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Arts/Life

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Twentieth century painter Romaine Brooks introduces herself in a 1923 self-portrait: She wears a narrowly cut, long, black riding jacket with a white blouse. She has short cropped hair, and her eyes are shadowed by a black high hat. There's the slightest smudge of maybe pink on her lips — otherwise the whole portrait is black and various shades of gray.

In Teju Cole's writing, everything is fair game. Politics, poetry, music — even Snapchat.

He roams between time periods, genres and media, drawing unexpected parallels, and his latest book, Known and Strange Things, is a collection of his essays written for publications like The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker.

Sue Zumberge of Subtext Books in St. Paul, Minn., shares her favorite books for summer reading: The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard and Wake Up, Island by Mary Casanova.

Jace Clayton circles the globe looking for new sounds, from home studios in Morocco to teen parties in Mexico. Performing as DJ /rupture, he incorporates them into his work — and in his travels, he's found that digital technology has profoundly changed how music is produced, even in the most unlikely places.

That's the subject of his new book, Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture. He joined NPR's Audie Cornish to talk about it; hear the radio version at the audio link, and read an edited version below.

Writer Julie Klausner conceived of her Hulu comedy series Difficult People with a dark vision in mind. She thought of what kind of show she'd want to create if she knew she only had weeks to live, and she went from there.

"I just intended to write a show that I would want to do if I were ... going to be hit by a bus in a couple weeks," Klausner tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "[And] that's sort of what came out."

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Welcome to the real-life Mad Hatter's tea party: Guests eat out of spiraling ceramics from spoons as long as their arms, while waiters serve the next course with flatware fused to opera glasses.

The scene: A quaint and placid college campus, circa 1989. In the student union sits a just-past-the-voting-age freshman. Her bangs are crispy from years of chemical encrustation, a 10-lb. Ecuadorian wool sweater is itching her neck, and there might be a Monet poster on the wall back in her dorm room. She's reading the "alternative" weekly paper from the big city up the road, and she's just not too sure about Lynda Barry.

In 1977, Deborah Barsel, a bored assistant registrar at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, N.Y., decided to try a fun side project. She would create a cookbook made up of recipes and images from famous photographers of the day. She sent letters to various artists and put an ad in the museum's magazine asking for submissions. In return, she received 120 photos, recipes and even a postcard from urban photographer John Gossage saying simply: "I eat out."

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This summer we've been taking you to some unusual festivals, the kind of events that take us away from everyday reality. Here's one from an arts festival in the heart of Europe where the artists' tools include the airbrush, and the canvas is the human body.

Do people think about food more in times of scarcity than in times of plenty? Married culinary historians Jane Ziegelman and Andy Coe think so. Ziegelman and Coe are the authors of A Square Meal, which examines the impact of the country's decade-long Great Depression on American diets.

Ziegelman tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that the Depression was one of the "most important food moments" in U.S. history. Coe agrees: "The Great Depression was a time when Americans had food front and foremost in their minds and were worrying about it every day."

What first grabs a reader about Mary Mann Hamilton's memoir, Trials of the Earth, is its backstory. Hamilton was born in Arkansas around 1866; her family ran a boarding house and at 18 she married one of the guests, an older Englishman named Frank Hamilton who claimed to have an aristocratic past.

Kids' Movies Stand Out This Summer

Aug 14, 2016
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ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:

It's the dog days of August, a time when the excitement of summer vacation gives way to boredom, baking in the heat and waiting for the next school year to start. So we thought it would be a good time to talk movies, specifically kids' movies.

The story of Henry Molaison is a sad one. Known as Patient H.M. to the medical community, he lost the ability to create memories after he underwent a lobotomy to treat his seizures.

He did earn a place in history, though. His case taught scientists a lot about how the brain creates and stores memories.

"A lot of what we know about how memory work came from more than a half-century of experimentation that was conducted on Patient H.M.," says Luke Dittrich, author of the book Patient H.M. : A Story of Memory, Madness and Family Secrets.

"Every path that leads to new victories is lined with crosses of the dead," wrote one early practitioner of proto-lobotomies. Luke Dittrich's new book asks: How many lives does a medical breakthrough cost? "By the middle of the twentieth century," Dittrich writes, "the breaking of human brains was intentional, premeditated, clinical." But were "all those asylums, all those lesions, all those broken men and women," worth what we now know about the human brain?

YA Author Wisdom: Sandra Cisneros

Aug 14, 2016
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:

It's the dog days of August, a time when the excitement of summer vacation gives way to boredom, baking in the heat and waiting for the next school year to start. So we thought it would be a good time to talk movies, specifically kids' movies.

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

ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:

It's the dog days of August, a time when the excitement of summer vacation gives way to boredom, baking in the heat and waiting for the next school year to start. So we thought it would be a good time to talk movies, specifically kids' movies.

Have you ever been to a party where you knew, beyond all shadow of a doubt, that everyone was smarter than you? Like maybe you accidentally wandered into some meeting of past Nobel winners, a MENSA cocktail hour where no one could talk about anything but his IQ, a conclave of artists who spoke so completely in their own cant that it sounded to your ear like code?

China Miéville's newest novel, The Last Days Of New Paris, is exactly that, but in book form.

Rarely has an actor not seen or heard made such a big impact.

Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2 in six of the Star Wars films, died Saturday, his agent confirms to NPR.

Standing at 3 feet 8 inches tall, the British actor also appeared in The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Flash Gordon, among other films.

"He was just a lovely guy," said agent Johnny Mans, "and I shall miss him terribly."

Katie Couric has done it all in broadcast journalism — she's hosted the Today Show and her own daytime talk show, she's anchored CBS Evening News, and has been a correspondent for 60 Minutes. Now, she's working on a brand new podcast.

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PETER SAGAL, HOST:

Graham Moore's new novel opens in 1888 with a jolt: Its main character, Paul Cravath, witnesses a Western Union worker being electrocuted in the sky above Broadway while trying to repair a live wire. Blue flame shoots from his mouth and his skin falls from his bones.

Later that day, Paul meets Thomas Edison, an inventor who is racing against archrival George Westinghouse to electrify the United States from coast to coast. The success of Edison's inventions hinges on the U.S. adopting DC electricity, while Westinghouse's innovations rely on AC power.

In 'Harmony,' Women Are Mysteries, Men Are Open Books

Aug 13, 2016

Carolyn Parkhurst's fourth novel, Harmony, is told entirely from female perspectives. Alexandra Hammond and her two daughters each get their own chapters to develop the story: Alexandra fills in the past, while prosaic 11-year-old Iris narrates the present. And Tilly, a mercurial 13-year-old on the autistic spectrum, invents wild futures where the Hammonds have become the subjects of wild theorizing and lost lore. But the strange and fascinating thing about Harmony is how it uses its female points of view to turn the male characters into evocative mysteries.

Jake Reiss, owner of Alabama Booksmith in Homewood, Ala., recommends James McBride's Kill 'Em and Leave, Don Keith's Mattie C.'s Boy: The Shelley Stewart Story and Joshua Hammer's

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's nothing more luxurious than time - time to just dig into that stack of books that have been waiting for you. To help build the perfect stack, we're talking to booksellers from all over the country this summer to help you Pack These Pages.

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

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

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

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "JULIUS CAESAR")

The perils of misplaced confidence animate the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, both in real life and in the various fictions built around her.

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Part Zwei

Aug 12, 2016

The German language has a lot of long, crazily specific words. For example, "kummerspeck" literally means "grief bacon," and refers to the weight you gain from eating your feelings. We give contestants words and their definitions, and they have to figure out: are these real German words, or words we made up?

Heard On Ira Sachs, Jennifer Ehle, Garance Doré: New York Or Paris?

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