Arts

Arts and culture

In 1835, Washington, D.C., was a city in transition: Newly freed African-Americans were coming north and for the first time beginning to outnumber the city's slaves. That demographic shift led to a violent upheaval — all but forgotten today.

Few of the city's buildings from that time remain, but you can still sense what it was like, if you sit in a park by the White House, as NPR's Steve Inskeep did with writer Jefferson Morley.

Alan Cheuse reviews The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa. Cheuse teaches creative writing at George Mason University.

If you're like me, you probably have stacks of books sitting around your home waiting to be cracked open.

Despite my apartment's messy milieu, the piles are actually carefully curated in the order of what I plan to tackle next. Of course, the stacks tend to grow faster than I can read, but no matter.

Here are this week's five best stories from NPR Books. They'll grow your piles, but I promise, these books are worth it.

Jimmy Fallon's Tribute To Neil Young

Jul 4, 2012

We're replaying a portion of this interview today. Specifically, it's the part where Jimmy Fallon imitates Neil Young. Why? Because we're also playing our Neil Young interview today. If you're like to listen to the full Jimmy Fallon interview, you can do so here.

We hold this truth to be self-evident: America loves pie. We, the people, a nation of bakers and eaters, value the art of creating that crispy, gooey, fluffy, fruity dessert — and each region reserves the right to bake the treat in its own individual style.

Aaron Copland is considered one of America's greatest composers. Among his most famous works is a tribute to an iconic figure in American history. In 1942, Copland wrote A Lincoln Portrait, which features a full orchestra playing while a narrator reads excerpts from Lincoln's speeches and other writings.

W. Ralph Eubanks is the author of Ever Is a Long Time and The House at the End of the Road. He is director of publishing at the Library of Congress.

The work of William Faulkner looms as a mountain too high to climb for many readers, with his long, complex sentences and shifting point of view. But Faulkner's famously tangled mix of literary techniques meant nothing when I was about 12 years old and picked up a copy of The Reivers.

'Dead Man Walking' Sings Again

Jul 3, 2012

It's so rare for a new opera — let alone a new American opera — to be recorded even once. But few new operas have been so rapturously received as Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking, which recounts the true story of a Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean, and the convicted rapist and double murderer Joseph De Rocher before he was executed by the state of Louisiana.

There's a lot to be anxious about — an upcoming job interview, a first date or perhaps a big presentation at work. For some, anxiety can be much more than just sweaty palms and quivering hands. It can be a debilitating condition with severe physical and mental effects.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that nearly 40 million American adults suffer from a wide range of anxiety disorders — from acute nervousness and increased heart rate to full-on panic attacks.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Later in the program, we'll talk about the latest chapter in the work/family debate that's taken off from a provocative magazine piece written by former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter. She resigned her high profile post after two years saying she needed to spend more time with family. And she meant it. We'll ask our panel of regulars in our parenting segment to join her to talk about her piece "Why Women Still Can't Have It All."

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is perhaps best known for his research tracing the family and genetic history of famous African Americans. A selection of his writings on race, politics and culture appear in The Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Reader. Originally broadcast May 8, 2012.

In his new book, How to Cook Everything: The Basics, Mark Bittman explains with careful instructions and 1,000 colorful photos how to stock your pantry, how to dice vegetables, which knives you should buy �" and to really get back to basics �" how to boil water. Originally broadcast March 19, 2012.

You're going to be hearing a lot about Chris Cleave's gold-medal performance in his first novel since his mega-best-seller, Little Bee. That's because Gold is a heart-pounding, winning tearjerker about three elite cyclists fiercely competing through three successive Olympics — including, most topically, the one about to take place in London this summer. If Olympic medals were awarded for dramatic stories about what drives athletes to compete and succeed, Cleave would easily ascend the podium.

I know, I know. You've already started tearing through Bring Up the Bodies, pre-ordered Canada and — since you pretend to have read the first few massive volumes of his LBJ bio — uploaded Robert Caro's latest history lesson to your Kindle. Spoiler: The pres dies in the end.

The Morning Edition mailboxes are always overflowing with books sent by publishers. And recently, a fair number have fallen into a category you might call "dog memoirs" — books about how dogs transform their owners' lives.

The plan in Afghanistan was ambitious. Americans would set up a base in one of the most remote parts of one of the world's most isolated countries. The project would last many years and cost large sums of money. And in the end, Afghanistan, or at least one small part of it, would be a new, modern country.

When Americans think of large-scale U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, most would point to the Sept. 11 attacks that prompted the American invasion of the country in 2001.

Brooklyn-born Aaron Copland was an American original in more ways than one. It's not just his music, with its openness and simple elegance. It's that he expected ballet dancers to act like cowboys, pianists to play blues and orchestra players to accompany political speechmaking. His Lincoln Portrait, composed during World War II, matches words from our 16th president with symphonic music.

On assignment in southern Afghanistan in 2009, Washington Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran waded through chest-high water with U.S. Marines, through canals originally dug by Americans 60 years ago. There, he discovered a massive Cold War project to transform the Helmand River Valley through electrification and modern agriculture in an area once known as "Little America."

Join us Friday as we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Tanglewood, the summer music festival that is both the seasonal home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and a legendary destination in its own right.

The Age of Miracles is literary fiction, but it spins out the same kind of "what if?" disaster plot that distinguishes many a classic sci-fi movie. Too bad the title The Day the Earth Stood Still was already taken, because it really would have been the perfect title for Thompson's novel.

Petra Mayer is an associate editor at NPR Books.

Philadelphia may be called the City of Brotherly Love, but author Solomon Jones sees the sadder, more complex side of the city.

Jones' books feature Philly police detective Mike Coletti. When we meet him in The Last Confession, he's on the verge of retirement, but before he can head off into the sunset, he's got to confront some demons from his past and catch a serial killer calling himself the Angel of Death.

When Michelle Obama's great-great-great grandmother was 8 years old, her life underwent a dramatic change.

Melvinia Shields was a slave who grew up at a South Carolina estate with a relatively large community of slaves she knew well. But then she was moved to a small farm in northern Georgia where she was one of only three slaves; most white people in the area didn't own any.

Barring a massive shake-up of the Billboard charts — and American tastes — "Little Mistakes" will not be the song of the summer. But that's not for lack of trying.

The song is the lead single off Brick and Mortar, the latest album by Watershed — a band from Columbus, Ohio, that most people have never heard of. But they have been playing dingy bars, tiny clubs and even the occasional arena for 27 years.

That career has inspired a new memoir called Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll, written by one of the band's founders, Joe Oestreich.

Billy Lynn is a 19-year-old college dropout living in the small Texas town where he grew up. After he's arrested for trashing the car of his sister's ex, he's given two choices: face jail time or enlist in the Army.

He chooses the Army. And Iraq.

Author Ben Fountain's debut novel, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, is the story of what happens to Lynn after he joins Bravo Company in the early years of the Iraq war.

More than 10,000 athletes are headed to London this summer to run, swim, cycle, shoot, fence and compete in the events of the Olympic Games. Each of them has a story — what they've won, what they've lost and what they've sacrificed just to get their chance to get there.

Chris Cleave's latest novel, Gold, tells the stories of three world-ranked cyclists — Zoe, Jack and Kate — who are training for their last chance at Olympic gold. Zoe and Kate are friends as well as rivals; Jack and Kate are raising an 8-year-old who suffers from leukemia.

The odds of making it in the classical music business are long, but for the past two years, 25-year-old viola player Nathan Schram has received a stipend, health insurance, lots of amazing performance opportunities and a real-world education teaching violin students at an inner-city elementary school in Brooklyn. Now, Schram and his colleagues have to say goodbye to The Academy.

We've chosen some popular books for our monthly Backseat Book Club selections, but nothing quite like the boffo best-sellers in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

How popular are these books? Consider the numbers: There are six books, and a seventh is on the way. They've been translated into 40 languages and there are 75 million copies in print worldwide. And it was our 2009 interview with author Jeff Kinney that originally inspired us to start a book club just for kids.

Around The Classical Internet: June 29, 2012

Jun 29, 2012
  • How many contemporary political figures have a piano prize named after them? Here's one: Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. A gold medal will be awarded in her honor at the Leeds International Piano Competition. Playing the piano was one of her coping mechanisms during 15 years of house arrest.

Every musician practices differently. Some turn their own living rooms into rehearsal spaces. Others, like pianist Jonathan Biss, prefer to step out of the comforts of home and into a studio. "It's a more productive way of working," Biss told us as we barged in with cameras and microphones.

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