Arts & Life

Sunday is my last broadcast as host of Weekend All Things Considered at NPR West. I'm moving back to Boston, and with packing well underway, after the broadcast I'll be sleeping between piles of hastily labeled boxes.

Weirdly, a couple of weeks ago I experienced a nightmare version of this very scene, when I attended a show called The Object Lesson at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif.

"This is not respectable theater. I don't even know if it is theater," jokes Geoff Sobelle, the creator and star of the show.

Some pretty horrible things befall astronaut Mark Watney in the new movie The Martian: sandstorms, explosions, extreme isolation, even frustrations growing potatoes. It's a series of unfortunate events that's at once highly scientific and very entertaining.

The Martian is the brainchild of author Andy Weir, who wrote the blockbuster novel that inspired the film. As Weir tells it, he'd always longed for some science fiction with greater emphasis on the science.

Whatever the old adage might warn, there is a bit of merit to judging a book by its cover — if only in one respect. Consider the blurb, one of the most pervasive, longest-running — and, at times, controversial — tools in the publishing industry.

For such a curious word, the term "blurb" has amassed a number of meanings in the decades since it worked its way into our vocabulary, but lately it has referred to just one thing: a bylined endorsement from a fellow writer — or celebrity — that sings the praises of a book's author right on the cover of their book.

Devoted Fans Cross The Country For 'Gunsmoke' Reunion

Sep 27, 2015
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This is how Lizzie Velasquez remembers kindergarten while growing up in Austin, Texas.


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'Baru Cormorant' Will Catch You Unawares

Sep 27, 2015

This book is a tar pit, and I mean that as a compliment.

To read The Traitor Baru Cormorant is to sink inexorably into a book that should not be anywhere near as absorbing as it is — to realize that the white-knuckled grip with which you hold it was provoked by several consecutive pages of loans, taxes and commodity trading. It seems impossible that the economics of a fantasy world should be so viscerally riveting, but they are, and it's incredible: You think you're on solid ground right up until you feel that ground closing around your throat.

Years ago, in the small town of Maiden, N.C., a man named Shannon Whisnant bought a storage locker, and in it he found a grill. When he took both of them home and opened the grill, he discovered something he hadn't been expecting: a mummified human leg.

Most people — one presumes — would've have wanted to get rid of the leg as soon as possible. Whisnant, however, wanted to keep it. Trouble is, the original owner of the limb, John Wood, wanted it back. He'd had to have that leg amputated years earlier.

If anyone has the credentials to write a book called The Art Of Language Invention, it's David J. Peterson.

He has two degrees in linguistics. He's comfortable speaking in eight languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Esperanto, Arabic and American Sign Language) — plus a long list of others he's studied but just hasn't tried speaking yet. He's also familiar with fictional languages — both famous ones like Klingon and deep cuts like Pakuni (the caveman language from Land Of The Lost).

Before she hit it big with her first album, Pieces of You in 1995, Jewel was living out of her car. Her big break came at Inner Change, a struggling San Diego coffee shop where she played a weekly show. She's written a memoir called Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story.

We've invited Jewel to play a game called "We hope you sleep in a safe" — because when you're named Jewel, you have to watch out for jewel thieves.

World Rabies Day 2015

Sep 26, 2015
Harlequeen (Neil McIntosh) [Flickr]

The animals that are most likely to carry rabies in your neighborhood are raccoons, bats, foxes and skunks.  Do not try to handle these animals and teach your children to stay away from them.


The children of admired, famous people can have a tough time becoming their own person despite — and even because of — all of their advantages. But what does life hold for the sons and daughters of tyrants and dictators whose very names become synonyms for evil? Does the name they bear sentence them too?

When Sherry Turkle came into the studio for her interview with NPR's Scott Simon, she left her cell phone outside. "I gave my iPhone to someone ... out of my line of vision," she says, "because research shows that the very sight of the iPhone anywhere in your line of vision actually changes the conversation."

There is a special place in the canon for the truly sophisticated children's fantasy series — Tolkein, LeGuin, Lewis, L'Engle ... and Pullman. This year, the first book in Philip Pullman's famed His Dark Materials trilogy turns 20 years old.

The novels in that series — The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass — tell a kind of anti-creation story, the story of 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua, her daemon Pantalaimon, and their epic struggle against a church called the Magisterium.