Monthly Archives: March 2014

Book News: Stock Market Is ‘Rigged,’ Author Michael Lewis Says


The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

Michael Lewis' latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.i i

hide captionMichael Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.


Tabitha Soren

Michael Lewis' latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.

Michael Lewis’ latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, was released Monday.

Tabitha Soren

  • A new book by Michael Lewis, the bestselling author of Liar’s Poker and Moneyball, says the stock market is “rigged” in favor of high-frequency traders. In Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which came out Monday after being kept under wraps for months, Lewis says that computer-based high speed trading is set up to benefit these traders at the expense of investors by anticipating orders by a fraction of a millisecond. The new book follows Brad Katsuyama, former head trader at the Royal Bank of Canada, who says he realized that when he sent an order to exchanges, it would reach the closest exchange fractions of a second earlier than the others, and that high-frequency traders would be able to use the infinitesimal time difference to buy the stock at the other exchanges and sell it back to him at a higher price. In an excerpt featured Monday in the New York Times Magazine, Lewis writes, “Technology had collided with Wall Street in a peculiar way. It had been used to increase efficiency. But it had also been used to introduce a peculiar sort of market inefficiency. Taking advantage of loopholes in some well-meaning regulation introduced in the mid-2000s, some large amount of what Wall Street had been doing with technology was simply so someone inside the financial markets would know something that the outside world did not.” In an interview Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Lewis said, “Complexity disguises what is happening. If it’s so complicated you can’t understand it, then you can’t question it.”
  • In an essay in The New Yorker, HarperCollins editor Barry Harbaugh addresses the pervasive truism that editors don’t really edit anymore: “Editors edit. A lot … I probably mark up fifty to a hundred pages a week, most of it on the weekend. I ask questions and cut sentences and write chapter titles and all that stuff.”

The Best Books Coming Out This Week:

  • Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams contains universes. Her series of linked essays about empathy are a medley of journalism, memoir, and criticism. Really, though, they’re a series of interrogations — of you, me, her, long-distance runners, poverty tourism, people who watch the reality show Intervention, people with Morgellons disease, whatever. Throughout the essays, Jamison keeps popping up from behind the curtain, as if to say, “Hello, I’ll be the orchestrator of your emotional and intellectual journey today. Here are my limitations.” At one point in her essay on people with Morgellons disease — a controversial condition that sufferers say can cause a crawling sensation, and fibers and crystals to grow out of the skin — she begins to make the disease into a metaphor. Then she stops herself: “It would be too easy to let all these faces dissolve into correlative possibility: Morgies as walking emblems for how hard it is to live in our own skin. I feel how conveniently these lives could be sculpted to fit the metaphoric structure — or strictures — of the essay itself.” It is this self-interrogation, this doubt, this resistance to easy narratives that makes The Empathy Exams so memorable.
  • Based on the real murder of 19th century frog-catcher Jenny Bonnet, Frog Music by Emma Donoghue is a pleasantly intricate crime novel. Narrated by Jenny’s friend Blanche Beunon, a “soiled dove” (burlesque dancer, prostitute), the novel describes Blanche’s search for the killer amidst San Francisco’s small-pox epidemic in the 1870s. The writing sometimes approaches camp: Her characters say things such as “A diamond in the rough, that’s me!” or, about a gun, “Won that off a California Infantryman in a poker game.” Come to think of it, her characters don’t say things when they can “wail,” “quip,” “croon,” “howl” or “bark” them, which can get grating. But overall, Frog Music is a rich and rewarding crime novel.

In Kitchens Around The World, Comfort Foods Bring Us Together


Carla Hall says her new cookbook is all about celebrating home-cooked meals as a way of bringing people together. "We're all connected through food, and the dishes in this book show that we're more alike than different," she writes. "Sure, I grew up with grits, but it's served as polenta in Italy."i i

hide captionCarla Hall says her new cookbook is all about celebrating home-cooked meals as a way of bringing people together. “We’re all connected through food, and the dishes in this book show that we’re more alike than different,” she writes. “Sure, I grew up with grits, but it’s served as polenta in Italy.”


Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Carla Hall says her new cookbook is all about celebrating home-cooked meals as a way of bringing people together. "We're all connected through food, and the dishes in this book show that we're more alike than different," she writes. "Sure, I grew up with grits, but it's served as polenta in Italy."

Carla Hall says her new cookbook is all about celebrating home-cooked meals as a way of bringing people together. “We’re all connected through food, and the dishes in this book show that we’re more alike than different,” she writes. “Sure, I grew up with grits, but it’s served as polenta in Italy.”

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Hall makes the hors d'oeuvres version of spanakopita.i i

hide captionHall makes the hors d’oeuvres version of spanakopita.


Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Hall makes the hors d'oeuvres version of spanakopita.

Hall makes the hors d’oeuvres version of spanakopita.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

There’s nothing like a warm, home-cooked meal to bring everyone to the table. And in her new cookbook Carla’s Comfort Foods, Chef Carla Hall celebrates the meals that unite us — no matter where we’re from.

Hall says that adding lemon to spanakopita adds a fresh taste.i i

hide captionHall says that adding lemon to spanakopita adds a fresh taste.


Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Hall says that adding lemon to spanakopita adds a fresh taste.

Hall says that adding lemon to spanakopita adds a fresh taste.

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Hall is one of the hosts of ABC’s talk show The Chew and a finalist on the reality TV show Top Chef. She invited NPR’s David Greene over to bake up a spanakopita — a Greek dish — and just one of the many recipes she loves from around the world.

Hall says her book follows common threads of flavor through different cultures; she believes food is what connects us. When it comes to cooking techniques and flavors, cultures are never too far apart, she says — the kitchen is a place where in many ways, we’re all the same.

“Your nose doesn’t have to look like mine. Your skin doesn’t have to look like mine, but I can still celebrate you,” Hall says.

Spanakopita is basically spinach and feta cheese tucked into a flaky filo pocket. Hall also adds lemon because she loves a “good pucker” — “I love anything sour and tart,” she says. “You just can’t get too tart for me.”

Instead of making those little pocket hors d’ouvres, Hall shows us how to make spanakopita the traditional Greek way — as a big casserole. Click the audio link above to hear Greene and Hall’s culinary adventures. And you can find Hall’s recipe for spanakopita below.

Spanakopita: Lemon-Scented Spinach And Feta Pie

Serves 12

Every Greek restaurant has a version of this savory greens and cheese pie. My little twist is to spike the mixture with lemon zest; it adds a level of freshness. I experimented with this dish many times, trying to prevent the filo from getting soggy by the time the whole thing cools, and this recipe comes pretty close. I switched from a cake pan to a shallow one, added an egg to the filling, drained the cheese, and squeezed every last drop of liquid out of the spinach. The real secret, though, is to eat it when it’s still hot so the top is all shattery, the center creamy, and the bottom crisp.

Carla's Comfort Foods

Olive oil cooking spray

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch scallions (green onions), trimmed and thinly sliced

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

Kosher salt

2 pounds baby spinach

1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 large egg, beaten

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup ricotta cheese, drained

1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Ten 18 by 13-inch sheets filo dough, thawed if frozen

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly coat a 13 by 9 by 1-inch baking pan with olive oil spray.

2. Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions, shallot, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the spinach, parsley, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the spinach wilts, about 2 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh colander, squeezing the spinach as dry as possible. Finely chop the spinach.

3. In a large bowl, stir together the egg, feta, ricotta, lemon zest, and nutmeg until smooth. Stir in the spinach mixture until well blended.

Hall writes that the trick to great spanakopita is "to eat it when it's still hot so the top is all shattery, the center creamy, and the bottom crisp."i i

hide captionHall writes that the trick to great spanakopita is “to eat it when it’s still hot so the top is all shattery, the center creamy, and the bottom crisp.”


Meredith Rizzo/NPR

Hall writes that the trick to great spanakopita is "to eat it when it's still hot so the top is all shattery, the center creamy, and the bottom crisp."

Hall writes that the trick to great spanakopita is “to eat it when it’s still hot so the top is all shattery, the center creamy, and the bottom crisp.”

Meredith Rizzo/NPR

4. Lay 1 filo sheet in the prepared pan, aligning one short edge with the length of the pan. Spray the sheet, then fold it in half so that it covers the bottom of the pan. Repeat, laying, spraying, and folding 4 times so that you’ve used 5 filo sheets total, forming 10 layers. Spread the spinach evenly over the filo stack. Then repeat the laying, spraying and folding with the remaining 5 filo sheets.

5. Fold any overhanging edges of filo over the filling. Use an offset spatula to tightly tuck the folded edges against the filling by placing the spatula’s edge where the ends of the sheets meet the edge of the pan and gently pressing the sheets toward the bottom of the pan. Repeat all around the perimeter of the pan to encase the filling. Coat the top with the oil spray.

6. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan on a rack, then cut into pieces and serve hot.

Carla’s tips:

You may not be able to fit all the spinach into the skillet at once. If you can’t add half and stir until it wilts, then add the rest. It’s amazing how such a huge amount of spinach will shrink!

Be sure to squeeze the spinach dry before layering it. If it’s too wet, it’ll make the filo soggy.

From Carla’s Comfort Foods: Favorite Dishes from Around the World by Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko. Copyright 2014 Carla Hall. Excerpted by permission of Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.

Cesar Millan’s Long Walk To Becoming The ‘Dog Whisperer’


Cesar Millan's television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.i i

hide captionCesar Millan’s television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.


Robin Layton/Courtesy of Cesar Millan

Cesar Millan's television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.

Cesar Millan’s television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.

Robin Layton/Courtesy of Cesar Millan

As part of a series called “My Big Break,” All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Long before Cesar Millan became the “Dog Whisperer,” with TV shows and a best-selling series of books, he had to learn how to ask for a job in English.

The first phrase Millan learned, soon after he arrived poor and desperate in the United States, was: “Do you have application for work?”

Millan, whose show Cesar 911 is currently airing on the Nat Geo Wild channel, grew up on a farm in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

“We were the family that had more dogs than anybody else,” Millan says of his childhood. “I never saw a dog with a leash on.”

He found inspiration watching Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin on TV.

“When I was 13 years old,” he recalls, “I told my mom, ‘Mom, you think I can be the best dog trainer in the world?’ And she said, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ “

Eight years later, Millan borrowed money from his parents and spent it all illegally crossing the border into the United States. (Millan became a U.S. citizen in 2009.)

Initially, he landed in San Diego with no money, no friends, and almost no understanding of English.

“I was homeless in the streets of San Diego,” he says, “and my home was under a freeway.”

For food, he says, he survived on hot dogs from local convenience stores.

“They will sell you two hot dogs for 99 cents,” he remembers. “That means you only have to make $1 to survive in America.”

At the same time, Millan made use of that first sentence in English, asking for job applications. He found intermittent employment at a grooming salon in San Diego, where he impressed the owners with his calm, assertive handling of more aggressive dogs.

When Millan moved to Inglewood, Calif., and began walking dogs in the neighborhood, he set himself apart by foregoing the leash.

“I didn’t know it was illegal to walk dogs off leash in the land of the free,” he says, “especially [in a place] where dogs have birthday parties.”

But his unusual style boosted his reputation.

“People started calling me ‘the Mexican guy who can walk a pack of dogs,’ ” he says. “I didn’t have business cards, so my business card was the referral.”

Over time, Millan built up his dog-walking business, and eventually founded what he called the Dog Psychology Center in South Central Los Angeles, where he focused on rehabilitating dogs with behavioral problems.

As his reputation grew, Millan got more attention from the media, including a lengthy — and crucial — profile in the Los Angeles Times.

“The newspaper came on a Sunday, and by Monday, [there] was a line of [television] producers outside,” he says. “That’s how Dog Whisperer was born.”

Three Bedtime Picture Books That Won’t Put Parents To Sleep


At the end of a long day, there’s a phrase that parents of small children can come to dread hearing: “Read me a story!”

Though bedtime reading can be fun, reading the same book over and over and over again can also be excruciating for parents.

Margaret Willison, a librarian who specializes in young readers, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers she recommends three picture books in particular that appeal to children without boring the pants off their parents.

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back

by Jon Klassen

•

Willison suggests finding a book with a dual narrative — one that parents and their children can both enjoy on different levels. She points to I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen as one example of this.

The book follows a bear as he searches for his missing hat. Early on in the story, it becomes clear to readers — though not to the bear himself — that the hat has been stolen by another woodland animal.

“Your toddler appreciates it on a level of dramatic irony, where they get to see the hat before the bear realizes he has so they get to feel like they’re one-up on the bear,” says Willison.

And if the story of a dopey bear searching for his missing hat sounds like exactly the kind of cutesy bedtime reading parents hope to avoid: Don’t worry, Willison says. Klassen’s sparsely funny illustrations and a darkly humorous twist ending make the story exciting for adults as well as their children.

Chester's Way

Chester’s Way

by Kevin Henkes

•

Another quality to look for in selecting the perfect picture book: Rich detail.

“I think the king of that is Kevin Henkes,” says Willison. Some may recognize Henkes as the author of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, a story about a preschool-aged mouse and her outrageous handbag.

However, the book that Willison recommends most highly in Henkes’ mouse series is Chester’s Way, a story about two “arrestingly finicky” little boys who are unsure how to respond when a wild new girl moves into their neighborhood and tries to spend time with them.

“He just puts these really priceless asides into the illustrations,” says Willison. “If a character is anxious there will be another character in every frame who’s wearing a different T-shirt that says something like, ‘Chill out bro,’ or ‘Hangin’ and relaxin’ here.’ “

She adds that, as an adult, detail-rich illustration can be great because it allows parents something new to notice about the book with every read, and children can appreciate the variety of expressions and activity laid out on every page.

Mr. Wuffles!

Mr. Wuffles!

A third solution to boring bedtime reading? Picture books with no words at all, says Willison. Mr. Wuffles by David Weisner uses illustrations alone to tell the story of a cat who has grown bored with all of his toys. The apathetic Mr. Wuffles can hardly be roused from his nap, until he discovers one toy that is not a toy at all, but a spaceship filled with tiny aliens.

“It’s this priceless mix of very mundane and familiar details … and this really whimsical fantastical element,” says Willison.

She adds that wordless picture books allow parents an opportunity to rest their voices at the end of a long day, while simultaneously encouraging children to develop their own storytelling abilities.

Of course, you don’t have to eschew words altogether to make repetitive reading more fun.

Willison suggests replacing words in familiar books with a similar rhyming alternative — for example, “goodnight spoon” in place of “goodnight moon” — to catch your child off guard. She explains that engaging and sharing a joke with your child makes reading more enjoyable for everyone.

“Don’t be afraid to sort of break into the story and interact with your child while you’re doing it,” she says.

In Civilian Snapshot Of Iraq, An Artist Is A ‘Corpse Washer’


The Corpse Washer

In his latest novel, Iraqi author Sinan Antoon gives readers a stark portrait of contemporary Iraq. Originally written in Arabic and translated into English by Antoon himself, The Corpse Washer was nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize this year.

The book’s protagonist is a young man named Jawad, an aspiring artist from a family of traditional Shiite corpse washers and shrouders in Baghdad. Jawad breaks from the family business and attends art school, where he devotes himself to the celebration of life rather than the ritual surrounding death.

But, Antoon tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers, “Fate would have it otherwise, and he’s forced to go back and to practice the same profession that his ancestors did.”

In 2003, the U.S. invasion claims the life of Jawad’s father, and Iraq is engulfed in chaos. With his family broken, and civilian bodies piling up, Jawad returns to washing corpses. After years spent representing life aesthetically through art, Jawad now faces the tremendous power of death over life.

Interview Highlights

On the tradition of corpse washing

It’s a very intricate ritual, a rhythmic ritual, of washing the body three times and … to go through all of that while also chanting and reciting certain phrases. And then the shrouding has to be done with a specific type of cloth, with cotton, and then the branch of a pomegranate tree, because it’s believed to be sacred and is mentioned in the Quran … and then sent to the cemetery.

The body, being God’s creation and being created in the most perfect image, the body is supposed to be pure. But of course I mean it also is partly for the well-being of the living, in a way to kind of process how the living observe death and observe the dead, because the decay of the body is something that’s very traumatic for human beings.

On writing about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even though Antoon left the country in 1991

In earlier years I had these qualms about how would I write about something that I never lived through and I’m distant from. But then if we take that into consideration, then three-fourths of literature and art would be gone, because people write about lives that they did not live.

Sinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.i i

hide captionSinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.


Bassam Haddad/Courtesy of Yale University Press

Sinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Sinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Bassam Haddad/Courtesy of Yale University Press

The problem is that in this country, and in “the West” in general … we get the American narrative, and in this country we get the narrative of the vets, which is important of course, but we never, or very rarely get the … civilian point of view. We live in such a militarized society now that valorizes the violence carried out by armies; we never see the world from the point of view of the civilians who are on the receiving end of tanks and drones and whatnot.

And it’s very tricky because it’s very easy to write a scene where there’s an encounter between civilians and soldiers, and the soldiers are demonized. But what I tried to show … is that this encounter between an occupying military and civilians, is going to be humiliating and horrible and traumatic, if not violent and deadly, irrespective of any of the slogans or the intentions of the people carrying it out.

On translating the text

Every writer gets really invested in what they’re writing, but the subject of this novel was so harrowing, but it’s something that I was so invested in, that I lived really with those characters, and I lived with Jawad. And frankly as with the end of any book, I had this kind of postpartum depression. With this novel I really felt a major void in my life after it was done, and translating was one way of going back to all of these events and all of these characters that I had lived with for almost two or three years.

The outcome was not that great because I was even more drained and saddened when I finished the translation, it was kind of going back and living with Jawad again and seeing how he would say things in English. That’s why I did it, but I’m not sure I’m going to translate my novels again. It’s too much.

The Ides Of March Madness: ‘Who’s Gonna Stop Prospero?’


Paul Edward O'Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare's plays would match up in a tournament bracket.i i

hide captionPaul Edward O’Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare’s plays would match up in a tournament bracket.


Wesley Moore

Paul Edward O'Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare's plays would match up in a tournament bracket.

Paul Edward O’Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare’s plays would match up in a tournament bracket.

Wesley Moore

What if William Shakespeare’s plays faced off in a tournament, like basketball squads spewing Elizabethan verse? That’s the idea behind a bracket that pits 32 of the bard’s plays against each another, in a contest arranged by New York’s New Victory Theater.

Much like the NCAA basketball tournament that inspired it, the theater has been tallying votes and updating its bracket on its road to Stratford-upon-Avon.

But for some Shakespearean scholars, merely emulating the college tourney’s machinery is not enough. There must be a method to the madness. And for stage actor Paul O’Brien of Charleston, S.C., that means breaking down the matchups not only by the plays’ popularity but by their characters.

“Iago’s got mad skills,” O’Brien notes in discussing the villain of Othello, “but let’s face it, he still hasn’t learned how to be a team player.”

O’Brien created a Game Day-style analysis, sharpening the bluster of sports talk with incisive literary criticism as he broke down the bracket’s four “regions” of Tragedy, History, Comedy, and Problem.

Here are some of our favorite excerpts:

“Yea, sure, Falstaff doesn’t always come ready to play, but hey, you got Hotspur coming off the bench. Gimme a break! Henry IV wins and then beats the Romans, who really just don’t have their act together enough to go too deep in this tourney.”

“As for Comedy, here’s some comedy: Twelfth Night over The Tempest. Are you crazy? Who’s gonna stop Prospero when he’s in the zone? Viola? The Duke? Malvolio? Malvolio??”

“I’ll take Hamlet by a couplet at the buzzer.”

O’Brien’s full breakdown of Shakespeare’s plays was recently featured on the blog You Do Hoodoo? by Wesley Moore, who heads the English department at Charleston’s Porter Gaud School. Moore says O’Brien is a former student who’s had “an interesting career” that currently includes acting, poetry, and oncology.

Moore also convinced O’Brien to give a dramatic reading of what we’ll call his “Shakedown.”

Paul O’Brien’s Bracketology

O’Brien gave his analysis early in the New Victory’s Shakespeare tournament. As of this weekend, the tourney is down to its championship rung – the finals pit Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing, in a true contrast of styles. If you’re interested in voting, you have until Monday at noon.

The biggest upset so far would seem to be The Tempest’s second-round loss to Twelfth Night – a result, possibly, of Tempest cruising after an early trouncing of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Another first-round matchup pitted brutality against guile: Titus Andronicus vs. Othello. We can only assume Othello spent a lot of time at the free-throw line in that one.

The New Victory Theater's Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.i i

hide captionThe New Victory Theater’s Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.


New Victory Theater

The New Victory Theater's Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.

The New Victory Theater’s Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.

New Victory Theater

If you’re surprised by the Cinderella-story aspect of Much Ado’s presence in the finals, you’re not alone. A commenter on New Victory’s Facebook page suggested that a 2013 film adaptation of that play might have helped it build support. Another simply stated, “I call shenanigans.”

The theater insists the results reflect the voters’ choices.

Cesar Millan’s Long Walk To Becoming The ‘Dog Whisperer’


Cesar Millan's television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.i i

hide captionCesar Millan’s television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.


Robin Layton/Courtesy of Cesar Millan

Cesar Millan's television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.

Cesar Millan’s television show Dog Whisperer on National Geographic debuted in 2004, but Millan previously spent years struggling to pursue a career as a dog trainer.

Robin Layton/Courtesy of Cesar Millan

As part of a series called “My Big Break,” All Things Considered is collecting stories of triumph, big and small. These are the moments when everything seems to click, and people leap forward into their careers.

Long before Cesar Millan became the “Dog Whisperer,” with TV shows and a best-selling series of books, he had to learn how to ask for a job in English.

The first phrase Millan learned, soon after he arrived poor and desperate in the United States, was: “Do you have application for work?”

Millan, whose show Cesar 911 is currently airing on the Nat Geo Wild channel, grew up on a farm in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

“We were the family that had more dogs than anybody else,” Millan says of his childhood. “I never saw a dog with a leash on.”

He found inspiration watching Lassie and The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin on TV.

“When I was 13 years old,” he recalls, “I told my mom, ‘Mom, you think I can be the best dog trainer in the world?’ And she said, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ “

Eight years later, Millan borrowed money from his parents and spent it all illegally crossing the border into the United States. (Millan became a U.S. citizen in 2009.)

Initially, he landed in San Diego with no money, no friends, and almost no understanding of English.

“I was homeless in the streets of San Diego,” he says, “and my home was under a freeway.”

For food, he says, he survived on hot dogs from local convenience stores.

“They will sell you two hot dogs for 99 cents,” he remembers. “That means you only have to make $1 to survive in America.”

At the same time, Millan made use of that first sentence in English, asking for job applications. He found intermittent employment at a grooming salon in San Diego, where he impressed the owners with his calm, assertive handling of more aggressive dogs.

When Millan moved to Inglewood, Calif., and began walking dogs in the neighborhood, he set himself apart by foregoing the leash.

“I didn’t know it was illegal to walk dogs off leash in the land of the free,” he says, “especially [in a place] where dogs have birthday parties.”

But his unusual style boosted his reputation.

“People started calling me ‘the Mexican guy who can walk a pack of dogs,’ ” he says. “I didn’t have business cards, so my business card was the referral.”

Over time, Millan built up his dog-walking business, and eventually founded what he called the Dog Psychology Center in South Central Los Angeles, where he focused on rehabilitating dogs with behavioral problems.

As his reputation grew, Millan got more attention from the media, including a lengthy — and crucial — profile in the Los Angeles Times.

“The newspaper came on a Sunday, and by Monday, [there] was a line of [television] producers outside,” he says. “That’s how Dog Whisperer was born.”

Three Bedtime Picture Books That Won’t Put Parents To Sleep


At the end of a long day, there’s a phrase that parents of small children can come to dread hearing: “Read me a story!”

Though bedtime reading can be fun, reading the same book over and over and over again can also be excruciating for parents.

Margaret Willison, a librarian who specializes in young readers, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers she recommends three picture books in particular that appeal to children without boring the pants off their parents.

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back

by Jon Klassen

•

Willison suggests finding a book with a dual narrative — one that parents and their children can both enjoy on different levels. She points to I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen as one example of this.

The book follows a bear as he searches for his missing hat. Early on in the story, it becomes clear to readers — though not to the bear himself — that the hat has been stolen by another woodland animal.

“Your toddler appreciates it on a level of dramatic irony, where they get to see the hat before the bear realizes he has so they get to feel like they’re one-up on the bear,” says Willison.

And if the story of a dopey bear searching for his missing hat sounds like exactly the kind of cutesy bedtime reading parents hope to avoid: Don’t worry, Willison says. Klassen’s sparsely funny illustrations and a darkly humorous twist ending make the story exciting for adults as well as their children.

Chester's Way

Chester’s Way

by Kevin Henkes

•

Another quality to look for in selecting the perfect picture book: Rich detail.

“I think the king of that is Kevin Henkes,” says Willison. Some may recognize Henkes as the author of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, a story about a preschool-aged mouse and her outrageous handbag.

However, the book that Willison recommends most highly in Henkes’ mouse series is Chester’s Way, a story about two “arrestingly finicky” little boys who are unsure how to respond when a wild new girl moves into their neighborhood and tries to spend time with them.

“He just puts these really priceless asides into the illustrations,” says Willison. “If a character is anxious there will be another character in every frame who’s wearing a different T-shirt that says something like, ‘Chill out bro,’ or ‘Hangin’ and relaxin’ here.’ “

She adds that, as an adult, detail-rich illustration can be great because it allows parents something new to notice about the book with every read, and children can appreciate the variety of expressions and activity laid out on every page.

Mr. Wuffles!

Mr. Wuffles!

A third solution to boring bedtime reading? Picture books with no words at all, says Willison. Mr. Wuffles by David Weisner uses illustrations alone to tell the story of a cat who has grown bored with all of his toys. The apathetic Mr. Wuffles can hardly be roused from his nap, until he discovers one toy that is not a toy at all, but a spaceship filled with tiny aliens.

“It’s this priceless mix of very mundane and familiar details … and this really whimsical fantastical element,” says Willison.

She adds that wordless picture books allow parents an opportunity to rest their voices at the end of a long day, while simultaneously encouraging children to develop their own storytelling abilities.

Of course, you don’t have to eschew words altogether to make repetitive reading more fun.

Willison suggests replacing words in familiar books with a similar rhyming alternative — for example, “goodnight spoon” in place of “goodnight moon” — to catch your child off guard. She explains that engaging and sharing a joke with your child makes reading more enjoyable for everyone.

“Don’t be afraid to sort of break into the story and interact with your child while you’re doing it,” she says.

In Civilian Snapshot Of Iraq, An Artist Is A ‘Corpse Washer’


The Corpse Washer

In his latest novel, Iraqi author Sinan Antoon gives readers a stark portrait of contemporary Iraq. Originally written in Arabic and translated into English by Antoon himself, The Corpse Washer was nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize this year.

The book’s protagonist is a young man named Jawad, an aspiring artist from a family of traditional Shiite corpse washers and shrouders in Baghdad. Jawad breaks from the family business and attends art school, where he devotes himself to the celebration of life rather than the ritual surrounding death.

But, Antoon tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers, “Fate would have it otherwise, and he’s forced to go back and to practice the same profession that his ancestors did.”

In 2003, the U.S. invasion claims the life of Jawad’s father, and Iraq is engulfed in chaos. With his family broken, and civilian bodies piling up, Jawad returns to washing corpses. After years spent representing life aesthetically through art, Jawad now faces the tremendous power of death over life.

Interview Highlights

On the tradition of corpse washing

It’s a very intricate ritual, a rhythmic ritual, of washing the body three times and … to go through all of that while also chanting and reciting certain phrases. And then the shrouding has to be done with a specific type of cloth, with cotton, and then the branch of a pomegranate tree, because it’s believed to be sacred and is mentioned in the Quran … and then sent to the cemetery.

The body, being God’s creation and being created in the most perfect image, the body is supposed to be pure. But of course I mean it also is partly for the well-being of the living, in a way to kind of process how the living observe death and observe the dead, because the decay of the body is something that’s very traumatic for human beings.

On writing about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, even though Antoon left the country in 1991

In earlier years I had these qualms about how would I write about something that I never lived through and I’m distant from. But then if we take that into consideration, then three-fourths of literature and art would be gone, because people write about lives that they did not live.

Sinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.i i

hide captionSinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.


Bassam Haddad/Courtesy of Yale University Press

Sinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Sinan Antoon is an associate professor at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University.

Bassam Haddad/Courtesy of Yale University Press

The problem is that in this country, and in “the West” in general … we get the American narrative, and in this country we get the narrative of the vets, which is important of course, but we never, or very rarely get the … civilian point of view. We live in such a militarized society now that valorizes the violence carried out by armies; we never see the world from the point of view of the civilians who are on the receiving end of tanks and drones and whatnot.

And it’s very tricky because it’s very easy to write a scene where there’s an encounter between civilians and soldiers, and the soldiers are demonized. But what I tried to show … is that this encounter between an occupying military and civilians, is going to be humiliating and horrible and traumatic, if not violent and deadly, irrespective of any of the slogans or the intentions of the people carrying it out.

On translating the text

Every writer gets really invested in what they’re writing, but the subject of this novel was so harrowing, but it’s something that I was so invested in, that I lived really with those characters, and I lived with Jawad. And frankly as with the end of any book, I had this kind of postpartum depression. With this novel I really felt a major void in my life after it was done, and translating was one way of going back to all of these events and all of these characters that I had lived with for almost two or three years.

The outcome was not that great because I was even more drained and saddened when I finished the translation, it was kind of going back and living with Jawad again and seeing how he would say things in English. That’s why I did it, but I’m not sure I’m going to translate my novels again. It’s too much.

The Ides Of March Madness: ‘Who’s Gonna Stop Prospero?’


Paul Edward O'Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare's plays would match up in a tournament bracket.i i

hide captionPaul Edward O’Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare’s plays would match up in a tournament bracket.


Wesley Moore

Paul Edward O'Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare's plays would match up in a tournament bracket.

Paul Edward O’Brien, a stage actor, poet, and oncologist, delivered a Game Day-style analysis of how William Shakespeare’s plays would match up in a tournament bracket.

Wesley Moore

What if William Shakespeare’s plays faced off in a tournament, like basketball squads spewing Elizabethan verse? That’s the idea behind a bracket that pits 32 of the bard’s plays against each another, in a contest arranged by New York’s New Victory Theater.

Much like the NCAA basketball tournament that inspired it, the theater has been tallying votes and updating its bracket on its road to Stratford-upon-Avon.

But for some Shakespearean scholars, merely emulating the college tourney’s machinery is not enough. There must be a method to the madness. And for stage actor Paul O’Brien of Charleston, S.C., that means breaking down the matchups not only by the plays’ popularity but by their characters.

“Iago’s got mad skills,” O’Brien notes in discussing the villain of Othello, “but let’s face it, he still hasn’t learned how to be a team player.”

O’Brien created a Game Day-style analysis, sharpening the bluster of sports talk with incisive literary criticism as he broke down the bracket’s four “regions” of Tragedy, History, Comedy, and Problem.

Here are some of our favorite excerpts:

“Yea, sure, Falstaff doesn’t always come ready to play, but hey, you got Hotspur coming off the bench. Gimme a break! Henry IV wins and then beats the Romans, who really just don’t have their act together enough to go too deep in this tourney.”

“As for Comedy, here’s some comedy: Twelfth Night over The Tempest. Are you crazy? Who’s gonna stop Prospero when he’s in the zone? Viola? The Duke? Malvolio? Malvolio??”

“I’ll take Hamlet by a couplet at the buzzer.”

O’Brien’s full breakdown of Shakespeare’s plays was recently featured on the blog You Do Hoodoo? by Wesley Moore, who heads the English department at Charleston’s Porter Gaud School. Moore says O’Brien is a former student who’s had “an interesting career” that currently includes acting, poetry, and oncology.

Moore also convinced O’Brien to give a dramatic reading of what we’ll call his “Shakedown.”

Paul O’Brien’s Bracketology

O’Brien gave his analysis early in the New Victory’s Shakespeare tournament. As of this weekend, the tourney is down to its championship rung – the finals pit Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing, in a true contrast of styles. If you’re interested in voting, you have until Monday at noon.

The biggest upset so far would seem to be The Tempest’s second-round loss to Twelfth Night – a result, possibly, of Tempest cruising after an early trouncing of Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Another first-round matchup pitted brutality against guile: Titus Andronicus vs. Othello. We can only assume Othello spent a lot of time at the free-throw line in that one.

The New Victory Theater's Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.i i

hide captionThe New Victory Theater’s Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.


New Victory Theater

The New Victory Theater's Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.

The New Victory Theater’s Shakespeare championship bracket pits Hamlet against Much Ado About Nothing in the final.

New Victory Theater

If you’re surprised by the Cinderella-story aspect of Much Ado’s presence in the finals, you’re not alone. A commenter on New Victory’s Facebook page suggested that a 2013 film adaptation of that play might have helped it build support. Another simply stated, “I call shenanigans.”

The theater insists the results reflect the voters’ choices.