Nicholson Baker has become a sort of poet of the particular and the peculiar. His books are filled with people who focus minutely on what captivates them – in other words, obsessives. A positive way of looking at obsession is as passion taken to an extreme. The danger, of course, is that the object of one person's intense fascination — such as the broken shoelaces in his unforgettable first novel, The Mezzanine, or the disquisitions on Debussy, dance music, and drones in his latest, Traveling Sprinkler — may spell another's total snore.
An Iraqi civilian walks through the vault of the National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq, on April 12, 2003. Looters opened the museum vault, went on a rampage breaking ancient artifacts stored there by museum authorities before the war started.
Credit Jerome Delay / AP
A woman stands next to a display of recovered antiquities at the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad, Iraq on April 27, 2008. The Iraqi National Museum has welcomed home 701 artifacts that were stolen during looting after Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003.
Originally published on Tue September 17, 2013 2:26 pm
I'm going to tell two stories here, two very different stories. One's about bad guys hurting good guys that made me think the world is going to hell; the other is about good guys outfoxing bad guys and made me smile — made me think there's hope, always hope. I found them in different books.
I approached this review with a little bit of dread. How do you write about the iconic novelist Thomas Pynchon, whose books are strange and difficult things, and whose die-hard readers gather online to wax poetic, and use words like Pynchonian, Pynchonalia and Pynchonesque? They are just so into him, and often so articulate about their love. If you read the thoughtful and detailed writing by Pynchon devotees, they make a very persuasive case.
On July 18, 1863, the Union Army's famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry — a black military unit — made a desperate assault on Confederate forces at Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C. In the end, they were unsuccessful and lost almost half of their forces. Escaped slave-turned-abolitionist Harriet Tubman bore elegiac eyewitness to the terrible day: "We saw the lightning and that was the guns," she said later.
Originally published on Tue September 17, 2013 10:57 am
Throughout the Syrian war, President Obama has insisted that President Bashar Assad must go. But now, the U.S. may want, or even need, Assad to remain in power for a while longer so he can oversee the dismantling of his chemical weapons stockpile.
"For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said back on Aug. 18, 2011, in his first explicit call for Assad's ouster, something the U.S. president went on to repeat on multiple occasions.
Five hundred and six people were murdered in Chicago last year. It was the kind of news that got John Lippert thinking.
JOHN LIPPERT: I live in Chicago and a lot of what we get is overnight stories saying, you know, three people shot, six people shot, day after day. And I just felt like, okay, well, what does it mean? Where are we going with this?
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. A report by United Nations' chemical weapons inspectors does not blame Syria's government for last month's chemical weapons attack. The inspectors were not authorized to do that. But they did provide substantial evidence, the most detailed look available, of an August 21 attack that led the United States to threaten military action.
Anya Von Bremzen is a contributing editor at <em>Travel + Leisure </em>and the author of five cookbooks.
Credit John von Pamer / Courtesy of Crown Publishers
A banquet spread is pictured in the 1952 edition of <em>The Book of Tasty and Healthy Foods. </em>The cookery book, published in the former Soviet Union, promoted a <a href="http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/3bcf8f22-0545-11e3-9ffd-00144feab7de.html#slide0">fantasy of abundance</a> at a time when privations abounded.
Credit Courtesy Crown Publishers
Anya von Bremzen emigrated from Russia with her mother (here, in Philadelphia in 1978) when she was 10 years old.
The French novelist Marcel Proust immortalized the connection between food and memory when the narrator of his novel Remembrances of Things Past bit into a madeleine and was transported to thoughts of his childhood.
But what if that madeleine were poisoned, so to speak?
That is the question underlying Russian American writer Anya von Bremzen's new memoir, Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. Though it contains recipes, this is not a cookbook but rather, a history of a family and of Soviet Russia.
The Japanese city of Narita is best known to the outside world for its major airport that serves Tokyo, the nation's capital city.
Narita is also a rural area of Chiba Prefecture, however, with a long tradition of rice farming.
Toward the end of the summer, Narita's rice farmers gather to pray for bountiful harvests. They dance, play music and ride elaborate festival carts. From afar, the wagons appear to glide through a sea of lush green paddy fields as villagers pull them down Narita's placid country lanes.
How often do whales clean their ears? Well, never. And so, year after year, their ear wax builds up, layer upon layer. According to a study published Monday, these columns of ear wax contain a record of chemical pollution in the oceans.
The study used the ear wax extracted from the carcass of a blue whale that washed ashore on a California beach back in 2007. Scientists at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History collected the wax from inside the skull of the dead whale and preserved it. The column of wax was almost a foot long.
These were the words uttered by painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was deeply shaken after he heard the story of a black graffiti artist who was beaten to death by New York City police. Seeing his own life reflected in the death of a fellow artist, Basquiat went on to create Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart),not only to commemorate the young man's death, but also to challenge the state-sanctioned brutality that men of color could face for pursuing their art in public spaces.
Originally published on Fri October 4, 2013 4:54 pm
Al Jazeera America, the new cable news network owned by the Emirate of Qatar, has been running sponsorship ads on NPR for the last month as part of its launch campaign.
Some listeners are upset, accusing NPR of being unpatriotic or naïve. Some add that it also has been unethical. Three NPR stories about the new English-language channel did not mention the sponsorship. Most of the complaints, recalling the coverage by Al Jazeera's Arabic network of American deaths early in the Iraq war, are obviously heartfelt.
Editor's note: After the crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America, we solicited this commentary from writer Anna John, one of the co-founders of the blog Sepia Mutiny. This post includes several embedded tweets that contain explicit language.