Whether or not you give a damn for Superman, you know who he is. Even if you've never read a comic book in your life, no one can hear the name "Superman" without a flash of recognition: red-and-yellow S on blue background, red cape, the dark-haired man in flight, jaw set, blue eyes fixed on a distant destination. He's on his way to save the world.
Two high-school sophomores — Ethan Wynkoop and Ti-Anna Chen — sneak away from their homes in suburban Washington, D.C., and fly to Hong Kong. They're searching for Ti-Anna's father, a Chinese emigre and dissident who believes that China is just a spark away from democratic revolution.
When people talk about movie magic, they rarely mean card tricks. They're talking about digital wizardry and special effects.
But a new documentary called Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay is all about card tricks — and a man who has devoted his life to them.
Card artist Ricky Jay keeps up a constant stream of chatter in his act onstage — everything from gambling poems to stories about The Great Cardini — and it's all very entertaining, but the patter is designed to distract you from what he's doing.
Originally published on Thu April 25, 2013 2:25 pm
As an artist, Caitlin Freeman found her calling in cake.
Freeman started out wanting to be an art photographer. But one day, while still in art school, she came across Display Cakes,artist Wayne Thiebaud's 1963 painting of frosted confections, during a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The image was so arresting, it stayed with her for years, and later inspired her to set off on a completely different career path: baking.
Plenty of personal essayists, including really good ones like Nora Ephron, Anna Quindlen and E.B. White, burn out or switch to fiction after a few books. Even Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French writer often acknowledged as the father of the genre that combines intelligent reflection with anecdotes and autobiography, produced only one volume — albeit a massive one. Yet here's David Sedaris with his eighth collection, the absurdly titled Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc.
To celebrate National Poetry Month this April, NPR Books reached into the archives for some interviews with the nation's official poets. Poets Laureate past and present have revealed their eloquence and insight in these interviews, where they discuss their inspirations, their heart-breaking memories, their confrontations with aging — and, in the case of Ted Kooser, how his wife felt about his thousands of Valentines.
There's been a major push to prevent bullying in America's schools but some are now worried in our enthusiasm to tackle this social problem, we are creating new problems. Indiana is the latest state to pass a tough anti-bullying law. It requires schools to develop prevention programs and adopt rules for disciplining bullies, among other measures.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We spoke to Emily Bazelon about this. Her new book on bullying is called "Sticks and Stones." Emily, thanks for joining us.
Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 7:02 am
My in-laws live in a half-wild, magical place perched along the edge of the Northern California coastline about an hour from San Francisco. On nice days — and even when it rains — my husband and I will take their black Lab for a ramble up into the woods behind the house where banana slugs carpet the narrow trail, salamanders creep shyly through the trees alongside it, and the air is full of birdsong and the good, damp smells of the growing things.
Though he began his career as a drummer for The Band, Levon Helm kept working long after the group's dissolution. The documentary Ain't in It for My Health captures his final years as a working musician.
Credit Kino Lorber
The documentary gives a raw portrait of Helm's final years, but the true charm of the film are the moments filled with music.
Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 7:57 am
Rock 'n' roll is filled with "one lives it, the other writes about it" pairings, from Mick Jagger drawing on the observed excesses of Keith Richards on down the line. But such arrangements only work when both parties feel like they benefit.
When The Band came into its own as a self-contained group in the late 1960s — after stints backing Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan — its songs drew inspiration from a mythic vision of the American South that was itself inspired by The Band's only Southern member, drummer Levon Helm of Turkey Scratch, Ark.
In his slim but beguiling novel Equilateral, Ken Kalfus places us inside the heads of his characters with such deftness that the line between what is true and what they believe to be true fades to obscurity. It's no coincidence that the heads in question belong to scientists who pride themselves on their evidence-based worldview; Kalfus delights in having readers continually gauge and recalibrate the distance between the world and his characters' seemingly objective observations of it.
In The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy In Retreat, former State Department adviser Vali Nasr describes veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke being all but frozen out by President Obama's inner circle, for whom Nasr believes diplomacy was a "lost art."
Instead of engaging civilians to find political solutions in Afghanistan and beyond, they would look first to the military and intelligence agencies for solutions that were politically popular — that includes getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
Literary magazine Granta has just released its latest Best of Young British Novelists issue. It's a hefty volume that comes out only once a decade, so making the cut is a major feat, putting its chosen in the company of modern literary legends like Salman Rushdie and David Mitchell.
Each year, the town of Verona, Italy — home of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet — receives thousands of letters of heartache and unrequited love addressed to the play's star-crossed heroine.
The tradition of sending letters to Juliet very likely goes back centuries. People started by leaving notes on a local landmark said to be Juliet's tomb. Later, many started sending mail directly to the city. By the 1990s, Verona was receiving so many letters, it created an office to deal with it. And each letter — the Juliet Club office gets more than 6,000 a year — is answered by hand.
"The Monkeys caught Dorothy in their arms and flew away with her."
Credit W.W. Denslow / W.W. Norton & Co.
" 'I was only made yesterday,' said the Scarecrow."
Credit W.W. Denlsow / W.W. Norton & Co.
Chapter VII. The Journey to The Great Oz.
Credit W.W. Denslow / W.W. Norton & Co.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!"
Credit Dana Hull / Library of Congress
Before The Wonderful Wizard of Oz secured his place in American letters, L. Frank Baum worked as everything from a traveling salesman to a breeder of fancy thoroughbred fowls. "To write fairy stories for children," he wrote, "to amuse them, to divert restless children, sick children, to keep them out of mischief on rainy days, seems of greater importance than to write grown-up novels."
Credit / W.W. Norton & Co.
The illustrator W.W. Denslow was the first to draw Dorothy's now-iconic companions, pictured on the cover of the first edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
It's safe to say that most Americans are familiar with the classic film featuring a stumbling Scarecrow, a rusted Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Dorothy, played by actress Judy Garland, clad in gingham and braids.
Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 5:36 pm
Once every decade, the literary magazine Granta publishes an issue called "Best of Young British Novelists," with short excerpts from the novels of 20 emerging authors. In the past, the list of names has proved unusually prescient, with authors such as Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Zadie Smith featured before they were widely read.
The paying and collecting of taxes might not be the sexiest plot point in an industry that depends on sizzle. But that doesn't mean revenuers haven't made their mark on screen.
Credit 20th Century Fox / Getty Images
Death And Taxes: In 1964's What a Way To Go!, Paul Newman plays a successful artist married to a woman (Shirley MacLaine) who's got so much money she's decided to give it away to the IRS. The film is one of three pictures in which Newman gets entangled with widows and the tax code.
Credit MGM / Photofest
Window Dressing: In 1939's Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) dresses to impress Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) so he'll help her pay off back taxes on the family plantation.
It's fair to say that the bakery employees who hooted and jeered "tax maaaaaan" when mild-mannered auditor Will Ferrell showed up in Stranger than Fiction were no fans of the Internal Revenue Service. In that, they're like a lot of us, no?
So it's intriguing that Hollywood generally treats tax inspectors as nice guys. On the big screen, it's typically their IRS bosses who are the bad ones.
Originally published on Tue April 16, 2013 7:37 am
The new batch of Pulitzer Prize winners has just been announced, with novelist Adam Johnson winning the fiction prize with The Orphan Master's Son. The winners of the prizes for Americans' best work in journalism, drama, music, and writing also receive a $10,000 cash award.
In a new book, Charles Graeber tells the story of Charlie Cullen, a registered nurse who was was dubbed "The Angel of Death" by the media after he was implicated in the deaths of as many as 300 patients.
Credit Gabrielle V. Allen / Twelve Books
Medical student turned journalist Charles Graeber has written about science, crime and business for The New Yorker, Wired and New York Magazine, among other publications.
In 2003, police in Somerset County, N.J., arrested a hospital nurse named Charlie Cullen who was suspected of injecting patients with lethal doses of a variety of medications. Cullen would turn out to be one of the nation's most prolific serial killers, murdering dozens, perhaps hundreds of people in nine hospitals over a 16-year period.
Journalist Charles Graeber spent six years investigating the Cullen case, and is the only reporter to have spoken with Cullen in prison. In his new book, The Good Nurse, Graeber pieces together the elements of Cullen's story.
Oh Sit! (The CW, 8:00 p.m.): When the CW first announced that it was going to have a show called Oh Sit!, which would basically be a game of musical chairs with a punny scatological name, it seemed like it would be exciting in its sheer stupidity. But as it turns out, having seen the previews, it seems like it's really just ABC's Wipeout in disguise. I feel defrauded somehow, as if I was promised a wretchedness diamond and received a cubic zirconia.
Next, the latest in our series Muses and Metaphor. That's how we're celebrating National Poetry Month. We're hearing your Twitter poems of 140 characters or less. Today, we hear from renowned poet Elizabeth Alexander. You might remember her from President Obama's first Inauguration in 2009. She composed and read the poem, "Praise Song for the Day" for that occasion. Not only that, she's published six volumes of poetry. She's chair of the African-American Studies Department at Yale University.
Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 12:41 pm
Any comics fan of any seriousness can rattle off female superheroes who have either had their own books or appeared in other or ensemble books.
But what about ordinary absorbers of culture?
The same people who don't actually read comics but can tell you that Superman is the idealized, square-jawed fighter for good, while Batman is the darker, more conflicted survivor of tragedy and Spider-Man is the scrapper barely concealing an ordinary kid — how many women can they name who have worn capes, particularly ones that aren't superhero derivatives like Supergirl or Batgirl?
Originally published on Mon April 15, 2013 7:38 am
Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson is the drummer and co-founder of the Grammy-Award winning band The Roots, which now serves as the house band for the talk show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Questlove is coming out with a memoir in June called Mo' Meta Blues, co-written with Ben Greenman. After reading it, you'll feel like you know Questlove. The book is intimate and funny. Plus, you'll come away with a crash course in hip-hop history.