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Posts Tagged ‘NPR’

Storytelling is a fundamentally human pursuit. (Not to say that we’re the only ones who do it, because it’s possible that ant and bee pheromones communicate the route to food in the form of a tale that resonates with those particular species, but…) In fundamental ways that touch on history to parenting to neuroscience and everything in between, we are our stories. The origins of some classic fairytales, for instance, go back thousands of years.

How our essential stories came to be, what they say to us, and about us, and how they continue to resonate, are all fundamental questions for writers. One way to think about the path of a story, where it goes and what it is meant to do, is through the Hero’s Journey. The TED Radio Hour on NPR did a nice series on this:

…why are we drawn to stories about heroes? And what do they tell us about ourselves?

There are other ways to tell a story, of course, but as the fundamental underpinnings of tales from The Odyssey to Star Wars, this framework provides a fascinating and concrete way to communicate through fiction.

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If we do find aliens someday, I hope they are carbon-based and heck, while I’m wishing, mammals. Why? Because I want to try their food.

On some days I think that food is as close to a universal language as we’ve got. This is hardly an original thought, but the millions of cookbooks and posts and discussions on food and its importance only serve to make my point.

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Food is good stuff. It supports us, sure, but it also helps define us as individuals and as social animals. What did you have for lunch today? How did you get your ingredients? How did you cook it? Did you share it?

Many folks’ introduction to other cultures happens over a meal. I grew up in a small town that was relatively isolated in terms of culture. Meat by the loin, heaping helpings of potatoes, sweet corn, one overcooked and somewhat suspect green at the edge of the plate. That sort of thing. I still have a soft spot in my tastebuds for pork and sauerkraut, but by and large the food was straightforward, hardly adventurous.

My parents took care of that.

Facing down a future with nothing more radical than chicken and waffles (yes, my poutine-loving Canadian friends, it’s a thing and you’d adore it:), the parental units got their hands on books like The New York Times Large Type Cookbook and Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook (both of which I still have on my shelf) and went to work. My palate and my social perspective are better for it.

An article on NPR talks about a group of Hungarian foodies fighting anti-immigrant prejudice with dinner. What a brilliant idea. Eritrean sourdough pancake bread, Somali fried bananas, or Afghan pie with fresh Syrian cream cheese? Sign me up, and while I’m there introduce me to the people too.

Think about your day, and the role food played in it. Did you go out to the barn to harvest eggs? Or did you open the refrigerator? What would breakfast look like (yours or mine) if the international shipping industry shut down?*

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Food is a big deal, and sharing it is sharing part of who you are. It’s why we invite people over for dinner instead of going out, It’s why Italy, of all places, has made significant progress in gluten-free food awareness as a way to make sure that gluten intolerance doesn’t get in the way of social communion.

Honestly, I’ve always felt that one major flaw in much speculative fiction revolves around food. Let’s see, fantasy = stew plus berries and mead, science fiction = rations that sound a lot like the worst protein bar you’ve every had or meals in a pill.** That’s not entirely fair but it’s not all that far off, either. It’s also not, from my food-oriented point of view, all that realistic.*** Sure, humans can put up with a lot when we must. Conflict, migration, that first year away from home, all times of upheaval, culinary and otherwise. But people still remember their traditions.

What we really want is that moment when life returns to normal, and among other things “normal” means real food. Whether your definition of “real” means Thanksgiving dinner or a Ramadan feast or congee, we use food as a touchstone. Lose that, and we lose an important piece of ourselves. (That doesn’t mean we can’t change, as my childhood diet attests, but it’s not like I’m eating hydrolyzed protein three meals a day either. Things got better. And hey, I feel the urge to add yet another footnote!****)

I’ve always been a bit shy but I learned early that one surefire way to start a conversation is to ask someone what they eat.

So if aliens arrive and invite us to the table, I’ll bring a fork.

* Note to everyone suffering from imagined caffeine withdrawal right now: yaupon is a caffeine-containing tea plant native to the United States. Because aliens, zombies, or no, mornings need a boost, amiright?

** For future reference, fellow SF Canada writer Krista D. Ball has a highly detailed and useful book on realism in fantasy food (just how long does it take to make stew and how in blazes do I carry leftovers?): What Kings Ate and Wizards Drank.

*** For a fascinating look at the intersection of food and space exploration, check out NASA’s Food for Spaceflight or read the section on food (titled “Discomfort Food, When Veterinarians Make Dinner, and Other Tales of Woe from Aerospace Test Kitchens”) in Mary Roach’s excellent Packing for Mars.

**** A good example of this is our family’s holiday smorgasbord: a few years ago we made the shift from Grandma Johnson’s handwritten recipes (so homey!) for dishes like Swedish meatballs and limpa and roast pork to the spectacular versions of same in Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit. Yes, an Ethiopian-born immigrant throws down on traditional Swedish food and wins big. See what I mean? The food still says home, only better:)

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My new crush: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

What: Australian TV series set in the 1920s, featuring a murder-solving “Lady Detective”… which doesn’t really capture it at all:)

Where: Seasons 1 and 2 are available on Netflix (and elsewhere, including my public library, but Netflix works for me). Season 3 recently aired on Australia’s ABC TV.

Why? Because Reasons!

  • The series is based on the books by Kerry Greenwood, and because each episode (at least those I’ve seen to date) is based on its own book, the plot and character arcs tend to be layered and complex.
  • It features a woman (played by the fabulous Essie Davis, interviewed about the series on NPR) who is not afraid of action, bucking authority, family planning, sex, crossing racial or class boundaries, believes whole-heartedly in nonjudgmental good works, tolerance, and enjoying the hell out of life.
  • Great mix of characters and story lines, plus incisive social commentary incorporated in an interesting way.
  • I’ve seen the series described as “competence porn” and while I think the lead character could benefit from a few lessons on how to hang on to one’s pistol and the downsides of scaling buildings in heels, I’d have to agree. She always solves the case, rescues herself and everyone else, and gets the gun back. Also, her skills with a grappling hook are impressive.
  • The clothing gets talked up a lot in reviews of the show and while I’m not a fashion devotee, it’s true, the outfits provide a beautiful and fascinating glimpse into Jazz-age apparel. In this article at The Australian, designer Marion Boyce discusses the process of outfitting the series. Fun fact: Instead of using vintage items, most of the costumes were made for the show, in part because modern humans are differently proportioned than they were even a hundred years ago.
  • Insanely catchy theme song🙂

 

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Tom Magliozzi, Popular Co-Host Of NPR’s ‘Car Talk,’ Dies At 77

This is sad. I didn’t know him personally, of course, but living in Cambridge (not far from their garage) as long as I did, listening to NPR as much as I did, and graduating from the same school as Tom and Ray, I felt a connection. Tom was the perfect foil to Ray’s banter and vice versa, and not only knew cars but also how to entertain. And that laugh! So contagious. It made me smile through the challenges of grad school, and makes me smile still.

The NPR story linked above has a sample of the show, and of course more Car Talk audio, car-related discussions and The Quotable Tom Magliozzi are archived by the good folks over at CarTalk.com. If you have a few more minutes, MIT also has video of Tom and Ray’s 1999 commencement speech.

Never let the facts stand in the way of a good answer.

If that’s not the essence of good storytelling, well. He will be missed!

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Jason Sheehan over at NPR has a very nice review of John Scalzi’s Lock In today. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy:)

Lock In is a cop story first… There is blood, a body, a couch pushed out a hotel room window from a high floor… Once he’s gotten past the tricky part of building a near-future world and putting a dead body in it without getting bogged down in the details of either, the rest is all cake and hand grenades.

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Pieces I want to read, have just read, or am reading again:

Writing Stuff:
Random Stuff:

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The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.
― T.S. Eliot
I’ve just discovered a lovely series by NPR on libraries. It’s ongoing but there are already close to a dozen pieces on the role libraries play in society, how they are transforming to meet new needs (disaster preparedness, anyone?) and the challenges they face in this new century.
Also, I had no idea that not all states supported public libraries. Srsly?

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