Like his 2009 National Book Award-winning novel, Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann's TransAtlantic is a braided novel that weaves together the stories of various characters — some historical, others invented. The storylines illustrate the deep and complex connections tying Ireland and the U.S. over a span of some 150 years, beginning with Frederick Douglass, who visits Ireland in 1845 to drum up abolitionist support, and ending with Sen.
In 1845, Frederick Douglass sailed to Ireland on a speaking tour to raise money for the abolitionist cause back home. About 75 years later, two airmen, Jack Alcock and Teddy Brown, performed the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight, flying 16 hours from Newfoundland to land in an Irish bog. And 79 years after that, George J. Mitchell, the former senator from Maine, repeatedly crisscrossed the ocean — New York, Belfast, New York, Belfast — to steer the Northern Ireland peace process on behalf of President Clinton.
Rhubarb — like spring itself — is fleeting and lovely. A vegetable that often masquerades as a fruit in sweet dishes, it is a true harbinger of the season, appearing in April and, if we're lucky, lasting until July. But it is best to seize rhubarb's moment and take full advantage as soon as its delicate pink and green ribs start appearing in markets and gardens.
Two young men — foster brothers in love with the same woman — leave their small Pakistani town for Afghanistan in late 2001. Jeo, a medical student, wants to help wounded civilians and Mikal is there to look after Jeo, but their good intentions aren't enough to keep them safe in an increasingly dangerous war zone.
Perhaps you know what these artworks have in common: Van Gogh's "Portrait of the Postman Roulin," his ample beard falling in two symmetric lobes over the collar of his navy blue uniform; Brueghel the Elder's "Wedding Dance," in which some of the exuberant contact seems to go beyond dancing; Diego Rivera's fresco of workers on an assembly line: Detroit Industry, South Wall.
Srinivas Ayyagari onstage in 1992 (left); at right, Ayyagari today. "Seeing someone from ESPN commenting on your style and strategy was bizarre and weird. But it's the closest I'll ever come to being an athlete," Ayyagari says.
For an academic contest pitting young spellers against the dictionary, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has taken on the intensity of the fiercest athletic events. Feeling the warmth of television lights — not to mention nerves and distractions — all while sports commentators are analyzing your "style" and approach is something only a select club of young word-nerdy Americans gets to experience. How does that early experience affect these mostly middle-school-aged kids later in life?
For 20 years, Stephen King has had an image stuck in his head: It's a boy in a wheelchair flying a kite on a beach. "It wanted to be a story, but it wasn't a story," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. But little by little, the story took shape around the image — and focused on an amusement park called "Joyland" located just a little farther down the beach.
As children, we are allowed to be confused, lost, and full of wonder. As adults in the age of Google, we are expected to project confidence, knowledge and understanding. Ta-Nehisi Coates, senior editor for The Atlantic, talks about how learning a foreign language reignited his imagination.