Arts and culture

For most of the 1950s, Hollywood had the ideal screenwriter. He worked fast and cheap and even won Oscars. Also, he didn't mouth off in public, or try to take all the credit.

In fact, Dalton Trumbo didn't take any credit, at least under his name. That's because he was blacklisted for being a former communist — he was a party member from 1943 to 1948 — after spending 11 months in federal prison for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

He may not seem it from his funny-looking round head, but Charlie Brown is one of the great tragic heroes of American fiction. A born failure who nevertheless continues to believe his victories lie just around the corner, Charles Schulz's enduring creation is the stand-in for our human condition: We all pine for success and recognition, and we usually get rocks instead.

A million years ago in the 1960s, the only mandate for each new James Bond film was that it be grander, stranger and more exotic than the last. But in the hands of director Sam Mendes, who made 2012's Skyfall and the new Spectre, there's a troubling new mission requirement: Each 007 adventure must be progressively more nostalgic and reverential, too.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

Setting out to cook a meal from Felicia Campbell's new book, The Food of Oman, can take you to a range of places: Middle Eastern grocers (black limes, rosewater), Asian markets (powdered coconut milk), and even the hardware store (a paint chipper, the closest hack for the tool used to make the region's distinctive flatbread).

As this varied shopping list hints, Oman is a small country whose history and geography have opened it up to flavors far beyond its borders.

In the new Netflix series Master of None, comic Aziz Ansari plays an Indian-American actor in New York who's having a hard time finding good roles. It's a story that Ansari and other actors are familiar with.

In the new Meryl Streep period movie Suffragette, Englishwomen march on the streets, smash shop windows and stage sit-ins to demand the vote. Less well-known is that across the pond, a less cinematic resistance was being staged via that most humble vehicle: the cookbook.

Between 1886, when the first American suffragist cookbook was published, and 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted women the right to vote, there were at least a half-dozen cookbooks published by suffragette associations in the country.

What if Raymond Chandler had written science fiction? The premise behind Adam Christopher's latest novel, Made to Kill, is as simple as that. That said, he milks that idea for all it's worth. Set in an alternate version of Los Angeles circa 1965 — a timeline where John F. Kennedy is still alive and Soviet agents wielding strange technology lurk around every corner — the book is an homage to the hardboiled fiction that Chandler exemplified, set against a backdrop of Red Scare paranoia.

'Numero Zero' Doesn't Quite Add Up

Nov 5, 2015

"The point is that newspapers are not there for spreading news but for covering it up. X happens, you have to report it, but it causes embarrassment for too many people, so in the same edition you add some shock headlines — mother kills four children, savings at risk of going up in smoke, letter from Garibaldi insulting his lieutenant Nino Bixio discovered, etc. — so news drowns in a great sea of information."

Quentin Tarantino isn't apologizing for his comments last month about police shootings — but he is trying to explain.

At a rally against police brutality in New York City on Oct. 24, the film director provoked a storm of criticism when he referred to shootings by police as "murders."

"When I see murder, I cannot stand by," he said at the rally, "and I have to call the murdered the murdered, and I have to call the murderers the murderers!"

Instant ramen noodles are often looked upon with scorn as cheap food for starving college kids.

But as a new book points out, those noodles are like gold for people in prison.

Gustavo "Goose" Alvarez spent more than a decade locked up on a weapons charge, among others. And during that time, he grew to love ramen noodles. Along with a childhood friend, Clifton Collins Jr., he put together a new book of recipes called Prison Ramen: Recipes And Stories From Behind Bars.

If you asked me the difference between modern American novels and modern French ones, I'd start by saying, the French ones are shorter.

Now, I realize this isn't universally true — Proust's In Search of Lost Time makes The Great Gatsby look as thin as a SIM card. But where our writers tend to fatten their books in hopes of the Great American Novel, France has a taste for elegant concision that runs from Gide through Camus to the 2014 Nobel Laureate, Patrick Modiano. French readers don't feel cheated if a book runs only 120 pages.

Daniel Alarcón did not grow up a fan of comic books — which makes it all the more startling that City of Clowns, his debut graphic novel, is such a complex, assured, and rewarding work. First published in Peru in 2010 and finally seeing print in the U.S., City of Clowns is the story of a young journalist in Lima who must deal with the death of his estranged father while undertaking his most challenging — and life-changing — assignment: investigating the strange, at times magical subculture of Limeño street clowns.

"My whole life / Was like a picture of a sunny day," Carrie Brownstein sings in Sleater-Kinney's "Modern Girl." It's one of the band's happier-sounding songs, with a catchy, almost sweet melody belied by the deeply ironic, cutting lyrics. She follows up those lines with the ones that inspire the title of her new book: "My baby loves me, I'm so hungry / Hunger makes me a modern girl."

A kosher restaurant in Tunisia is closing.

It's the last kosher restaurant in the country's capital. The Jewish-run restaurant is shutting down because of terrorist threats.

It's one of many aftershocks in the country where the Arab Spring began.

A few years ago, I visited that kosher restaurant — a vestige of Tunisia's ancient and once-thriving Jewish community. We were traveling across North Africa, and we took a table with the owner, Jacob LaLoush.

Six weeks into the new fall TV season, and I'm typing a sentence I never expected to write as a professional TV critic: ABC's Dr. Ken is one of the most successful new sitcoms on TV this fall.

And it managed that feat thanks to scenes like this one — featuring the wife of Ken Jeong's character, Dr. Ken Park, asking her husband to handle a problem with their credit card.

"I need you to actually take care of it," Allison Park says.

"Why wouldn't I?" says Jeong's Dr. Ken, indignantly.

Imagine Queen Elizabeth II has died, and her son Charles has become king. Now, imagine that his first act as king is to refuse to sign a bill restricting the freedom of the press. What would the repercussions be for England? Now, imagine this story is told like a Shakespearean tragedy, mostly in verse — and you'll have King Charles III, a new "future history" play that's just opened on Broadway to rave reviews.

It begins with the cast, all in black, walking onstage carrying candles. They're singing a requiem for Queen and country.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Editor's note: Today is National Sandwich Day. To mark the occasion, we bring you this story from our archives. It was originally published in 2012.

White bread, like vanilla, is one of those foods that have become a metaphor for blandness. But it wasn't always that way.

Mention Oscar Hijuelos and most people think The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. And why not? It's his gorgeous second novel, the one that won him the Pulitzer Prize in 1990. More novels followed, as well as a memoir, but much of that work carried trace elements of the exuberance and melancholy that made Mambo Kings so distinctive.

Hijuelos' sudden in death in 2013 was one of those literary deaths that genuinely seemed to sadden a lot of readers — his work was beloved for, among other things, its sweet, sad take on the allure of dreaming big in America.

The home that Tracey Stewart shares with her husband, former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, is a crowded one. In addition to the couple and their two children, the Stewart household includes four dogs, four pigs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, one parrot, one hamster and two fish (as well as three horses, though they live off-site).

"I'm crazy," Tracey Stewart, a former veterinary technician, tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "It means I have hoarding tendencies."

East of Eden, John Steinbeck's 1952 novel, is on stage at Chicago's legendary Steppenwolf Theater through November 15. I remember reading the book as a teenager growing up in Boston and being pleasantly surprised to find that it featured a Chinese-American character named Lee.

'White Road' Maps The History Of Porcelain

Nov 3, 2015

"White is truth," stated mystic-philosopher-scientist Emanuel Swedenborg. "It is the glowing cloud on the horizon that shows the Lord is coming. White is wisdom." The color that we usually think of as the absence of color drives The White Road, Edmund de Waal's shimmering paean to porcelain.

For the subset of Generation X Americans too young to remember Watergate or Abscam, the Iran-Contra affair was the first major political scandal to come across their radar. There was a period of time in 1987 and 1988 when you couldn't turn on a television set or open a magazine without seeing one of the familiar faces: Oliver North, Fawn Hall, Caspar Weinberger. After a while, it started to feel like, in a way, you knew them.

Writer John Irving doesn't believe in miracles — but he is fascinated by them. And there is much that is both miraculous and mysterious in his new book, Avenue of Mysteries. Irving has written 14 novels, including A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp and The Cider House Rules. Circuses, orphans and transgender characters often appear in his work, which has a way of mixing the real with the surreal in unexpected ways.

Welcome to!

It isn't easy to discover new podcasts. There are just SO many out there. Sometimes the best approach is to simply turn to a friend and say, "Hey, what are you listening to these days?" That's why we created, NPR's friendly guide to great podcasts. Each of the episodes in this app was hand-picked for you by a listener or a radio/podcast pro. It's like getting recommendations from a couple hundred of your savviest friends.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



This weekend might have been good for candy, costumes and baseball, but it wasn't great for motion pictures. In fact, it was the worst weekend at the box office this year. Here's NPR's Andrew Limbong on a rough month at the movies.

Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit



I'm a sucker for charming personal essays, those seemingly casual, anecdotal confessionals in which writers essentially dine out on themselves. My favorites (Nora Ephron, David Sedaris) make light of their own foibles and shortcomings (a sagging neck, an inability to master a foreign language) in ways that both reassure their similarly challenged readers and highlight what's really important.