Getting Past Pesto To Re-Imagine Basil

Aug 21, 2013

Basil is a mega-celebrity of the herb world and has some of the same problems that come with fame. Known mostly for its starring role in pesto, it's recognized by many people primarily as an ingredient in other Italian dishes such as pastas and caprese salads. But if it were up to basil, it might prefer to be recognized for its work in lesser-known cuisines and recipes (the indie films and off-Broadway plays, if you will), where it shines in a different way and brings a new dimension to food.

It's time for mom and Clary to have the talk.

No, not that talk. Jocelyn (Lena Headey) needs to tell teenage Clary (Lily Collins) about angels and demons, vampires and werewolves, magic chalices and sacred blood — not to mention hidden sanctuaries, interdimensional portals, the identity of her father and the existence of an unknown brother. Plus something nutty about J.S. Bach.

No wonder she's been putting it off.

If you find yourself craving New Orleans food, you could go there and melt in the sweltering heat for a dose of gumbo or praline bacon. Or you could settle in on your couch, as I've been doing, and torture yourself watching reruns of the HBO series Treme. It's set in post-Katrina New Orleans and, along with the music, it puts the city's food on center stage.

The writer Elmore Leonard has died. He was 87 years old and had recently suffered a stroke.

For decades, Leonard — working at the very top of his profession as a crime writer — had been widely acclaimed, and universally read. He published 46 novels, which resulted in countless movie and TV adaptations, including the movies Out of Sight and Get Shorty and the TV series Justified.

Today's Internet users have become accustomed to stories of hacking, identity theft and cyberattacks, but there was a time when the freedom and anonymity of the Web were new, and no one was sure what rules — if any — applied to its use. Many thought the Internet was beyond government regulation, its very chaos a source of creativity and strength.

Okay, background information first.

As an apartment-dweller, I have lived for 20 years in a series of white-walled boxes with neutral carpets. I have assembled and eventually ripped apart the kind of furniture that comes with an Allen wrench. And I have had my adventures. When leaving an apartment in Brooklyn, I tore a sofa bed apart with my bare hands and feet — broke it and destroyed it — because it was old and I knew I'd never get it through the door again.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

'Schindler' Author Returns With A Tale Of The Great War

Aug 20, 2013

Is there more to say about World War I nurses and their patients after Hemingway's uber-classic A Farewell to Arms? The saga of ambulance driver Frederic Henry and his beautiful English nurse Catherine Barkley is generally thought to be an unrivaled fictional treatment of what was called, at the time, the Great War. Could a different novelist squeeze additional juice from this particular grape?

Founded in the mid-19th century, French luxury leather goods maker Moynat became renowned for making traveling trunks for the moneyed set. Though a pioneer in its field, it fell on hard times and closed its doors in the 1970s.

These days, the fabled company is undergoing a resurrection — turning out limited quantities of luxurious, handmade bags that rely on centuries-old craftsmanship.

On a recent day, Moynat's CEO, Guillaume Davin, leads me up the back stairs of the company's flagship boutique in Paris.

In the old days, when a book came out it just had to compete with other books. But these days a book has to compete not only with other books, but also with blog posts and tweets and tumblrs and everything else in written form. There's only so much that readers feel like reading, and as a result, every year many good books get lost under a tide of prose.

When you watch a DVD these days, there's a whole array of extras waiting for you after the movie — commentaries, deleted scenes, special re-creations that add to the experience.

But what if you are a novelist and want to do the same? Could you? Should you?

What's thick-skinned and leathery, about the size of an egg, essential for guacamole and sold eight for a dollar?

No, not limes. Hass avocados. This year, anyway. These pear-sized fruits usually weigh half a pound or more. In the summer of 2013, though, hundreds of thousands of trees in Southern California are sagging with the tiniest Hass avocados in local memory — some just the size of a golf ball.

One of the most intriguing figures of 20th-century warfare is T.E. Lawrence, the British army officer who immersed himself in the culture of the Arabian Peninsula's Bedouin tribes and played a key role in the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks during World War I. He became a well-known and romanticized figure in post-war England, and was immortalized in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.

Canadians have given us so much, from the BlackBerry, a kind of phone your parents' older friends used to use, to Leslie Hope, the lady who played Kiefer Sutherland's wife in Season 1 of 24. But perhaps towering above all is poutine, which translated from the Quebecois is "stuff poured onto french fries." Usually it's some variation of cheese, meat and gravy, but I was told that in Portland, Ore. (naturally), at a food truck (naturally), you can get peanut butter and jelly on fries. So I went, naturally.

The legendary artist began her career in 1963, the same year as the March on Washington. She talks to guest host Celeste Headlee about her life, work, and why no one originally wanted to hear her story.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

* Some of the language in the summaries above has been provided by publishers.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

More than 90 percent of Americans say public libraries are important to their communities, according to the Pew Research Center. But the way that love translates into actual financial support varies hugely from state to state.

Vermont, for instance, brags that it has more libraries per capita than any other U.S. state. Some of them are remarkably quaint. In Ludlow, one library is a white clapboard Victorian, slightly frayed, ringed by lilies and sitting by the side of a brook.

Morning traffic in Kabul can be punishing enough as it is. But on a recent day, there's an extra element clogging up the streets, a scene you don't see on a typical day in the Afghan capital.

The suburbs can be a creepy place. And they are at their creepiest in Patrick Flanery's new novel, Fallen Land. Set outside an unnamed American city, this dark and complex thriller plays out in a half-built subdivision where construction ground to a halt during the housing crisis.

Go to your nearest paperback rack, and odds are, you'll see two or three, or four, or — well, a lot of books by Debbie Macomber, an author The Sacramento Bee has dubbed "the reigning queen of women's fiction."

Macomber has 170 million books in print; the newest, Rose Harbor in Bloom, has just been released. Her publisher, Random House, celebrated Macomber's selling power earlier this month with a fan retreat at the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville, where 400 women gathered for a weekend of tea, knitting and literary friendship.

Samantha Shannon is being touted as the new J. K. Rowling. She's 21, a fresh graduate of Oxford, where she was a student when she wrote The Bone Season, the first in a projected seven-novel urban fantasy series. She's got a film deal with the new London studio set up by Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame, and she's been courting booksellers, book reviewers, and fantasy fans for more than a year.

It's tricky when a book arrives with such preliminary brouhaha. I've learned to scrub my mind of hype and leave it to the text. The proof is in the reading.

A Matter Of Succession

Aug 18, 2013

On-air challenge: You're given two words starting with the letter S. For each pair, give a third word — also starting with S — that can follow the first one and precede the second one, in each case to complete a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase.

Last week's challenge: A logic puzzle: "Nieces and nephews have I none, but that man's father is my father's son." What is the gender of the speaker? And who is the speaker referring to?

Answer: Male, the speaker is referring to his own son.

Can there be any experience more kaleidoscopic in its emotions, more full of hopes and fears and just plain confusions, than that of coming to America? I'm no expert, certainly — but my research on immigration for my recent novel, as well as my own family history, points to a process of continual surprises, endless adjustments, and, at times, exhausting isolation. Old habits crash up against new ideas; the desire for a "clean slate" is betrayed by the inevitable baggage of a former life.

The raucous comedy Austenland, in theaters this week, pokes fun at Americans' reverence for what they have been taught to see as a gracious British heritage — muslin, bonnets, tea time at the stately home with the blue-bloods, good manners.

As well it might. For most of the English 99-percenters I grew up with, heritage meant feet up in front of the telly, watching Top of the Pops.

Japanese painter and sculptor Ushio Shinohara was the bad boy of the avant-garde when he came to the U.S. more than 50 years ago. He knew Andy Warhol, hung with Red Grooms and polarized audiences with his vivid work.

And Ushio met his wife, Noriko Shinohara, not long after arriving here. She's an artist, too, but she's spent most of her career living in his shadow.

Less so recently, though. Noriko is coming into her own. And now the story of their life together is the subject of an intimate new documentary called Cutie and the Boxer.

Tales of Jesse James's exploits have grown to almost mythological proportions since the actual man and his gang galloped over the plains stealing horses, holding up trains, and robbing banks in the years after the Civil War. Shot All To Hell: Jesse James, The Northfield Raid, and the Wild West's Greatest Escape is a new book about the legendary man.

Elissa Schappell is the author of Blueprints for Building Better Girls.

In the good old, bad old days of book publishing, screaming matches happened in public, not online; the boss' philandering was an open secret never leaked to the press, and authors actually had to turn in their manuscripts in order to get money out of their publisher.

The Words Vivien Leigh Left Behind

Aug 17, 2013

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