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Arts/Life

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Coming up, I'll share some of my thoughts on the fifth anniversary of TELL ME MORE in my weekly essay.

Jessie Knadler is the thirty-something author of Rurally Screwed: My Life Off The Grid With the Cowboy I Love (Berkley Hardcover).

I like her immediately as she strides in the door at WMRA, the Shenandoah Valley public radio station that kindly employs me. There she is, short and slight as two seconds; still got this big-city, offhand glamour and presence going six years out of Manhattan. She's "bring 'em on" without any silly bravado.

In Private Empire, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Steve Coll investigates how ExxonMobil has used its money and power to wield significant influence in Washington, D.C., particularly during the Bush administration.

Executives at the company maintained close personal connections with members of the Bush administration — but Coll says the "cliched idea that Exxon-Mobil was just an instrument of the Bush administration's foreign policy — a kind of extension of the American government during the Bush years — is just wrong."

You Don't Have To Like Liver To Love Pate

May 2, 2012

Once at a family gathering, my relatives and I met in the living room for a midday snack. A spread with vegetables and crackers was arranged in a spiral on a white platter, the colors fanning out in a rainbow. My cousin Megan was the first to dig in, sampling a bit of the spread on a crunchy cracker. Her brows furrowed as she chewed.

"This is so good," she exclaimed. "What is this?"

"Liver," my cousin Danny replied.

Megan yelped and threw the remaining cracker across the room as she cringed in horror. "Liver? I just ate liver?"

The White House has been occupied by some outsize personalities and towering figures, but Lyndon B. Johnson was as big as Texas. Six-foot-four and physically intimidating, he was the kind of man who "got bigger as he talked to you." He had a heart — sometimes — to match: Unlike many white politicians of his era, Johnson was personally infuriated by racism, and signed into law some of the most important civil rights legislation in American history.

It's perhaps the most reproduced piece of art ever created. It has adorned key chains and coffee mugs, and the cover of Time magazine. Andy Warhol used it, and now one of the four versions of The Scream, Edvard Munch's iconic work — the only one outside Norway — is coming up for auction at Sotheby's in New York. Sale estimates are as high as $80 million.

Conservative critic Jonah Goldberg says he's inspired to write when he gets annoyed. "Aggravation is a muse," he says. And after speaking on a number of college campuses, he grew aggravated enough to write a book. It's called The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.

First Position follows in the spirit of such competition documentaries as Spellbound and Mad Hot Ballroom, tracking seven young dancers as they prepare for the Youth America Grand Prix, a prestigious ballet contest.

The first competitor we meet is a mature 11-year-old named Aran Bell. His father is in the military. He likes to skateboard and jump on his pogo stick.

Aran began dancing when he was 4, and when he hits the stage, he turns and leaps with the poise and fire of a professional.

This week's cover of the New Yorker magazine is a witty drawing by artist Chris Ware of a playground full of young children and their watchful parents. One woman wheels her son in a stroller, only to see that all the other parents are men. The image is called "Mother's Day."

But for all the memorable New Yorker covers out there, an equally large number of covers didn't make it to the newsstand. They were not quite on the money — or were sometimes a little too coarsely on the money.

Time for another home-viewing recommendation from film critic Bob Mondello. This week, Bob's listening in on Rock Hudson and Doris Day as they make a bit of Pillow Talk.

What happens when the Girl Next Door meets Mr. Beefcake? It's instant chemistry, albeit of the explosive sort — think Mentos and Diet Coke.

There continues to be a lot of talk about gender bias in the book industry. The core argument goes that, while both male and female authors write novels about relationships and the domestic sphere, when a woman does so her books are relegated to "chic lit," and when a man (like Jonathan Franzen) does, he's lauded for serious literary achievement.

The 'Manhunt' To Capture Osama Bin Laden

May 1, 2012

A year ago Tuesday, Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces inside a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. When President Obama announced the news, he called the death of bin Laden "the most significant achievement to date" in the war against al-Qaida.

What's Fun About 5? Mud And Gummy Worms

May 1, 2012

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Here's the thing about the Tony Awards: Sometimes you know what's going to clean up when the nominations are announced. (Think last year, and The Book of Mormon.)

And sometimes it's hard to get excited about the shows that get tapped — remember when Sunset Boulevard's only competition for Best Musical was the jukebox show Smokey Joe's Cafe?

Not this year: There's a real race. The bittersweet Irish romance Once — an absurdly appealing stage adaptation of the 2006 indie film — leads the pack with 11 nods.

The Dark Knight Rises is one of those films where so many bits and drops are constantly emerging that it's hard to find a particular moment in which rushing to judgment is any more or less appropriate than at any other time. But the appearance of a new trailer yesterday has set off another round of speculation, and who are we to decline to participate?

It's a lot easier to write about a dead parent than a living one. Alison Bechdel's new "comic drama," Are You My Mother?, makes this abundantly clear. Fun Home, her amazing 2006 graphic memoir, was about her difficult, closeted gay father, who died shortly after she came out as a lesbian in college. This fascinating but demanding followup volume explores her uneasy relationship with her emotionally distant mother — who is not only alive but openly critical of Bechdel's work.

When Sissy Spacek started her film career, she was told to lose her heavy Texas accent. But her famous drawl became one of her greatest assets when Terrence Malick cast her in his 1973 crime drama Badlands.

Spacek played Holly, a teenage girl from South Dakota who became an accomplice on a cross-country murder spree. The film, which also starred Martin Sheen, was narrated in Spacek's distinctive Southern voice.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nick Dybek is the author of When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man.

The sinister face sneering from the cover is reason enough to keep John Fowles' The Magus tucked discreetly away. Then there's the 600 or so pages inside, which are filled with pretentious riffs on psychoanalysis, metaphysics, fascism and the occult.

Robert Caro writes obsessively about power. Fittingly, it's Lyndon Johnson — catapulted suddenly into the presidency "in the crack of a gunshot" — who consumes him.

The Passage of Power, the fourth volume of Caro's massive biography of Lyndon Johnson, is released this week. Caro has dedicated decades to meticulously researching Johnson's life, and the previous books in the series have been almost universally hailed as a significant achievement in American letters.

Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein are no strangers to D.C. politics. The two of them have been in Washington for more than 40 years — and they're renowned for their carefully nonpartisan positions.

But now, they say, Congress is more dysfunctional than it has been since the Civil War, and they aren't hesitating to point a finger at who they think is to blame.

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(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK TICKING)

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Teaching, once a revered profession, has of late been much maligned. Teachers are accused of laziness and greed. They're blamed for low test scores, and a general decline in the nation's educational standing. Most people believe their work day is short and their vacations are long. But teachers also have their defenders — perhaps none so passionate as Taylor Mali.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In the history of Major League Baseball, one of the most emotional moments came in the summer of 1993. The week didn't begin well for New York Yankees pitcher Jim Abbott. He was pitching terribly against the Cleveland Indians. His manager took him out, so...

Hopper, Hockney, Lichtenstein. Among these great artists featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., you'll now find Lara Croft and Earthworm Jim.

Chris Colfer, one of the stars of the hit TV show Glee, is known for his portrayal of Kurt, a confident and openly gay high school student (who also possesses pipes like a diva). In the new film Struck By Lightning, which Colfer wrote, he plays a very different character: Carson Phillips, an ambitious high school student who starts a literary magazine in order to get into Northwestern University. The character is arrogant and not exactly well-liked, so how does he collect submissions? By blackmailing the popular kids, of course.

If you're watching a sports game at home, at a bar or at an arena, what better way to enjoy it than with some nachos, pretzels or hot dogs?

As a former baseball player, Josh Chetwynd knows a thing or two about stadium grub. His new book, How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun: Accidental Discoveries and Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat and Drink, features 75 short essays that trace the history of popular food and dispel common misconceptions.

On-Air Challenge: Every answer today is a familiar three-word phrase in which the second word is "and" and the first word starts with the letter L. You'll be given the last word of the phrase, and you must identify the first word, starting with "L." For example, given "master," the answer would be "lord," as in "lord and master."

There was news this week that Ernest "Chick" Callenbach had died. His 1975 cult-classic, Ecotopia, was beloved by environmentalists and science fiction fans. Originally self-published, it went on to sell more than a million copies in many languages. The utopian novel, which imagined a new nation made up of Northern California, Oregon and Washington state, is told from the point of view of a visiting reporter from the United States.

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