On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the publication of her first novel, Joyce Carol Oates has outdone herself. This year she will have brought out three books of fiction — a new volume of novellas this past autumn, a new book of stories coming out this spring, and just now a new novel, a feat that testifies to the prodigious nature of her imagination and the unstoppable force of her writing powers.
The Sundance Film Festival is underway — actors, directors, studio executives and autograph hounds have converged on Park City, Utah, where dozens of independent movies and documentaries are being showcased during the 10-day event. Los Angeles Times arts and entertainment writer Steven Zeitchik, who has been binge watching films at the festival, takes a short intermission to tell NPR's Melissa Block about some of his picks.
A lot of self-help books have simple formulas. They promise 30 days or 10 easy steps to having thinner thighs, landing a spouse, having a great sex life, starting a new life after divorce, climbing the corporate ladder while dressed for success, and, of course, finding inner peace. And while many swear by the power of their favorite self-help philosophy, there are still a lot of skeptics.
Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 2:22 pm
Long John Silver's has gained some notoriety in the past for serving up what the food police dubbed the most unhealthful meal in America. (aka heart attack on a hook.)
But the fast-food chain is out to change its reputation. One step in this new direction: a quick transition from partially hydrogenated oils that contain bedeviled trans fats. Today, the chain announced it is moving to a 100 percent soybean oil that is trans-fat free.
Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 7:33 pm
There are vocalists, there are singers and then there are voices — the first aims for the ear, the second for the brain, the third for the heart. A voice turns a composition into an emotional experience. And each time we have that experience, it's the depth of the connection that we remember. Frank Sinatra was a voice. So too were Marvin Gaye, George Jones and Billie Holiday. Aretha Franklin is a voice. So is Bob Dylan. And so is the Staple Singers' Mavis Staples.
Originally published on Thu January 23, 2014 12:47 pm
Richard Powers, whose novels combine the wonders of science with the marvels of art, astonishes us in different ways with each new book. His 11th, Orfeo, is about a 70-year-old avant-garde composer who has sacrificed family and fortune to his relentless pursuit of immortal, transcendent music.
When it comes to Italy's enormous art heritage, officials are often faced with an unbearable choice: Which pieces should be saved when the government can't afford to save them all? Now, thanks to an online vote, it's up to Italian citizens to answer that tough question. In the end, some art will get a new lease on life, but many works that epitomize Western civilization remain seriously in danger.
Joaquin Phoenix started his acting career in 1982, when he was about 8, on an episode of the TV series Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. (His brother, the late River Phoenix, was a regular in the series.) He tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he still vividly remembers his first time on a set.
"I remember feeling like I was buzzing, like my whole body was vibrating, because it was just so exciting to experience this thing that wasn't real but at moments felt like it was real," he says. "It's basically the feeling that I've been chasing ever since."
Traditional Japanese cuisine, known as washoku, is now an intangible cultural heritage, according to the United Nations.
Tofu, mochi and miso are a few examples, but it's the buckwheat noodle, or soba, that many consider the humble jewel of Japanese cuisine. It's not easy to find in the U.S., but one Los Angeles woman is helping preserve the craft of making soba.
In a cooking classroom off a busy street in L.A., Sonoko Sakai is teaching about the simplicity of making buckwheat noodles.
"Basically, soba is only two things: flour and water," Sakai explains.
Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 9:06 am
The best novels are often the ones that change us. They speak to a void, sometimes quietly, other times loudly from the proverbial rooftop. When done right, they bring to the surface important questions and compel us to look inward. Over time, they stay with us — like small miracles.
Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 10:23 am
You may recognize the name B.J. Novak from the credit sequence of The Office — he was a writer and executive producer. He also played the entertainingly amoral Ryan Howard. Now, Novak is expanding his scope beyond the walls of Dunder Mifflin and taking on a range of human experience in this quirky new story collection, which ranges from linked vignettes to two-line miniplays about carrot cake.
The Mississippi-born novelist and storywriter Elizabeth Spencer turned 92 last summer. Best known for her novella turned musical drama "The Light in the Piazza," Spencer has just published her 15th work of fiction. It's a collection of stories set in the South called "Starting Over." And we have a review from Alan Cheuse.
Nominations are in for this year's Academy Awards, and among those up for Best Foreign Language film is The Hunt. It's the latest from Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, who made his reputation in 1998 with The Celebration, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes and went on to become an international success. Both that film and this more recent one depict the aftermath of allegations of sexual abuse.
Martin Luther King may not have had a vote in Congress, but he and the movement he helped lead were integral to getting the civil rights bill introduced. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of that bill, now known as the Civil Rights Act.
Among other things, the act outlawed discrimination in public accommodations — including restaurants, hotels and motels — ending the era of legal segregation in those places.
"Captain Phillips" is one of those films, a true life story of war and drama. It's based on the story of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. Five years ago, pirates attacked the freighter ship off the coast of Somalia. The film star is Tom Hanks as the title character, Captain Richard Phillips, and Barkhad Abdi as the man who leads the charge to capture the ship and crew.
Chilean soap actress Paulina Sanchez is another performer who understands that success can take a long time. Ms. Sanchez has worked on stage and appeared in soap operas in Chile since the 1980s. This year, she stars in the title role of her very first feature film. It's called "Gloria," directed by Sebastian Lelio. The director keeps the camera close on Sanchez as she portrays this hardworking divorced mother of two in her late 50's, who's trying to navigate her life, a life full of unmet expectations.
On-air challenge:Name a word that, when combined with three words beginning with the letter B, completes a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase. For example, given "brew," "body" and "base," you would say "home" (home-brew, homebody, home base).
Last week's challenge:Name a familiar form of exercise in two words. Switch the order of the two words, then say them out loud. The result, phonetically, will name something to wear. What is it?
Plenty of college courses delve into the big philosophical questions of life, but Norma Bowe's class was different. For years, the nurse and college professor taught a class that forced students to confront death head-on — there were poems about death, trips to cemeteries and funeral homes, and "goodbye letter" writing assignments. At its core, the class became an opportunity for students to try to come to grips with the death or pending death of a loved one in their own lives.
Poems dwell in an ambiguous space, shelved somewhere between fiction and fact, imagination and experience. Even when poems seem wholly authentic, we can't assume they're accurate — after all, "poetic license" is the catch-all excuse for blurry lines between truth and fabrication.
Originally published on Sun January 19, 2014 12:50 pm
Even if you've never read Kenneth Fearing's noir novel The Big Clock, it's likely you already know its basic story and its biggest twist: the book was (very) loosely adapted as the popular (and pretty excellent) 1987 thriller No Way Out, starring Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman and Sean Young.
Originally published on Wed January 22, 2014 11:17 am
If you still have your Christmas tree up in your living room because you just can't bear the thought of throwing out all that fine pine scent, then you may be an evergreen addict. If you still have it up because you're too lazy to take off the ornaments, then you may be a hoarder, but that's another post.
Fear not, conifer connoisseurs. You don't have to wait for the holidays to surround yourself with spruce. American chefs from coast to coast are using evergreens to develop unique flavors in dishes, from white fir and sorrel broth to pine needle vinegar to smoked mussels.