Scott Simon

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is open now, after winning praise and prizes at film festivals in Toronto and Venice.

Paul Hollywood is all about the bake. He grew up in a flat that always smelled of bread, above his father's bakery in Merseyside; became a baker in his teens, then head baker at five-star London hotels, then off to resorts in Cyprus, and ultimately became a judge — the one with a twinkle in his piercing blue eyes — on The Great British Bake Off. His new book is Paul Hollywood: A Baker's Life.

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Life on the moon is no bed of roses. The coffee is weak (because water boils at a low temperature) and the food is rank (because it's hard to grow much more than algae).

The first human colony on the moon, Artemis, is essentially a small, frontier mining town and tourist trap. It's a place that attracts misfits who hope to strike it rich, including a young woman who grew up there named Jazz.

Author Anne Fadiman's father, Clifton Fadiman, was the very model of the modern, cultivated man: He quoted William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, recited Homer and Sophocles, and made clever wisecracks and pointed puns. He was a longtime judge for the Book-of-the-Month Club, the host of a popular radio and TV quiz show, and he loved wine. In The Wine Lover's Daughter, Anne Fadiman has written a memoir that winds in and out of one of her father's most personal passions.

The ongoing wildfires in Northern California have reminded many Americans of the courage — the heroism — of the men and women who fight fires in forests and wilderness.

A new film called Only The Brave is based on the true story of the 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots who battled, and ultimately lost their lives, in Arizona's Yarnell Hill Fire during late June of 2013. Hotshots are the elite crews that attack and try to contain wildfires with chainsaws, shovels and flames of their own (to create firebreaks).

The world Philip Pullman created is back—in his hands, and now ours.

The His Dark Materials trilogy, which was introduced more than 20 years ago with a book called The Golden Compass, is set in a world ruled by theocratic overlords collectively known as the Magisterium, and in which children often disappear into the hands of people called the Gobblers. However, human souls — especially those of children — take shape outside their bodies as daemons: talking animal spirits who give humans aid, comfort and companionship.

Travis Meadows has done a lot of living. The Nashville-based artist has battled both addiction and cancer, the latter of which claimed his right leg below the knee. He spent years as a missionary, wrote and performed Christian music, then tumbled back into alcoholism. And he's made a name for himself as someone who can spin dark poetry into some of country music's most heart-wrenching songs. (He based his 2011 album Killin' Uncle Buzzy on journal entries he made while in rehab.)

Some of the great roles for sopranos are often compellingly fragile — and disarmingly forceful – women: Gilda, the favored daughter in Rigoletto; Violeta, the doomed love in La Traviata.

Charity Tillemann-Dick has sung those roles onstage, but her greatest role may be her own life. She is one of 11 brothers and sisters of a Mormon-Jewish family, and was studying at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music when she was diagnosed with a debilitating and ultimately fatal lung disease.

George Moses Horton published a book of poetry in 1829, when he was still a slave in North Carolina. He went on to write several volumes, which never earned enough money to buy his freedom — though he became a frequent presence on campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he wrote love poetry on commission for students. Horton was finally set free by the Union Army in 1865, moved to Philadelphia and continued to write until he died.

Hugh Hefner made history, and then tripped over it. When I was growing up in Chicago, the formidable women who were my mother's friends considered Playboy a good place to work for a single woman. Women at the Playboy Club were well-paid, got chauffeured home in cabs, and customers — stars, politicians, even, it was rumored, spoiled Middle Eastern princes — were thrown out if they weren't gentlemen.

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HUMPHREY BOGART: (As Rick Blaine) Here's looking at you, kid.


CLARK GABLE: (As Rhett Butler) Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.


This week, I went to the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to sit in on a conducting class led by Marin Alsop, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. The Maestra was showing several Peabody students — aspiring young conductors — some of the fine points of leading an orchestra, as they led musicians through Don Juan, the dramatic tone poem by Richard Strauss.

The husk and soul that characterizes Michael McDonald's voice is recognizable anywhere: alongside the jazz-rock of Steely Dan, during his stints as front man for the Doobie Brothers, or alone, as on Wide Open, his latest solo album.

Nathan Englander's latest novel, Dinner at the Center of the Earth, is set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It winds together the stories of a prisoner, a guard, mothers, sons, spies, statesmen, traitors and lovers. Sometimes they're even the same person.

"I call this novel sort of like a turducken of a novel," Englander tells NPR. "It's like a political thriller that's wrapped up in a historical novel that's really a love story that ends up being an allegory."

Vijay Iyer is an acclaimed jazz pianist, MacArthur winner and Harvard professor of music. His new album, recorded with a six-person band, is called Far From Over. With the band, he says, he wanted to write with "different dance rhythms and dance impulses" in mind; the record also reflects Iyer's belief that jazz is "a category that keeps shifting."

My Absolute Darling is Gabriel Tallent's first novel, and no less than Stephen King has called it a "masterpiece" to rank with To Kill A Mockingbird and Catch-22.

It's the story of a clever, resourceful, and lonely 14-year-old girl named Turtle Alveston. Her mother took her own life when Turtle was a child, and she's grown up in the woods of Mendocino County, Calif., with her father, Martin, who taught her how to hunt, shoot, and survive.

Ayobami Adebayo's debut novel, Stay with Me, begins in the midst of Nigeria's political turmoil in the 1980s.

"It's a period of time that I've always been interested in because I think it can help us understand Nigeria even right now," she says.

The book tells the story of Yejide and Akin, a couple who will do anything to have a child — including trying to find love with others.

"They live in a society where having children validates not just the individual but the marriage itself," Adebayo explains.

Marjorie Prime is a science fiction film — sort of. It opens with an elderly woman, played by Lois Smith, who is getting to know the lifelike hologram of her late husband, played by Jon Hamm. It's a low-key but highly intense drama that asks: If holograms can learn, carry memory and form personality, are they creations or are they us?

Great scandals often begin in passion or ambition. But how do you explain France's l'affaire Bettencourt?

Liliane Bettencourt, one of the richest women in the world, is now locked off from the world by Alzheimer's disease. She is heir to the L'Oreal cosmetics fortune of nearly $40 billion. Why would she have given perhaps as much as a billion dollars in cash, real estate, and art to François-Marie Banier, an artist and photographer who is a quarter of a century younger and openly gay? Was it extravagant support for a friend — or the cruel swindle of a senior citizen?

Michael Angelakos founded the musical project Passion Pit as a college student in his dorm room at Emerson College. A decade and four albums later, Angelakos is more than just a musician: He has become an advocate for mental health, too.

If he had to choose two teams to play in the World Series based only on their home stadiums, Rafi Kohan would like to see the Boston Red Sox versus the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Red Sox's Fenway Park "really is a magical place and they've done a tremendous job with their renovations" he says, and the Pirates' PNC Park is "just a beautiful little park."

New People is a novel where infatuation gnaws at what looks like happiness.

Maria lives in Brooklyn with Khalil, her fiance. They met at Stanford — and they love each other, the light skin color they share, and the life they begin in the late 1990's, Khalil an up and coming dot-commer, Maria a grad student studying the Jonestown Massacre. They're called the "King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom." But Maria's eye wanders to a poet who is vividly and distinctly different from her fiance.

It's rare to talk to a celebrity who hits as many demographic heights as Baddiewinkle. She's an Instagram influencer with more than 3 million followers; she's been featured by two major cosmetics lines; and she turned heads when she wore a bedazzled nude bodysuit to the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards.

For parents, the thought of a child being sick or hurt can be a heart-stopper. Fortunately, for those who do confront such realities, there are doctors like Kurt Newman.

Newman is president and CEO of Children's National Health System, known as Children's National, in Washington, D.C. He started there as a surgeon more than 30 years ago.

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A mother leaves her 9-year-old son locked in an airless apartment for a week with no food, water or light. He breaks out through a window, and police find him weak and bleeding; they also find his mother passed out in a nearby crack house.

Shtum is a Yiddish word that means silence. It's also the title of a novel that centers around three generations of men who get thrown together in a small space and can't talk to each other. Jonah, the little boy, has the best reason: He's profoundly autistic and can't speak. The story has a personal resonance for author Jem Lester, who says that while he bears no resemblance to the father in Shtum, Jonah's story has parallels to his own son.