Arts

Arts and culture

When Ruthanna Emrys first read H.P. Lovecraft's classic story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," she already knew the basics: It's about a creepy New England harbor town populated by strange, froggy-looking people who turn out to be monstrous, sacrificing humans to their dark gods under the sea.

Here are some things you should know about The Pearl Thief if you haven't read Elizabeth Wein's earlier book Code Name Verity: it stands perfectly well on its own, and you don't need to know anything about Code Name Verity to enjoy and appreciate it.

The making of boudin is a visceral, bloody and time-consuming process in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe. Boudin — a name that comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning "sausage" — was first recorded in ancient Greece by a cook named Aphtonite. A variation of it was mentioned in Homer's Odyssey as a stomach filled with blood and fat roasted over a fire.

At the very start of Hala Alyan's novel Salt Houses, a woman buys a coffee set — a dozen cups, a coffee pot, a tray. It's a simple act that unexpectedly becomes painful. The woman is Palestinian — part of a family displaced after the founding of Israel — and the tray reminds her of an old one she lost in one of the family's many moves.

Alyan builds her story on little moments like that — a peek into the lives of several generations, forced to relocate and resettle. Her characters are lost and looking for a home.

You really have to go out of your way to get to the 14th Factory, a new pop-up art space in the industrial area of Lincoln Heights, east of downtown Los Angeles. It's housed in an enormous building the size of a Costco warehouse and it sits across the street from an old, abandoned city jail.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

A good baby gift idea is to record some friends reading their favorite children's books. Or you could have some of the biggest names in rap and hip-hop do it.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

First you need a good beat.

The design for the Obama Presidential Center was unveiled Wednesday at an event attended by former President Obama and Michelle Obama.

The Center, slated to be completed in 2021, will be located in the Jackson Park neighborhood of Chicago's South side and it will include three buildings — a museum, forum and library that surround a public plaza.

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In 1933, faced with a housing shortage, the federal government began a program explicitly designed to increase — and segregate — America's housing stock. Author Richard Rothstein says the housing programs begun under the New Deal were tantamount to a "state-sponsored system of segregation."

The government's efforts were "primarily designed to provide housing to white, middle-class, lower-middle-class families," he says. African-Americans and other people of color were left out of the new suburban communities — and pushed instead into urban housing projects.

Joshua Ferris has a bead on the insecurities that run beneath our quotidian exchanges, a shadowy subtext always threatening to spill into the open, like a sewage system overflowing with storm runoff. His typical protagonist is a man in his 30s who goes off the deep end in a darkly humorous way when his anxieties — usually about his wife or work — overwhelm him.

Ivanka Trump's Women Who Work is the latest entry in the crowded "having-it-all" genre — the ocean of books aimed at helping women navigate their careers.

"Let's show the world what it looks like to be a woman who works," says Ivanka Trump, soft-voiced and chic, looking into the camera. She looks good, this woman who works. It's 2014. She gives a little smile, and a shake of her gently waved blond hair, and the screen fades to the serifed logo of her brand.

In some ways, Yara Shahidi is a lot like Zoey Johnson, the character she plays on ABC's comedy Black-ish. Shahidi, like Johnson, is a 17 year old high school student with several younger siblings, so the two have hit some of the same social and familial milestones at the same time.

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

My timing has always been a little off with Elizabeth Strout. I've read and pretty much admired everything she's written, but, for whatever reason, the books of hers I've picked to review have been the good ones, like her debut Amy and Isabelle and The Burgess Boys, rather than the extraordinary ones, like Olive Kitteridge, which won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize.

In the dark forests outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y., two sisters live alone. Lexa, mute, communicates only with her unnerving rag doll. Addison, the elder, gets on her motorbike after dark and ventures into the city, now deserted and terribly transformed after a mysterious incident called the Spill — which claimed both their parents.

Last year, the Tony Awards were swamped, particularly in the minds of many who only follow theater casually, by the phenomenon that was Hamilton. It got 16 nominations, it seemed like (and was) a lock to win many of them, and every other Tony story struggled to get a little bit of sunlight.

"The land was drained." That's the first sentence in Daisy Johnson's haunting short story collection, Fen, and she wastes no time in establishing a setting. The Fens of eastern England are marshlands — or they were, until the 17th century when Parliament ordered them drained and converted into farmlands. One environmental expert has called the draining of the Fens "England's greatest ecological disaster."

White evangelicals are a formidable force in American politics. Republican candidates hustle for their votes. White evangelical leaders have befriended presidents of both parties. The group even gets its own separate question in presidential exit polls.

Hollywood has solved another cliffhanger. A massive writers' strike was narrowly averted Tuesday, as a tentative agreement was reached between the members of the Writers Guild of America and the group representing the studios they work for, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Details of the deal are expected to be provided to members on Thursday. Around 13,000 film and TV writers were ready to strike starting at midnight, but they managed to reach an agreement over pensions and health plans and how much writers get paid.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This week, two stories about Hollywood and tech. First we start with a big hack.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'VE GOT TIME")

REGINA SPEKTOR: (Singing) The animals, the animals trapped, trapped, trapped till the cage is full.

The new Starz series American Gods is based on Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel of the same name, and it's many things: a road novel, a collection of mythologies, and a reflection of the immigrant experience.

The story follows an ex-convict named Shadow Moon, newly released from prison when he meets a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday and offers Shadow a job as a bodyguard and chauffeur.

After some initial hesitation, Shadow accepts the job, and he and Mr. Wednesday head out on the open road, where much of American Gods takes place.

Comic W. Kamau Bell has spent much of his life feeling awkward. A self-described "tall, rangy black dude," Bell was often mistaken for a basketball player growing up — except that serious asthma and allergies meant he spent the bulk of his childhood indoors watching TV.

He says, "There was this weird sense of guilt about the fact that I wasn't using the physical shell that God had given me, and that I wasn't taking advantage of my physical gifts."

As a composer, I entered a profession in which I knew I could actively alter our fractious present using the incomparable tools of art. After all, the intellectually curious and essentially progressive landscapes of our concert halls and opera houses seem like the perfect arenas in which to harness momentum for change and, through the aspirational craft of music, feel the resurrection of hope in the midst of despair and apathy.

Remember Precious? The 2009 film earned six Oscar nominations, including a best actress nod for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. Precious was Sidibe's first acting job, and audiences ached for her character, a teen who is physically and sexually abused by her family.

Before Precious, Sidibe had been in two school plays — in the chorus. Since then, she has gone on to make a career for herself in movies and TV shows, like Fox's Empire.

In the new film adaptation of Dave Eggers' satirical novel The Circle, Tom Hanks says his character is "neither" and "both" a hero and a villain.

Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, co-founder of a giant social media and tech company. In a tech-obsessed culture, the company has a creepy mantra of "Sharing is caring."

Emma Watson stars as Mae Holland, a new hire at the Circle who quickly rises through the ranks and agrees to broadcast her every waking moment to millions of followers on social media.

This month marks 350 years since John Milton sold his publisher the copyright of Paradise Lost for the sum of five pounds.

His great work dramatizes the oldest story in the Bible, whose principal characters we know only too well: God, Adam, Eve, Satan in the form of a talking snake — and an apple.

Except, of course, that Genesis never names the apple but simply refers to "the fruit." To quote from the King James Bible:

A male boss brushes up against his female employee. Off the record, a male politician makes suggestive remarks to a female reporter. These are just a couple of examples of sexual harassment that may be all too familiar to some career women.

Writing good fiction is hard, and doesn't necessarily get easier with practice. Some writers improve over time, others burn brightly but flame out early. Case in point: F. Scott Fitzgerald, who produced most of his best work — This Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, Tales of the Jazz Age — in his 20s.

Sometimes, even professionally compassionate people get tired.

Kristin Laurel, a flight nurse from Waconia, Minn., has worked in trauma units for over two decades. The daily exposure to distressing situations can sometimes result in compassion fatigue.

"Some calls get to you, no matter who you are," she says.

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