Arts

Arts and culture

Tuesday's Television Critics Association press tour presentations from ABC wrapped up with a panel devoted to the network's scripted ace in the hole: Shonda Rhimes, who created Grey's Anatomy and Scandal and is an executive producer of How To Get Away With Murder.

My perennial quest for smart, fun summer reads landed me on Two Across, Jeff Bartsch's debut romantic comedy about a brainy couple whose on-again-off-again relationship begins at age 15, when they tie in the 1960 National Spelling Bee. During their recurrent off periods, they send hidden messages to each other in the clever crossword puzzles they compose for major newspapers.

I don't want to say a single thing about this book — about Black Chalk, the debut novel from Christopher Yates, who writes like he has 30 books behind him; like he's been doing this so long that lit games and deviltry come to him as natural as breathing.

Weddings and baby showers are real-life milestones to spend with your actual loved ones. True, but in South Korea, a cottage industry exists to help real people find fake friends to fill seats at such life rituals.

At a recent wedding in June, Kim Seyeon showed up as a guest even though she is a total stranger to the bride and groom. She makes about $20 per wedding she attends as a pretend friend.

"When it's the peak wedding season in Korea, sometimes I do two or three acts a day, every weekend," Kim says.

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We offer a lot of reading suggestions here at NPR, and we hope we get it right. But what happens when you buy a book and it's nothing like what you thought it would be?

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The Metropolitan Opera is poised to make a big change.

When the fall production of Verdi's Otello opens next month, its lead character will not be wearing the traditional blackface-style makeup.

The Met tells NPR by email that its upcoming production of Otello will be the first without dark makeup since the company first produced the opera in 1891.

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Author Rebecca Stead collects ideas before she sits down to write, even from the smallest encounters — like this one:

"The idea came from a girl — she was wearing cat ears, and I said 'nice ears,'" she tells NPR's Melissa Block. "And she said, 'Thanks! I've been wearing them for a year! I don't know why!' And then she ran away."

Born 223 years ago on Aug. 4, the great Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is celebrated for such works as his sublime odes to the skylark and West Wind. But he was also a radical thinker — and his revolutionary politics stormed in his teacup.

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A just-published literary noir called "Dragonfish" puts a new spin on the old formula. Our book critic Maureen Corrigan has fallen hard for this tale of gamblers, dark alleys and dangerous dames. Here's her review.

Most of the panel discussions that happen at the Television Critics Association press tour currently underway in Beverly Hills have something critical in common: the panelists are humans. (Please hold your jokes about Hollywood. The critics in attendance have made them all.)

There are two ways to look at the kind of fantasy novels that come with big glossaries at the end. Negatively, they're self-indulgent exercises in building fictional worlds, with the author fixating on the sheer quantity of settings and characters to the exclusion of all else. Positively, fantasy-novel glossaries help the reader keep track of an intricate clockwork of imaginary peoples, places, and things — and that intricacy actually pays off.

Complex, Generational Music In Lyrical 'Daughters'

Aug 4, 2015

From childhood, The Daughters' Lulu has been a creature of music, able to discern the notes of her surroundings on whim and command: The B-minor of a knife striking a glass, the pitch of different car horns, the musical composition of a waiter's dropped tray. As an adult, she is an opera singer in high demand, a soprano of rare talent who "[prefers] to sing the songs of witches."

This is an introduction to NPR's Muslim Artists, Now series, which will highlight contemporary Muslim musicians, writers, painters and filmmakers, among others.

Twenty-seven years ago, journalist Buzz Bissinger decided that he wanted to write about the big-time stakes of small-town high school football — he just needed to find the right town. At the suggestion of a college recruiter, he visited Odessa, a west Texas town with a high school football stadium capable of seating 19,000 — and a population of approximately 90,000.

"Odessa is just kind of a dusty, gritty place," Bissinger tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "And I see that stadium ... and it's like a rocket ship on the desert."

'Spies' Is A Cinematic Account Of Americans In War-Torn Paris

Aug 3, 2015

It's the least surprising thing in the world to discover that historian Alex Kershaw's latest book, Avenue of Spies, has already been optioned for development with Sony Pictures TV. Its circumstances — an American family in Paris aiding the French resistance from an apartment only a few doors down from the Paris headquarters of the SS — are too cinematic to ignore. And if that sounds like a coincidence so precarious only fiction can support it ... it sounded that way to the Jacksons, too.

Louis Sachar knows a few things about writing for kids. His first book, Sideways Stories From Wayside School, came out in 1978 — and the wacky collection is still in print.

His 1999 Newbery Medal winner, Holes, centers on a boy wrongly confined to a juvenile detention facility. It's mysterious and creepy, and it's still flying off the shelves.

So if he says kids will love a scary eco-bioterror-mystery-thriller-comedy, you just might trust him.

Jon Stewart's Private White House Meetings

Aug 2, 2015
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Greg Louganis is the best diver of his generation — perhaps the best the world has ever seen. The four-time gold medalist is the only man to ever sweep the diving events in consecutive Olympics.

The new documentary Back on Board, by director Cheryl Furjanic and producer Will Sweeney, contrasts that success with the inner turmoil Louganis experienced rising to stardom at such a young age.

Conan O'Brien got some bad news this past week: The late-night host is getting sued for allegedly stealing jokes. A freelance comedy writer claims that O'Brien lifted four jokes from the writer's personal blog and Twitter.

The dust-up arose after an odd story surfaced about a flight that had just two passengers on board. Naturally, the two men found some humor in it.

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The music of Colombia is in the spotlight this week as we check in with our friends at Alt Latino. Felix Contreras usually joins us with a number of artists to share. Today he has just one artist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAMBOLERO")

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In Utah, 'Book Of Mormon' Strikes A Chord

Aug 2, 2015
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Crime is bred from secrets.

If anything was going to make the case for putting warning labels on music, it was 2 Live Crew at the turn of the 1990s. The hip-hop group's output was so sexually explicit that it eventually became the subject of an obscenity case that made its way through some of the highest courts in this country. The man at the center of it all was Luther Campbell, a.k.a Luke Skywalker, the alter-ego that helped make 2 Live Crew one of the most legendary and notorious rap acts ever.

This summer, NPR is getting crafty in the kitchen. As part of Weekend Edition's Do Try This At Home series, chefs are sharing their cleverest hacks and tips — taking expensive, exhausting or intimidating recipes and tweaking them to work in any home kitchen.

This week: We learn to make a "counterfeit" version of duck confit, a classic French dish that traditionally can take days to prepare.

Beryl Markham was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from East to West. The British-born Kenyan woman was also a racehorse trainer, a writer and a fearless adventurer.

Once famous as an aviation pioneer, she's largely dropped out of the public consciousness. But novelist Paula McLain has put her back in the spotlight — as the protagonist of her new novel, Circling the Sun.

As part of a series called My Big Break, All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Andrew Gulli has an unusual passion: finding unpublished short stories by famous American authors. He searches through libraries and archives, finds works, researches to confirm they've never been published — then publishes them in the literary magazine he edits, The Strand.

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