"The best thing that ever happened to horses was that they ceased to be the automobiles and trucks of their day," says author Jane Smiley. "The automobile was invented and horses became pets, companion animals, leisure animals and so in general they became better treated.
NPR's Backseat Book Club is back! And we begin this round of reading adventures with a cherished classic: Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Generations of children and adults have loved this book. With vivid detail and simple, yet lyrical prose, Black Beauty describes both the cruelty and kindness that an ebony-colored horse experiences through his lifetime — from the open pastures in the English countryside to the cobblestone grit of 19th-century England.
This interview was originally broadcast on Fresh Air on July 18, 2008.
A new revival of the hit musical Annie is now in previews on Broadway, scheduled to open Thursday. In the new production, the canine co-star Sandy is played by "Sunny," who has an understudy named "Casey." Bill Berloni trained them both — and, like the original Sandy in the original Broadway show, those dogs, too, were rescue dogs, found in animal shelters.
Although it was written in 1882, Henrik Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People still resonates today. Richard Thomas and Boyd Gaines, the stars of a new production of the play, join Ira Flatow to talk about the play's themes of power and truth, and the role of whistle-blowers.
Susan Orlean is a staff writer for the <em>New Yorker</em> and has contributed articles to <em>Vogue, Rolling Stone</em> and<em> Esquire.</em> She is the author of several books, including <em>The Orchid Thief</em>.
Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 6:28 pm
The well-explored notion that something's rotten beneath the neighborly pleasantries and manicured lawns of suburbia has proved to be a durable one, if properly tweaked, updated or, in the case of The Details, taken literally and inflated to absurd, Lynchian heights.
One of New York's biggest economic engines reopened on Wednesday after being dark in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. Broadway brings in more than $1 billion in annual ticket sales and billions more in revenue from hotels, restaurants and other businesses in the Times Square area. But getting Broadway running, with much of the transportation system down, required some extreme measures.
Writer Joe Queenan<em> </em>reads on average 125 books a year. He is also the author of <em>Closing Time</em><em>, <em>Balsamic Dreams </em></em>and<em><em> </em></em><em> Red Lobster, White Trash & the Blue Lagoon. </em>
Joe Queenan reads so many books, it's amazing that he can also find time to write them. Queenan estimates he's read between 6,000 and 7,000 books total, at a rate of about 125 books a year — (or 100 in a "slow" year). "Some years I just went completely nuts," Queenan tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "A couple years ago I read about 250. I was trying to read a book every single day of the year but I kind of ran out of gas."
Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 6:02 pm
For most of us, the enjoyment of horror movies depends on the sheer unlikeliness of their storylines. Knowing that the average swamp does not contain a slimy monster or that a nest of cannibals would have a hard time surviving in a depopulated desert — at some point, even mutants have to make a Wal-Mart run — is the cocoa that helps us sleep. And that's the challenge for The Bay: This astonishingly effective environmental nightmare is based on reasoning that, if you've been following the science, seems all too possible.
Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 5:46 pm
A near-agoraphobic musician is an odd protagonist for a road movie, but then "odd" is the operative term for This Must Be the Place, Italian director Paolo Sorrentino's first English-language film. This mashup of genres and themes doesn't entirely succeed, but it is warm, funny and ably crafted.
Airline pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is hailed as a hero after averting disaster when his plane malfunctions — but as <em>Flight</em> goes on, it turns out he's anything but a shining example.
Credit Robert Zuckerman / Paramount Pictures
Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood) and Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) help Whip navigate treacherous legal waters.
Originally published on Thu November 1, 2012 5:21 pm
For Whip Whitaker, the commercial airline pilot played by Denzel Washington in Flight, daily life is about achieving a practiced but tenuous equilibrium between the professional he's required to be and the wreck he really is. As the opening scene reveals, it involves keeping his poisons in harmony: Peeling himself off a hotel bed after a wild night, Whip guzzles the stale swill from a quarter-full beer bottle, does a couple of lines of cocaine as a pick-me-up and strides confidently out the door in his uniform. This is the morning routine.
Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 10:15 pm
After a very long engagement that began with the original Toy Story, Disney finally made an honest woman out of Pixar in 2006, when it paid the requisite billions to move the computer animation giant into the Magic Kingdom. But Disney's spirited 2010 hit Tangled made it abundantly clear that Pixar had a say in the creative marriage: The story of Rapunzel may be standard Disney princess fare, but the whip-crack pacing and fractured-fairy tale wit felt unmistakably Pixar. From now on, it would seem, Mickey Mouse and Luxo Jr.
Mountain climbing asks a lot of its devotees. One should ideally be in top physical condition, with all senses at peak performance, and possessed of a quality that, if it's not best described as fearlessness, is at least a willingness to ignore the natural instinct not to dangle precariously above a drop of several thousand feet.
<em></em>Thomas E. Ricks is also the author of the best-seller <em>Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq </em>and its follow-up<em>, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008.</em>
Mitt Romney was on CNN not long ago defending the claims in his campaign ads — "We've been absolutely spot on," he said. Politics aside, the expression had me doing an audible roll of my eyes. I've always associated "spot on" with the type of Englishman who's played by Terry-Thomas or John Cleese, someone who pronounces "yes" and "ears" in the same way — "eeahzz." It shows up when people do send-ups of plummy British speech. "I say — spot on, old chap!"
Originally published on Mon November 19, 2012 10:21 am
Mention the name Rick Riordan to adults, and they might say, "Huh?" But kids? They know. Riordan has been burning up the best-seller lists with three different series of books that all feature modern-day kids entangled in the lives of ancient gods. The Red Pyramid — the December pick of NPR's Backseat Book Club — features a brother and sister who have no idea they are descended from age-old sorcerers until their archaeologist father accidentally unleashes ancient gods into modern society.
Richard Russo sits in his elderly mother's home, holding her hand. She's just been diagnosed with dementia, one more illness to add to the long list of ailments she's been battling for years. She wonders aloud whether she'll ever be able to read again, plainly scared at the prospect of a life without her favorite hobby. She takes a look around her small apartment, and tells her son that she hates it.
"I just wish you could be happy, Mom," he says, heartbroken. "I used to be," she responds. "I know you don't believe that, but I was."
Think of the smallest kitchen you can imagine, and then take away a few square feet. That's Deb Perelman's New York kitchen. It's so small that the blogger, and now author, literally has to wedge herself between the stove and the refrigerator to cook.
Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 9:51 am
Mark Danielewski is the author of The Fifty Year Sword.
When I was 12, the movie was forbidden. What my parents matter-of-factly declared too scary, friends confirmed with added notes of hysteria: "Nothing more terrifying!" "The most horrifying film ever made!" "People pass out!"
In Provo, Utah, where I grew up, Mormon children — and in my world that meant all of my friends — reported how just a glimpse resulted in actual, irreversible possession.
A friend of mine — whose opinion is shared by hosts of viewers — has griped about Lena Dunham and the fame ofGirls and its cast members: "Everybody talks like they're the voice of our 'lost generation,'" she said. "But their parents are all famous people." In other words, the complaint goes, the extent of the Girls cast's success comes from the connections available to them.
As Gemma, the fierce matriarch of the biker gang in the FX series Sons of Anarchy, Katey Sagal has shot and killed people, hit somebody with a skateboard, pulled a gun on a baby and done other horrible things. It's all part of the challenge of playing the character, Sagal says.
"She does things in the name of loyalty, which I relate to, but she goes way beyond anything I would do."
Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 11:39 am
Ian McEwan's latest novel is an exercise in deception — the author of Atonement has created an engaging book that's as much suspenseful drama as it is romantic love story. At the center is Serena Frome, who after graduating from university as a math major (but with a reputation for being a lover of novels) lands a desk job with the intelligence agency, MI5. Early on Serena receives an assignment: She must pose as a representative for an arts foundation and begin to cultivate a young writer. Keeping her identity from him proves challenging.
The first computer game that really frightened me to the bones was 1994's The 7th Guest. It's certainly primitive compared to today's games, but parts of it were indubitably scary. Even early on, when a kind of Steadicam slowly led me up a Victorian mansion's stairs, there was a feeling of uncomfortable dread. Don't go there, I said to myself. Yet, like so many ill-fated protagonists in the movies, I went there. And when ghosts moved about on the second floor — damn — that was eerie. It was like that "cold spot" in Robert Wise's The Haunting.
We want to note the death of Letitia Baldrige, who as The Washington Post writes "was social secretary to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and also became known as a 'doyenne of decorum' and chief arbiter of good manners in modern America."
Baldrige died Monday at a nursing facility in Bethesda, Md. She was 86.
Originally published on Wed October 31, 2012 7:59 am
Well, now that Lucasfilm is being bought by Disney and a new set of Star Wars films is allegedly on the way, there's only one thing to do: look into the future and realize that we already know what a lot of the coverage will look like when the next film comes out in 2015.
Christopher Golden's novels include <em>The Myth Hunters</em>, <em>Wildwood</em> <em>Road</em>, <em>The Boys Are Back in Town</em> and <em>The Ferryman</em>. He previously collaborated with Mike Mignola on the illustrated novel <em>Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire</em>.
Credit Jacqueline Semrau / Courtesy of St. Martin's Press
Mike Mignola's occult adventure comics B.P.R.D. (that's short for Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) and Hellboy (about a demon who fights for the side of Good) combine furious action set pieces on a literally biblical scale with a wry and nuanced understanding of very human emotions. The novelist Christopher Golden has written many popular works of dark fantasy.
Originally published on Wed November 21, 2012 7:38 am
The chicks arrived five months ago — eight gray, blond, black and tawny puffballs no bigger than the eggs they'd been hatched from a day earlier. They had a slavishly devoted audience within minutes and names within 24 hours. Every couple of weeks they doubled in size, and over the summer they ballooned from 2 ounces to 7 pounds as we furiously worked to complete their permanent coop.
Originally published on Tue October 30, 2012 5:04 pm
It's football season at Oregon State University, and that means tailgating, grilling, and ... cheese?
When we think of Oregon, we don't necessarily think of cheese — maybe a nice Pinot Noir, but not cheese. But this fall, Oregon State University's new cheese plant rolled out its first batch of product: a specialty alpine cheese (like Swiss, Comte or Gruyere) dubbed by the students "Beaver Classic." It's a mild cheese, with nutty flavors like caramelized onions.
After the global financial crisis hit in 2008, Pulitzer Prize winner J.R. Moehringer was so angry at banks, he says, he decided to write about the people who rob them — in the form of fiction, since he's not an economist.