Arts and culture

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After Mexican vocalist Juan Gabriel died last weekend, tributes flooded in from across the Americas. Gabriel was arguably Mexico's most beloved living singer. He composed upwards of 1,500 songs, recorded music in practically every Mexican genre and beyond, and had an improbable rags-to-riches story.

Bill Lee was a successful pitcher in the major leagues for many years — he played for the Boston Red Sox in the 1970s and the Montreal Expos in the early 1980s. Known for his outspoken nature and his unconventional left-handed pitch, he ended up with the nickname "Spaceman."

We've invited the Spaceman to answer three questions about actor Kevin Spacey. Click the audio link above to hear how he does.

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Please, have a seat; it's time to talk about chairs.

There's an insatiable appetite, it seems, for books about young people killing each other in made-up militarized societies. And according to author Sabaa Tahir — whose new book, A Torch Against the Night, continues that trend — if you look at today's headlines, the genre's popularity makes sense: After all, the news is where she found her inspiration.

Count Alexander Rostov — recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt — is a "Former Person." Russia's new Soviet masters have sentenced him, improbably enough, to house arrest in Moscow's luxurious Metropol hotel, where he lives out his days decorating the dining room with his bon mots and dashing around like Eloise, if Eloise were set in a twee version of Stalinist Russia.

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This FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross.


[In case you haven't heard, a big announcement: Pop Culture Happy Hour is embarking on a West Coast tour! We'll be in Seattle on Oct. 17 (with Audie Cornish), Portland on Oct. 19 (also with Audie Cornish), San Francisco on Oct. 21 (with Mallory Ortberg), and Los Angeles on Oct. 23 (with Kumail Nanjiani). For ticket information, click here — and remember that all four shows go on sale Tuesday, Sept. 6, at noon Pacific Time.

Pablo Escobar was one of the most notorious drug kingpins the world has ever known. His cartel — based in Medellin, Colombia — ruled in the 1980s and at one point supplied 80 percent of the cocaine coming into the U.S.

The drama and danger of those days is captured in the Netflix series Narcos. Brazilian actor Wagner Moura plays Escobar in the series, and at the time it was a surprising casting choice. For one thing, Escobar is on the chubby side, and as Moura tells NPR's David Greene, "I was very skinny." Also: He didn't speak Spanish.

The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger is often lyrical and sometimes poignant. Yet the impressionistic documentary about the Marxist art critic and self-styled "storyteller" — novelist, screenwriter and more — doesn't quite deliver what its title promises.

We do see different seasons in Quincy, the French alpine hamlet where the London-born Berger has lived since the 1970s, but that natural cycle has little or no significance to most of the chapters. And the four renderings we get of Berger are sketches, not full portraits.

Janus Island, despite its rocky hilltops, patches of farmland and ample beaches, can't be found on a map. That's because it doesn't exist. But to be fair to Janus, most real-life remote islands aren't easy to find on maps either, unless you know what you're looking for.

Poland, the late 1980s, the last gasp of Soviet rule.

In a concrete Warsaw high-rise, politics have little bearing on daily life beyond a lingering mood of diffuse anxiety. Residents come and go, bumping into one another as they lie, cheat, covet, steal, snoop, betray, commit adultery and otherwise find freshly updated ways to violate every one of the Ten Commandments. There's even a murder, yet these are — in their way — good citizens wracked by guilt, self-doubt, and a generous dose of original sin as they break the most ancient code of behavior still in force.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit


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How much cash do you have in your wallet right now - $50, $100? How about $4,200? That is not a random number. Actually, $4,200 is the average amount of cash in circulation for every man, woman and child in the United States. So why is your wallet so light?

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, one of the most enduring and cherished children's authors of all time. To commemorate the anniversary, a new, never-before-published story by Potter, called The Tale of Kitty in Boots, has been released.

Readers, we've been down this road before, not too long ago, and it didn't end well.

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.


Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit


Your Dilapidated Barn Is Super Trendy. Just Ask HGTV

Sep 1, 2016

Larry Gerdes is having his barn taken down and disassembled in Malta Bend, Mo. It's about the size of a three-car garage but stands much taller in a clearing surrounded by 6-foot stalks of corn.

The barn's exterior is graying, part of its roof is missing, and there's a gaping hole looking out from the hayloft. It's about 100 years old, and it's not really useful.

"It's deteriorated and it would cost a lot of money to repair it," Gerdes says. "And it doesn't fit into modern farming. Unless you got two cows to let them loaf inside, nothing fits, and it's just obsolete."

A zombie flick is smashing box office records in South Korea. Train to Busan has been seen by an estimated 11 million Koreans — a fifth of the population — and broken numerous records, including the highest single-day ticket sales in Korean film history.

The plot isn't complicated: Everyday South Koreans find themselves trapped on a speeding bullet train with fast-multiplying zombies, creating the kind of claustrophobic feel that freshens up the zombie trope. But beyond a fast-paced summer thriller, it's also an extended critique of Korean society.

Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me follows the country singer's goodbye tour and his decline from Alzheimer's disease. NPR's Robert Siegel talks to director James Keach and Campbell's wife, Kim Campbell. This story originally aired on Oct. 27, 2014 on All Things Considered.

This summer, NPR has been thinking about villains in popular culture. Critic Bob Mondello explored what makes a great screen villain tick. NPR Books' Petra Mayer looked at how and why so many of literature's greatest villains get away with it.

Interested in Steve Jobs, Georgia O'Keefe or Alice in Wonderland? They are all explored in new music in the upcoming American concert season.

After 10 pages of Nathan Hill's debut novel, The Nix, I flipped to the dust jacket. I wanted to see what the author looked like because I was thinking to myself, Jesus, this guy is gonna be famous. I wanna see what he looks like.

On the second page of Curioddity — the debut novel by Eisner-winning comic-book writer Paul Jenkins — the book's protagonist Wil Morgan wakes up and looks in the mirror. Thankfully he doesn't do the expected thing, which is describe his appearance for the benefit of the reader. Instead, Jenkins writes, "Not a good time to make eye contact with his reflection, he decided, and he hastily backed away." It's a tiny scene, but it's telling. By and large, Curioddity tries to subvert — or at least smirk at — a whole host of fictional clichés and tropes.

Justin Trudeau has had a number of careers: schoolteacher, snowboard instructor, and since last year, prime minister of Canada. Now he's an action hero. A new issue of Civil War II from Marvel Comics, being released Aug. 31, has Trudeau facing evil-doers in the halls of Canada's Parliament — and in the boxing ring.

The front cover shows Trudeau sitting in the corner of a boxing ring, elbows resting on the ropes. He's wearing boxing shorts, a tank top emblazoned with a large maple leaf and a smile that's a bit difficult to read.

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This past weekend, the number one film in the U.S. was the horror flick "Don't Breathe."


DYLAN MINNETTE: (As Alex) We're trapped in here.

JANE LEVY: (As Rocky) There has to be a way out of here.

When Gene Wilder was 8 years old, his mother had a heart attack — and he took it upon himself to try to cheer her up. "It was the first time I ever tried consciously to make someone else laugh," Wilder said. "And when I was successful, after peeing in her pants, she'd say, 'Oh, Jerry, now look what you've made me do.' "

A holiday celebrating a dish beloved of many West Africans, World Jollof Day, was marked last week.

Jollof is a celebration dish. You eat it at parties, naming ceremonies, weddings, funerals — you name it, you will see the familiar and comforting pot of steaming jollof rice.

But jollof is also war – of the deliciously friendly variety.

If you doubt that Ryan Lochte is going on Dancing With The Stars to try to change the subject away from what he himself has called his "immature, intoxicated behavior" during the Rio Olympics, where he admits he lied about at least some of his story about being robbed at gunpoint, just ask him. It's not a secret.