books

For the pious Puritans of early America, witchcraft was a crime of the highest order.

Back then, the term "witch hunt" was not just an expression: In 1692, 19 women and men were hanged and one pressed to death with stones after being found guilty of witchcraft.

In her book The Witches, author Stacy Schiff follows the buildup of fear and outrageous tales of consorting with the devil. The witch trials were set in motion by two young Salem girls in the grip of strange and disturbing symptoms.

Celebrating 100 Years of Arthur Miller

Oct 20, 2015
The Huntington / Creative Commons

More than a decade after his death, Arthur Miller’s plays continue to resonate with readers and audiences across the world. This October marks his 100th birthday, and theaters from Los Angeles to London are staging Miller productions in celebration of his centennial.  

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Jonathan Franzen has become that rare American author whose life and moods and sulks make news. From his friendship with David Foster Wallace to his fractious encounter with Oprah Winfrey, Franzen may have become America’s most visible intellectual. All that puts a lot of pressure on Purity, his newest novel. We’re experimenting on the show with a new book club format, asking three Connecticut literati to read and discuss the book.

Miguel Ariel Contreras Drake-McLaughlin (Flickr) / Creative Commons

Bob Woodward thought he knew everything about Watergate. Then Alexander Butterfield, now in his late 80's, told him there were other stories never spoken of. Woodward focuses on these stories in his latest book on the Watergate scandal called The Last of the President's Men. This hour, we hear from the legendary Washington Post journalist.

Also, the Wesleyan Argus faces an uncertain financial future. In September, the paper published an op-ed criticizing the "Black Lives Matter" movement. The backlash now threatens funding for The Argus next year.

On January 16, 1920, Americans took their last legal drink for 13 years. In New York City, gadflies wore black clothes and funeral robes in anticipation of the Volstead Act kicking off Prohibition at midnight. Reporters for the Daily News imagined the last words of John Barleycorn: “I’ve had more friends in private and more foes in public than any other man in America.” 

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Ta-Nehisi Coates is one of the most important voices in America today. He made the case for reparations last summer when he argued that it's time for America to confront the impact of slavery, Jim Crow, and other discriminatory policies that have consistently denied African Americans opportunities afforded other Americans. He says until we admit to the debts accrued from years of racism, we can never be whole.

Shortlists for the National Book Awards went public Wednesday, halving the number of nominees to just 20 finalists. Among the books that have survived the second round of cuts, a few clear favorites are beginning to emerge — while others have been displaced by less familiar names.

The full lists of finalists can be found below.

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Philippe Petit made his walk between the towers of the World Trade Center over 40 years ago. He stayed up on that wire for 45 minutes, made 8 passes between the towers, got down on his knees, and he even laid down on it! But it's more than that one feat - it was a placeholder for a much broader philosophy of risk and creativity, and evidence of who the man really is.

Journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, puppetry artist Basil Twist and neuroscientist Beth Stevens work in wholly unrelated fields, but they do have at least one thing in common.

Along with 21 others, they are winners of the 2015 "genius" grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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Nicholas Kristof, columnist for The New York Times, and Sheryl WuDunn were the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. Their latest book, A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity looks at people with great ideas who are making the world a better place and calls upon all of us to do our part.

Walking With Dante

Sep 28, 2015
Freeparking :-I / Creative Commons

"Dante's Inferno" is the most famous section of Dante Aligheri's 14,000 line epic poem, The Divine Comedy. But it's only the first part of Dante's long pilgrimage through the afterlife. He first enters the circles of hell, filled with beasts and sinners doomed to the Inferno for crimes like gluttony, lust, and treason. 

Gerry Lauzon / Creative Commons

Volkswagen is having a moment. Not a good moment, but it's certainly a moment. VW owners are glaring at their vehicles with suspicion after it was revealed the automaker's diesel vehicles were designed to cheat on emissions tests.

Hopefully, VW is not capturing its moment with a selfie because that could be deadly. Plus, selfies are so easy to take, a monkey can do it and maybe even make some money from it.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Raouf Mama is a beloved storyteller by children and adults familiar with his books Why Goats Smell Bad and Why Monkeys Live in TreesHis love of storytelling stems from a long and honorable oral tradition that goes back to the ancient empire of Mali, when people preserved the lessons of life in memory instead of on the written page.

Raouf says we each have a story of belonging and identity. He uses his stories to entertain, comfort, and most of all as a tool to enlighten students.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

I first met cartoonist Bill Griffith back in the 1980s. I arranged for us to tour a Boston-area Hostess Twinkie plant, which sounds like a weird first date but makes perfect sense if you're familiar with his creation "Zippy the Pinhead," an unwitting surrealist who swims happily through a sea of taco sauce, processed cheese and, well, Twinkies.

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There was a time when hard work brought most Americans a decent wage, a secure life, and opportunities to aim for a better life. George Packer says that's no longer the case for too many Americans.

Institutions that once anchored middle-class Americans are either collapsing or morphing into faceless institutions that benefit the wealthy, Packer says. Health and educational outcomes are significantly lower for the poor, who are also incarcerated at higher rates. 

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Katha Pollitt, is best known for her column in The Nation, where her work has appeared since 1980. She's a feminist, a keen observer of American culture, and the author of two books of poetry and four essay collections. One of those essays, “Learning to Drive,” appeared in The New Yorker 13 years ago, and has recently been adapted into a film starring Patricia Clarkson and Sir Ben Kingsley. 

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Gary Franks was the first black Republican elected to the U.S. Congress in nearly 60 years when he took office in 1991. Since his political career ended in the late 1990s, he hasn’t been heard from in Connecticut.

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Joyce Carol Oates has been writing since before she could read, making "books" by drawing and coloring characters in her tablet. She preferred upright chickens and cats in confrontational poses and tried hard to make her books look like the ones read by adults.  

She's wanted to be a writer since inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Those books changed her life and by extension, ours. 

Chion Wolf / WNPR

Caroline Jacobs is a grown woman with children of her own. But by all accounts, she's a wimp. She would prefer to suffer in silence than stand up for herself or anyone else -- until she couldn't stand it anymore.  

One night, while at a public meeting and in a crowded room, she stood up, pointed her finger at the one she loathed, and shouted "F%$# You" to her nemesis. With that one phrase, she was ready to face her past. 

エルエルLL flickr.com/photos/107244436@N07 / Creative Commons

WNPR has a radio project and we want to get you involved. The idea is simple: we provide a theme; you call our hotline with your story.

The theme: Tell us one thing you remember from last week and why it was memorable to you. It doesn't have to be a long story - between 5-20 words is plenty, unless you want to add a little more. The point is that we can all tell a story and it doesn't have to be a chore. 

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Hunter S. Thompson was one of those writers whose lives start to matter more than their art. From almost the beginning, life and art were intentionally interwoven. Thompson's outsized appetites for drugs and food and stimulation were set into his hyperbolic prose. The story of the wrier was the story of the story. He was hardly the first to do it, but he did it in a fashion that made both the lifestyle and prose of Norman Mailer seem comparatively restrained. 

Salvador Dalí / Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Among the 176 items associated with Lewis Carroll's novel Alice's Adventure in Wonderland at Yale's Beineke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is a limited edition of the book signed and illustrated by Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí.

McFreshCreates / Flickr Creative Commons

If you know how to read, you're probably pretty good at recognizing words. But, new words like "egg corn," "crema" and "slendro" are challenging our concept of what makes a word.  Yet these very words were recently added to Merriam-Webster's unabridged online dictionary.

Steven L. Shepard / Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs

Officials in France and the United States are celebrating the actions of three brave passengers aboard a train who thwarted an attack. Did these passengers do what you're supposed to do in that situation? This hour, we hear from a retired FBI special agent who will tell us how bystanders should respond to violence.

Dragons Rule!

Aug 20, 2015
William O'Connor - William O'Connor Studios

She who controls the dragon controls the world.

Drogon, Rhaegal and Viserion are the most recent dragons to capture our attention, thanks to "Game of Thrones," the wildly popular HBO hit that's placed dragons front and center in our imagination.

Lydia Brown / WNPR

In her graphic memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, cartoonist Roz Chast brings humor to the difficult topic of aging parents. Last year, the book earned her the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction. Now, it's being featured alongside some of her other work as part of the Distinguished Illustrator Exhibition Series at the Norman Rockwell Museum. 

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My motto on The Book Show is: Life is short, but it can be ever so wide.

Join me and my book buddies for a call-in show recommending terrific books to read in all categories. If you're in a book club, please tell us what you've read and enjoyed.

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Travis Hugh Culley is an author and a playwright. He holds an MFA in writing from the Art Institute of Chicago, which is remarkable, since Culley was illiterate until about age 17. 

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Mystic Seaport hosted its 30th annual marathon reading of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick aboard the Charles W. Morgan last weekend, America’s oldest commercial ship still afloat. 

Ginny/flickr creative commons

My motto on The Book Show is: Life is short, but it can be ever so wide.

Join me and my book buddies for a call-in show recommending terrific books to read in all categories. If you're in a book club, please tell us what you've read and enjoyed.

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