NPR Staff

What if the devastating drought in the western U.S. doesn't end? A few years ago, the science fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi started exploring what could happen.

Two climbers died May 16 as they attempted a wing suit flight in Yosemite National Park. Dean Potter and Graham Hunt were BASE jumping, a sport that involves parachuting from a fixed structure.

America's Funniest Home Videos has a new host.

The self-declared Islamic State gained a real grip on Iraq and Syria this week, capturing the cities of Ramadi and parts of Mosul in Iraq, and the ancient town Palmyra, Syria.

Most recently, ISIS has claimed credit for a suicide bomb attack inside Saudi Arabia on a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers. That attack killed at least 19 and could represent a significant escalation of the extremist group's operations in the kingdom.

There is something unique about the protagonist of Sarai Walker's new novel: She's fat, a word many try to avoid using to describe a person. But not Walker.

This week, the Brooklyn Museum is wrapping up its mid-career retrospective of artist Kehinde Wiley — which means 14 years of work and something like 60 paintings.

It's been drawing a diverse and large crowd, partly because Wiley's work has been featured on the TV show Empire, and partly because he is a well-known and, in some ways, controversial figure in the art world. Wiley takes contemporary figures — oftentimes young black men and women — and places them in old European art traditions: Oil paintings, portraits, stained glass and even bronze sculpture.

Every once in a while, NPR's go-to books guru Nancy Pearl sends Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep a tall stack of books. They're generally "under-the-radar" reads — titles she thinks deserve more attention than they've been getting.

"I just think that it's so important that readers learn about books that haven't been heavily promoted – what we would call mid-list books," Pearl says.

Here are some of her fiction picks, to kick off your summer reading list:

Reddit, billed by its founders as "the front page of the Internet," has long been known as a place of unbridled free speech on the Web where users, known as Redditors, post text, pictures and videos.

But that unbridled free speech sometimes spills over into harassment, sexism and racism. Over the past couple of years, Reddit has been at the center of several controversies concerning harassment, including the release of hundreds of private celebrity photos. It's also become infamous for its unbridled vitriol.

A critic once called Jules Feiffer "one of the best cartoonists now writing" and "the best writer now cartooning." That quote is in Out of Line, a new book about Feiffer, a man who does both words and pictures.

To understand how heroin took hold in rural America, you need to go back two decades and look at the surge of prescription drug use in Portsmouth, Ohio, according to journalist Sam Quinones.

A Rust Belt town that had fallen on hard times by the 1990s, Portsmouth became a place where doctors dispensed prescription drugs more freely than anywhere else in the country, Quinones writes in his new book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

The nation's seventh president was a man of legendary toughness who made his name in America's second war against the British — and he's someone NPR's Steve Inskeep has come to know well: Andrew Jackson.

The challenge of strategizing the best route to work against the herd of other drivers can be as routine as the daily commute itself. A number of apps are out there to help shortcut one's route and evade traffic jams. But which ones are the most accurate? And how?

The All Tech Considered team put a few competing traffic apps to the test in Robert Siegel's usual short commute from Arlington, Va., to NPR's D.C. headquarters.

The Test Drive

This ride is about 15 minutes in no traffic. But it's now morning rush hour.

A new report on diversity in Silicon Valley shows that Asians and Asian-Americans are well-represented in lower-level positions — but, in comparison, severely underrepresented at the management and executive levels at five large, established tech companies.

Ascend, an Asian-American professional organization based in New York, found that although 27 percent of professionals working at those companies are Asian or Asian-American, fewer than 19 percent of managers, and just under 14 percent of executives, are.

The new Fox thriller Wayward Pines opens with a chilling scene. A man wakes up in the middle of the forest with cuts and bruises all over his body. Lost and confused, he stumbles into town. The audience soon learns the man is a Secret Service agent named Ethan Burke, played by Matt Dillon.

"He goes to the town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, looking for two other Secret Service agents who went missing there and pretty soon he finds out he can't leave," Chad Hodge, showrunner and creator, tells NPR's Arun Rath.

Editor's note: This conversation discusses plot points from the seventh season of Mad Men.

When budding TV personality Chris Harrison walked into the offices of ABC back in 2000, he didn't expect much.

The network wanted to jump on the new trend of reality competition shows, and had asked him to host a dating show, where one man would cull through a group of 25 women through a series of dates and cocktail parties, ultimately proposing to one final suitor. It was called The Bachelor.

"I was hoping [the show] would last a few hours," Harrison jokes. "I would meet someone at the network, and it would lead to a real job."

A Mississippi car accident in 1937 cut short the life of Bessie Smith.

She was just 43 years old. But she'd already established her legacy as "Empress of the Blues" — a pioneering American performer who demanded respect and equal pay in a world dominated by men and controlled by whites.

She'd also achieved a degree of infamy for her boozing, her brawling and her sexual appetites.

After the Republican presidential candidates finish their first debate this summer, many will head to Atlanta for a summit hosted by Erick Erickson, conservative activist and editor-in-chief of RedState.com.

This year, Erickson's RedState Gathering is scheduled for the same weekend as the Iowa Straw Poll.

Jeb Bush has already indicated he will go to the RedState Gathering rather than Iowa. Scott Walker, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio and Rick Perry are also going. Most will try to attend both events, Erickson says.

The U.S. is less Christian than it used to be, and fewer Americans choose to be a part of any religion, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.

Of the more than 35,000 people surveyed, 70 percent say they are Christian — but the number of people who call themselves atheist and agnostic has nearly doubled in the last seven years.

You'd recognize actress Elizabeth Banks if you saw her — blonde, attractive, funny — whether she's playing an exhausted pregnant woman in What to Expect When You're Expecting, or an inappropriate a cappella judge in the 2012 movie Pitch Perfect.

Now she's taking on a different role: Directing Pitch Perfect 2. It's a tall order since the first one was such a surprise hit — it cost only $17 million to make, but earned more than $100 million worldwide.

Before Ferguson, Baltimore, Tamir Rice or Eric Garner, there was 13-year-old Nicholas Heyward Jr.

In 1994, he was playing in the stairwell of the Gowanus Housing Project, where he lived in Brooklyn, when a police officer shot and killed him.

"He was an amazing kid and I don't just say that because he was my son," Nicholas Heyward Sr. says during a recent visit to StoryCorps.

Two of the most important books in the English language were printed four centuries ago: the King James Bible and William Shakespeare's first folio. Today, that first collection of Shakespeare's plays would fetch a king's ransom; and in the early 1900s, one man was willing to spend his entire fortune to own as many of them as he could. His name was Henry Folger and he was a successful businessman who worked his way to the top of Standard Oil. Folger managed to buy 82 first folios out of only a couple of hundred that survived from the original 1623 printing.

Think local Nebraska food, and Omaha's famous steaks may come to mind. The Great Plains are indeed an agricultural powerhouse when it comes to commodities like feed corn, soybeans, beef and pork.

But as food journalist Summer Miller tells Meghna Chakrabarti of NPR's Here & Now, there's much more on offer these days in Nebraska, as well as in its Great Plains neighbors Iowa and South Dakota.

Noelle Stevenson is making her mark in the world of comic books.

She's just 23 and already a writer and illustrator. She has co-authored a series for Boom! Studios, called Lumberjanes, and she has written for Marvel's new female Thor. But it's a tough world for women to be a part of, whether they're creators or fans.

Naomi Novik is best known for the Temeraire series — rousing adventure tales of a man and his dragon, set in an alternate-universe version of the Napoleonic Wars where France and England battle it out across land, sea and sky with the help of dragons.

In his new memoir, Deal, drummer Bill Kreutzmann tells a story about the Grateful Dead's tour of Egypt. Instead of filling hookahs with "black, gooey tobacco," the band "filled the entire hookah with hash. No tobacco!" In the midst of Middle East trouble, the Grateful Dead's members were unwitting ambassadors of American culture.

"Everybody had fun," Kreutzmann tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "Yes, indeed."

Since October of last year, four teenagers in California's Palo Alto school district have taken their own lives. Tragically, it's not the first cluster of teen suicides this area has seen: In 2009 and 2010, five local teenagers killed themselves by stepping in front of trains, and more suicides followed the next year.

If you met the author Mark Danielewski on an elevator, here's how your conversation might go:

"What are you doing these days?"

"I'm writing a novel," he replies. "It's 27 volumes long."

"Wow," you might say. "What's it about?"

"It's about this little girl who finds a little kitten."

"Twenty-seven volumes, huh?"

"Ah, it's a very intense subject."

Imagine you're on the highway. You glance into the cab of the 18-wheeler next to you — and there's no driver. That day might be getting closer.

Automaker Daimler unveiled a truck last week that drives itself, called the Freightliner Inspiration. But the truck is not yet entirely autonomous.

This weekend, the Class of 2015 graduated from Howard University, a historically black college located about a mile from NPR's headquarters. The new graduates include two of the students who have spent the last semester talking with NPR's Weekend Edition about their college experience.

Leighton Watson and Kevin Peterman are still kind of in denial.

"It's very surreal, because I think a lot of people expect you to feel like you've graduated earlier in the process," says Watson. "But it literally didn't hit me until I was walking off of the stage and out."

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