering whether to shave, shampoo or even brush my teeth — because after all, who'll see me besides my family? — also reminds me how much we can miss the walls, cubicles, hallways and, most of all, the people in our workplaces.

Emily St. John Mandel's last novel was set in a world devastated by a worldwide flu epidemic. Station Eleven has sold more than a million and a half copies — though Mandel recommends you not read it right this minute.

Instead, try her latest: The Glass Hotel takes us through tunnels of carelessness, corruption, moral compromise, and a global financial crisis to pose the question: How many chances do we get in life?

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"Black Monday" is a comedy about the worst stock market crash in the history of Wall Street. Worst crash until this one, of course...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK MONDAY")

DON CHEADLE: (As Mo Monroe) Mo is back, baby.

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Snap, crackle, pop - delectable golden bits afloat in fresh, cold milk. They go together, like BJ Leiderman, who does our theme music. And new cereals pour forth, if you please, every year to tickle contemporary taste buds.

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Until a couple of years ago, Nadia Reid had never been far away from New Zealand.

NADIA REID: I live in a place called Dunedin, which is sort of at the lower end. I was born in Auckland, which is the top of the North Island.

The toll of coronavirus in the U.S. and around the world is being told in the numbers of people who have died, been infected, tested or quarantined — and the economic costs of canceled events, vacations and travel. But there's another consequence that's harder to categorize.

At least 10 residents of the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Wash., have died from the virus; more may have died without being tested. Older people, including those with respiratory problems, are considered to be especially vulnerable.

"In the real world, villains too often succeed and heroes, too often die," says writer James McBride — and that's one of the great things about being novelist. "In novels you can move matters around ... you get to show the best side of people. You get to show redemption, and forgiveness, and you get to show the parts of people that most of us never get to see."

I asked Louise Erdrich to introduce the main character of her new novel, The Night Watchman. His name is Thomas Wazhashk.

She reads:

Years ago, I covered a protest by thousands of people in their underwear.

Civil servants in Calcutta, now called Kolkata, opposed a plan to replace the nylon kurta, that loose, long blouse worn by many Indian government workers, with kurtas made of cotton khadi cloth. Millions of government workers wearing home-spun khadi could help build India's village industries. It seemed such a right thing to do.

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For all the words uttered about urgent, vital issues at this week's Democratic presidential debate, one was missing: Syria.

The war in Syria has gone on for 9 years.

At least half a million people have died. More than 5 million Syrians are now refugees. Almost another million have had to flee their homes in the Idlib region just since last December, as Bashar al-Assad's army, supported by Russian air strikes, has tried to bomb and shell the people of the province into an obliteration from their own country.

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