Arts & Life

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From a group of 40, the finalists for the National Book Awards have been whittled to just half that number. The National Book Foundation released its shortlists Thursday for its annual prize in four categories: fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature.

There are books you read for the periods and books you read for the paragraphs — ones in which the action is discrete, punctuated and driving, moving you bodily and inexorably from line to line, and others that unfold at a lingering, more distracted pace. Some books are storms. Others are weather.

Derek Palacio's debut novel, The Mortifications, is very much the latter. It is hot sun and cool rain, morning fog and the hum of a fan in the window. It ranges and roams, this book. When it settles onto a moment, it does so with the weight of ten butterflies.

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The best way to enjoy this next story is if you listen through headphones. It's about "The Encounter," a new Broadway show. It uses three-dimensional sound effects to take the audience deep into the Amazon. Jeff Lunden reports.

"Some pig!" Charlotte the barn spider famously spun in praise of her friend Wilbur in E.B. White's classic, Charlotte's Web. Now, author Melissa Sweet has exclaimed: Some Writer! -- that's the name of her new, illustrated biography of E.B. White. The kid-friendly collage includes letters, journal entries, family photos, illustrations, manuscripts and more.

Sweet talks with NPR's Kelly McEvers about White's creative process — and her own.

Interview Highlights

On why the typewriter is the thematic design for the book

As a young musician coming up in the early 1970s, Bruce Springsteen played in the bars of Asbury Park, N.J., a hardscrabble urban beach town full of colorful characters. The town fired his imagination and inspired him musically, but still he found himself longing for more.

Springsteen tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he knew that if he was ever going to make his mark on the larger world, it would be through his words.

"Mrs. Poe: A Novel" By Lynn Cullen

Oct 5, 2016

“Mrs. Poe: A Novel”

Author: Lynn Cullen               

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Pages: 310

Price: $16.00 (Paperback)

There used to be popular fiction and literary fiction. Now we have popular fiction about literary fiction and literary figures. “Mrs. Poe” joins the stream that had its source in “The Paris Wife.”

Lynn Cullen, now living in Atlanta, is the author of numerous novels, including “The Creation of Eve,” “Reign of Madness” and the young adult novel “I Am Rembrandt’s Daughter.”

“Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee from Scout to ‘Go Set a Watchman’”

Author: Charles J. Shields 

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

Pages: 310

Price: $26.00 (Hardcover)

“The Harvard Bride: A Mountain Brook Novel”

Author: Katherine Clark            

Publisher: Story River Books, The University of South Carolina Press

Pages: 320

Price: $27.99 (Hardcover)

In the months before his death this spring, the novelist Pat Conroy selected a number of titles for his series Story River Books, which he had instituted with the University of South Carolina Press.

Among these were the four novels of Katherine Clark’s Mountain Brook quartet. “The Harvard Bride” is the third.

“A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression”

Author: Jane Ziegelman and Andrew Coe

Publisher: Harper           

Pages: 352

Price: $26.99 (Hardcover)

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis’

Author: J.D. Vance

Publisher: HarperCollins             

Pages: 272

Price: $ 27.00 (Hardcover)

“Hillbilly Elegy” has recently attracted a load of attention, partly by fortunate timing.

The book is, first, a conventional memoir. J.D. Vance tells the story of his life.

Charles Wang is having a bad year. Then again, so is much of America. It's 2008, and the financial crisis is wreaking havoc across the economic sphere. A Chinese immigrant-turned-millionaire who owns a successful chemical company that makes artificial urea for the cosmetics industry, Charles has a lot to lose, and sure enough, he loses it all: His empire of "faux pee," as he self-deprecatingly calls it, has collapsed. He's left destitute.

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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit


The main character in Rabih Alameddine's new The Angel of History is a gay, Arab writer living in San Francisco.

Alameddine is a gay, Arab writer living in San Francisco. But he says the character, Ya'qub — or Jacob — is not based on his life. For one, Jacob's sex life is a little more ... adventurous than his.

"He's somewhat of a sexual masochist, and I keep thinking, you know, well, for me, rough sex is having sex on linens that are less than 300 count cotton," Alameddine jokes to NPR's Kelly McEvers.

The tea gardens of Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalayas, produced significantly less than 1 percent of India's 2.6 billion pound output last year. Yet Darjeelings are considered the "Champagne of teas," the finest in the country and some of the most exquisite and sought-after in the world.

The harvesting season in Darjeeling runs from mid-March through November, as the tea bushes gradually progress through a quartet of distinct seasons known as "flushes." The tea is often sold not only by single estate (like wine) but also by flush.

When 49-year-old artist Eleanor Flood wakes up one weekday, she makes herself a promise. "Today will be different," she vows. "Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I'm capable of being. Today will be different."

Luke Cage was one of the first black superheroes to appear in the pages of Marvel Comics, back in the 1970s.

Put in prison for a crime he didn't commit, he eventually gets put into a machine where he gains powers like super-strength and bulletproof skin. And, like many good Marvel characters, he's now on TV — in the new show Marvel's Luke Cage.

Before he served in Vietnam, author Winston Groom says he wanted to write but didn't have anything to write about. Going to war changed things.

"Any experience like that, I mean, it's like being in a year-long car wreck," he says. "It's traumatic. ... And I thought, Well, at least I've done this. Let's see if I can make some sense of it. And I wrote my first book, called Better Times Than These, and it did well and I was off and running."

Tax records and literary criticism are strange bedfellows. But over the weekend, the two combined and brought into the world a literary controversy — call it the Ferrante Furor of 2016.

To put it briefly: Elena Ferrante, an admired and cherished Italian novelist, has always made it clear that her name is a pseudonym and her true identity is not for public consumption.

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I make a lot of kale chips. You might even say I have chipping kale down to an art. But even for a kale connoisseur like me, the crinkly green cruciferous vegetable is still full of surprises. In this case, explosive surprises.

We meet Eleanor Flood, the main character of Maria Semple's new novel, on a day when she has resolved to change some things about her life:

You know who's not worried about Resting Bitch Face?

Vladimir Putin, that's who.

"He's, like, not concerned with that, which is so freeing," Phoebe Robinson tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

As a black woman, Robinson doesn't have the same luxury.

"There's this whole notion of 'black women are angry' or 'black women are sassy' or, like, 'have bad attitudes,'" she says. "And so you always want to be in space where — at least I was for a while — where I was like: I want to be likable. I don't want people to think that I have resting bitch face or whatever."

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When I reviewed Ken Liu's The Grace of Kings last year, I admired its scope and craft, especially as a debut, but remarked on the absence of women, regretting how they seemed to fall through the cracks of Liu's epic storytelling. The novel's final act seemed to promise a great deal of change on that front, and left me very curious about how Liu would handle what seemed like the obvious middle-book shift: from the masculine public of battles, feats, and nation-forging, to the feminine private of family focus and palace intrigue.

We're in Tampa this week, and so we've invited bestselling author and gulf coast resident Randy Wayne White to the show. In addition to being the author of the Doc Ford books and the Hannah Smith series, White has been an explorer, a deep sea diver, a full-time fishing guide, and he owns restaurants throughout the state.

We've invited White to play a game called "Welcome to Bill's Anchor Desk Cafe, where every meal is breaking news!" Three questions about theme restaurants around the world.

Brian Hillegas [Flickr]


Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit