Arts

Arts and culture

All this week, we've been exploring ways to encourage kids' enthusiasm in learning music, from picking an instrument to finding a teacher to practicin

'Windeye': Gripping Tales Of Horror And Mystery

Jun 21, 2012

As if wooing Sisyphus, I push hungrily through the 25 stories in Brian Evenson's new collection, Windeye, trying each time to get to The Answer. Is the man a maniacal killer, or trapped in an experiment? What happens in the caves? Will the dead boy be avenged? Can Halle survive until the end of the oxygen shortage?

When friends learn that my nearly six-year-old has been playing violin for three years, their voices shift a bit, especially if they also have a child learning an instrument. Two questions come in quick succession: "Does she like it?" and "How do you get her to practice?" There's a nervous energy to their queries, and usually a little laugh, too. Either they've been struggling with kids who have a hard time practicing, or they recall their own childhood boredom.

The four-man vocal ensemble New York Polyphony sings ancient music built for big resonant spaces. Since they can't just pop into St. Patrick's Cathedral any time they need to practice a renaissance mass, the group rehearses sometimes in the Jackson Heights home of bass singer Craig Phillips. There, in a modest-sized living room, they can hear every detail. "It's a very different experience rehearsing in a dry room and a small room," says tenor Geoffrey Silver. "You actually hear what you and your colleagues are singing, there's no watercolor wash over what you are doing."

It's tough to concentrate on the rigors of Beethoven with jackhammers pounding in your ears. So when they started demolishing the building next to Jonathan Biss, he moved his piano out of his apartment into a separate studio, away from the commotion. "I would get up in the morning, the piano wasn't there, and I had to leave my apartment to go practice and I've decided that's a much more productive way of working," he says. Biss needs a good working environment for his massive project.

Jeremy Denk has his own personal "piano boot camp." Actually, it's his cramped Manhattan apartment. Beside his beloved books, a trusty coffee pot and a laptop, there's not much to do except practice. Which Denk does, hours and hours a day on a Steinway wedged into his living room. On a good day, he brews pot of coffee number one at about 11, then plays for about five hours. Perhaps a run to the gym, then pot number two is brewed at about 6, followed by more playing — until the neighbors complain.

The unexamined life isn't worth living, according to Socrates, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a writer who disagrees. Few, though, have taken it to the extreme that Toronto author Sheila Heti does with How Should a Person Be? The relentlessly introspective "novel from life" earned critical raves when it was released in Canada in 2010. The book chronicles Heti's struggle — sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking — to answer the seemingly simple questions: "What was the right way to react to people? Who was I to talk to at parties? How was I to be?"

New In Paperback June 18-24

Jun 20, 2012

Fiction and nonfiction releases from Michael Ondaatje, Lev Grossman and Ron Suskind.

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

Author Sheila Heti has a fresh pulsing voice in her new novel, How Should a Person Be?

Nurturing young talent is a long tradition in the classical music world, and many professional orchestras have their own youth orchestras. But it stands to reason that an organization with the kind of international stature the Cleveland Orchestra enjoys would have a top-notch youth ensemble. It does. And it's called, not surprisingly, the Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra — COYO for short. The young musicians have just embarked on a European tour.

In the beginning, the self-described "fermentation fetishist" Sandor Katz loved sour pickles.

"For whatever reason, I was drawn to that flavor as a child," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And then when I was in my 20s, I did quite a bit of dietary experimentation and ... I started noticing that whenever I ate sauerkraut or pickles, even the smell of it would make my salivary glands start secreting."

After Katz moved from New York City to a rural community in Tennessee, his fascination with all things fermented increased.

With the current school year wrapping up and our thoughts turning to how to make next year even better, we're teaming up with our friends at From the Top to create "The Young Person's Guide to Making Music." All this week, we're tackling topics for music-loving kids and their families, from how to choose the right instrument to vanquishing the audition monster, with lo

If Isabella Robinson had a Facebook account in 1858, her relationship status would be "It's complicated." Unhappily married to civil engineer Henry Robinson — a most "uncongenial partner" — Isabella set her lonely sights on the dashing and very much attached hydropath Dr. Edward Lane. In a perfect world, Isabella and Edward's respective spouses would die quick and painless deaths, freeing the paramours to be joined in holy, socially sanctioned matrimony. But Victorian England was not a perfect world.

Science fiction is a genre of contradictions. It's an entertaining escape from the dreary everyday, but it also invites you to rethink your everyday life. It can be cheesy but profound, fantastic but sharply political. And like all literature, it's rarely about what it seems to be on the surface. That's why the best sci-fi writers manage to turn space battles into philosophical debates, and zombie hordes into political satire.

In Jess Walter's new novel, Beautiful Ruins, there's a beaten-down character named Claire who works in Hollywood reading scripts for a living. Claire is inundated with reality TV show pitches, many of them featuring drunk models or drunk sex addicts — in short, scripts so offensive that, Claire thinks, to give them the green light for production would be akin to "singlehandedly hastening the apocalypse."

Eighty years ago, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the iconic comic book character Superman, but it took several years of rejections before they finally sold him to Detective Comics Inc. in 1938. The distinctive superhero made his first appearance in the comics in June 1938 — and since then has appeared in radio dramas, TV shows, video games, newspaper comics and countless films.

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.

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

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

Pages