Arts and culture

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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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Texas Playboys are on the air.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

In Woman in Gold, Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann — an octogenarian Jewish refugee who fought to recover the Gustav Klimt paintings the Nazis seized from her family in Vienna at the outset of World War II. On Friday, Mirren received an award for her performance at New York's Neue Galerie, which is now home to more Klimts than anywhere else in the country.

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Comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast might not seem like the place for a typical presidential interview, but several months ago the White House reached out to Maron to see if he'd be interested in having Barack Obama as his guest. "I just didn't think that it would ever happen," Maron says.

Editor's Note: We've been having so much fun running advice columns from the Internet's own Chaucer Doth Tweet, we've brought him back to dispense wisdom on all things summery. As always, Middle English is involved.

Cyborgs and androids are nowhere to be seen in the new USA show Mr. Robot. Instead, the drama is centered on a very human interior — the mind of Elliot, the unlikely hacker hero. From his first words — "Hello, friend" — his voice-over keeps audiences squarely inside his world.

"Elliot is sort of an internal, isolated guy who can't really interact with people socially, in real life, but online he can hack them and knows all the intimate, private details of them," Sam Esmail, the show's creator and executive producer, tells NPR's Arun Rath.

Mia Alvar was born in the Philippines, but as a small child her family moved to Bahrain. A few years later, they moved again, this time to New York.

The cities of her childhood are the settings in her debut collection of short stories, In The Country. The nine stories feature very different characters, in and outside of the Philippines, who are grappling with some form of exile or emigration.

"Part of the project," she tells NPR's Arun Rath, "was getting behind the official, sometimes sentimental, narrative about overseas Filipino workers."