NPR Fresh Air

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Albert Camus

100 years after the birth of French writer-philospher Albert Camus, we remember his complicated legacy:

NPR’s Morning Edition looks at Camus’ background as a “pieds-noirs” growing up in Algeria and how it influenced his work.

I think that the amount of concentration — sometimes the amount of personal exploration — it takes to do something well, can be not pleasant … like hard work is. That doesn’t mean that you don’t want to do it, or that you don’t love it, or that it’s not ultimately satisfying. You know that old cliché; … nothing’s worth it unless it’s [a] hard to do kind of thing. I wear that on my sleeve sometimes when I’m working. … There’s always something about that job that’s exhausting, and that’s what’s exhausting about acting, is the level concentration over very long period of time.

If there’s something emotional about what you’re doing that day, you’re carrying that emotion on one level or another for a long period of time … it can be burdensome. But it’s part of the work, and you’re trying to create something artful out of it. And so, it’s not therapy. So, you’re not there to be in therapy; you’re there to take, you know, what you know and the experiences and behavior and emotional life of yourself and others and try to make something artful out of it. But the carrying of that around and the focusing of that can be, it can be tough.

—  Philip Seymour Hoffman, on exhausting work and acting as creating something artful out of human experiences, in conversation with Terry Gross

Jenna Fischer, actor — a wistfully sweet remembrance of acting with directors and camera people — as heard on NPR Fresh Air 

INTERVIEWER: So, when you’re giving one of your pained looks or one of your: this is absurd, looks to the camera, who’s the camera person? Is there an actor behind there that you can kind of, like, interact with? Or is it just, like, the camera with a camera person?

FISCHER: Well, there’s two different scenarios. When we’re just shooting the show and it’s a scene, the camera operator is this man named Randall Einhorn. And he’s our director of photography. And we will look at him, we’ll give him the look, or we’ll look into the camera at him. And he’s become another character or another actor on the show to us. So, we do actually act with him.

And it’s really cute - whenever Pam smiles at the camera, Randall can’t help but smile back. The man, Randall, smiles at you while he’s holding the camera. And there are scenes that we’ve done that have been really touching. And you’ll look at Randall, and he’ll be, you know, sort of teared up.

And when we shoot our talking heads - our interview segments - the director of the episode serves as our documentarian for that week. Some of the directors, we have them back again, and again, and again. And one director we’re particularly attached to is Ken Kwapis. He directed our very first episode, and he comes back every year and directs a couple of episodes. And last year, he directed the finale. And he’s always taken a particular interest in Pam and her journey. So, I feel very close to him.

And in that moment, when Jim burst into the conference room while Pam’s giving an interview, and he finally asks her out on a date, I turned to the camera. And in the moment that they used, I’m sort of tearing up. And the reason that I teared up was because when I looked back at the camera, I saw Ken Kwapis. And he - his eyes were full of tears. And he smiled at me and gave me a little wink, like, that’s right. You finally got what you wanted, sweetie.

And it just, oh, it was a really powerful moment between me and the director. So it’s interesting. There’s a lot of acting that happens on the show that is with our crew members or, you know, people - that doesn’t normally happen when you’re making a movie or a television show.



Hi friends,

I wanted to take a minute to introduce myself in the best way I know—with photos! I’m Molly and I’m Fresh Air’s associate producer for online media. For the last 6 months I was working with Fresh Air on a freelance basis and now I am happy to be a full-time associate producer.

I’m a longtime Fresh Air/public radio listener and enthusiast, thanks to my Chicago roots growing up with WBEZ. As a kid, my mom would say (many times) in the car that, “Terry Gross has the best job in the world.” Now that I’m here, it’s incredible to be a part of the process.

I went to Bryn Mawr (top left) a women’s college outside of Philly. There I studied urban and environmental history and developed a passion for architecture. So that might explain why many of the photo breaks are architectural.  Louis Sullivan (designer of gate detail top right) is one of my favorite architects.  In fact, my cat Sully is named for the famously cranky guy who coined the phrase “form follows function.”

The Job:  I build Fresh Air’s webpages in conjunction with Internet goddesses Nicole Cohen and Beth Novey at NPR in D.C.  Though lot of my work is with NPR staff, I’m with the remarkable Fresh Air staff in Philadelphia at WHYY, where the show is produced. One of my favorite things is listening to the chitchat before and after the interview in the live feed from the studio while Terry is recording. 

 I also run the Twitter, Facebook, and tumblr. 

Let’s see… what else? After spending quite a bit of time in Paris I became obsessed with French film noir.  If you haven’t seen Rififi, stop everything and watch it now. The cinematography is breathtaking.

Speaking of film—one of my favorite interviews of late is with director Alexander Payne. I especially admire how he peppers comedy throughout rather bleak storylines, as in Nebraska and Election.  His films capture real life in a way that is both subtle and piercing. I share a cube with associate producer Heidi Saman (who is also a talented filmmaker) and we gush about his films all the time.

Finally, thank you all for listening to the show and following the blog!  Please say hi and tell me a little bit about yourself. I’ll be here and @nprfreshair on Twitter.


(All photos are my own, except for a screenshot of noir Bob le Flambeur and Alexander Payne… I wish, that’s the Huffington Post)

"Infobesity," "lumbersexual," "phablet." As usual, the items that stand out as candidates for word of the year are like its biggest pop songs, catchy but ephemeral. But even a fleeting expression can sometimes encapsulate the zeitgeist. That’s why I’m nominating "God view" for the honor.

Uber’s “God view” shows a map of the cars in an area and the silhouettes of the people who ordered them. Geoff Nunberg says Uber-Santa doesn’t just know when you’ve been sleeping, but where.

Feeling Watched? ‘God View’ Is Geoff Nunberg’s Word Of The Year

Photo credit: Ralf Hirschberger/AFP/Getty Images

The Carioca
  • The Carioca
  • Daniel Handler
  • NPR Fresh Air

Daniel Handler — The Carioca (Dec 10, 2012, on NPR Fresh Air)

Mr. Snicket’s official representative performs for Terry Gross, from NPR Fresh Air, a song that was composed for Lemony Snicket’s first book in the All The Wrong Questions-series, titled Who Could That Be At This Hour?.


When things explode
we hit the road
well it’s been a lovely visit.

But if we can decode
our secret code
it isn’t a secret, is it?

Dressed à la mode
and furbelowed
we’re working to change this planet.

But if we can decode
our secret code
it can’t be a secret, can it?

I will not do the Carioca
which is a dance that goes like this.
But if I did the Carioca
it would be heaven, it would be bliss.

I’ll never do the Carioca
which is a dance that goes like this
But if I did the Carioca
it would be heaven, it would be bliss.

Strange seeds we’ve sowed
Hard rows we’ve… hoed
So please don’t say easy does it.

We don’t agree
'cause if we can decode
our secret code
it wasn’t a secret, was it?

Into town we rode
Our bows are stowed
And we rarely wear our hair long.

But if we can decode
their secret code
it won’t be a secret erelong.

Then we can do the Carioca
indefinitely if we like
And those who poo poo Carioca
they can all go take a hike

We go do the Carioca
which is a dance that goes like this.
And when we do the Carioca
it will be heaven, it will be bliss.

Trala trala trala trala
Latra latra latra


First, a word about this list: it’s honestly just a fluke that my best books rundown for 2013 is so gender biased. I didn’t deliberately set out this year to read so many terrific books by women.

Lets start with Alice McDermott. Without ever hamming up the humility, Alice McDermott’s latest novel, Someone, tells the life story of an ordinary woman named Marie who comes of age in mid-twentieth century Brooklyn and works for a time in a funeral parlor. McDermott reveals to readers what’s distinct about people like Marie who don’t have the ego or eloquence to make a case for themselves as being anything special.

Unlike McDermott’s submissive Marie, the main character of The Woman Upstairs, Claire Messud’s latest novel, is like a dormant volcano getting ready to blow.  Nora Eldridge is a single elementary school teacher in her thirties who’s grimly disciplined herself to settling for less.  When a glamorous family enters her life and reignites her artistic and erotic energies, Nora, like Jane Eyre, gets in touch with her anger and her hunger.  Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland is another stark novel that charts the fate of two brothers in Calcutta in the 1960s, one a political activist; the other a stick-in-the-mud academic.  The Lowland is an ambitious story about the rashness of youth as well as the hesitation and regret that can make a long life not worth living.  

Ambition is what makes Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch my novel of the year: jumbo-sized, coincidence-laced, it’s Dickensian in its cast of characters and range of emotions.  In fact, there’s a lot of David Copperfield in the main character, Theo Decker, who’s thirteen when the sudden death of his mother propels him on a cross-country odyssey that includes a season in hell in Las Vegas and brushes with the Russian mob.  Always yearning for his lost mother; Theo is like the goldfinch in the 17th century Dutch painting that gives this extraordinary novel its name: an alert yellow bird “chained to a perch by its twig of an ankle.”

My debut novel of the year is Adelle Waldman’s brilliant comedy of manners and ideas, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.  Waldman thoroughly inhabits the head of a sensitive cad named Nate Piven, a writer living in Brooklyn.  There are many throwaway moments of hilarity here, such as when Nate endures his weekly telephone chat with his father, who asks him the question every aspiring writer is asked nowadays:  “Have you given any thought to self publishing?”

A boy-girl pair ties for my for best short story collection nod:  Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove contains some genuine creepers, like “Proving Up,” a tale of the American Frontier that reads like a collaboration between Willa Cather and Emily Dickinson.  The standout in George Saunders’ collection, The Tenth of December, is “The Semplica Girl Diaries”—a story whose power could singlehandedly change immigration policy.  

In biography, the winner for me this year was Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages about Jane Franklin, Ben’s little sister.  To excavate the remains of Jane’s hidden story, Lepore augments her own training as a historian with literary criticism, sociology, archeology and even some of the techniques of fiction. 

Patricia Volk’s boisterous memoir, Shocked, also breaks traditional genre rules. Shocked explores the two titanic women who impressed their ideas of beauty and femaleness on Volk: her mother, Audrey, a famous beauty, and the designer Elsa Schiaparelli.  In her writing and in her memoir’s gorgeous illustrations, Volk has embraced something of Schiaparelli’s surrealist approach to art. Roger Rosenblatt’s evocative memoir, The Boy Detective, also challenges easy categorization.  His book combines a walking tour around vanished Manhattan, with a meditation, not only on the classic mystery fiction he loves, but also on those larger metaphysical mysteries that defy even the shrewdest detective’s reasoning.

Speaking, at last, of mysteries, my best mystery of the year turns out to be yet another stunner from Scandinavia.  The Dinosaur Feather is a debut novel by a Dane named S. J. Gazan, which takes us deep into the insular world of scientists investigating dinosaur evolution.  I could be wrong (but I don’t think I am) when I say that Gazan disposes of a murder victim here by an infernal means that no other mystery writer — not even the resourceful Dame Agatha — ever concocted. And, yes, in case you’re wondering, S. J. Gazan is a woman.  Everybody knows the female of the species is deadlier than the male. 

Happy Reading to one and all.

The list is available here with audio and links to the reviews


Maybe you were raised on public radio or maybe you found it later in life. For me, growing up in a house with one small TV that got turned off right after Mr. Rogers but a radio in every room, public radio was as regular a part of life as breakfast or time-out. But whether you were indoctrinated as an infant or found NPR commuting to work, you’re on a public radio Tumblr, so you probably love it as much as I do. You might not look like the stereotypical public radio listener, and you may not even own an actual radio, but if you are reading this, I suspect that for you, like me, public radio is the most consistent source of information and entertainment in your life. I can’t imagine my life without it, especially now that I work in public radio, a literal dream come true (and I mean “literal” literally. Sometimes my dreams are narrated by Zoe Chace.). But I didn’t always work in a place where I get to talk about public radio all day, and before I started this job, I spent a lot of time annoying coworkers and friends with my constant chatter about the latest from public media—apparently not everyone wants to stand around the water cooler with someone who begins every conversation with, “Sooo did you hear this thing on NPR…?” But rather than catching up on The Bachelor instead of changing the conversation to Radiolab, I decided to change the people around me instead. I started a list of the shows that I think are most likely to make converts out of non-listeners, and that’s what this Tumblr is.

For the list below, we turned to the people behind the headphones—some of whom you’ve probably heard of—and what follows are the stories public radio reporters, hosts, and producers think are so good, so compelling, so likely to make you laugh or cry or both at once, that even your uncle who would rather hear an hour of static than a three-minute news update won’t be able to stop listening. Send this link to the non-listeners in your life, and when they start asking if you caught All Things Considered yesterday, don’t say “I told you so,” just nod and smile and be glad for great radio. 
Katie Herzog, Web Producer, WFAE

Radiolab: Lucy
"A feat of production, storytelling, and wonder. Just thinking about the final turn is so affecting. As I type this, it’s making my chest hurt."
Ben Calhoun, Producer, This American Life

All Things Considered: Why Chaucer Said ‘Ax’ Instead Of ‘Ask,’ And Why Some Still Do
“I get a huge kick out of Shereen Marisol Meraji’s work. It’s smart, it’s playful, it’s funny. In the piece, Shereen delves into a common stereotype of black vernacular: pronouncing the work ‘ask’ as ‘ax.’ She waded into sticky territory to dig into the history of this word and found that even Chaucer used ‘ax’ as ‘ask.’ But maybe the best part of the story is when Shereen gets Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele to riff off-the-cuff.”
Kat Chow, Digital Journalist, NPR’s Code Switch

This American Life: Book of Job
“This is my favorite radio piece of all time (in fact, I just listened to it again last night as I was drifting off to sleep). It was the piece that made me want to do radio. Scott Carrier is pretty much the master, in my mind.”
Sean Cole, Independent Producer

Gwen Mascai: Ode to Marriage
“I love this piece because it is simple. Direct writing, one piece of music, and one brilliant sound effect. Gwen seamlessly pulls off humor without sounding like she’s trying too hard.”
Hillary Frank, Host/Founder, The Longest Shortest Time

Fresh Air: Fresh Air Remembers Maurice Sendak
“I used to do the web stuff at Fresh Air. I got to hear Terry interview Maurice live, which means before it was cut, and then my coworker Sam Briger made it into a magical piece of radio. I sat at my desk with my head down on my keyboard and cried. It makes you think about life and death and living—and dying—in a magnificent way.”
Melody Kramer, Digital Strategist, NPR

Kelly McEvers: Diary of a Bad Year
“This piece by Kelly McEvers provides a deeper insight into the psychology of war reporting than I have ever heard before. It is thrilling, heart breaking and beautiful. Recommended listening for anyone who appreciates great radio, and required listening for any person who is planning to report in a conflict zone.”
Sarah Kramer, Producer, Radio Diaries

This American Life: Mapping
“I love how simple this piece is. In simply drawing our attention to all the white noise—refrigerator hum, the computer drone, the faint buzz of lights—that invade our spaces, and pointing out that the tones or chords these appliances make might literally score our existence (either toward the minor, major, frightening), we get a changed world.” 
Lulu Miller, Reporter/Producer, NPR Science Desk

David Isay: Ghetto Life 101
“This is old school public radio but the kind of public radio that revolutionized what we do. David Isay is the genius behind Ghetto Life 101. He handed microphones to two boys in Chicago’s roughest housing projects and asked them to record their lives and thoughts. The result is a masterpiece radio art. It will move you to change the way you think about the world and it is a template for so much of the best radio you hear day in day out.”
Guy Raz, Host, TED Radio Hour

Memory Palace: Dig Set Spike
"The Memory Palace is something that could only exist in audio, and could only have come from public radio. It’s stories from history told in such a captivating manner that I can’t even describe it here, you just have to listen. This episode is about some Nazis in an American prison camp, and their perplexing plans to build themselves a volleyball court."
—Jesse Thorn, Host, Bullseye

All Things Considered: Aid Begins To Work Its Way Into Haiti
"Jason Beaubien’s reporting from anywhere is always awesome, but the time reporting on the earthquake in Haiti made him cry on air is legendary. What was supposed to be a big picture update for people back in the States became a much more intimate look at one child’s suffering—but it still conveyed so much. I also personally witnessed Jason bring his wife a pastry the other day, so I know his humanity is not an act."
Rachel Ward, Producer, Morning Edition

Many thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. Check back next week for the second installment of Listen Here: A Public Radio Playlist.

You spend so much of your life, as a person with obsessive-compulsive disorder, a person with any kind of mental illness, trying to camouflage your habits, trying to appear normal.

Lena Dunham, Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross

This hit me hard because it’s so true. And it gets exhausting camouflaging one’s mental illness and trying to fit into society’s limiting scope of what it means to be normal and sane.

NPR Fresh Air

Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch at Fifty: Another Appreciation

The Gazette celebrated the 50th anniversary of Eric Dolphy’s recording the masterwork Out to Lunch last week; as it happens, NPR’s Fresh Air was also observing the occasion. Here is Kevin Whitehead’s appreciation of Out to Lunch.

Listen to the Appreciation…

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Liev Schreiber, actor — on the best way to learn a dialect — as heard on NPR Fresh Air

"I just find it, you know, aside from doing the normal dialect work, one of the best ways to learn a dialect is to try to learn the language because then you have a sense of where the emphasis is and words and the sounds that are maybe not as familiar in your native dialect."


NPR Review

Rosemary Clooney Box Set: A Holiday Stocking Stuffer

Hope your chimney is at least 12 inches wide: Santa will need the clearance to get Mosaic’s new box set, The Rosemary Clooney CBS Radio Recordings 1955-61 into your hearth this holiday season. Listen to critic Kevin Whitehead’s review of jazz box sets on NPR’s Fresh Air (including his paean to Buddy Cole’s keyboard romps), telling you why you should put Mosaic’s Rosemary Clooney box on your holiday wish list. To hear more, and to order your set, go here.

Listen to review…

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