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Maureen Corrigan's Favorite Books Of 2011

Dec 14, 2011

This year-end list is dominated by fiction, but a couple of nonfiction titles also made the cut as well. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that 2011 was a banner year for fiction — especially for several first-time novelists.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

There's a nice contrast among the three quintets heard on Dave Douglas' Three Views, sketching out some of his interests. There's no overlapping repertoire or personnel. The Orange Afternoons session features the elastic rhythm trio of pianist Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh on bass and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

This was a terrific year for fiction and a particularly strong year for first-time novelists. Some of the literary debutantes who glide through this "10 best" list are so young, their wisdom teeth probably haven't had time to become impacted yet. Majestically bringing up the rear of the procession are some much-decorated veterans whose sustained achievements in fiction should ensure that the young 'uns don't rest too comfortably on their laurels.

In the FX TV series Louie, comic Louis C.K. plays a divorced father of two struggling to balance his comedy career with being a single dad. The show, which has just been picked up for a third season, is often based on events that have happened to C.K. in his own life.

On Dec. 18, the Showtime drama Dexter presents its sixth-season finale. The show stars Michael C. Hall — who played the repressed mortician David Fisher on HBO's Six Feet Under — as Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who kills other serial killers, and who also works for the Miami police as a blood-spatter expert.

Extra-virgin olive oil is a ubiquitous ingredient in Italian recipes, religious rituals and beauty products. But many of the bottles labeled "extra-virgin olive oil" on supermarket shelves have been adulterated and shouldn't be classified as extra-virgin, says New Yorker contributor Tom Mueller.

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Most people will find the first 20 minutes of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy difficult to follow — I did, and I've read John le Carre's novel and seen the haunting 1979 BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness, although decades ago.

The movie is chopped up into short scenes featuring people we don't know working for a circus — what? — and for someone called "C," and talking about a woman called Karla? Meanwhile, the star, Gary Oldman, doesn't say a word for the first 18 minutes.

This interview was originally broadcast on April 20, 2011. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

In 1994, three French cave explorers discovered hundreds of prehistoric paintings and engravings on the walls of the Chauvet Cave in southern France.

Carbon dating has since shown that the depictions of rhinoceroses, lions, cave bears, horses, bison, mammoths and other animals are between 30,000 and 32,000 years old.

This interview was originally broadcast on October 27, 2003.

Soul singer Howard Tate, who rose to prominence in 1967 with the hit "Get It While You Can," died on Friday. He was 72.

Careening into your ears like the theme to a bank-heist flick is "Lonely Boy," the first single from El Camino. Except the lyric tucked inside the roaring, curve-hugging melody isn't about anything so action-packed as robbing a bank or making a getaway. Instead, Dan Auerbach sings about stasis: "I got a love that keeps me waiting." And, being the sensible raucous rocker that he is, Auerbach is willing to wait out his love, because he knows in his heart that she's worth it.

The mission of America's Test Kitchen is simple: to make "recipes that work." The syndicated PBS cooking show, hosted by Christopher Kimball, simplifies recipes in ways that home chefs can easily replicate with a fairly high degree of success.

Making sure amateur chefs can recreate recipes designed by professional chefs is of utmost importance, Kimball tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

In the first part of his career, J. Edgar Hoover was often hailed as a hero. As a young man, he helped reorganize the cataloging system at the Library of Congress. Later on, after Hoover became the first director of the FBI, he introduced fingerprinting and forensic techniques to the crime-fighting agency, and pushed for stronger federal laws to punish criminals who strayed across state lines.

And he did all of this before 1940.

Jazz has long been a staple of European television programming. American musicians on tour frequently turn up on the tube, caught live or in a studio. That's partly because such shows are relatively cheap to produce, and because jazz makes for good cultural programming.

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art was criticized for its skimpy representation of the Dutch-American painter Willem de Kooning in its huge abstract expressionist show. The museum has now made up for that with an astounding de Kooning retrospective, the first of its kind: some 200 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures that trace de Kooning's career beginning at age 12, when he was working for a graphic designer in his native Rotterdam and painting remarkable imitations of Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Gorky.

Need advice on when it's appropriate to break up with someone over email? Want to know how to react if your dinner companion whips out a cellphone midway through a meal? What about how to deal with your annoying relatives during the holidays?

Fresh Air Weekend highlights some of the best interviews and reviews from past weeks, and new program elements specially paced for weekends. Our weekend show emphasizes interviews with writers, filmmakers, actors, and musicians, and often includes excerpts from live in-studio concerts. This week:

Note: Wilhelm Furtwangler's last name is typically spelled with an umlaut over the 'a' character. The npr website does not support characters with umlauts over characters. A variation of Furtwangler's name without the umlaut is spelled Furtwaengler.

Wilhelm Furtwaengler's name may be hard for Americans to pronounce, but the reason this great conductor isn't so well-remembered here is that he chose to remain in Germany during WWII, though he was never a member of the Nazi Party, and was exonerated by a postwar tribunal.

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