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Last month the New Hampshire Senate nearly made cursive a mandatory part of public school curriculum. But does the argument for keeping longhand in the classroom have more to do with nostalgia than it does educational outcomes? On today’s show  we go inside the emotional, and surprisingly partisan debate over cursive.

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Today’s classrooms may come outfitted with iPads and gadgets, but the textbook industry has weathered the digital storm surprisingly well. On today’s show we’ll look at an unexpected threat to the textbook industry:  the rollout of the Common Core standards.

Then, between jam packed schedules and lengthy to-do lists, it’s little wonder that so many people claim they hate surprises. But what can we gain from embracing the unexpected?  A self-described 'surprisologist' makes the case for being caught off guard.

Listen to the full show or click read more for individual segments.

You may know Maz Jobrani as a panelist on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! but his early acting career included roles in television and film, often playing parts fashioned from Middle Eastern stereotypes. 

Listen to Virginia's full interview with Maz below.

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We may not know who will bring home Oscars tonight, but two things are certain: a-list actresses will walk the red carpet, and they will be asked the standard question: “Who are you wearing?”

On today’s show, why some Hollywood actresses are bucking against the red carpet parade.

Then, Selma, Gone Girl, and Interstellar are among this year’s Oscar snubs. We’ll approach the academy’s cold-shoulder from a different angle, and reveal entire categories notably absent from the awards.

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Miranda July: The First Bad Man

Feb 19, 2015

Miranda July. Maybe you know her from her quirky and charming 2005 film “Me And You And Everyone We Know,” which won the special jury prize at Sundance – but since then she’s made a second film, a book of short stories, a messaging app, and has performed all over the world, and now she’s written a novel.

July’s debut novel The First Bad Man continues her skill at revealing uncomfortable moments and unexpected truths … in a very funny way.

Logan Shannon / NHPR

The National Park Service reports that only 7% of annual park visitors are African American. On today’s show, we delve into environmental and cultural history to find out why the story of the American outdoors is so white.

Then, from clamshell tweezers to electrolysis, we’ll take a look at America’s history of hair removal, and what it reveals about shifting views of racial and social status.

Plus, is technology killing the jewelry industry? We’ll find out why global sales of fine jewelry have been sluggish since the global recession.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

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As long as transplants have been medically possible, there have been horror stories about the black market organ trade. On today’s show, an anthropologist sheds the trappings of academia to take on, and even indict, illegal organ brokers.  

Then, Breaking Bad’s spin off Better Call Saul premiered last night to rave reviews from The New York Times and Rolling Stone.

We’ll speak with the man behind the character of sleaze bag lawyer Saul Goodman, actor and comedian Bob Odenkirk.

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Why Sweden Isn't Quite As Perfect As We Thought

Feb 4, 2015
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Maybe we should just move to Sweden.” It’s a common refrain in some households, this desire to move to a country that we paint as utopian. Well, after talking to Michael Booth about his book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, taking a cue from Michael, we came up with five reasons you may not like Sweden as much as you thought.

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The media often portrays Sweden as a modernist utopia – where blond-haired trend makers export upbeat pop music, hip furniture and meat balls, and parents enjoy unparalleled family leave. On today’s show: debunking the myth of the Scandinavian utopia.

And we uncover a growing trend among the DIY set: Ikea hacking, where people use Ikea’s raw materials to create their own customized furniture.

And our series Good Gig continues with a meteorologist based on the beautiful, but often inhospitable, summit of Mount Washington.

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Logan Shannon / NHPR

The recent disintegration and crash of a Virgin Galactic suborbital space plane raised questions about the safety and viability of space tourism. On today’s show we consider another issue for commercial spaceflight….the psychological effects of leaving earth.

Then, we can all remember our favorite sports movies – but what about our favorite sports-based books? Bill Littlefield of NPR’s Only a Game talks about his favorite sportswriters, and reads from his new collection of athletics inspired poetry. 

Plus, a conversation with America’s only water sommelier. That’s right, water sommelier.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Bill Littlefield's Favorite Sports Books...Right Now

Dec 4, 2014

If you're shopping for a sports fan this holiday season, Bill Littlefield host of NPR's Only a Game, has some suggestions for new titles that he considers his favorites, right now.

We can all remember our favorite sports movies – but what about our favorite sports-based books? On today’s show, Bill Littlefield of NPR’s Only A Game talks about his favorite sportswriters, and reads from his new collection of athletics inspired poetry. 

Then, we tackle another competition of sorts: passing the knowledge, the notoriously difficult test that every London cabbie has to take before he or she can get behind the wheel of a black taxi.

Plus a look at how and why the basketball shot clock came to be from Roman Mars’ podcast, 99% Invisible.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Aasif Mandvi: No Land's Man

Nov 17, 2014

Aasif Mandvi talked to Virginia about his new collection of essays, No Land’s Man and about the time he got a call from The Daily Show to come in for an audition.

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Since his debut on The Daily Show, Aasif Mandvi has held such titles as “Senior Muslim Correspondent”, “Senior Middle East Correspondent” and “Senior Foreign Looking correspondent”. On today’s show, Aasif Mandvi tells us why he almost didn't take the job.

Plus, between Thanksgiving, holiday preparation, and dealing with a general lack of sunlight, the month of November can be overwhelming, but one writer is making the case that it’s a great month to finally write that novel you’ve been talking about.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

Season Of The Witch: How The Occult Saved Rock & Roll

Oct 15, 2014

In 1966, the top of the music charts had a decidedly split personality. Hits like Last Train to Clarksville by The Monkees and Winchester Cathedral by The New Vaudeville Gang, were sharing the airwaves with The Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows and The Rolling Stones Paint it Black. Chalk it up to social changes sweeping the nation, or perhaps the availability of LSD, but a new counter cultural approach to reality and spirituality was opening up and rock music was hitching a ride.

10.12.14: The Wonderful World Of Books

Oct 10, 2014
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Today’s show is all about the wonderful world of books, starting with the U.S. Senate Handbook, a 380 page document of sometimes confounding rules intended to keep Senate offices running smoothly. Then, we’ll speak to an antiquarian bookseller about the beauty and obsession of rare books. And actor and comedian Bob Odenkirk discusses his debut collection of writings, A Load of Hooey.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.

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Throughout her time at Dartmouth, Priya Krishna catalogued inventive twists on dining hall fare for her college newspaper. Shortly after graduation she began gathering together recipes for her new book Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks, which came out in June 2014.

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New Hampshire is often advertised as a state filled with natural attractions, famous for our mountains (Mt. Washington and Mt. Monadnock are both known world-wide), lakes, and rivers. But the state is filled with historical landmarks as well, which Lucie Bryar covers in her book Exploring Southern New Hampshire: History and Nature on Back Roads and Quiet Waters. Here are some of the cultural attractions in southern NH you may not have heard about, but that you’ll definitely want to check out.

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Today, we have a conversation with an anatomist behind a new PBS series that puts the lens on mammals who reproduce under extreme circumstances, like dolphins. And if you think it’s tough for mammals to find a mate, try finding one in the vast ocean when you’re a nearly microscopic crustacean. We’ll look into the mating rituals of copepods. And then, a different sort of nature when Chuck Klosterman tells us more about the traits of villainy.

Listen to the full show and Read more for individual segments.


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With their shaven heads, combat boots and bomber jackets, neo-Nazis used to be pretty easy to pick out of a crowd. Today, not so much. We explore why Europe’s young hyper-nationalists are opting for a more hipster look. Plus, common sense tells us that reading to children is good for them, but it’s more powerful than you might imagine. We’ll look into the practice of interactive reading and share tricks for bringing up book worms in the age of screens and digital devices. And, not all princesses are polite and demure. We remember some princesses for their bad behavior.

Listen to the full show and Read more for individual segments.


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With more than a quarter of the players born outside the US, professional baseball is the UN of American pro sports. We take a look at a position crucial to a team’s success:  the interpreter…and how the job requires more than mere translation. Plus, France’s government is banning English words like ‘fast-food’ and ‘hashtag’ in the name of cultural preservation…we find out why the words are unlikely to disappear from the vernacular anytime soon. And, Sue Miller speaks about her new book, The Arsonist.

Listen to the full show and Read more for individual segments.


What Is "Twee"?

Jun 9, 2014
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We spoke with Marc Spitz about his new book Twee, in which he tries to give a comprehensive and explanatory history of “the gentle revolution.”

(You can hear that conversation here.)

The tenants of Twee are varied but they come down to this: there is darkness in this world that can only be overcome by cultivating passions that foster beauty and evoke a sense of innocence, goodness, and childhood.

In other words, when the world gets scary, just put a bird on it.

As with any cultural movement, the question of Twee can spark long debates (and trying to sort through “Twee vs. Not Twee” makes an awesome party game). To get you up to speed, here’s a handy list of things that are definitively Twee. As Twee defies categorization, we present this to you as a holistic experience, books mixing with music mixing with…hairstyles?

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We are in the midst of a cultural movement…it’s called Twee and boy is it precious. Today we look into the gentle revolution that is Twee…from artisanal pickles to Wes Anderson films, why this retro wish for innocence is thriving. Then, we hear from a local jazz musician who has just released his debut album to good reviews. He has a long career ahead of him since he’s only 20 years old. Plus, a conversation with comedian Todd Glass. He’s been performing stand-up since 1982, but he made his boldest move in 2012 when he came out publicly as gay on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.


via indiebound.org

L.L. Bean, The North Face, Nordstrom and Land’s End all sell apparel, but they have another thing in common: they guarantee their merchandise for life. But is that really a shrewd business move? Today on Word of Mouth, the pros and cons of the lifetime guarantee.  Plus, Producer Zach Nugent interviews a few people who have tested that policy, and talks to one company’s PR rep about the fine print of their policy.

Also today, child-soldier-turned novelist Ishmael Beah talks about rebuilding lives, communities, and trust after a brutal war.

Listen to the full show and click Read more for individual segments.


Photo by David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

NHPR and The Music Hall present Writers on a New England Stage with B.J. Novak, recorded live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth.

Best known for his role as “Ryan the Temp” on The Office, Novak talks with us about his debut collection of short stories One More Thing which he thinks is even more revealing than a memoir.

We’ll also get his take on his rising fame, and the not-so-heavy burden of being a celebrity author.

Photo(s) by David J. Murray / ClearEyePhoto.com

NHPR and The Music Hall present Writers on a New England Stage with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, recorded live at The Music Hall in Portsmouth. Justice Sotomayor sat down with Virginia Prescott to discuss her memoir, My Beloved World. She's not permitted to comment on current cases, which gave Virginia plenty of time to discuss Justice Sotomayor's childhood in the Bronx, what it was like to throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium and counseling a Sesame Street character, Abby Cadabby on possible career choices.

via promiselandbook.com

Three weeks into the New Year, sticking to that resolution to exercise more or stop eating sugar or drink less may feel a little extreme. So, what do you do? Shrug your shoulders and reach for another cupcake? Log onto veganlife.com? Head for the bookstore to find somebody, anybody, who can guide us to be fitter, happier, radiant human beings? From the meditations of Marcus Aurelius to Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac,”  people have been reaching for advice on how to be more fully actualized since long before being self-actualized was a term. The writer Jessica Lamb-Shapiro set out to explore the 11-billion dollar industry of self-improvement books, seminars, and coaching to figure out why people follow them so devoutly--if they work--and what happens when they don’t. She’s written a memoir called, Promise Land: My Journey Through America’s Self-Help Culture.

Photo of Nicholson Baker courtesy the Poetry Foundation

Author Nicholson Baker joins us to talk about his recurring character Paul Chowder. The procrastinating poet first tuned up in Baker's novel The Anthologist, and is now the center of his latest book, Traveling Sprinkler.