Arts/Life

Arts and culture

I'm not sure why this happened, but as I assembled this year's best-of list, I kept seeing matched sets: Two terrific desert movies, two swoon-inducing romances, two single-minded crusades by men who think they're already dead, and even a pair of riveting mortgage crisis flicks (and what are the chances of that?). The doubleness is a good organizing principle, since my 10-best list nearly always turns into a 20-best — so here goes:

Flawed But Readable 'Love' May Break Your Heart

Dec 30, 2015

It's worth repeating: Sometimes the most deeply flawed books are the most interesting. A corollary: Sometimes the most deeply flawed books are the most readable.

1965. It had been seven years since Orson Welles directed Touch of Evil, more than 20 years since Citizen Kane, so a lot of people thought he was washed up when he shopped around a project he had created by blending bits and pieces of five plays by Shakespeare.

When Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman was published earlier this year, readers learned that this much anticipated "second book" by Lee was actually a first draft of what would later become the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee radically revised this early version of the book on the advice of her editor, Tay Hohoff. That made us wonder: How much do editors shape the final book we read?

Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Herman Wouk's new memoir opens with two stanzas from "The Wreck of the Old 97," the famous ballad about a 1903 train crash in Virginia that killed 11 people. Initially, it seems an odd choice — while Wouk's most famous novels have dealt with tragedy, they've been mostly focused on war, not locomotives careering down the tracks at unsafe speeds. But Wouk explains, with his trademark droll humor: "Gentle reader, that railroad folk tune is sure haunting your durable storyteller, aged ninety-seven."

On Monday, a grand jury decided not indict Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in November 2014. At time of the shooting, Rice was in a park, playing with an air gun he had borrowed from a friend. Loehmnann fired his weapon at the boy within two seconds of arriving on the scene.

José Anzaldo is a bright, cheerful third-grader in Salinas, Calif. He loves school, he's a whiz at math, and, like lots of little boys his age, he wants to be a firefighter when he grows up. He also entered the country illegally, and his parents are migrant farmworkers who harvest lettuce.

Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

Ellsworth Kelly, one of the greatest American artists of the past century, has died at 92.

Kelly died at his home in Spencertown, N.Y., says gallery owner Matthew Marks, who has represented the artist for two decades. Kelly is survived by his longtime partner Jack Shear.

NPR TV critic Eric Deggans spoke to Carrie Kahn on Weekend Edition Sunday about the plethora of television available on broadcast, cable and streaming outlets, and you can hear that conversation at the top of the page. Eric has, however, picked 12 shows that rose above the rest for this year-end wrap.

You may see a lot of teeth-gnashing from critics in year-end pieces lamenting how the flood of TV shows this year undermines the industry and makes picking out the best stuff of 2015 nearly impossible.

Don't believe it.

It's been a year since the U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations. Tourism, business and cultural exchanges are booming. And there is another curious benefactor of those warmer ties — Ernest Hemingway, or at least, his legacy. The writer lived just outside of Havana for 20 years, and that house, called the Finca Vigia, has long been a national museum.

For a glimpse of what's happening in Africa, Guggenheim Bilbao curator Petra Joos recommends watching a film called "The End of Eating Everything."

Copyright 2015 WESA-FM. To see more, visit WESA-FM.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Frank Stella does huge work — some of it 20 feet tall and twice as long — so he has a suitably supersized studio about an hour's drive north of New York City. With hundreds of artworks and tables strewn with ideas in progress, the studio is a museum in itself.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

2015 In Music: Playlist Refreshers

Dec 26, 2015
Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

A bountiful year in music is coming to a close, so we have invited NPR's musical mastermind Stephen Thompson into the studio to point us toward some favorites. Welcome, Stephen.

STEPHEN THOMPSON: Hi, it's nice to be here, Linda.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Paula Hawkins. It was published this year, and received wide acclaim.

Girl on a Train is a psychological thriller, set in contemporary London, with a female protagonist and a female author — Alison Waines. It was published in 2013, and received almost no attention.

You might be able to predict where this is going.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

His resume is unimpeachable and he has great approval ratings. Santa Claus sounds like the perfect candidate — so what if he ran for president? That's the central question in this work of audio fiction by the podcast The Truth

The story begins at the North Pole, where two mysterious strangers have just arrived by sled to Santa's office.

An Oscar-winning director, a major star, a survival saga that makes Heart of Darkness look like a pleasure cruise... and all anyone wants to talk about is the bear attack.

And in fact, it's hard not to start there. It comes about comes 24 minutes in. Fur-trapper Hugh Glass, played by a hirsute, bundled-up Leonardo DiCaprio, has helped his fellow trappers escape a harrowing Arikara massacre. In most movies that would be the scene everyone's talking about — arrows piercing vocal cords in mid-cry, death raining down from trees.

Blending up eggs, milk, sugar, booze and with a bit of spice grated on top — sounds like eggnog, right? But use pisco instead of rum; sweetened, condensed milk in place of fresh milk and cream and a special ingredient — and you've got a cocktail de algarrobina. In Peru, it wouldn't be Christmas without it.

In Charles Dickens' famous tale A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge's spectral-induced transformation leaves him with a longing for an old-fashioned Christmas drink.

"I'll raise your salary and endeavor to assist your struggling family," Scrooge promises his much-abused employee, Bob Cratchit, "and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!"

A Holiday Favorite: David Sedaris' 'Santaland Diaries'

Dec 25, 2015

You might not expect "Santa's helper" to be a career-altering gig, but for David Sedaris, it changed everything. The writer and humorist spent a season working at Macy's as a department store elf. He described his short tenure as Crumpet the Elf in "The Santaland Diaries," an essay that he first read on Morning Edition in 1992. He was brought to NPR by an up-and-coming producer named Ira Glass.

Instantly, a classic was born. Sedaris' reading has become an NPR holiday tradition. Click the "Listen" link above to hear Sedaris read his tale.

Is Santa An Elf? Discuss

Dec 24, 2015

Earlier this week, I tried to describe Santa in a story as an elf. But I ran into some serious opposition from my editor, Rose Friedman, who was convinced Santa was definitely not an elf.

"Think about every Christmas movie you've ever seen," she said. "It's always Santa and the elves. He's like twice their size."

I backed up my argument with literature — just look at the famous Clement Clark Moore poem, "A Visit From St Nicholas":

Depending on your perspective, Quentin Tarantino's career either comes full circle or spins its wheels with The Hateful Eight, a three-hour Western pastiche that combines the single-setting theatricality of his first feature, Reservoir Dogs, with the explosive Civil War politics of his last, Django Unchained.

Pages