Arts & Life

Jesse and Jonas, two BMX-riding teens in the suburbs, are hanging out at the mall one afternoon when two nameless punks jump them. There's an altercation and Jonas dies, bleeding out on the linoleum floor while Jesse watches, paralyzed with fear. We see these actions not as the kids experience them but through the security guard's office, on a grid of CCTVs. Their dispassionate vantage point traps the victims inside their boxes of horror, and leaves us far, far away from the emotional heart of the tragedy.

The Ecuador Ministry of Tourism probably won't have anything very nice to say about Snatched, an R-rated mother-and-daughter-reunion comedy that pairs Amy Schumer with Goldie Hawn, returning to features after a 15-year sabbatical. The double entendre of the title is fully intentional, obviously, referencing the comic persona Schumer has cultivated as a ribald, sex-positive libertine. But the plot still involves the two tourists being abducted and held for ransom during their South American getaway.

After a millennium of mystical and/or pious Arthurian lore, someone — could it have been Guy Ritchie? — determined that the once and future king needed the Guy Ritchie treatment. But then someone — could it have been the selfsame Ritchie? — concluded that snarky attitude wasn't enough. And so we have King Arthur: Legend of The Sword an intermittently amusing mashup of frisky medieval-gangsta flick and ponderous sub-Tolkien war saga.

The creator of one of the most popular hockey-themed web comics — yes, that's a thing — does not even know how to ice skate. Ngozi Ukazu created "Check Please," about a sweet-natured Southern hockey player who's short, loves baking pies and is completely crushed out on his hunky team captain.

The success of "Check Please" shows how a new generation of storytellers are refining the 21st century tools that help them attract and retain fans and earn a living with their work.

The tar baby story in which Bre'r Rabbit outwits Bre'r Fox is a classic trickster folk tale. But like all fables, it is a double-barreled affair, with entertainment firing in tandem with a serious message. The question the story addresses is a fundamental one: Who controls access to food and water? Or, more crucially, who controls access to food and water when the rules have been turned upside down by giant forces like colonialism, slavery, global trade and the loss of the commons to enclosures?

Two things, first: One, Delphine de Vigan's Based on a True Story is a powerful novel of suspense. Two, Based on a True Story may or may not be based on truth.

Writer Vaddey Ratner is used to processing pain through fiction. Her best-selling debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, was based on her experiences as little girl in Cambodia, where she and her family endured the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge and their killing fields. Ratner and her mother escaped Cambodia, eventually settling in the U.S., but her father disappeared not long after the Khmer Rouge came to power and his fate is still unknown.

Go into any semi-hip coffee shop and you'll find the regulars: people who spend hours there, day after day. Some of them are college students studying for exams, some are workers telecommuting to their jobs. (The nervous-looking ones with their noses in books, checking Twitter every three minutes? Those would be critics.) And some of them just really have nothing better to do.

Plastic surgery, private jets, toddlers in designer clothes, magnums of champagne — Lauren Greenfield's 500-page photo collection, Generation Wealth, shows all of that. But this book isn't just about people who are wealthy, it's about people who want to be wealthy.

A grain of rice, like a grain of sand, sifts through your hands with a mysterious and lovely sameness. Mostly white or tan, hundreds or thousands of grains pour smoothly out of buckets, out of burlap, into bowls, with a sound like small waterfalls. Rice seems so simple, really. And yet, because it plays a central role in world cuisines, these modest grains can carry the weight of history. Sometimes that history is deeply surprising.

Growing up, Jill Soloway had a hard time relating to women as they were portrayed on TV. Soloway would watch The Love Boat or Fantasy Island and feel uncomfortable with the version of femininity the shows put forth.

"In fact, all the way up through watching Sex and the City, I would feel incredibly upset by what I thought was an expectation of me," Soloway says. "[It] was, 'You should really love cute shoes,' and, 'Because you're a woman, you're going to go crazy for a particular dress.' "

Rakesh Satyal's new novel checks off a lot of boxes, but its charm lies in the fact that it wears all of it various identities so lightly. This is an immigration story, a coming-out story and something of an old-school feminist story about a timid woman learning to roar.

Colm Tóibín has ventured to ancient Argos — far from the decorous, restrained worlds of Henry James, coastal Ireland, and mid-20th century Brooklyn we've seen in his earlier books — in this heart-stopping novel based on Clytemnestra's family tragedy.

"I like to think I sprang from a head; I like to think the head was mine," writes Patricia Lockwood in Priestdaddy, her memoir of growing up with a Catholic priest for a father.

But no. She sprang from the (oft-exposed) loins of Father Gregory Lockwood, who converted on board a submarine while watching the Exorcist: "That eerie, pea-soup light was pouring down, and all around him men in sailor suits were getting the bejesus scared out of them, and the bejesus flew into my father like a dart into a bull's eye."

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It seems like it was only yesterday that my friends here on the show said goodbye to "American Idol."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Fifteen years of bad tryouts.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN IDOL")

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Science fiction has always been such a mutt genre. It's the place where you can do anything, tell any story that crosses your fevered mind. Want to do noir? Cool. A romance? No problem. A war story? Absolutely. Throw in some ray guns, little green men and some hand-wavey, black-box techno-whatever to stitch it all together, and you're good to go.

Black-ish creator (Kenya) and the show's 17-year-old star (Yara) talk about what's next for them on TV and in real life. Kenya explains why he's never felt pressure to explain cultural jokes. Yara breaks down ways Gen Z is ahead of the rest of us. Plus, they preview a possible spin-off!

We're just a handful of days removed from the historical dog-earing that marks the first 100 days of Donald Trump's presidency — "just about the most successful in our country's history," as he put it. It's been three-months-and-change of unprecedented tumult, from the halls of Washington, D.C. to the Sea of Japan.

Magic.

That's what it feels like when you bump into your childhood friend on the first day of college ... or meet someone at a party in Paris, only to discover she lives in your dad's childhood home in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. But mathematician Joseph Mazur says these coincidences are not as extraordinary as we might think.

"People think that their address book is essentially the people they know, and it turns out any address book is about one percent of the people they know in some way," Mazur explains.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus — who plays U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer on the HBO comedy Veep -- says that growing up in Washington, D.C., and later living in Los Angeles helped her prepare for the role:

"I think I understand the insular nature of Washington ... " she says. "There's an inside-the-Beltway mentality, not dissimilar from Hollywood — it feels like the only thing that matters. I think you're selling a brand of yourself."

Growing up in Brooklyn with a mother from the South and father from Senegal, Gabourey Sidibe spent much of her youth feeling anxious. She was mocked for being part-African and for being overweight, and she worried she would never find her true calling.

As a young woman, Sidibe struggled to find work and ultimately took a job as a phone sex operator where the rule of business was to sound "100 percent white." Then, when she was 24, she auditioned for the role that would change her life.

James Patterson has a long history of collaboration. Of his dozens of books, the blockbuster thriller writer has written at least 50 — yes, five-zero — with the name of a co-author emblazoned on the cover.

Still, it's fair to say none of them has the resume of the fiction novice he's teaming up with now: former President Bill Clinton.

Stone steps winding down a narrow lane lead to Misfah Old House, a small inn located in the mountainous village of Misfat Al Abryeen, Oman. To welcome his guests, Haitham Al-Abri offers sweet, sticky dates and a tiny cup of cardamom-scented coffee.

At Misfah, as in all Omani homes, dates are intrinsic to the culture of this Arabian Peninsula country. They are a sign of hospitality, served both in greeting and after every meal.

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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

For professional musicians, the instrument on which they play is more than just a tool of the trade. It can also be a muse, a partner and a voice.

Min Kym started playing the violin at age 6 and won her first competition at 11. Now, the former child prodigy is the author of a new book: Gone: A Girl, A Violin, A Life Unstrung, in which she shares her story of finding her perfect partner — only to have it stolen away.

Creating a hit musical which appeals to family audiences is kind of Broadway's holy grail — think current long-running shows, like The Lion King and Wicked, which have run for decades, or earlier shows like Cats and Annie. Critics don't always give these shows good reviews, but that doesn't seem to matter much. Now, two new musicals are aiming to get the kid stamp of approval.

"What an ugly thing I am," he thinks. "Why did I ever believe I could wreak anything but ugliness in this world? Why did I ever think that those near me would meet anything but pain and death?"

You may know Paula Poundstone from the smash public radio hit other than this program: Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!

But she's also an accomplished author, now of two books — all the more an accomplishment because each took nearly a decade to write. Her latest is The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness, and it's full of experiments Poundstone undertook to try to unlock the secrets happy people must surely know.

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