Writers & Writing

Author interviews, poetry and storytelling.

Children love to pronounce the name of Olive Senior's new book: Boonoonoonous Hair. ("You break it down into boo noo noo nous, and then you say it fast," she advises.)

It's a word that comes from Jamaica where Senior was born. She says this evocative term has fallen out of fashion, but she's working to bring it back.

"It's just a word that suggests something lovely, something beautiful, something warm, something wonderful," she says. "So if you're told you're boonoonoonous that's a great compliment."

Nathan Pyle fills the pages of his new book Strange Planet with big eyed, bright blue aliens from a planet that shares a lot in common with Earth. These aliens sunbathe, sneeze and even wish each other sweet dreams like us, but they describe these practices with deadpan technical terminology like "sun damage" and "face fluid explosions." The lifegiver aliens even implore their offspring to "imagine pleasant nonsense" as they tuck them in for the night.

At the height of the Cold War in 1958, Van Cliburn, a curly-headed kid from Texas, won the International Tchaikovsky Competition. He was hugged by Nikita Khrushchev and heralded like Elvis Presley when he returned.

It's about time that disaffected teenagers get the credit they've long deserved and never wanted. Sure, they can be kind of frustrating, with their hair-trigger eye-rolling reflex and grunted monosyllabic responses to any possible question, but they're also likely single-handedly keeping the French-poetry-collection and black-coffee industries alive. (And if there's a thriving black market for now-banned clove cigarettes — a staple of depressed and pretentious teens back when I was one of them — they're probably responsible for that, too.)

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Superman is secretly reporter Clark Kent. Everyone in the real world knows that because as "Superman" superfan Jerry Seinfeld pointed out back in 1979...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

This year, Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl has focused her reading recommendations on great stories that will also teach you something about the real world. She says there are plenty of readers who find that "fiction gives you the truth of history and nonfiction gives you the facts." With that in mind, she shares the following titles with Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

(These recommendations have been edited for clarity and length.)

What makes a great pop song? Is it the way it makes you want to dance? Or maybe how it gets stuck in your head?

At the end of 2019, with genre-bending hits like Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” and Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” what do we even consider pop to be today?

There’s a lot more to pop music than initially meets the ear — and few are more equipped to know that than the hosts of “Switched on Pop.”

There are plenty of flashpoints for controversy littered among the grand pantheon of four-letter words. Plenty of examples probably come to mind immediately — from the relatively tame ("heck," anyone?) to the kind of graphic profanity that may warrant an uncomfortable call from our ombudsman.

Still, one four-letter word has elicited more heated debate than most among grammarians lately. And it happens to be one that we're free to print right here: they.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Earlier in the Trump administration, there were three generals in key national security positions - Jim Mattis, Secretary of Defense; John Kelly, who directed Homeland Security and then became White House chief of staff; and H.R. McMaster, who became national security adviser, replacing General Michael Flynn, who was forced out after lying about a phone call with the Russian ambassador. But eventually, Trump was at war with the generals he'd once embraced, and they left the administration.

This month's offerings from Romancelandia include a brooding duke, the best friends a girl could ask for, and an extra helping of meet-cutes. Not to mention all the steamy kisses and happy endings.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Chanel Miller Wants You To Know Her Name

Dec 9, 2019

For years, Chanel Miller was known only as “Emily Doe”.

In 2015, she was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, a “star swimmer” at Stanford University. The case sparked a national debate about justice and leniency.

We talk with her about her new book, “Know My Name,” which tells her story as a sister, daughter, artist and stand-up comedian.

This book is 600 pages long. Let's get that out of the way. It is an enormous book, and reading it on a deadline for review does it a mean disservice. This is a book that sprawls into meta-fractals sentence on sentence and teaches you to feel Zeno's Paradox in your body as you bend and contort yourself into the reading of it, and is composed in such a way as to make it impossible to skim, so if I sound exhausted reviewing it, well, I am.

But more than exhausted, I'm almost irritated by how much I enjoyed it.

In the spring of 2018, 2-year-old Parker Curry visited the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., with her mom, her sister and her best friend. They saw a lot of artwork that day — but it was Amy Sherald's portrait of first lady Michelle Obama that made Parker stop in her tracks and look up in awe.

'Blitzed' Will Leave You Feeling Warm And Tipsy

Dec 8, 2019

Alexa Martin's Playbook series is addictive enough to convert a non-sports fan into a football junkie, and her new novel Blitzed — the third in the series — is an electrifying cocktail of girl power, adorable romance, and enough drama to rival a reality show (which the series incidentally introduces in its universe).

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Kane Montgomery is in trouble. He had some sort of car accident that wiped out both an old derelict building and his memory of the crash, and now the police are asking questions and his family — especially his sister, Sophia — want information he can't quite piece together. Even the charismatic doctor that he assumed was assigned to his case by the police is an enigma. Are they a therapist? A detective? A drag queen?

Jeff Vandermeer's latest novel, Dead Astronauts, is a kaleidoscopic and fractured mosaic: In a long-changed, post-climate-apocalypse world, a trio of saboteurs — or escapees — or simply survivors — attempt over and over again to dismantle the work of the Company, an entity which may have once been a biotech corporation but now churns out broken and altered-beyond-recognition monstrosities in an endless stream. The three — who are the closest the reader gets to protagonists in the first half of the book — are only nominally human, and only nominally astronauts.

You know the intensity of the NBA. A million coaches in the stands and on the court, high-pressure nail-biters, Stephen A. Smith pontificating about sleep.

On the Navajo Nation, rez ball has all of that (well, we can’t confirm the commentary on sleep) and more.

"Your everlasting summer, you can see it fading fast," sang Steely Dan in their 1973 hit "Reelin' in the Years," "So you grab a piece of something that you think is going to last."

If you believe that 1973 marked the real end of the 1960s as a cultural era, it's a fitting sentiment — the year was the last gasp of an age of possibility, when sunny idealism gave way to economic recession and cynical disillusionment.

Or as Andrew Grant Jackson writes in his fascinating new book, 1973: Rock at the Crossroads:

There are a lot of different ways to adapt fiction into graphic-novel form, but there may only be one way to adapt the work of H.P. Lovecraft. At least, that's how it feels after reading Gou Tanabe's take on Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness. Tanabe's approach is so spot-on, it makes every other attempt to draw Lovecraft (of which there have been no shortage over the years) seem ill-advised.

Author Adam Minter remembers two periods of grief after his mother died in 2015: the intense sadness of her death, followed by the challenge of sorting through what he calls "the material legacy of her life."

Over the course of a year, Minter and his sister worked through their mother's possessions until only her beloved china was left. Neither one of them wanted to take the china — but neither could bear to throw it out. Instead, they decided to donate it.

Robyn Crawford and Whitney Houston met as teenagers. Crawford was an athlete, Houston an aspiring singer.

And they became best friends, and eventually lovers, although Houston broke off their romance after two years.

Their friendship and the working relationship lasted for 20.

The story of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, which would eventually be known as the Greely Expedition, is important in terms of the areas it helped map, the wealth of scientific observations made, and the fact that the group reached the Farthest North — a record that had belonged to the British for three centuries.

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