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Arts

Arts and culture

Phillippa Gregory's The Kingmaker's Daughter, about 15th century power struggles, debuts at No. 12.

[Contains information about last night's episode.]

Between mass tourism and the Internet, it's never been easier to learn about other cultures. Yet we often stay on the surface. Watching the Olympics opening ceremony a few weeks ago, I was struck by how much of what was presented as quintessential Britishness came from pop culture — James Bond and Mary Poppins and the chorus to "Hey Jude." Although Britain had a global empire not that long ago, the show's director, Danny Boyle, grasped that the world's image of his green and pleasant land now largely derives from movies and songs.

On this week's show, it's time to talk about the supporting characters who are getting their own stories — just like Judd Apatow is doing for Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters in This Is 40. If you can't get behind Glen's spin-off idea from the world's most studly franchise, then I just don't know what to say to you, because frankly, it's brilliant.

This interview was originally broadcast on May 31, 2011. David Eagleman's Incognito is now out in paperback.

Your brain doesn't like to keep secrets. Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, have shown that writing down secrets in a journal or telling a doctor your secrets actually decreases the level of stress hormones in your body. Keeping a secret, meanwhile, does the opposite.

Millions of college students are heading back to campus soon, and as any parent footing the bill knows, they're hungry for more than just knowledge — they want food, and lots of it, at all hours.

The narrator of Maria Semple's newest book, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, is 15-year-old Bee Fox. She's a nice kid, a good musician and a great student. In fact, she's such a great student that her parents have promised her anything she wants — and she chooses a family trip to Antarctica.

It's summer in France, time for stressed urbanites to head to the beach and forget their problems. For the circle of friends featured in Little White Lies, however, this year's problems are a little more memorable than most.

The backbone of a good comedy is always, supposedly, the script. But in the case of Dax Shepard and David Palmer's marvelous road-trip comedy Hit and Run, maybe not. The key to the picture isn't so much the what as the how: Instead of handing over every joke right on the beat, Hit and Run lures you in with its jackalope rhythms. There's nothing else like it on the current landscape.

A character we've yet to meet flies through the air in slow motion, above a busy New York street, arms and legs splayed. He's wearing a bike helmet, which is a good thing — because as The Who's "Baba O'Riley" pulses in the background and numbers come up on the screen telling us it's 6:33 p.m., he lands with a thud on the pavement.

For a second or two, he lies there staring — at a car careering toward him, a woman mouthing his name, a bike that lies crumpled at his side. You might want to take those moments to catch your breath. You won't be offered many other chances.

Back in 2005, for the Showtime anthology series Masters of Horror, director Joe Dante and writer Sam Hamm were given carte blanche to make whatever they wanted, so long as it came in under an hour and could be classified as "horror."

They delivered, in Homecoming, one of the sharpest and angriest films about the Iraq war to date — a blunt allegory about U.S. soldiers who rise from the dead not to feast on the living but to vote the president out of office. It's an anti-war satire that only technically functioned as a zombie movie.

Mike Birbiglia's autobiographical comedy Sleepwalk with Me is about at least three things, in ascending order of significance: the lead character's fear of commitment, his wayward efforts to launch a career as a standup comedian, and his strange proclivity for getting out of bed in the middle of the night and making loud, nonsensical proclamations like, "There's a jackal in the room!"

Many science-fiction storytellers worry about robots becoming self-aware and destroying us. The moment the artificial beings attain real intelligence, these tales posit, they'll realize we made them too smart and too strong for our own good, and they'll wonder why the superior beings should be relegated to working assembly lines and doing mundane repetitive tasks when they could be ruling the planet.

Of the roughly 80,000 Chinese children adopted in the United States since 1979, almost all are girls, abandoned at birth by their parents because of China's one-child policy, coupled with inheritance laws that favor boys.

During the next two weeks, the major political parties will assemble their faithful in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., to officially nominate their presidential tickets. These conventions were once places of high political drama. But over the decades, as the primary system has determined the candidates well in advance, conventions have become political theater. With that in mind, there's much to be said on staging in politics — not substance, but style.

When the Supreme Court ruled on the landmark Citizen United case in 2010, the landscape of presidential elections shifted. SuperPACs — entities that can't make direct contributions but are allowed to engage in limitless spending and fundraising independently of the campaigns — have allowed for the some of the largest indirect gifts by wealthy Americans in the nation's history.

Obama is on record as opposing superPACs for normalizing gigantic donations, but his campaign has hesitantly decided to accept donations from these outside groups.

Paul Auster doesn't take living for granted. At 65, the author has had several "near misses," from sliding face-first into a jutting nail as a child to a traumatic car accident that almost killed him, his wife and his daughter.

Auster's new memoir, Winter Journal, is a series of meditations on his life, aging and mortality — including his mother's death.

Twitter wasn't built to give voice to Curiosity, the rover currently exploring Mars, but it's awfully well-suited for the purpose.

Leaves are falling in the summertime. School starts in early August in many places. Politicos are already talking about the presidential election — of 2016.

Everything is happening earlier.

New In Paperback Aug. 20-26

Aug 23, 2012

Fiction and nonfiction releases from Robert Harris, Jennifer DuBois, Tony Horwitz, Thomas Friedman, Michael Mandelbaum and Adam Gopnik.



Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Amanda Coplin grew up in the apple-growing Wenatchee Valley, on the sunny side of Washington state's Cascade range, surrounded by her grandfather's orchards. Her glorious first novel, inspired by family history, takes you back to the days when you could buy what are now considered heirloom apples — Arkansas Blacks and Rhode Island Greenings — from the man who grew them, from bushel baskets lugged into town by mule-drawn wagon. Seattle and Tacoma were mere villages, and train travel was the new-tech way to go.

Comedian Bill Hader is adept onstage and doing live performances. But he's scared to death of standup.

He says he remembers watching Chris Rock's 1996 HBO special, Bring the Pain, and thinking, "I don't know how people do that."

"I need a character," Hader tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I need people out there with me."

So Hader has stuck with sketch comedy — where he has been wildly successful.

Next week, in Justice League #12, The Man of Steel and the Amazing Amazon will ... get their respective super-powered grooves on, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Tango fans are flocking to the Buenos Aires Tango Festival & World Cup in Argentina. The tango is seen as a romantic and seductive dance, but you may not know that the dance may have gotten its start in brothels. Guest host Viviana Hurtado speaks with dance instructor Daniela Borgialli. She's participating in the dance competition.

Michael Chabon sets his sprawling new novel, Telegraph Avenue, in his adopted home of Berkeley, Calif., and its grittier southern neighbor, Oakland. With its multiracial, multigenerational cast of jazz musicians, former blaxploitation stars, midwives, gay teens and Black Panthers-turned-politicians, the book both celebrates and gently sends up the countercultural norms and complex racial politics of East Bay life.

A Bartender's 'Tale' In Nostalgic Soft-Focus

Aug 22, 2012

At the moment Rusty, the young protagonist of The Bartender's Tale, is rescued from his Aunt Marge's house in Phoenix, author Ivan Doig cranks into motion a dense valentine of a novel about a father and a small town at the start of the 1960s. Rusty's liberator is also his father, Tom Harry, the august bartender and proprietor of the Medicine Lodge bar in Gros Ventre, Mont. Tom is the archetypical flinty Western bartender, slinging beers and shots of wisdom cultivated from a less than perfect life.

The Pies Of Late Summer

Aug 22, 2012

My dad used to sing to me an old folk song before I went to sleep. One of my favorite verses went:

Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall.

If I can't have the one I love, I won't have none at all.

I still like that lyric for its simplicity and its assertion of seasonal eating at a time when that was unquestioned. You ate fresh apples in the fall (and probably storage apples through the winter) and peaches all summer. Love could be fleeting and unreliable, but autumn apples and summer peaches would always be there.

Set in contemporary Denmark and in Thailand, Mads Matthiesen's Teddy Bear is a sweetly muted domestic drama struggling to contain a fierce and ancient folk tale.

The hero, Dennis — a 300-pound bodybuilder with a lovable touch of Shrek — has an absent father and a tiny witch of a mother whose parenting is a twisted cocktail of dominatrix and coquette. (If your mother conducted bathroom business with you alongside at age 38, you'd have issues too.)

Persona 4 Arena
Atlus
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on PlayStation 3

The quirky, the odd and the eerie. As a videogame publisher, Atlus has become the expert in making the strange into the popular. It released Demon's Souls, a horror-filled role playing game that was so unrepentantly unforgiving, even hard core gamers complained (even as they continued playing). Last year, Atlus' Catherine was a long meditation upon the nightmarish angst and fear that can emerge when trust fails a young relationship.

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