There's an unforgettable moment in the diary of the great Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. He's on the beach and he spots a beetle that's been blown on its back by the wind and now lies there helplessly, legs wiggling, unable to right itself. Gombrowicz saves it by turning it over. He sees another upside-down beetle, and turns it over. Then, another. Looking along the sand, he realizes that there are so many beetles he can't possibly save them all. Eventually, he gives up trying.
Hey there, befuddled aunts, uncles and family friends. Not sure what to get for all those nieces, nephews and offspring of other people? This year (for the first time!) we've included kids' titles in our year-end best books roundup. Pay a visit to NPR's Book Concierge to see what our staff and critics recommend for kids and teens in 2013.
Eat candy and fight tooth decay. What a sweet concept, right?
Well, microbiologists in Berlin are trying to make that dream a reality.
They've created a sugarless mint that's aimed at washing out cavity-causing bacteria from your mouth. And the candy works in a curious way: It's spiked with dead bacteria. It's like probiotics for your teeth.
The experimental mint is still in the early days of development — and far from reaching the shelves at Walgreens.
An outdoor art installation in Detroit made from blighted homes and objects is stirring up controversy again. A rash of arsons in the past seven months have destroyed four of the Heidelberg Project's signature homes. But after nearly 30 decades of working on this project and facing resistance, artist Tyree Guyton is determined to make more art.
A recent survey by the PEN American Center, a nonprofit writers group, suggests that recent revelations about government surveillance are affecting creative expression. David Greene talks about the survey with David Simon, the writer and producer who created the HBO series The Wire, among other hits, and Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran.
France's Chateau of Versailles has pulled out all the stops for one of its favorite sons, gardener Andre Le Notre, who designed the palace's famous gardens. This year, to mark the 400th anniversary of Le Notre's birth, several of the garden's fountains are being restored and the chateau is hosting an exhibit on his life through February 2014.
Experts say Le Notre'swork was so groundbreaking, it continues to influence contemporary urban architecture.
Jeremy Jordan, who anchored one of Smash's storylines in Season 2, returned to the material at New York's 54 Below for a concert version of the musical his songwriter character was writing on the NBC show.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 3:19 pm
For most of its two-year run on NBC, the series Smash was pretty much a hot mess. Ostensibly about the creation of Broadway musicals, it only tangentially resembled the real thing. And its plots and characters got soapier and soapier as the show went on.
In the opening chapter of her latest book, novelist Delia Ephron writes that losing her older sister, writer Nora Ephron, was like "losing an arm, it's that deranging." Nora, who wrote When Harry Met Sally, died of acute myeloid leukemia in June 2012. Delia and Nora were writing partners; they co-wrote the movies You've Got Mail and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as well as the off-Broadway hit Love, Loss and What I Wore. Delia was an assistant producer on Nora's film Sleepless in Seattle.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 2:12 pm
The meat on your dinner table probably didn't come from a happy little cow that lived a wondrous life out on rolling green hills. It probably also wasn't produced by a robot animal killer hired by an evil cabal of monocle-wearing industrialists.
Truth is, the meat industry is complicated, and it's impossible to understand without a whole lot of context. That's where Maureen Ogle comes in. She's a historian and the author of In Meat We Trust: An Unexpected History of Carnivore America.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 12:46 pm
It's hard out here for a How I Met Your Mother fan these days.
I mean, it's always been hard. The show has had its share of ups and downs, from how often it was on the brink of cancellation to its rocky creative track record in recent years. But the ninth and final season of the show — set in the 50-odd hours before a wedding we've already seen bits and pieces of — has become downright exhausting.
As the holiday season approaches, the TV cupboard may seem a bit bare; the industry winds down like everything else, filling cable and broadcast networks with holiday specials, reruns and also-ran reality shows.
But there are bright gifts, too: TNT offers Mob City, a three-week, lavishly produced noir-ish TV show about cops and crooks vying for control of 1947-era Los Angeles, airing Wednesdays.
On Dec. 8 and 9, A&E presents a four-hour miniseries on Bonnie and Clyde, retelling the story of the Depression-era outlaws and lovers.
In 2007, Benazir Bhutto — twice prime minister of Pakistan and then-leader of the Pakistan People's Party — was killed in a suicide bombing attack that claimed 38 lives. The factors at play in her assassination, however, reached deeper than many imagined.
In his new book, Getting Away With Murder, Heraldo Munoz portrays the tense political climate that surrounded Bhutto's return to politics and examines the circumstances of her death.
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 7:54 am
Aside from racial and ethnic slurs, there aren't many words that prompt a more immediate and visceral response than "hipster." Many associate the term with craft beer, smugness and, of course, Brooklyn. Modern-day hipsters have inspired a huge number of Tumblrs, memes and trend pieces in the media.
It may seem like hipsters sprang up out of nowhere sometime in the late 1990s, but the original hipsters were around several generations before that. And they were strongly associated with another uniquely American phenomenon — jazz.
On-air challenge: Every answer is the name of a famous person whose first and last names start with the same consonant or group of consonants. You're given rhymes for the two names. You name the people. For example, if given "cycle four," the answer would be "Michael Moore."
Last week's challenge: Name a dance. Change one of the letters to a U. The resulting letters can be rearranged to name an event at which this dance is done. What is it?
Originally published on Mon December 9, 2013 8:11 am
When I was 13, sex was something I was very interested in, but in a studious way. I wanted to know what had been done to me, as someone researches the keyhole surgery on their knee, after the event.
I had entered the second year of the six years when I didn't speak of the-thing-that-happened-to-me-when-I-was-11, and I was looking for explanations of that thing. And I was looking for ways to introduce the subject to my parents, so they would say, "Oooh, I understand," in an unemotional, chatty way, and we could get that thing out into the open.
In the new drama Out of the Furnace, a young man (Casey Affleck) gets involved with a group of criminals and then goes missing. Determined to find him, his ex-con brother (Christian Bale) grabs a shotgun and sets off.
Actor Woody Harrelson, perhaps best known for his role as the bartender on Cheers, steps away from comedy to play a member of that group of criminals, a viscous meth addict and bookie named Harlan DeGroat.
Harrelson spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about the movie and preparing for a role that required letting loose a lot of anger.
Credit Farhad Daryoush / Courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company
Raised in Tehran, Goli Taraghi attended university in the U.S. and, during the Iranian Revolution, moved to Paris, where she lives today. Her other works include Winter Sleep, Two Worlds and A Mansion in the Sky.
Goli Taraghi writes about life in Iran — about love, loss, alienation and exile. She is particularly equipped to the task, as her own exile from the country began in 1980 at the outset of the Iranian Revolution.
In 1979, she was a professor living in Tehran with her two young children, and initially supported the movement.
"Of course the turmoil started, and then the executions, and the university was closed, and I thought the best thing is to go abroad and stay just one year," says Taraghi.
When writers finish a book, they may think they've had the last word. But sometimes another writer will decide there's more to the story. The madwoman Bertha from Jane Eyre and the father in Little Women are just two examples of secondary characters who have been given a fuller life in a new work of fiction based on a classic novel.
There's been a string of unsolved murders in Belfast, Northern Ireland, so they have to bring in the heat from London. Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson appears to be the embodiment of what people in Belfast often don't like about London: She seems cool, correct, fiercely intelligent, but icy.
Nick Lowe was one of the founders of the Great British rock explosion of the 1970s, writing songs like "Cruel to Be Kind and "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace Love and Understanding." He's just released a new album of Christmas songs called Quality Street — A Seasonal Selection For All The Family.
Since Lowe's lyrics would lead us to believe there isn't anything funny about peace, love or understanding, we'll quiz him on three hilarious instances of human kindness.
Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 3:35 pm
When big food corporations try to horn in on Twitter conversations about TV shows and other pop culture fare, it usually doesn't work.
Remember when McDonald's tried to engage customers with the hashtag #mcdstories, only to have it turn into a way to share horror-story experiences at the fast food chain? Or when Snickers got busted for paying celebrities to tweet about its brand?
Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 1:06 pm
On Monday, HBO presents the premiere of Six by Sondheim, a new TV special that's part biography, part music-appreciation lesson and part performance piece. It's all about the life and music and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim, in which he explains, among many other things, how and why he became a musical theater composer and lyricist, and the inspirations for some of his most familiar songs. If you're new to the works of Stephen Sondheim, this TV special should entice you. If you're already a fan, it should delight you.
Originally published on Tue December 10, 2013 7:09 am
If you want to eat a more healthful diet, you're going to have to shell out more cash, right? (After all, Whole Foods didn't get the nickname "Whole Paycheck" for nothing.)
But until recently, that widely held bit of conventional wisdom hadn't really been assessed in a rigorous, systematic way, says Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Carrie Underwood as Maria, with (back, from left) Ella Watts-Gorman as Louisa, Michael Nigro as Friedrich, Ariane Rinehart as Liesl, Joe West as Kurt and (front, from left) Grace Rundhaug as Marta, Sophia Ann Caruso as Brigitta and Peyton Ella as Gretl, in NBC's live production of The Sound Of Music.
The films of Joel and Ethan Coen pose a challenge: How do we reconcile their wildly disparate tones? Consider O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a burlesque of Homer's Odyssey centering on three stumblebums — but with a soundtrack assembled by T Bone Burnett of heartfelt historical gospel and country music. Ditto The Ladykillers: venal idiot characters, soaring African-American spirituals. The ridiculous and the sublime sit side by side, with no spillover.