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Best-selling crime novelist Karin Slaughter (yes, that's her real name) grew up just south of Atlanta in the 1970s and '80s, when the city saw some of its most gruesome crimes: A rash of child murders in which dozens of African-American children disappeared, their bodies turning up in nearby woods and rivers. The realization that horrid crimes can happen even to children changed Slaughter's life.

A Portrait Of A Country Awash In 'Red Ink'

Jul 30, 2012

As the federal debt balloons, reducing it would seem more and more pressing. Yet policymakers remain far apart. Debt, deficit and budget rhetoric is often accompanied by numbers cherry-picked to support a particular political view.

But a new book by Wall Street Journal economics writer David Wessel lays out the numbers that both political parties face.

'Lifting,' And Lifted By, Words

Jul 29, 2012

Poet Ouyang Yu comes to NPR's Poetry Games representing two continents: Asia, where he was born (in China); and Australia, where he moved in 1991. He is a prolific writer of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, literary translation and criticism in English and Chinese.

Of his poem "Lifting," he writes: "Much as I admire weightlifting heroes or heroines, I can't help reminding myself that, however powerful a weightlifter is, he or she can't lift himself or herself up. The magic of the word is that, when well lifted, it has the power to transform."

This may be the year of actor Matthew McConaughey.

At the very least, fans will remember 2012 as the year that McConaughey revolutionized his career. He's starred in five different independent films, taking on smaller, character-actor parts in place of his usual roles as the sly-grinning heartthrob in romantic comedies.

Smartphones and tablets just need a flick of a finger to keep us updated about news and friends anytime, anywhere. As much as we're connected, though, we're also detached. That's a big theme in a new book of short stories by author Charles Yu.

Yu's stories are sad ones. They're techy, too. One story, "Standard Loneliness Package," is entirely about humans using technology as a way to buy detachment from the ordinary emotions of human experience — grief, heartbreak, awkwardness.

New Mexicans can get a little carried away with their chile peppers. There's chile beer, chile pizza, chile ice cream — you can find the smoldering flavors of chile peppers in just about anything.

And then there's chile brittle. Luis Flores, owner of chili brittle purveyor Las Cruces Candy Company, beats the summer heat by getting up at 3 a.m. to prepare his specialties.

On-air challenge: Every answer is the name of a former Olympic sport. Given an anagram, you name the sport. For example, "flog" becomes "golf."

Last week's challenge: Name a sport in two words — nine letters in the first word, six letters in the last — in which all six vowels (A, E, I, O, U and Y) are used once each. What is it?

Answer: Greyhound racing

Winner: Jim Citron of Hanover, N.H.

Thousands of elite athletes have descended on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, and spectators the world over are tuning in to enjoy the action.

But five years' worth of development has left some locals feeling invaded, and some austerity-weary Britons resenting the bill. Between construction and security, the British government's budget has soared past $14 billion, about $10 billion over original projections.

We already know Spain doesn't expect to win gold for its Olympic athletic uniforms this year. But who "won" the fashion event at the opening ceremony for the London Games? In the parade of athletes during last night's ceremony, several outfits screamed for attention.

You Won't Throw Tomatoes At These Recipes

Jul 28, 2012

Late July is peak tomato season in much of the country, so for some fresh and inventive twists on the fruit — and yes, it is botanically a fruit, no matter what the Supreme Court says — we're heading to Home Wine Kitchen in Maplewood, Mo.

Early in 1944, Southern England bristled with 150,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers gathered for an invasion the Allies hoped would end World War II.

The soldiers, pilots, sailors and Marines knew they were there to be launched into Nazi-occupied Europe. But surely the Germans knew also. It's hard to hide the largest invasion force in history. LIFE Magazine even ran photos of GIs in Piccadilly.

The question was: Where would they attack?

Economist Paul Krugman Plays Not My Job

Jul 27, 2012

Paul Krugman — a professor at Princeton, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times and author of many books — has been called "the Mick Jagger of political/economic punditry."

Krugman is known for his direct style, so we don't think he'd do terribly well in the delicate art of diplomatic gift giving. We've invited him to play a game called "Well, it's a nice gift but we're going to invade your country and take your stuff." Three questions about diplomatic gifts.

With our fearless leader Linda Holmes away at the TCA summer press tour, the crew is forced to stumble haplessly into the studio, where I somehow flopped into the host's chair again, heaven help us.

Amid the slapstick comedies, sequels and superhero movies that have come to define summer moviegoing, two films opening today center on disturbed and disturbing romantic ties. Ruby Sparks and Killer Joe aren't fantasy or horror pictures, but they're within screaming distance — close enough to remind you how much deeper artists go when they barrel past realism into weirder areas of the psyche.

Monkey Mind, Daniel Smith's memoir of his experiences with anxiety, debuts this week at No. 10.

This interview was originally broadcast on August 8, 2011. 1493 is now available in paperback.

"In fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," goes the old elementary school rhyme.

In the days of the ancient Greeks, poetry and sport went hand in hand at athletic festivals like the Olympics. Poets sang the praises of athletic champions and, at some festivals, even competed in official events, reciting or playing the lyre. Here at NPR, we're reviving that tradition with our own Poetry Games.

The Trainer Who Created Four-Legged Stars

Jul 26, 2012

Gene Autry, Bette Davis and Buster Keaton are just a few of the names that draw flocks of tourists to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.

But there's a lesser-known man among the silver screen legends: Frank Inn, a pioneering animal trainer who made stars out of animals.

Inn's own life closely resembled a Hollywood film. Born into a strict Quaker family from Indiana, Inn set his sights on the movie business early. In the mid-1930s, while still in his teens, Inn hitchhiked west to Los Angeles.

Cage-rattling Chinese artist Ai Weiwei lives in a Beijing complex with his wife and some 40 cats and dogs. Only one of the animals — a cat — has figured out how to open the door to the outside. This ready-made metaphor arrives early in Alison Klayman's documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and is never mentioned again. But it underlies the tale of one of the few contemporary Chinese who publicly defies the government.

The savings are never passed on to the consumer, but a little product placement has become standard practice for Hollywood movies — a pizza box here or a conspicuously angled soda can there, and few take notice. But product integration is another matter: If a movie has been explicitly designed to accommodate a sponsor, it's worse than just a commercial movie. It's a movie commercial.

The success of R-rated comedies in recent years might as well be broken down to a formula: blend boundary-pushing raunch comedy with heartfelt sentimentality — and if you're most movies produced by Judd Apatow, center the story on male coming-of-age, even for characters well into adulthood. Teary eyes, full raunch, can't lose.

In 1968, two music producers went to a Detroit dive called The Sewer to hear a Mexican-American protest singer with a small cult following.

The producers' client list was mostly Motown, but they immediately signed Rodriguez (full name Sixto Rodriguez), whose stirring lyrics they hoped would speak to disenfranchised outsiders of all stripes and their champions.

Together, they made two albums — one of which, Cold Fact, provides the soundtrack for the thrilling new documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

Chances are, if you're a regular reader of this blog you've read (or perhaps even posted) an incredibly vitriolic comment or two accusing the writer of the despicable crime of spoilers.

Comedian. Writer. Twitter sensation. Baratunde Thurston may be the most media-savvy provocateur around today. His latest bestselling book is How To Be Black, half tongue-in-cheek guidebook on such topics as "How to be the Black Friend" or "How to be the Next Black President," and half memoir about his life experiences with identity and race.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, actor Anthony Mackie stars in this summer's fantasy thriller, "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter," but what's the movie that Mackie could watch over and over again? We'll find out in a few minutes.

If you've ever tuned in to TV shows like HGTV's House Hunters, you've heard many an aspirational "hunter" lamenting the woes of a home without kitchen upgrades: They want to know, where are the granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, high-end fixtures, and custom cabinets?

A couple of months ago, I visited Beijing, and like so many before me, I was stunned by how hypercapitalist Communist China has become — the hundreds of glossy highrises, the countless shops selling Prada and Apple, the traffic jams filled with brand new Audis. You felt you could be in L.A. or Tokyo — until you wanted some information. Then you discovered that Facebook was permanently blocked, certain words in Google searches always crashed your browser, and, as my wife joked, it was easier to buy a Rolls-Royce than a real newspaper. Here was a country at once booming — and repressive.

We're about a week into the Television Critics Association press tour for this summer, and so far we've heard from PBS, NBC and Fox. Still to come: ABC (today and tomorrow), CBS/Showtime/The CW (Sunday and Monday), and the rest of cable, including HBO, Discovery, BBC America, ESPN, and so on (Wednesday through Friday of next week).

So how is it looking?

Home is everything. It's where we come from and where we run to, wanting to start anew. But it's also that place we can't escape, the one that's so much a part of us that no matter how old we get, it's impossible to erase its presence from our memories, our bodies.

Andy Cohen has been yakking for most of his 44 years. He has a book titled Most Talkative — a title he earned in high school.

"My mouth has been my greatest asset and also my biggest Achilles' heel," he says.

Most days, it's an asset.

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