Arts

Arts and culture

Meg Wolitzer is a novelist whose most recent works include The Uncoupling and a book for young readers, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman.

You know how people talk about so-called gateway drugs — drugs that lead to harder ones? I think some books can be considered gateway books, because reading them leads you to start reading other books that are similar but more intense. Lisa, Bright and Dark, John Neufeld's 1969 novel for young adults, is one of these.

Whether it's learning saxophone in school band, taking Saturday piano lessons, or participating in a top-flight youth orchestra, there are tens of millions of kids in the United States learning to play instruments. Way back in 2003, Gallup pollsters figured that at least 84 million Americans play an instrument — and at least a third of those players were then between the ages of 5 and 17.

The Best Young Adult Novels? You Tell Us

Jun 18, 2012

Teen fiction shares the virtues of youth itself: energy, vividness, passion. Like adolescents, teen novels revel in drama and grapple with Life's Big Questions.

Seven years ago, writer and former U.S. Marine Anthony Swofford had the success of a lifetime when his 2003 memoir Jarhead was turned into a high-budget Hollywood movie.

Swofford, then 35, had hit it big. But flush with cash and still grappling with post-war life, he suddenly found himself in the throes of a self-destructive rampage replete with drugs, alcohol and infidelity.

In the years since he took office, there has been no shortage of coverage of Barack Obama's presidency and politics. But for journalist David Maraniss, it is the president's personal history that remains intriguing.

It's an election year, and that may be good news for those of us who like our summer reading: Laura Miller of Salon.com says a lot of publishing companies don't want to release all their best books in the fall because they'll have to compete with all that presidential campaign news. And that means more great books to choose from when the weather is hot.

"First, I'll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later."

So begins Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard's Ford's latest novel, Canada.

The story is narrated by retired school teacher Dell Parsons as he looks back on the tumult that ensued when his parents — two unlikely criminals — find themselves in a financial bind and haphazardly hold up a small-town bank.

It's part of his job as a writer, Ford says, to set the unexpected into motion.

My father, like many who raised kids in the 1960s and '70s, would never have thought to reach for a book on parenting. No matter how engaged he was in our lives, he always deferred to "the expert" — our mom. These days, however, it seems more and more fathers are writing books about fatherhood, and this year the sheer number of them suggests a generational watershed.

When Mark Shriver's father died last year at the age of 95, it seemed that everyone who knew him — politicians, priests, waitresses, presidents and trash collectors — used the same phrase to tell him what they had thought of his father. He was "a good man."

A Good Man is also the title of Shriver's new memoir about his father, R. Sargent Shriver. The elder Shriver, who once ran for president, ran the War on Poverty, the Peace Corps, Job Corps and the Special Olympics. On top of that, he was U.S. ambassador to France and married into the Kennedy family.

Just a couple of years before boxer Jack Johnson was lauded, reviled, and hounded as the world heavyweight champ — and decades before Muhammad Ali lost his title when he took a stand on Vietnam — a man named Joe Gans was the lightweight champion of the world. He reigned from 1902 to 1908 as the first African-American boxing champ in history, and a man who broke trails for the great fighters who followed.

Novelist John Irving Plays Not My Job

Jun 15, 2012

John Irving is the author of The World According To Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Cider House Rules and many other works of fiction. His latest novel is called In One Person.

We've invited Irving to play a game called "The World According to Gorp." Garp is about sex, castration and bears. Gorp, on the other hand, is the mix of "good old raisins and peanuts" you eat when you're hiking.

  • The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, under the new leadership of chief exec Gene Sobczak has pulled off "a kind of short-term miracle." Less than a year ago, the orchestra was "so toxic that 20 trustees made an angry and abrupt exit," and they've been looking for a new artistic director for about four years.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion, about the rise of an equine jumper, climbs to No. 9 this week.

NPR Bestsellers: Week Of June 14, 2012

Jun 15, 2012

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

Kiss the Dead, Laurell K. Hamilton's latest "Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter" novel, debuts at No. 13.

The Amateur, Edward Klein's critique of President Obama, debuts at No. 6.

Set in a gaming-oriented dystopia, Ernest Cline's Ready Player One debuts at No. 15.

Wichita (Symphony) Lineman

Jun 15, 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.

Henry Hill, the mobster-turned-informant portrayed by Ray Liotta in the film Goodfellas, died Tuesday at age 69. Hill's colorful life — he lived in Cincinnati; Omaha; Butte, Mont.; Independence, Ky.; and Topanga, Calif., among other places — was documented in crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi's 1986 book Wiseguy and then in Martin Scorsese's film Goodfellas, which was based on Pileggi's book.

NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep is taking a Revolutionary Road trip from Tunisia to Cairo to see how the countries that staged revolutions last year are remaking themselves.

We've asked two authors, Hosam Aboul-Ela and Lin Noueihed, to suggest some books that can illuminate the journey.

Tracing The Trail Of Musical Fathers

Jun 15, 2012

With Father's Day coming up this weekend, Morning Edition music commentator Miles Hoffman has been thinking about a few musical dads and their children.

The area from Carthage to Cairo has commanded the world's attention. Since the Arab Spring last year, it has been filled with protesters, journalists, rebels, and change. It would be hard to put together a reading list for this area without thinking of politics, but writing from the region often surprises us — it suggests the variety and vitality of social life. Here are three books that show why this long-time locale of dictators has suddenly become one of hope.

In Truth Like The Sun, author Jim Lynch traces the growth of Seattle after it hosted the 1962 World's Fair. The novel deals with themes of idealism versus pragmatism and high idealism versus raw ambition.

New In Paperback June 11-17

Jun 14, 2012

Fiction and nonfiction releases from Jennifer Close, Christopher Plummer and Mohamed ElBaradei.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

'Redshirts:' A Love Letter To Sci-Fi Fans

Jun 14, 2012

Science fiction is often a genre in conversation with itself; from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels to Galaxy Quest, from The Walking Dead to The Purple Rose of Cairo, it thrives on metatext and a love of details. It's a place inhabited by loyal, passionate fans who are nonetheless acutely aware of — and happy to question — the minutiae of what they love.

In fact, it's a show's biggest fans who are most likely to be watching a starship crew suit up for a mission and asking the screen, "All three top-ranking officers are going? Really?"

Head to the bookstore or pick up your Nook or Kindle or iPad, and prepare, if you will, to make some decisions about your summer reading life. My suggestions this year tend to be fine new fiction, the kind that not only flows on the page but also makes a sort of music in your mind. So, word music it is! Strike up the orchestra! It's going to be a big summer for big broad American literary voices, voices that leap from the page and linger with you, echo through your summer and perhaps even beyond.

Teenage Tales: Sneaking Looks In Sexy Books

Jun 13, 2012

Emily Danforth is the author of The Miseducation of Cameron Post.

I was at a garage sale with my grandmother when I found a paperback copy of Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle.

I was, without much enthusiasm, rummaging through a pile of books. And then I turned over a small paperback. There, on the back, was a reviewer praising this "account of what it's like growing up lesbian ..." I flinched — such a private word to place in such prominence on a book cover.

If the classical music record industry is trouble, you'd never know it by looking at my desk, or that of my colleague Anastasia Tsioulcas — mountains of good old-fashioned compact discs, ready for listening. And our digital space is also getting crowded by more and more downloads. It all adds up to a super broad range of music and musicians. As the year is half over, we've taken stock of a few (of our many) favorites and surprises so far. Listen to our discussion above and hear longer excerpts below of some of the best classical releases of 2012.

The list of fermented food in our lives is staggering: bread, coffee, pickles, beer, cheese, yogurt and soy sauce are all transformed at some point during their production process by microscopic organisms that extend their usefulness and enhance their flavors.

The process of fermenting our food isn't a new one: Evidence indicates that early civilizations were making wine and beer between 7,000 and 8,000 years ago — and bread even before that.

You can get to know people awfully well by spending a week with them on vacation. In The Red House, Mark Haddon brings together two long-estranged siblings and their disjointed families for a shared holiday at a rented house on the Welsh border six weeks after their mother's funeral. Seven days comes to feel like an eternity — for his characters and his readers.

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