Arts and culture

Michelle Wolf: Doing It For The People

Nov 30, 2018

Michelle Wolf's path to becoming a comedian may seem unusual, especially considering that her first job after graduating with a kinesiology degree from William and Mary, was in finance on Wall Street. "Fun fact about Wall Street, is they love people who are just competitive and will do anything to win," she told Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another, at the Bell House in Brooklyn. "So they love athletes... I was an athlete in college, and I got good grades so they were like 'Oh yeah, she'll be great. Don't worry that she's never taken a business class."

There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of people in the world who would've thrilled at the opportunity to spend time in the close orbit of Ricky Jay, the illusionist, writer, performer, playing card-thrower, and scholar who died at his home in Los Angeles last weekend.

At the beginning of 2005, when I went to work for him, I was not one of those people.

A normal way for fans to appreciate Edgar Wright's 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead is to watch it again and perhaps discover a few grace notes they missed the first or second or third time around. But there's something to be said for considering it through the prism of slavish imitator like Anna and the Apocalypse, a Scottish genre mash-up that plays like a piece of fan art, only with a musical component added.

As an old-fashioned melodrama about a modernist artist, Never Look Away is philosophically vexing. But it's a good story well-told, and never grows tiresome despite its three-hour running time. Writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, returning to the terrain of his Oscar-winning 2006 The Lives of Others, again proves himself glib in both good and bad ways.

In 1993, twelve-year-old Giuseppe di Matteo was kidnapped and held in brutal captivity to put pressure on his father, a Mafia informer, to stop unburdening himself to prosecutors about the Sicilian mob.

Sicilian Ghost Story, written and directed by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza, wraps a bleakly realist account of young Giuseppe's three-year ordeal into a kind of memorial — by way of a love story, which itself unfolds in a fairy tale more Grimm than Disney.

Five years ago, author and artist Jonathan Santlofer was at home with his wife, food writer Joy Santlofer, when Joy began feeling feverish. Joy, who had undergone outpatient surgery the day before for a torn meniscus in her knee, called her doctor's office and was told to come for her scheduled appointment four days later. That appointment never happened.

Joann Poe had been a field technician for Verizon for nearly 20 years when she saw the flyer. Hanging in the lobby of her apartment building, a public housing unit in the Bronx, N.Y., it announced a free training program to help residents launch their own food businesses.

"It must be a hoax," she thought. She walked by without writing down the number.

The Great Internet Novel. Like the great white whale, it's rumored to be out there somewhere beyond the horizon. So far, the novelists who've been hailed as coming closest to writing it have done so in dystopian doorstoppers even longer than Herman Melville's Moby Dick; I'm thinking of The Circle, by Dave Eggers, and Book of Numbers, by Joshua Cohen, both of which tell sweeping cautionary tales about the wired life within Facebook-type cult compounds.

Earlier this year, N. K. Jemisin made history when she became the first author to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel for three consecutive years, each volume in her Broken Earth trilogy receiving science fiction and fantasy's highest honor. But her very first award nomination was for short fiction: "Non-Zero Probabilities," a short story imagining a New York City where probability's been skewed so that the most improbable things happen on a regular basis, was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards back in 2010.

What Do Tears Look Like?

Nov 29, 2018

When you first view Rose-Lynn Fisher's photographs, you might think you're looking down at the world from an airplane, at dunes, skyscrapers or shorelines. In fact, you're looking at her tears.

The Los Angeles-based photographer's project, The Topography of Tears, stemmed from a curiosity steeped in emotional release. After losing contact for years, Fisher reconnected with a close friend — who passed away soon after.

Ever since I was young, I've loved stories set in the far-flung reaches of the West's many empires — from the British Raj of E. M. Forster's A Passage to India to the surreal Vietnam of Apocalypse Now. And I still love them, though I now realize that they usually look at other cultures from the vantage point of outsiders, even intruders.

"Favour is a breeze that shifts direction all the time," warns scheming snot Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer (Nicholas Hoult), early in Yorgos Lanthimos' delightfully scabrous period comedy, The Favourite. He's right about that: In the early-18th-century court of Britain's Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), that shifting breeze regularly reaches gale-force intensity.

Higher sea levels, displacement of millions of people, disrupted agriculture, and more extreme weather events are predictions for the future in an October U.N. climate report.

Lucia Berlin first became a literary superstar in 2015, 11 years after her death from cancer at the age of 68. During her remarkable life, she'd published her short stories in literary magazines and in small-press collections, but she never quite broke through to the larger literary scene. That changed three years ago with the publication of a posthumous collection of her selected stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women, which drew ecstatic reviews from critics and made several year-end best lists.

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Bernie Sanders will not say he is running for president. Instead, he employs a familiar dodge: "The year 2020 remains a long way off."

But Where We Go From Here is unmistakably a campaign book, which means that, like almost all campaign books, it is boring.

Many campaign books are ghostwritten and scraped free of controversy and doubts; these are not books in any meaningful sense of the word, but tools to generate publicity and "Is he or isn't he running?" speculation in the press.

The Book Concierge is back! Explore more than 300 standout titles picked by NPR staff and critics.

Open the app now!

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It's a Saturday evening in St. Paul, Minn., and 400 parents and children have gathered for the launch of a new book by author Kate DiCamillo. The event was organized by the Red Balloon Bookshop which, nearly 20 years ago, hosted the launch of her first book.

She told the audience she wrote that book, Because of Winn-Dixie, right after moving to Minnesota from Florida.

"I knew that it was cold, but I thought, 'How cold could it be?'" DiCamillo said. "And I literally — this is true — I didn't have a jacket when I moved here, and I didn't have socks."

Copyright 2018 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


'Dance In America' Aims To Chronicle The Art In The U.S.

Nov 26, 2018

Lincoln Kirstein writes in one of his four pieces in Dance in America, "To write descriptions of dancing is even more aimless than to paint pictures of music."

Clearly that hasn't stopped him, or anyone else, from trying. Dancing means too much. We have to try to talk about it. But what a nearly impossible task, to collect the right essays, excerpts, and asides that will somehow become a definitive portrait of dance in America. It gets even tougher when your audience is equal parts academics and everyday fans.

Bernaldo Bertolucci, the Oscar-winning director whose groundbreaking films set in turbulent times, including Last Tango In Paris and The Last Emperor, died Monday at 77.

His publicist confirmed to Variety that Bertolucci died Monday morning in his home from cancer.

"I am not angry. If anything, I am tired," Korede says, faced with yet another bloody crime scene to scour, yet another body to dump. The first few times, her beautiful sister Ayoola's self-defense claims seemed plausible, but the bodies have added up. And Korede Googled it: Three murders makes you a serial killer.

Unseen Forces Menace 'The Houseguest'

Nov 24, 2018

Speculative fiction in Latin America is like Schrödinger's cat: It exists and doesn't exist at the same time. Though there are no significant speculative fiction imprints, fantastic fiction can be found under the literary label, especially using the moniker of magic realism.

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Do not expect corgis and decorum. That's the word on the new movie comedy "The Favourite." There's palace intrigue and a British monarch, an 18th-century one - Queen Anne played by Olivia Colman. Our critic Bob Mondello has this review.

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There's a place in Santa Fe, N.M., called the House of Eternal Return. From the outside, it looks like an old bowling alley, which it actually used to be. Inside - well, here's a couple of visitors trying to describe it in a promotional video.

There is a disturbing blankness to the cover of Laura Adamczyk's debut fiction collection, Hardly Children. It's all a kind of papery off-white, save for a cut-out in the center of a person with small breasts, whose hand is the only thing that is vaguely, almost pink, as if it has been sitting in the morgue. The cover is perfect for the stories underneath it, which are at times eerie, often spare, and contain uncomfortable examinations of childhood, adulthood, gender, and whiteness.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Earlier in November, we asked our readers and listeners to share what about America they are most thankful for.

More than a thousand people from across the country responded, including many teachers who turned the question into a class assignment — shout-out to Ms. Goerke's 8th grade English class in Louisville, Ky.

Turns out, many of you are grateful for libraries, which Jody Ondich of Duluth, Minn., described as "sacred places to share knowledge and creativity."

Driving though the segregated South in 1962, an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx introduces the pleasures of fried chicken to an African-American pianist originally from Pensacola, Fla. Anyone who finds that moment plausible is tuned to the same wavelength as Green Book, a well-meaning but glib and shallow ode to interracial healing.

In 1985's Rocky IV, the most most high-and-tight entry in the formerly-shaggy Rockiad, an age-obsessed Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) laments to his opponent-turned-pal Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) that "we're turning into regular people." Apollo's obsession with proving he can still compete after half a decade in retirement leads him to pursue an exhibition match with genetically engineered Soviet supercomrade Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who beats Apollo to death.