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Books

Louise Erdrich's new novel LaRose opens with a tragedy: An Ojibwe man is out hunting for deer and accidentally shoots and kills his best friend's 5-year-old son, Dusty. The hunter has a 5-year-old son of his own, and so, in keeping with a practice from the Ojibwe tribe's past, 5-year-old LaRose goes to live with Dusty's family.

Rapper Kate Tempest has become kind of a sensation, winning awards as both a performer and a poet. In her hit debut album, Everybody Down, she told the story of Becky and Harry, two Londoners in their 20s who are struggling with work, love and drugs.

Now she has expanded that story into a novel called The Bricks That Built The Houses. She tells NPR's Ari Shapiro that when the idea for the story first came to her, she knew it would be both an album and a book.


Interview Highlights

On Becky

On this Mother's Day, here's a bit of wisdom: "Having a child is usually just a long patience."

Those words are spoken by a nurse in the new novel Eleven Hours. Her name is Franckline and she works in a hospital maternity ward. That long patience she's talking about is the patience a woman needs when she's in labor — the patience to ride through hours of pain and worry.

Growing up Muslim in Canada had its challenges for Zarqa Nawaz, starting with school lunch. Her mother insisted on sending Nawaz off with home-cooked chicken that smelled of cumin, when all she wanted was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, like all the other kids. Years later, Nawaz has turned a lifetime of culture clashes into a career as a writer and filmmaker. In her work, she uses humor to humanize a religion she loves, but others fear.

Every year at the Kentucky Derby, crazy hat-wearing, mint julep-guzzling horse-gazers break into a passionate rendition of Kentucky's state song, "My Old Kentucky Home." As tradition goes, the University of Louisville Cardinal Marching Band accompanies the crowd as they croon a ballad that seems to be about people who miss their happy home. "The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home/'Tis summer and the people are gay," begins one version.

But Frank X Walker, Kentucky's former poet laureate, suspects that most people are missing the point.

For an "authentic" Mexican meal, why not cook up crepes?

¿Que qué?! You ask. Hear me out.

Novelist Richard Russo heard a story once: A cop discovers a garage door remote in his wife's belongings, so he goes around town pointing the remote at different garages. The idea, Russo tells NPR's Steve Inskeep, is "if he could find the house where the garage door went up, he would have found his wife's lover."

Growing up in Pennsylvania coal country, writer Jennifer Haigh learned that a lot of what matters in the state can't be seen. It lies beneath the surface, in the form of potential energy. She saw how the boom and bust cycles of mining affected the people of her hometown, which is now poised on the brink of fracking.

She's taken what she knows and turned it into a new novel, Heat and Light. But Haigh says she doesn't think of it as a book about fracking.

As a co-founder of the band X, John Doe helped define the punk scene that emerged in Los Angeles in the late 1970s. Doe tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that punk was about breaking rules and challenging the norms of the existing music scene.

Death is the great leveler. All of us — kings, peasants, beggars and billionaires, saints and gnats will all die. It's the one certainty we share, even if we differ on the fine points of what happens thereafter.

But what if someone set out to circumvent death by having themselves essentially suspended: Technically dead, but ready to be revived? Frozen in some secret location, body and head insulated separately, against the day a technology is developed to regenerate them, with some memories restored and others cast away?

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