Arts & Life

A young schoolteacher named Adina arrives at her apartment in an unnamed Romanian town. She immediately notices an odd detail: A fox-fur hearth rug she has owned for years has had its tail cut off. She next comes home to discover a hind leg severed from the pelt, and once more to find another leg removed. What in the world? In this particular world no detail is without meaning, and all meanings are potentially lethal. It is the late 1980s, in the Panopticon security state of Nicolae Ceausescu, and the mutilated rug convinces Adina that Big Brother is closing in on her.

Looking at art is the core museum experience. I remember, when I was a kid, seeing Van Gogh's Starry Night for the first time. I stood for what seemed like hours, staring at the thick paint and swirling colors in a quiet gallery at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

For connoisseurs of literary profiles, Joseph Mitchell's two New Yorker stories, "Professor Sea Gull" and "Joe Gould's Secret," set a gold standard. Joe Gould was an eccentric bohemian from an old New England family who bummed around Greenwich Village for decades and claimed to be writing the longest book ever, a monumental "Oral History of Our Time." When he died in a Long Island mental hospital in 1957, the manuscript of his magnum opus was nowhere to be found.

South Korean author Han Kang was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for fiction for her dark novel The Vegetarian at a London ceremony on Monday.

The novel, Han's first to be translated into English, is about a woman who decides to stop eating meat and wants to become a tree. Her decision has devastating consequences and raises concerns among family members that she is mentally ill.

'People Want These Stories': Women Win Big At The Nebula Awards

May 16, 2016

The wave of conversation about diversity and representation in fiction is about to crest again: Women swept this year's Nebula Awards, handed out this past weekend in Chicago.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In two of The New Yorker's most famous articles, writer Joseph Mitchell tried to answer one question: Who was Joe Gould?

Mitchell first introduced Gould in 1942: He was a quirky, possibly mentally ill Harvard dropout who wandered the streets of Greenwich Village and Harlem filling pages and pages of dime-store notebooks with everything people said to him. Gould said he was writing the longest book ever; he called it The Oral History of Our Time.

As researchers work to understand the human genome, many questions remain, including, perhaps, the most fundamental: Just how much of the human experience is determined before we are already born, by our genes, and how much is dependent upon external environmental factors?

Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross the answer to that question is complicated. "Biology is not destiny," Mukherjee explains. "But some aspects of biology — and in fact some aspects of destiny — are commanded very strongly by genes."

Every movie is set somewhere, yet most movies feel as if they're happening nowhere at all. They're set in a Manhattan so generic that the filming was actually done in Toronto, or in a Paris we only know is Paris because we get a shot of the Eiffel Tower, or in an imaginary small town from some unnamed state whose purpose is to be every small town. Such settings have no presence, no weight, no humidity, no purpose — they're background.

On a recent March morning at his home in a New Jersey suburb, Anthony Mendez was on his living room couch with his 9-year-old daughter. He was watching the previous night's episode of Jane the Virgin, studying his own performance as the show's unseen narrator.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

It's a perennial story: An older student returns to the classroom education he'd long set aside, finally finishing his studies and graduating years later. Typically, that story includes detours like service in war or a family tragedy.

If you think your job is painful, try spending a workday with Justin Schmidt.

Schmidt is an entomologist who focuses on a group of insects called Hymenoptera — we know them as stinging ants, wasps and bees.

Schmidt has traveled all over the world looking for bugs ... and getting stung by them. The result of his work is an alarmingly comprehensive pain index, ranking 83 insect stings on a spectrum of 1 to 4.

The legal case over transgender rights hinges on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion and sex. But the word "sex" wasn't always going to be part of the bill. And "sex" — which, at the time was meant to mean gender — was not on that list when the bill came to the House.

If you're reading this section of the site, there's a better than good chance that at one time, you've read a book that changed your life. For literature lovers, that's not hyperbole — occasionally, books have a way of finding you when you most need them; they really can alter the way you look at things, the course of your life. It can feel a lot like magic.

Known for freeways more than forests, Los Angeles isn't the first place one thinks of when it comes to foraging for food in the wilderness. But for Pascal Baudar, the city is a treasure trove of hundreds of varieties of wild plants and insects that he uses in unusual culinary creations.

Ah, the cardigan: your granny's cozy go-to used to be available year-round, but in limited quantities and colors. It was considered the sartorial equivalent of flossing: necessary, but not glamorous.

"The cardigan used to be something to keep you warm in the work place," explains Teri Agins, who covered the fashion industry for the Wall Street Journal for years. "It was not really an accessory you left on—unless you wore it as part of a twin set."

That look, sweater upon sweater, was considered too prim for a lot of young women. It was their mother's look.

We're taping the show in Providence this week, and we can't help but notice — Rhode Island isn't actually an island. So we've invited the state's first female governor, Gina Raimondo, to answer three questions about real islands.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Pet Transformation

May 14, 2016
eileen (outlier) [Flickr]

Great pets aren't so much born as they are made.  They become great pets because they have owners who love them, take care of them and spend time with them.  Almost any dog or cat can be a great pet, given the chance.

  *****************************

On the second floor of an old Bavarian palace in Munich, Germany, there's a library with high ceilings, a distinctly bookish smell and one of the world's most extensive collections of Latin texts. About 20 researchers from all over the world work in small offices around the room.

They're laboring on a comprehensive Latin dictionary that's been in progress since 1894. The most recently published volume contained all the words beginning with the letter P. That was back in 2010.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Not long after publishing his first book, London designer Thomas Thwaites found himself with no real job and in relationship trouble. His book, The Toaster Project — about his attempt to build a toaster from scratch — was a huge success, but he found the whole business of being a celebrity thinker a hard act to follow.

To be human is to worry about getting by, doing better, finding love and accepting the march of mortality. Thwaites decided to try to escape the burden of being human — and he would do it by becoming a goat.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

In a telling 2014 interview, Alejandro Jodorowsky opens up about — among other things — losing his son ("It destroyed me") and the healing power of art. "If I cannot heal my son who died," he says, "I will heal the other son. My goal for art now is to heal." One gets the feeling that, through his many books and films, a vision of healing has always been part of the plan.

Dating is plenty complicated as things stand. But suppose romance came with deadlines, and a penalty for not meeting them. That's the dilemma Colin Farrell faces in filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos' latest weirdness. The maker of Dogtooth, which takes home schooling to comically absurd extremes, and Alps, which does much the same for the process of grieving, is tackling notions of romance in The Lobster, and let's just say that rom-coms don't come much stranger.

Here's a minor philosophical puzzle to ponder this Friday: The "see no evil," "hear no evil" and "speak no evil" monkey emojis.

One monkey, three faces? Or three monkeys, each making a different face?

Copyright 2016 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

The writer-director Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship is an improvement on its source, Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan.

That's not quite as heretical as it sounds. Austen wrote the book early in her career, before Pride and Prejudice. It wasn't published in her lifetime. The title isn't even hers — it didn't have one.

Pages