Arts and culture

Astronaut Sunita Williams, known as Sunny around the Johnson Space Center, has spent a total of 322 days in space. She holds the record for total cumulative spacewalk time (50 hours and 40 minutes) conducted by a female astronaut.

So since Williams is such an expert on outer space, we're going to quiz her on storage space. She'll answer three questions about the fascinating world of rental storage units.

From 1891 until 1990, just shy of a century, Phoenix Indian School boarded students from Navajo, Apache and other tribes across the Southwest.

Patty Talahongva is a Hopi who went to Phoenix Indian until 1979. By then, attendance was voluntary. That wasn't the case for generations of students before her.

A good photograph can speak volumes about its subjects, yet still leave you wanting to know more.

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Another summer, another best-seller from novelist Daniel Silva. In The English Spy, the most famous woman in the world — a titled and gorgeous ex-member of the British royal family — is sunk on her yacht. To track down her killer, British Intelligence needs a little help — actually, a lot of help — from Gabriel Allon, an unassuming art restorer who is also, to those who have to know, a legendary and indispensable Israeli spy.

There's one hard and fast rule for the romance novel: It has to have a happy ending. The two people you think should be together will be together in the end. But the journey to that happily-ever-after can be a bumpy one. And romance heroes come in many forms.

I wanted to find out what makes romance heroes so, well, romantic — and the first thing I learned is that romance fans have a language of their own. "We have names and acronyms for everything within the genre," says Jane Litte, who blogs about romance at Dear Author.

Let me tell you the story of how Max Gladstone became one of my favorite writers, which is also the story of why you should all be buying his Craft Sequence books immediately.

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This is FRESH AIR.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Texas Playboys are on the air.

This week's show finds us cracking open Judy Blume's new adult novel In The Unlikely Event (it's an adult novel as in a-novel-for-adults, not an adult novel as in "too sexy for polite company). Joined by our friend and librarian-in-chief Margaret Willison, we talk about the structure of the book, the character voices, Blume's particular brand of what Margaret calls "emotional immediacy," the balancing of period references in a book set largely in the early 1950s, and lots more.

When I was a kid, Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself was my favorite Judy Blume book. And when I moved to Miami Beach from New York eight and-a-half years ago, I realized something felt familiar — I was living in Sally's neighborhood.

There may be no American cultural force more powerful than the cheesy action movie. For proof, look to Big Game, a spectacularly silly explosion extravaganza where a kid saves the world, co-starring Samuel L. Jackson as the President of the United States. Americans are not the movie's intended audience: Big Game is a Finnish production, helmed by Finnish director Jalmari Helander, set in the remote Nordic mountains and co-starring Finnish teen actor Omni Tommila.

Make Lava, Not War

Jun 25, 2015

In the Medieval era, kings and queens hosted feasts adorned with surprisingly complex edible sculptures depicting humans and animals alike. Outside the castle walls, of course, people struggled to put enough food on the table — much less, worry about its presentation afterward. But in the modern United States, food sculpture is the art of the people. Nowhere is this truer than the butter sculptures so common at Midwestern state fairs.

The truth and trouble of criticism is that it never really leaves behind personal opinion. At best it heightens that opinion by placing it in the framework of an argument, but no matter what, the exhibition of authority while judging art will always function somewhat as a masquerade.

Do not read this book if you are unhappy. It will kill you.

Don't read it if you're sad. Don't read it if you're restless. Don't read it if you're in pain or lost or choked with grief. Don't read it unless your marriage is rock-solid. Don't read it if, sometimes, you wake late at night and think of just slipping away in the dark, calculating how far away you'd be before anyone knew you were gone because if you do, Summerlong will take you down with it, man. It will break you.

About eight years ago, as a grad student, Annie Holt was working in Columbia University's Rare Books and Manuscripts Library when she was assigned to catalogue the work of Harry Lawrence Freeman, a largely forgotten Harlem-based composer from the early 20th century.

"It was fabulous!" she says. "I had the honor of going through all the cardboard boxes that came right from his family's house and unearthing everything, and I, for myself, discovered how amazing his story was and how amazing his music is."

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Since it opened in 1911, the building has become a New York City landmark, praised not only for its beauty but also for its functional brilliance. In the words of one contemporary architect, the main branch of The New York Public Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street is "a perfect machine for reading." The grand Reading Room sits atop seven levels of iron and steel books stacks whose contents could, at one time, be delivered to anybody who requested a book within a matter of minutes via a small elevator. Those stacks also support the floor of the Reading Room above.

'Death' Uncovers The Secret History Of Mr. Pickwick

Jun 24, 2015

"One of my life's greatest tragedies," said George Orwell, "is to have already read Pickwick Papers. I can't go back and read it for the first time." The serialized novel of 1836 was one of the first commercial blockbusters of the English-speaking world. The author? A virtual unknown, a 24-year-old hired gun writing under the penname "Boz." The illustrator? A then well-known caricaturist, Robert Seymour, who provided a series of gently satiric etchings to illuminate the text.

The dedication of Don Winslow's novel The Cartel is nearly two pages long: a list of journalists who were either murdered or "disappeared" in Mexico between 2004 and 2012 — the period covered in this hugely hypnotic new thriller.

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And it's summer - time to tackle all the books piling up on your nightstand, right? Well, Saeed Jones says let go of the guilt, and let your interests and curiosity guide your summer picks.

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Michelangelo is known for masterpieces like the Sistine Chapel and the statue of David, but most people probably don't know that he actually got his start in forgery. The great artist began his career as a forger of ancient Roman sculptures, art scholar Noah Charney tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies.

By the time Michelangelo's forgery was revealed, the Renaissance master was famous in his own right. But many other artistic forgers continue to copy the work of past artists in the hopes of passing their creations off as authentic.

Back in college English, I was taught that it was foolish to think that fictional characters have any reality beyond the page. You shouldn't speculate about how many children Lady Macbeth had or what job Holden Caulfield wound up doing as a grown-up.

If you've got a plastic pink flamingo on your lawn, give it a pat on the back. The man who designed the lawn art, Donald Featherstone, has died. He was 79.

His wife, Nancy, tells The Associated Press that Featherstone died Monday and that he had battled Lewy body dementia.

In the U.S., Tea Party politics refers to a certain strain of Republican conservatism. But in Japan, tea politics are of an altogether different sort: The ritual drinking of this ancient beverage — often thought of as the epitome of Japanese restraint and formality — has long been entwined with issues of power and national identity.

Update: 11:30 p.m. ET

In a statement Tuesday night, the talent agency that represented Horner mourned "the tragic passing of our dear colleague."

For a minute, forget there's anything significant about The Complete Eightball.

Forget that it contains the seminal works of one of the greatest artists in modern comics, unexpurgated for the first time since they were penned in the '90s. Forget about the charismatic heart-burnings of Ghost World's Enid Coleslaw, immortalized on film but originating in these pages. Forget the surreally hilarious horrors of Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, also seen here for the first time.

Books about books can be tricky things, a fact that Erika Swyler slyly acknowledges in her generous yet somewhat disappointing debut novel, The Book of Speculation. In it, a young librarian named Simon Watson finds himself in the midst of numerous erosions and breakdowns: His family has all but disintegrated following the death of his parents, budget cuts are threatening his job at a Long Island library, and the house that's belonged to his family for generations is in the process of gradual collapse.