Arts and culture

"Do you know how many words there are in 80 minutes?" asks actress Kathleen Turner. "My god!"

Turner is referring to The Year of Magical Thinking, a play based on Joan Didion's 2005 memoir. The book was written while Didion's daughter was in a deep coma, and after her husband of 40 years suffered a fatal heart attack. In her role as Didion, Turner is the only one on stage. "It's very lonely," she says.

One late December day in 1950, Max Beckmann was standing on a street corner near Central Park in New York City. The German expressionist painter had been on his way to see an exhibition featuring his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Called "American Painting Today," the show was displaying his Self-Portrait in Blue Jacket.

It would turn out to be his last self-portrait.

"No man is an island, entire of itself," John Donne famously reassured us in 1623, the same year Shakespeare's The Tempest was published in the First Folio. But "isolate" and "island" come from the same Latin root, and the truth is that we make our own islands where we daily maroon ourselves.

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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit


In Philip Roth's acclaimed novel American Pastoral, Miss New Jersey and Mr. Former High School Football star get married, have a beautiful daughter, a lovely house in the country, and a peaceful, blessed, life. But then the 1960's strike, and their little girl, outraged by the war in Vietnam, becomes a bomber.

Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature this week. His selection was surprising. He is the first artist to receive the award for a body of work that is almost entirely songs. But while there were critics, there was also a lot of acclaim, even from outstanding longtime novelists, including Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and Salman Rushdie, who called Mr. Dylan, "the brilliant inheritor of the Bardic tradition."

Remember for a moment the days of your youth. Before you were a reader of Serious Literature. Before you cared about the big questions and thematic duality, Pynchon's latest or the spectacular weirdness of China Mieville. Bring to mind a simpler time when books existed either as pure, picture-heavy entertainment or (depending on your age) as a vehicle for Dick and Jane to teach you about manners or Ninja Turtles to school you on good oral hygiene.

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The tragedy was local, yet seemed to speak to the whole of journalism: On July 15, 1974, reporter Christine Chubbuck pulled out a revolver during a live evening newscast in Sarasota Florida, and as her coworkers looking on in horror, shot herself in the head.

The what was simple, the why hard to fathom, and that's no less true in Antonio Campos' compelling retelling of the tale in his biopic Christine.