Arts & Culture

Arts & culture

You're probably used to hearing artists who are eager to set their latest albums apart from their previous work speak of breaking free from formula, the idea being that they've grown dissatisfied with strictures imposed on their music-making. But not everyone shares that philosophy.

We named our science and culture commentary 13.7: Cosmos & Culture when it launched nearly nine years ago.

At the time, the universe was believed to be 13.7 billion years old. But according to data released from the Planck satellite since, it took a bit longer: 13.8 billion years from the Big Bang to this blog.

Here's how it (the commentary, not the Big Bang) came to be:

One of the two women at the center of Meg Wolitzer's absorbing new novel, The Female Persuasion, is a legendary feminist named Faith Frank. Faith, who's in her 60s when the story begins, seems to be modeled on Gloria Steinem: She's charismatic, sexy and witty. We're told that Faith is not "a firebrand or a visionary; her talent was different. She could sift and distill ideas and present them in a way that made other people want to hear them."

When Melanie McNeil roused her 8-year-old great-grandson, Byron Ridenour-Wright, out of bed in Ohio last fall, and loaded him onto a bus bound for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, she didn't have high hopes for lunch.

"Later, years later, I would hear a song made of our meeting," says the hero of Madeleine Miller's Circe, of her romance with the mortal Odysseus. Circe is referring to Homer's version of the story, in which Odysseus arrives on her island sea-battered and mourning for his men killed by the cruel Laestrygonians. Circe entraps his remaining men and turns them into pigs. But Odysseus, with the help of the god Hermes, tricks Circe and makes her beg for mercy before becoming her lover.

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Take the everyday sounds of a city - traffic, people's voices - give them to composer and MIT professor Tod Machover and out comes a symphony.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOD MACHOVER'S "A TORONTO SYMPHONY")

America has had its first black baseball player, its first black astronaut, its first black president — but after the firsts, the world is still full of onlies. Sometimes the only-ness is existential — like the only black student in a private school. Sometimes it's incidental — the only black woman in an hour-long yoga class.

For the past two decades, photographer Dayanita Singh has been the subject of exhibitions and retrospectives at museums around the world. Her poetic images of Indian family life and architecture, abandoned spaces and private moments, are the kind of classically beautiful works coveted by curators and collectors.

In 2016, Brady Jandreau was thrown from a horse while riding in a rodeo. The horse stepped on the Lakota cowboy's head, crushing his skull.

Doctors told him that he wouldn't ride again — and he considered giving it up — but couldn't. "I knew what I had to do and I knew what I was going to do," Jandreau says. "The rest was up to faith and my connection with the animal."

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A confession: I was not a fan of New Girl when it premiered. Fox leaned hard on its description of Zooey Deschanel's character, Jess, as "adorkable," which is too twee even for network promotional materials. She was presented as inept and ill-equipped to function in the adult world without the help of her three male roommates: Nick (Jake Johnson), Schmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris). The guys were flatly drawn, and the show was too reliant on an underdeveloped take on Jess' appeal.

Craft bourbon distillers have been growing for the past several years as drinkers rediscover heritage and new styles of brown liquor drinks. Some might call it a boom. But many distillers have seen the boom-and-bust cycle of liquor popularity before and are exploring ways to hedge their bets against another bust.

Andrew Buchanan walks through Hartfield & Co. Distillery, a small, relatively new operation located in a former seed storage warehouse in Paris, Ky.

Here's something you don't hear every day: a young person makes a record about the value of kindness and compassion. My guest in this session has done just that. Her name is Courtney Marie Andrews and her latest album is called May Your Kindness Remain.

The Australian government has ordered a review of its lucrative sheep export trade after some 2,400 sheep died last summer on a ship headed to Doha, Qatar.

Video of sheep gasping and dying in sweltering temperatures was captured by a whistleblower on board the Awassi Express, and aired by 60 Minutes Australia on Sunday.

It's not often that chicken skin ignites an international controversy, but leave it to a competitive cooking television show to do just that.

MasterChef UK judge Gregg Wallace found himself in the spotlight following the airing last week of an episode in which he criticized contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin's rendition of a classic Malaysian dish, chicken rendang. "I like your rendang flavor, that's like a coconut sweetness," he said. "But the chicken skin isn't crispy. It can't be eaten, but all the sauce is on the skin I can't eat."

What do I love about this book? For starters: Dorothy Parker. Rebecca West. Hannah Arendt. Mary McCarthy. Nora Ephron. Janet Malcolm. With Sharp, Michelle Dean has essentially gathered ten 20th century literary lodestars for an all-female intellectual history party thrown between the covers of a single book. The price of admission to this critical gala: "the ability to write unforgettably," and being labeled "sharp."

Charles Frazier used to think he'd said enough about the Civil War. In Cold Mountain, he'd written an acclaimed novel that became an Oscar-winning movie.

"After Cold Mountain, I never thought I wanted to write about the Civil War again," he says in an interview. "But as the past three or four years have shown, it's not done with us — as a country, as a culture."

We still have competing visions of America. And Charles Frazier's new novel Varina offers a fictional version of a real-life Confederate.

Chrissy Metz is best known for her role as Kate on the hit NBC show This Is Us. But before she got herself on a screen, she was helping other people get there. Metz moved across the country from Florida to California in the early 2000s to work for an agent and try her hand at acting. She eventually became an agent herself, though she never stopped believing she could be an actor. She auditioned on the side for years before landing This Is Us.

The new horror movie A Quiet Place is a hit at the box office and with critics. It's also notable for its lack of sound, which poses a problem for lovers of movie-theater popcorn.

After three members of the Swedish Academy resigned Friday, protesting its response to a long-simmering scandal, the committee known for awarding the Nobel Prize in literature has found itself in unfamiliar — and precarious — territory: Beyond examining the merits of an author's past work, as it does each year, the centuries-old group is now also facing questions about its own future.

In American farm country, a grass-roots movement is spreading, a movement to keep more roots in the soil. (Not just grass roots, of course; roots of all kinds.) Its goal: Promoting healthy soil that's full of life.

I met three different farmers recently who are part of this movement in one way or another. Each of them took me to a field, dug up some dirt, and showed it off like a kind of hidden treasure.

"You can see how beautiful that soil [is]," said Deb Gangwish, in Shelton, Neb. "I'm not a soil scientist, but I love soil!"

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Comedian Hari Kondabolu made a documentary in 2017 called The Problem With Apu. It's not very long — less than an hour. In it, he interrogates the legacy of Apu, the convenience store owner on The Simpsons voiced by Hank Azaria. Kondabolu talked to other actors and comics who longed for more South Asian representation, only to find that at the time, Apu was just about all there was. And Apu was not only voiced by a white actor, but he was doing what Azaria has acknowledged is a take on Peter Sellers doing an Indian accent in the movie The Party.

Alongside tamales and maybe empanadas, arroz con pollo is one of the most beloved dishes in Latin America. Every country has a version of this one-pot meal that finds chicken cooked on a bed of seasoned rice. The Latino consensus is that Caribbeans prepare it best, and it's a tossup between Cuba and Puerto Rico over who makes it best. (I especially enjoy how Dominicans do it because I can spike it with the nation's electric mojo de ajo).

We know more than we ever did before about how hard it can be for women trying to make it in Hollywood.

But Sandra Oh says she was prepared for anything the industry threw her way — sort of by accident. She had to face her toughest critics long ago — her parents — who absolutely did not want her to become an actor.

Arthur Miller is a giant of the American theater. He's renowned for classics like Death Of A Salesman and The Crucible, which premiered in the '40s and '50s yet continue to be read in school and performed to this day.

Miller lived a long time — he died in 2005 at the age of 89 — so it might be easy to forget that for much of his adult life he wasn't just accomplished. He was also a major celebrity: He made headlines with his marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and for his testimony before Congress during the McCarthy era.

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