Arts

Arts and culture

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.

Macaw And More

Jun 29, 2012

Got an idea for a classical cartoon, or a reaction to this one? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Pablo Helguera is a New York-based artist working with sculpture, drawing, photography and performance. You can see more of his work at Artworld Salon and on his own site.

NPR Bestsellers: Week Of June 28, 2012

Jun 29, 2012

Compiled from weekly surveys of close to 500 independent bookstores nationwide.

A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers' tale of adventure and economic hardship, debuts at No. 5.

The Price of Inequality, one economist's take on "today's divided society," debuts at No. 14.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic '20s novel, resurfaces this week at No. 15.

Erik Larson's true crime book, The Devil in the White City, is on the list for a 208th week.

This interview was originally broadcast on April 10, 2012. Since it aired, R.A. Dickey has pitched two consecutive one-hitters.

Most pitchers in the majors stick to fastballs, curveballs, sliders and change-ups when facing batters at the plate.

Chef April Bloomfield appears on the cover of her new cookbook, A Girl and Her Pig, glowing in her neat chef's whites, with a dead pig slung over her shoulders.

"I adore pigs, and I love eating them and cooking them, and I love using the whole animal," Bloomfield tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. There are all kinds of recipes in her cookbook, for salads and baked goods ... but meat takes center stage.

In the crowded heart of the Mexican capital, a fictional one-eyed private investigator shares a dingy flat with a flock of ducks and a rotating cast of lovers.

The central character in Paco Ignacio Taibo II's crime novels is Hector Belascoaran Shayne, a former engineer who got a "certificate in detection" through a correspondence course. Belascoaran is a cynical, bumbling private eye who marvels at the chaotic street life unfolding around him in Mexico City.

The 'Other Audubon': A Family's Passion

Jun 28, 2012

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In 1827, John James Audubon published the first part of his book, "Birds of America." The realism of his illustrations in that book led to a new understanding of bird anatomy and behavior.

Well, a couple of decades later, a little girl in Ohio named Genevieve Jones was on a nature outing with her father and she identified where Audubon fell short.

Seventy-five years ago, an American institution was born: Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a cultural mecca to arts lovers and the musical refuge for generations of young artists.

Marcus Samuelsson: On Becoming A Top 'Chef'

Jun 28, 2012

Marcus Samuelsson owns two restaurants in New York City and two restaurants in Sweden. He's cooked for President Obama and prime ministers, served as a judge on Top Chef and Chopped, and recently competed against 21 other chefs on Top Chef Masters. (He won.) He's the youngest chef ever to receive two three-star ratings from The New York Times.

Transcript

VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, a recent report looks at violence against women in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. We'll take a look at the findings and how some victims are actually challenging this violence.

Personal Essays Engage Power Of Poetry

Jun 28, 2012

Ralph Waldo Emerson tells us that poets are the beholders of ideas and the announcers of human experience's necessary and casual details. Poets sing the songs of their selves and of nations. Even Emily Dickinson tells us she sings "to use the Waiting."

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