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Who knew boring could be an asset? In Lea Carpenter’s new spy novel, “Ilium,” we meet our young and restless unnamed narrator on a day when she’s urging herself to be less mundane, to take more risks. She has no idea that the spies she’ll soon be working for want her precisely because she’s inexperienced, untested and ordinary. She quickly gets pul…
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Birds, bats, freshwater mussels and a small catfish. They all slipped away in 2023, among the 21 species declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Grief is a rational response. So are the questions novelist and conservationist Lydia Millet articulates in her new book, “We Loved It All.” A blend of memoir and ecological truth-telling, …
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Big Book and Bold Ideas talks with authors from around the globe. But our favorite moments come when host Kerri Miller sits down with Minnesota writers to talk about story, craft and how calling this state home influences both. This week, we took a look back at some conversations with notable Minnesota authors, including Shannon Gibney, who just wo…
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Jamie Figueroa’s new memoir, “Mother Island” is stylistically unique. She combines prose and creative nonfiction, myth and short stories to explore her memories. But the heart of the book — her push-pull relationship with her mother and her process of uncovering a true self — is as old as time. Figueroa’s mother was taken from Puerto Rico as a youn…
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Alexandra Fuller’s new memoir begins with the death of her 21-year-old son, Fi, and chronicles her attempts to grieve well in the searing aftermath of his loss. Among other things, that meant acknowledging her kinship with others who had gone before her. In her gorgeous new book, “Fi: A Memoir of My Son,” she writes: “The way a pilot sees wind and …
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Danny Ryan doesn’t see himself as ambitious — which is surprising, seeing as he’s both stolen and made millions. But in his mind, he’s just an average guy trying to survive in a world that would rather he not. Ryan is the central character of Don Winslow’s sweeping crime trilogy that draws parallels to movies like “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas.” …
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Americans overwhelmingly support gender equality. But not as many see themselves as feminists. Elizabeth Cobbs says that’s because we don’t know our history. Her latest book, “Fearless Women,” chronicles how the fight for women’s rights began at the founding of our country, when Abigail Adams urged her husband to “remember the ladies” (and her plea…
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Myriam J. A. Chancy spent her childhood in Haiti and then moved with her family to Winnipeg. But those island roots shaped who she became and inspired her latest novel, “Village Weavers.” It follows a complicated female friendship that spans decades and countries. Growing up in 1940s Port-au-Prince, Gertie and Sisi are enthralled with each other — …
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When Kao Kalia Yang’s mother was a child growing up in Laos, she lived a comfortable life. Her father was a prosperous merchant. She was the only Hmong girl in the village to go to school. She felt valued. The war changed all that. Hunted by North Vietnamese soldiers, Yang’s maternal family had to flee into the jungle and live a desperate existence…
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What do you see, hear and experience when you drop miles into the deepest parts of the ocean? For journalist Susan Casey, it was transformative — even emotional. Her latest book, “The Underworld,” is a homage to the abyss and the scientists who explore it. She also describes her own dives in deep-sea submersibles, through the oceanic “twilight zone…
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If you’ve ever struggled to remember where you set down your phone, or how you know the person you just ran into at the grocery store, you’re not alone. Everyday forgetfulness is a part of living — and of aging. But for neuroscientist Charan Ranganath, more compelling than what we remember is why we remember. “The human brain is not a memorization …
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At the center of Tommy Orange’s new novel sits a family nearly destroyed. It’s suffering the long-term effects of government-ordered separation, from decades of displacement and neglect, and from the white American philosophy best summed up by the phrase: Kill the Indian, save the man. It’s a theme familiar to readers who loved Orange’s first novel…
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In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic was public health’s finest hour. Millions of lives were saved, thanks to isolation measures. Vaccines were developed in record time. Systems were developed for contract tracing and testing. But it was also an apocalyptic moment for a system under strain. As a result, trust in doctors and scientists has plummeted.…
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This week, Big Books and Bold Ideas is launching an election year series that asks: What is American democracy in 2024? Americans come to that question with significantly different views. And what American democracy was when this country was founded isn’t necessarily what it is today or what it will be in the future. Democracy is dynamic. Heather C…
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MPR News host Kerri Miller has never skirted the topic of faith. On her former weekday show, she regularly dialoged with leaders like Jenan Mohajir from Interfaith America, activist and author Anne Lamott, theologian Jemar Tisby, Sister Joan Chittister, and evangelical disrupter Rachel Held Evans. She even did a year-long series with women from a v…
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Choices made in a moment reverberate for generations, despite best intentions. Vanessa Chan adeptly explores this concept in her debut novel, “The Storm We Made” — a work of historical fiction set in her home country of Malaysia, which was inspired by stories her grandmother would tell. The main character is Cecily, a discontented housewife in 1930…
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Women spies pop up in Hollywood movies all the time. But as Liza Mundy’s new book reveals, it took determined persistence, personal risk and a lot of sacrifice for women to be welcomed as CIA operatives. “The Sisterhood” is a meticulously researched, seven-decade history of women who worked behind the scenes at America’s premier foreign intelligenc…
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Tracy K. Smith is known for her powerful poetry. She's a Pulitzer Prize winner and former U. S. Poet Laureate. Yet her newest book, “To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul,” is memoir — a classification she initially resisted. But as she tells MPR News host Kerri Miller, she eventually saw that her own story is a kind of microcosm of Am…
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Americans’ faith in the value of higher education is faltering. Unlike our global peers, the U.S. is seeing a steady decline in college enrollment and graduation rates, especially among young men. Since 1992, the sticker price for four-year private colleges has almost doubled and more than doubled for four-year public colleges, even after adjusting…
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Are you convinced the U.S. government knows more than it will reveal about UFOs? After doing a deep dive into the history, journalist Garrett Graff is too. But he doesn’t think the cover-up is a necessarily hiding alien life. “There are two obvious cloaks of secrecy that surrounds the government cover-up of its understanding of what UFOs and UAPs (…
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This year, Big Books and Bold Ideas is introducing an occasional series that will feature books on democracy. That series begins as we mark the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection. To gain context, we invited three historians and authors from different regions of the country to reflect on this American moment. Can history be a guide to whe…
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“Here is the world,” writes theologian Frederick Buechner. “Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Those words rooted Amy Butler through some of the darkest moments of her life. As Butler slowly embraced her call to be a pastor, she was rejected by her conservative evangelical family, who doesn’t believe women should be in pas…
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For years, author Jedidiah Jenkins and his mother, Barbara, have flirted with the idea of a cross-country road trip together. The goal: to retrace Barbara’s route across America which she walked with her husband, travel writer Peter Jenkins, in the 1970s. But there is one problem: they have wildly disparate world views. Barbara is a baby boomer who…
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Members of MPR and supporters of The Slowdown came together in mid-October to celebrate poetry with Major Jackson. The poet was in the Twin Cities to speak at the Twin Cities Book Festival, which is where he also learned that The Slowdown — a daily poetry podcast that he hosts — had won the prestigious Signal Award for Best Daily Podcast of 2023. M…
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To humans, roads are so ubiquitous, they are almost invisible. They crisscross every continent and allow for travel, exploration and connection. But to wildlife, roads are dangerous divisions of habitat. Around a million animals are killed by cars every day. Roads change migration patterns, cut off animals from their food sources and create noise s…
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What word or phrase conjures immediate understanding in your family — but puzzled looks from everyone else? In one family, pizza crust is known as “pizza bones.” In another, children who weren’t allowed to say fart were instructed to use the word “foof” instead. This Thursday, MPR News host Kerri Miller talked about “familect” with word wizard Anat…
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To the strict Rastafari father of Jamaican poet Safiya Sinclair, Babylon was not just an ancient city. It was a symbol for corruption, for wickedness, for decadence and depravity. And it was everywhere. So he kept his family tightly controlled, separate from outside influences that could contaminate. It was in that environment that Sinclair first g…
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What book did you read this year that you immediately recommended to all your friends? That was the topic MPR News host Kerri Miller tackled Monday at 9 a.m. for a special live edition of her regular Friday show, Big Books and Bold Ideas. Instead of chatting with an author, Miller took calls and chatted with Glory Edim, the founder of Well-Read Bla…
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Can you imagine a day when families visit the moon for summer vacation? When travel to see Saturn’s rings up close is a romantic getaway? When humans living on Mars schedule tours of Olympus Mons — a volcano roughly the size of Arizona? The day is coming. But since it’s not possible quite yet, the would-be space traveler can do the next best thing:…
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The season finale of Talking Volumes brought author and columnist Margaret Renkl to Minnesota, hours after the first snow carpeted our Northern landscape. She declared it “magical” — a theme familiar to those who’ve read her New York Times columns or her new book, “The Comfort of Crows.” In it, the self-described backyard naturalist details what sh…
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On July 7, 2016, a Black gunman ambushed Dallas police officers working a peaceful protest, shooting 14 and killing five. The trauma surgeon who worked to save many of those officers — Dr. Brian H. Williams — made headlines when he spoke at a press conference after the incident. In an emotional moment, he confessed his complicated feelings as a Bla…
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Viet Thanh Nguyen has a critical mind. He’s critic of populist politics. He’s a critic of history. He’s a critic of the country where he was born, Vietnam, and he’s a critic of the country he calls home, the United States. He’s even a critic of his own memories. But Nguyen says his captious lens isn’t meant to blister. It’s simply meant to reveal t…
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In C Pam Zhang’s dystopian not-too-distant future, the planet is covered in a crop-killing smog. Food as we know it is rapidly disappearing to be replaced by a gray, mung bean flour. Zhang’s protagonist, a young unnamed Asian chef, decides to flee her dreary career and lies her way into becoming the head cook at a mountaintop research community, wh…
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Ann Patchett is a perennial favorite at Talking Volumes. So it’s no surprise that she sold out the Fitz for her conversation with host Kerri Miller on Sept. 28. What ensued was a raucous two hours of honest conversation. Just a few of the topics they covered: Ann’s “shiny new attitude” about book tours, how to be a feminist while still making dinne…
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Lauren Groff’s new novel, “The Vaster Wilds,” begins in the bleak winter of 1609, when the residents of the early American colony of Jamestown are diseased and starving. A young servant girl, who was brought to the new world by a prosperous and indifferent family, decides to run from the desolation. But she leaves Jamestown not knowing her directio…
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When Dr. Abraham Verghese released his debut novel in 2009 it was an literary marvel. “Cutting for Stone” captivated readers, sold more than 1.5 million copies in the U.S. alone and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. Readers had to wait 14 years for another book by Verghese, but by all accounts, his new novel was worth th…
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Carol Dunbar didn’t set out to be an writer. For more than a decade, she was an actress based in the Twin Cities. She told stories by embodying them. But then she and her husband — also an actor — decided to leave it all behind. They moved off the grid, to rural Wisconsin, so her husband could handcraft furniture. It was there, while learning to sp…
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Jason Fitger is not a likeable character. A creative writing professor at the fictitious Payne University, an aptly named small liberal arts college in the Midwest, Fitger is cantankerous and acid-tongued, beleaguered and inappropriate. He doesn’t really like students — and he doesn’t like England, which is where he has been pressured into leading …
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The first time Helen Macdonald and Sin Blaché met, it was to finish the book they had been cowriting for a year. Macdonald, author of the best-selling “H is for Hawk,” and Blaché, an artist living in Ireland, first met online. During the COVID lockdowns, bored and restless, they started to play with the idea of writing a book together. Chapters beg…
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A pair of best friends determine to leave behind their conservative families and societal expectations, and live by a new motto: By Myself, For Myself. What happens when one of those friends marries, and the other friend sees the new husband as a betrayal of their values? That’s the premise behind British-Nigerian author Ore Agbaje-Williams debut n…
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Christian Cooper’s visibility as a lifelong birder exploded after a woman in Central Park refused to leash her dog and reported, wrongly, that she was being threatened. Three years later, Cooper is out with a powerful new memoir and a National Geographic TV show he hopes will attract more people of color to the world of bird-watching. Don’t miss th…
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J. Ryan Stradal knows supper club culture. Growing up in Hastings, Minn., his family milestones were marked by dressing up, sitting in a leather booth at the Wiederholt's Supper Club, picking at a relish tray and watching the grown-ups enjoy a brandy Old Fashioned. He even worked at a supper club across the river, in Prescott, Wisc., where he went …
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Until writer Luis Alberto Urrea inherited his mother’s journals, he knew very little about what she’d seen and done in World War II. He knew she served on a team of Donut Dollies, women who volunteered with the Red Cross to provide mobile food, entertainment and comfort to U.S. servicemen station on many European battlefronts. But he didn’t know sh…
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Shy, the teenage boy at the heart of Max Porter’s latest novel, defies classification. He is moody and violent, traits which heartbreak his mother and get him sent to the Last Chance boarding school. He is also sensitive and vulnerable, a boy who seems to be missing a layer of skin to protect himself from the world’s hypocrisy and starkness. This p…
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When Ruby Ishimaru and her family are sent away from Hawaii to a mainland internment camp in 1942, Ruby packs her treasures — photographs, seashells and the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She finds comfort in Laura’s adventures even as she and her family are thrust into the frightening unknown. On the other side of the world, the unknown is also ba…
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“Cancer took my mother. But religion would take my life.” So writes journalist Rachel Louise Snyder in her new memoir, “Women We Buried, Women We Burned.” It recounts with brutal honesty how the death of her mother upended her previously peaceful world, launching her father into a new marriage within the confines of a strict, fundamentalist Christi…
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The latest book from journalist and bestselling author David Grann details the true story of a 1741 shipwreck that he believes has "surprising resonance … with our own contemporary, turbulent times.” When a squadron of ships left England in the fall of 1740, with secret hopes of capturing a Spanish galleon filled with gold, they had little idea wha…
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Editor’s note: This program was originally preempted by breaking news coverage. The post has been updated to reflect the new broadcast date. Jeannette Wells’ 2009 memoir “The Glass Castle” has been a New York Times bestseller for more than eight years. The movie adaptation starring Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson and Naomi Watts also won awards. Her m…
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Joe Milan Jr.’s debut novel, “The All-American,” is about immigration — but it’s not a story about what it means to leave a foreign land and start over in America. Instead, it’s about what it means to leave America, unwillingly, and start over in a foreign land. Milan’s protagonist, 17-year-old Bucky Yi, knows nothing about his birth country of Sou…
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Minnesota author William Kent Krueger has written 19 books that star his primary protagonist, private investigator Cork O’Connor. But just as central to his writing is the landscape of Northern Minnesota. It’s more than a setting. It’s a character. “I write profoundly out of a sense of place,” Krueger told MPR News host Kerri Miller at a special sp…
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