Monthly Archives: March 2016

In ‘Everything Is Copy,’ Nora Ephron’s Son Tries Her Philosophy


Writer, director and journalist Nora Ephron died in 2012 of complications from leukemia.i

Writer, director and journalist Nora Ephron died in 2012 of complications from leukemia.

Courtesy of HBO


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Courtesy of HBO

Writer, director and journalist Nora Ephron died in 2012 of complications from leukemia.

Writer, director and journalist Nora Ephron died in 2012 of complications from leukemia.

Courtesy of HBO

The new documentary Everything Is Copy — about the late writer, director and journalist Nora Ephron — was written and directed by her son, Jacob Bernstein. The documentary, which debuted on HBO in March, shares the story of Ephron’s life. Bernstein tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that the film’s title comes from an Ephron family saying — “everything is copy,” meaning that anything and everything that happens to you is fair game to write about.

The documentary features interviews with family, friends and people Ephron worked with. Jacob Bernstein’s father, Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward broke the Watergate story, also appears in the film. Ephron wrote a fictionalized account of her and Carl Bernstein’s divorce in the best-selling novel Heartburn, which she later adapted into a film. She also wrote the movies Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally …, and wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle and Julie & Julia.

For her 2006 book I Feel Bad About My Neck, Ephron wrote a series of funny, very personal essays about getting older, but there was something fundamental that she didn’t reveal: She had a serious blood disease that developed into leukemia. Ephron died in 2012.

Jacob Bernstein is a writer for The New York Times. He tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that making the documentary wasn’t about getting closure after his mother’s death — it was about spending more time with her. “It was getting to stay with her in some way,” he says, “from looking at her on a monitor and reading her old essays and reading Heartburn again. … There was her voice, loud and clear.”

Interview Highlights

On why he wanted to make a documentary about his mother

I think that I was interested in what the life of a writer is. … You know, I write for The New York Times, but I write much less personally, generally — or less autobiographically, at least. I certainly had not written about my family or my own life explicitly, and so I was curious about what that had been like for her. …

My parents had gotten divorced when I was very young, and it had inspired this book that she had written [Heartburn], and I wanted to know a little bit more about what that was like. And I wondered whether she had been ambivalent about spilling all of these secrets. … I didn’t get an enormous sense of my mother’s vulnerability growing up, and I always sort of wondered if that was there. I would not say that during the course of this documentary I found a huge amount of vulnerability. That’s one of the things that doesn’t line up neatly. I think my mother was fundamentally different than the rest of us were.

Jacob Bernstein, left, says Everything Is Copy wouldn't have been complete without the participation of his father, Carl Bernstein.i

Jacob Bernstein, left, says Everything Is Copy wouldn’t have been complete without the participation of his father, Carl Bernstein.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP


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Jacob Bernstein, left, says Everything Is Copy wouldn't have been complete without the participation of his father, Carl Bernstein.

Jacob Bernstein, left, says Everything Is Copy wouldn’t have been complete without the participation of his father, Carl Bernstein.

Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

On learning about his father’s affair from Heartburn

It was very hard to separate the book from the affair, because I knew about the affair from the book. … I definitely found it out from kids at school whose parents had either read the book and told them about it, or on a couple of occasions actually took their children, who were right around my age, [to the movie]. It was an odd set of circumstances, for sure. …

I was angry at him for a portion of my childhood. It was a disturbing thing, and my father was not living with us. I think children of divorce really process it all kinds of ways. I think many of them become more resilient because of it. I think you become able to roll with the punches, you kind of know that things aren’t permanent. That’s OK, but it fundamentally shapes and shifts you.

On convincing his father to participate in the film

There are all kinds of wrong that this could’ve been, and there was no script for him to look at. I wasn’t showing him the footage; we hadn’t edited anything. There was a lot of sort of “please do this movie,” without saying exactly what it was. And he didn’t know if he was being put on trial; he didn’t know what it would become. And we’re in a very exhibitionist era, so I think it was tricky, even among people who love one another. …

There was a lot of psychological manipulation, and in fact a lot of that stuff that reporters do with subjects whom they have no relationship with where you say, “It’s going to be better for you if you cooperate.” You do what you have to do, particularly if you’re making a movie, because I did know how badly we needed him, and I needed him psychologically too. I was tremendously worried about what would happen to our relationship if he wasn’t in it, and I was very worried about what the movie would look like without him — I didn’t think it could be complete.

On how his mother’s work affected his perception of her

I read a number of her essays as a kid, from Esquire and New York Magazine, and I guess when I was 14 or 15 probably I read the breasts essay. I didn’t stumble upon her essay about getting crabs until doing this movie. … But I knew it was good. The humor of her made all of it less awkward, and the fact that it really didn’t feel solely exhibitionistic the way that so much of what passes for self-examination today does. She had this comedic voice where she wasn’t writing about sex in a pornographic way; she was writing about it as comedy. So it’s a little different, and I think it was easier to process from that angle. …

There’s no question that as a teenager, when I reached my time to get angry at my mother … that her having written Heartburn was a little thing and her being off directing movies was a little thing. And it wasn’t until I was sort of 17 or 18 that I kind of went: Well, other people’s mothers that I know were sort of professional bar mitzvah planners — they kind of lived on Park Avenue and were just about consumption in some way, and she wasn’t. She did really interesting things. And it was interesting, too, to go from being a family that had an OK amount of money to being one that there was a tremendous amount of pride in what she did because she earned it. I think my mother was pretty cool.

On how his mother handled the news of her illness

She told me in 2006, which was shortly after she had been diagnosed and … at a point where she had started taking some medicine that was working for her. … She certainly waited. And at the beginning they told her that she had six months to live, and she went to Seattle hoping for a bone marrow transplant and the guy said that not only was she not a good candidate, but that basically she was going to be dead no matter what he did. She didn’t tell me until she thought that she had a shot. I think that, obviously, had she wound up in the hospital dying, she would’ve told me, but I think she hit pause. …

I think she didn’t want to come to me while she was feeling vulnerable or hysterical about it. I know that she and my stepfather [writer Nicholas Pileggi] got back from Seattle, where she had seen this doctor, and she really broke down, from what Nick said. But I never saw her break down over her illness, just as I never really saw her break down over anything. I think that probably was one of the things that I was interested in with this movie, was how often did that happen? Not so often, as I came to find.

On why he believes she kept her illness a secret from most people

Some of the considerations for why she didn’t tell people were pragmatic. I don’t think that she could’ve gotten insured on a movie if people had known what she had. Her agent, Bryan Lourd, knew that there was a thing with her blood and I think he did a little bit of willful blindness on her behalf, as he sort of got her one project after another. But basically people didn’t know, so there was this pragmatic component.

The other component was philosophical. … It really was the belief in being the heroine of your life and not the victim. How do you not become the victim if people are walking up to you and saying, “How are you? Are you OK?” She didn’t want that. So it was a secret that allowed her to move throughout the world in control.

What’s Over The Horizon? Cartographer Traces ‘Beyond The Sea’


A map by cartographer Andy Woodruff shows the coastlines around the world from which you could "see" Australia and Oceania, if you could follow your gaze around the Earth's curvature.i
A map by cartographer Andy Woodruff shows the coastlines around the world from which you could "see" Australia and Oceania, if you could follow your gaze around the Earth's curvature.

A map by cartographer Andy Woodruff shows the coastlines around the world from which you could “see” Australia and Oceania, if you could follow your gaze around the Earth’s curvature.



Courtesy of Andy Woodruff

Ever stood on the coastline, gazing out over the horizon, and wondered what’s on the other side? Pondered where you’d end up if you could fly straight ahead until you hit land?

Turns out the answer might be surprising. And even if you pulled out an atlas — or, more realistically, your smartphone — you might have trouble figuring it out. Lines of latitude won’t help, and drawing a path on most maps will lead you astray.

Cartographer Andy Woodruff, who recently embarked on a project called Beyond the Sea to illustrate this puzzle, says there are two simple reasons why it’s harder than it seems to figure out what coast lies directly on the other side of the horizon.

First, coastlines are “wacky,” he writes on his blog. And second, well, the Earth is round.

The crookedness of the world’s coastlines means moving a few miles up or down the coast will leave you facing a different direction (assuming your gaze is straight out, perpendicular to the coast around you).

"What's really across the ocean from you when you look straight out?" writes Woodruff. "It's not always the place you think."

And because the Earth is round, a true straight line has nothing to with holding, say, a northwest or southeast bearing — that will actually send you on a “rhumb line,” which traces a spiral around the globe. Traveling along a single line of latitude also will send you out of your way, unless you happen to be exactly on the equator.

Instead, Woodruff explains, you need to find a “great circle” — the shortest path between two points on a globe. It’s the true “straight line” between two points on a sphere, even though it looks like a curve on most maps.

The bright end of each line is the "view origin," Woodruff explains, showing where a person would stand on the beach in order to face the continent in question — here, Asia.

So he used a two different projections to find the answers: a Mercator projection, which preserves local angles, to find the angles of coastlines around the world, then an azimuthal equidistant projection, which preserves directions from the center point, to find the true straight line from that bearing.

You can view all the resulting maps here.

Woodruff notes his math might might occasionally be imperfect — “even we cartographers sometimes have a shaky grasp of map projections and spherical geometry,” he says.

But his maps show how counterintuitive the answer might be to a seemingly simple question: “What’s over the horizon?”

Renowned Architect Zaha Hadid Dies At 65


  • Guangzhou Opera House in Guangzhou, China, was designed by Zaha Hadid, a Pritzker-winning architect. Hadid died at 65.
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    Guangzhou Opera House in Guangzhou, China, was designed by Zaha Hadid, a Pritzker-winning architect. Hadid died at 65.



  • London Olympic Aquatics Centre was designed for the Summer Olympics in 2012. In addition to her design work, Hadid taught architecture around the world.


  • A view of the Bergisel Ski Jump during the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Innsbruck, Austria.


  • Cars drive past the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati in 2003. The Contemporary Arts Center, founded in 1939, was one of the first institutions dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art.


  • Vitra Fire Station in Rhein, Germany. The fire station — now a museum — was one of only two of Hadid's building designs that were actually constructed before 2000.


Zaha Hadid, the Pritzker-winning architect whose designs — both realized and unrealized — profoundly influenced the world of architecture, has died in Miami after contracting bronchitis and experiencing a sudden heart attack, according to her architecture firm.

She was 65.

Hadid was born in Iraq. In a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross in 2004, she said that her contemporaries had a fundamentally inaccurate understanding of the Arab world she grew up in. “Many women went into university and higher degrees and worked in variety of professions,” she says. She went to a Catholic school, despite being Muslim, and her parents always encouraged her academic ambitions, she told Gross.

Hadid went to school in Beirut, where she studied math, and London, where she later settled.

In 2004, she told Edward Lifson of Chicago Public Radio that she had wanted to be an architect her entire life — since she was 11 or 12.

And after studying at the Architectural Association in London, she launched her own practice in 1979. She quickly became famous for striking, dramatic and experimental designs — often dismissed as impractical or impossible to build.

Zaha Hadid stands before the Riverside Museum, her first major public commission in the U.K., in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2011.i

Zaha Hadid stands before the Riverside Museum, her first major public commission in the U.K., in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2011.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images


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Zaha Hadid stands before the Riverside Museum, her first major public commission in the U.K., in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2011.

Zaha Hadid stands before the Riverside Museum, her first major public commission in the U.K., in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2011.

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Her first major design, in the early 1980s, was for the Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong. She envisioned a gravity-defying, jagged-edged structure perched on top of a mountain. It won a competition for the building’s design but was never built.

A decade later, Hadid envisioned an angular auditorium for the Cardiff Bay Opera House. That, too, won the design competition for the project but was never built.

“It would have become the most radical and compelling building in Britain,” The Guardian‘s architecture critic, Jonathan Glancey, wrote in 2011, “but an alliance of narrow-minded politicians, peevish commentators and assorted dullards holding the Lottery purse strings ensured it was never built.”

In fact, despite numerous high-profile designs, only two of Hadid’s building designs were realized before 2000: an eight-story housing project in Berlin and the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany.

In the past 15 years, though, Hadid proved her radical, deconstructivist designs worked as physical buildings — not just as experimental drawings.

You can step into Hadid’s designs at, among other places, the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati; the Bergisel Ski Jump on Bergisel Mountain in Innsbruck, Austria; the London Olympic Aquatics Center for the London Olympics; the Maxxi contemporary art museum in Rome and Eli; the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center in Baku, Azerbaijan; the Guangzhou Opera house in Guangzhou, China; and the Edythe Broad Art Museum at the Michigan State University campus in East Lansing.

But her work wasn’t reserved for high-profile stadiums, artsy opera houses or museum buildings. She also designed the King Abdullah Financial District Metro Station in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; a BMW plant in Germany; a shipping firm’s headquarters in Marseille, France; a cancer counseling center in Kirkcaldy, Scotland; and several train stations in Austria.

In 2004, Hadid told Gross she believed even her most radical ideas weren’t meant just for critics and highbrow art consumers.

“I’m not saying it’s because ideas are kind of a bit crazy that it’s suitable to only art institutions. I think they could be tried out equally well for, you know, corporate work or for housing or parks or whatever,” she said.

And she told Lifson that she thought about public enjoyment, not just dramatic lines, when she crafted a design.

“I think that people want to feel good in a space,” Hadid said then. “Architecture on the one hand is about shelter, but it’s also about pleasure, and I think … the more you carve out of city civic spaces and the more it is accessible to a much larger mass and public, then it is about them enjoying that space. That makes, you know, life much better.”

Her design for the 2022 World Cup stadium in Qatar is currently being built — amid controversy over the working conditions, as multiple laborers have died working on the stadium project. Hadid’s comment on the issue of laborer welfare in Qatari projects — which included, “It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it” — were widely criticized. Hadid sued one critic for defamation.

While Hadid’s work in recent years has moved from concept to construction far more frequently than it used to, some high-profile designs have still been scrapped. An Olympic stadium for Tokyo was designed, then ditched, after the cost ballooned to $2 billion and members of the public mocked the building’s appearance.

In addition to her design work, Hadid taught architecture around the world. She was appointed a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012.

Hadid won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004; she was the first woman to do so.

She told Gross that being a woman — and, on top of that, being a foreign-born woman — had been a challenge in her career.

“If I went to a meeting with even an assistant of mine, to the side they will talk to him and not talk to me,” she told Gross.” I mean, there’s a world which you, as a woman, no matter how successful you are, you can’t enter into. You are not part of a network.

“It takes you a long time, let’s say, to come over these things. I mean, I never thought it’d be a problem because … for good reason or bad reason, I always thought, you know, I should do well because the work is good.”

‘Empire Of Things’ Surveys How, What And Why We Consume


Empire of Things

How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-first

by Frank Trentmann

Hardcover, 862 pages |

purchase

Food, clothing, and shelter: How have these three basic necessities been inflated into a culture of consumption that now threatens to deplete the resources of the planet that gives us life? That’s the question at the heart of Frank Trentmann’s new book, Empire of Things. Trentmann has the bona fides to back up his exhaustive probe into consumerism: He’s a decorated academic and the award-winning author of Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain and The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption. With Empire of Things, however, he’s tackled a bigger project: synthesizing his many years of research and thinking into a single, comprehensive overview of how humans have accumulated — and exhausted — material goods throughout history.

It’s an enormous undertaking, and the size of the book reflects that. It’s huge. Thankfully it’s also hugely readable. Combining a dizzying array of disciplines — economics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, religion, geopolitics, and even etymology — Empire deftly juggles a colossal load. The roots of the word “consume” are unearthed — including its transition from negative to positive somewhere around the Industrial Revolution — even as every conceivable angle of the idea of consumption is taken, turned, and reexamined. But Trentmann’s savvy enough to dig up characters and tell stories.

In the Mughal Empire, in what is now parts of India and Afghanistan, rulers were collectors rather than consumers, a function of class that came with a profound, still resonant distinction between artisan-made goods and mass production. Trentmann paints the hunger for novel goods and services as not a symptom of the Industrial Revolution, but a preexisting impulse that helped drive it. And he gives the consumerism of 20th century a fresh perspective, from the way popular jazz songs in England in the 1930s reflected the rise of home ownership to the way teen magazines in the 1950s were demographic bellwethers. In one particularly eye-opening section, Trentmann outlines the debate over consumption and waste as it played out in the works of pop artists and avant-garde architects.

One of the book’s biggest strengths is its geographical scale. Empire doesn’t just stick to England, America, and the rest of the Western world. The rise of Asian consumerism is given all the attention it demands, including many illuminating facts and concepts. For instance, the Japanese notion of shōhi wa bitoku or “virtuous consumption” — that is, purchasing domestic goods as a form of moral duty — that helped the nation become an economic superpower following World War II.

At the same time, Trentmann acknowledges that xenophobia and other adverse social forces have always had a fluid relationship with markets, particularly importation and the desire for the exotic: “That foreign things will corrode local identity is a fear as old as trade itself,” he writes, and he persuasively shows how it’s as true today as it was 500 years ago.

It’s inevitable that a book of such scope winds up with a few flaws. For all its winning approaches — the interplay between comfort, convenience, and status; the role of welfare as an economic engine; an emphasis on everyday life as a microcosm of the world at large; the downside to the conservation and fair-trade movements — Empire occasionally lapses into textbook-speak. And the occasional clump of statistics, while supporting his points, doesn’t always help. Maybe it’s just a symptom of size, but Empire‘s coverage of e-commerce and how it’s radically altered consumerism in the 21st century feels relatively skimpy; his assertions that “the internet has added a new layer, not created a revolutionary break” and “new technologies don’t automatically replace existing patterns of use” don’t carry as much conviction as the rest of the book.

Trentmann’s agenda, on the other hand, is very convincing. As he states at the start, he has his own “moral point of view,” and it becomes crystal clear as the book progresses: He’s an advocate for sustainability. And a powerful one at that. By tracing the trend lines of use and waste over the course of centuries, he lays out an airtight argument: The planet simply can’t bear our current rate of consumption. Trentmann’s balanced, even-handed arguments only make that truth more frightening. His message is simple: without a lucid, comprehensive understanding of the history of consumption, we’ll never make it out of this mess going forward. Empire of Things isn’t just an insightful and surprisingly entertaining read, but a crucial one.

Jason Heller is a senior writer at The A.V. Club, a Hugo Award-winning editor and author of the novel Taft 2012.

‘Empire Of Things’ Surveys How, What And Why We Consume


Empire of Things

How We Became a World of Consumers, from the Fifteenth Century to the Twenty-first

by Frank Trentmann

Hardcover, 862 pages |

purchase

Food, clothing, and shelter: How have these three basic necessities been inflated into a culture of consumption that now threatens to deplete the resources of the planet that gives us life? That’s the question at the heart of Frank Trentmann’s new book, Empire of Things. Trentmann has the bona fides to back up his exhaustive probe into consumerism: He’s a decorated academic and the award-winning author of Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain and The Oxford Handbook of the History of Consumption. With Empire of Things, however, he’s tackled a bigger project: synthesizing his many years of research and thinking into a single, comprehensive overview of how humans have accumulated — and exhausted — material goods throughout history.

It’s an enormous undertaking, and the size of the book reflects that. It’s huge. Thankfully it’s also hugely readable. Combining a dizzying array of disciplines — economics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, religion, geopolitics, and even etymology — Empire deftly juggles a colossal load. The roots of the word “consume” are unearthed — including its transition from negative to positive somewhere around the Industrial Revolution — even as every conceivable angle of the idea of consumption is taken, turned, and reexamined. But Trentmann’s savvy enough to dig up characters and tell stories.

In the Mughal Empire, in what is now parts of India and Afghanistan, rulers were collectors rather than consumers, a function of class that came with a profound, still resonant distinction between artisan-made goods and mass production. Trentmann paints the hunger for novel goods and services as not a symptom of the Industrial Revolution, but a preexisting impulse that helped drive it. And he gives the consumerism of 20th century a fresh perspective, from the way popular jazz songs in England in the 1930s reflected the rise of home ownership to the way teen magazines in the 1950s were demographic bellwethers. In one particularly eye-opening section, Trentmann outlines the debate over consumption and waste as it played out in the works of pop artists and avant-garde architects.

One of the book’s biggest strengths is its geographical scale. Empire doesn’t just stick to England, America, and the rest of the Western world. The rise of Asian consumerism is given all the attention it demands, including many illuminating facts and concepts. For instance, the Japanese notion of shōhi wa bitoku or “virtuous consumption” — that is, purchasing domestic goods as a form of moral duty — that helped the nation become an economic superpower following World War II.

At the same time, Trentmann acknowledges that xenophobia and other adverse social forces have always had a fluid relationship with markets, particularly importation and the desire for the exotic: “That foreign things will corrode local identity is a fear as old as trade itself,” he writes, and he persuasively shows how it’s as true today as it was 500 years ago.

It’s inevitable that a book of such scope winds up with a few flaws. For all its winning approaches — the interplay between comfort, convenience, and status; the role of welfare as an economic engine; an emphasis on everyday life as a microcosm of the world at large; the downside to the conservation and fair-trade movements — Empire occasionally lapses into textbook-speak. And the occasional clump of statistics, while supporting his points, doesn’t always help. Maybe it’s just a symptom of size, but Empire‘s coverage of e-commerce and how it’s radically altered consumerism in the 21st century feels relatively skimpy; his assertions that “the internet has added a new layer, not created a revolutionary break” and “new technologies don’t automatically replace existing patterns of use” don’t carry as much conviction as the rest of the book.

Trentmann’s agenda, on the other hand, is very convincing. As he states at the start, he has his own “moral point of view,” and it becomes crystal clear as the book progresses: He’s an advocate for sustainability. And a powerful one at that. By tracing the trend lines of use and waste over the course of centuries, he lays out an airtight argument: The planet simply can’t bear our current rate of consumption. Trentmann’s balanced, even-handed arguments only make that truth more frightening. His message is simple: without a lucid, comprehensive understanding of the history of consumption, we’ll never make it out of this mess going forward. Empire of Things isn’t just an insightful and surprisingly entertaining read, but a crucial one.

Jason Heller is a senior writer at The A.V. Club, a Hugo Award-winning editor and author of the novel Taft 2012.

‘You Cannot Shame Me': 2 New Books Tear Down ‘Fat Girl’ Stereotypes


Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.i

Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.

George Baier IV/Penguin Random House


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George Baier IV/Penguin Random House

Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.

Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.

George Baier IV/Penguin Random House

First, we must contend with the word “fat” itself. It should be a simple descriptor, but fat is often used as an insult — whispered by gossips, or hurled by bullies. Many people use euphemisms — heavy, plump, overweight — to avoid it all together. But now, some writers have decided that it’s time to take “fat” head on.

“There’s a lot of power in reclaiming words that have been hurled as stigma terms,” says Joyce Huff, an English professor at Ball State University.

Back in Victorian days, Huff explains, fat characters were were portrayed as greedy and selfish or fat and jolly. Today, they’re often written as passive, depressive types. Now, she says, writers are tearing down these stereotypes.

“When someone calls a person fat and that person turns around and says, ‘Yes, I’m fat. You cannot shame me with that word,’ it’s quite a powerful response,” says Huff.

Mona Awad is the author of the new book 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.

“I knew it was a charged term but that is why I put it on the cover of the book,” she says. “Because I wanted to unpack it, and I wanted to challenge it, and I wanted to complicate it. “

Awad has struggled with her own weight in the past, as have a many of her family members and friends. She was interested in exploring the effect that can have on a person.

“A struggle with body image takes up a lot of life,” she says. “It takes up a lot of psychological life. It uses up a lot of emotional life. It can change the tenor of your very important personal relationships. And that can take its toll, I think, on anyone. And certainly it takes its toll on my main character, Lizzie.”

Lizzie’s life is told in 13 stories, beginning when she is an unhappy teenager. Deeply insecure, she constantly compares her body unfavorably to her friends and lets men take advantage of her. Awad portrays Lizzie’s humiliations with unflinching honesty and a dose of dark humor. She dissects her often difficult relationships with everyone from her over-involved mother to an overbearing saleswoman.

“I wanted to see a woman who is dealing these issues go into a dressing room. I wanted to see her have sex,” she says. “I wanted to see those narratives and I wanted to see how they played out. I wanted her to lose weight and then come up against a woman who is larger who is happy with herself.”

Lizzie does get thin and is obsessed with staying that way. Happiness eludes her because she has fallen for the myth that everything will change if she just loses weight.

“When we change our bodies do we really change ourselves?” asks Awad, “When we look in the mirror what do we see? In some ways are we still being informed by that person that we were attempting to leave behind? And I think the book is interested in exploring how ‘fat girl’ is more than just a question of flesh. It’s also, it’s a state of mind.”

In our culture, says writer Sarai Walker, we have this idea that inside every fat person there is a thin person waiting to be “freed.” Walker is the author of the novel Dietland. Her 29-year-old heroine Plum is desperate for the chance to undergo weight reduction surgery.

“In Dietland I just wanted to kind of start off with this miserable fat woman who was desperate to lose weight, kind of that familiar territory,” Walker says. “And then I wanted to blow up that story into a million pieces.”

Walker believes the experience of being a fat woman in our culture has not been taken seriously in literature.

“I knew to write this novel I would have to answer the question: Why are fat women so hated?” she says. “It was really a process of trying to discover that and trying to answer that question for myself. So I didn’t know where it would go, where it would lead, but I definitely got angry while I was writing it.”

Plum goes though a series of challenges that raise her own awareness of what it means to be fat. She becomes more comfortable with her body, and also discovers a new-found power: the ability to see through her tormentors.

“Because I’m fat I know how horrible everyone is,” she tells a friend. “If I looked like a normal woman, if I looked like you, I’d never know how cruel and shallow people are. I see a different side of humanity.”

Over the course of the book Plum doesn’t get any thinner but she does change — a lot. Her awakening comes against the backdrop of a series of terrorist acts by a violent feminist underground. Walker sees fat as a feminist issue and she didn’t want the book to just tell the story of one woman’s struggle with her body.

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.i

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Marion Ettlinger/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


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Marion Ettlinger/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Marion Ettlinger/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“What happens to Plum doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she says. “It’s part of a larger problem: This pressure on women to look a certain way and the objectification of women and the violence that can come from that. So I wanted to explore the issue of why is this fat body so stigmatized. Why is the fat female body in general is so stigmatized in this larger framework.”

Dietland, which came out in 2015, has just been optioned for TV and Walker couldn’t be happier. She believes that it is possible to change attitudes — and having complex, well-written fat characters will help.

“I think a big part of the change that needs to happen,” she says, “is to have books, to have TV shows, to have films with fat characters who don’t hate themselves, who accept themselves and who challenge the way we think about our bodies.”

Walker says when she spoke with writers and producers interested in adapting her book she always made sure of one thing: That they wouldn’t cast a thin woman in a fat suit. The actress who plays Plum, says Walker, has to be fat.

‘You Cannot Shame Me': Two New Books Tear Down ‘Fat Girl’ Stereotypes


Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.i

Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.

George Baier IV/Penguin Random House


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Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.

Mona Awad is the author of 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing and English literature at the University of Denver.

George Baier IV/Penguin Random House

First, we must contend with the word “fat” itself. It should be a simple descriptor, but fat is often used as an insult — whispered by gossips, or hurled by bullies. Many people use euphemisms — heavy, plump, overweight — to avoid it all together. But now, some writers have decided that it’s time to take “fat” head on.

“There’s a lot of power in reclaiming words that have been hurled as stigma terms,” says Joyce Huff, an English professor at Ball State University.

Back in Victorian days, Huff explains, fat characters were were portrayed as greedy and selfish or fat and jolly. Today, they’re often written as passive, depressive types. Now, she says, writers are tearing down these stereotypes.

“When someone calls a person fat and that person turns around and says, ‘Yes, I’m fat. You cannot shame me with that word,’ it’s quite a powerful response,” says Huff.

Mona Awad is the author of the new book 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl.

“I knew it was a charged term but that is why I put it on the cover of the book,” she says. “Because I wanted to unpack it, and I wanted to challenge it, and I wanted to complicate it. “

Awad has struggled with her own weight in the past, as have a many of her family members and friends. She was interested in exploring the effect that can have on a person.

“A struggle with body image takes up a lot of life,” she says. “It takes up a lot of psychological life. It uses up a lot of emotional life. It can change the tenor of your very important personal relationships. And that can take its toll, I think, on anyone. And certainly it takes its toll on my main character, Lizzie.”

Lizzie’s life is told in 13 stories, beginning when she is an unhappy teenager. Deeply insecure, she constantly compares her body unfavorably to her friends and lets men take advantage of her. Awad portrays Lizzie’s humiliations with unflinching honesty and a dose of dark humor. She dissects her often difficult relationships with everyone from her over-involved mother to an overbearing saleswoman.

“I wanted to see a woman who is dealing these issues go into a dressing room. I wanted to see her have sex,” she says. “I wanted to see those narratives and I wanted to see how they played out. I wanted her to lose weight and then come up against a woman who is larger who is happy with herself.”

Lizzie does get thin and is obsessed with staying that way. Happiness eludes her because she has fallen for the myth that everything will change if she just loses weight.

“When we change our bodies do we really change ourselves?” asks Awad, “When we look in the mirror what do we see? In some ways are we still being informed by that person that we were attempting to leave behind? And I think the book is interested in exploring how ‘fat girl’ is more than just a question of flesh. It’s also, it’s a state of mind.”

In our culture, says writer Sarai Walker, we have this idea that inside every fat person there is a thin person waiting to be “freed.” Walker is the author of the novel Dietland. Her 29-year-old heroine Plum is desperate for the chance to undergo weight reduction surgery.

“In Dietland I just wanted to kind of start off with this miserable fat woman who was desperate to lose weight, kind of that familiar territory,” Walker says. “And then I wanted to blow up that story into a million pieces.”

Walker believes the experience of being a fat woman in our culture has not been taken seriously in literature.

“I knew to write this novel I would have to answer the question: Why are fat women so hated?” she says. “It was really a process of trying to discover that and trying to answer that question for myself. So I didn’t know where it would go, where it would lead, but I definitely got angry while I was writing it.”

Plum goes though a series of challenges that raise her own awareness of what it means to be fat. She becomes more comfortable with her body, and also discovers a new-found power: the ability to see through her tormentors.

“Because I’m fat I know how horrible everyone is,” she tells a friend. “If I looked like a normal woman, if I looked like you, I’d never know how cruel and shallow people are. I see a different side of humanity.”

Over the course of the book Plum doesn’t get any thinner but she does change — a lot. Her awakening comes against the backdrop of a series of terrorist acts by a violent feminist underground. Walker sees fat as a feminist issue and she didn’t want the book to just tell the story of one woman’s struggle with her body.

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.i

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Marion Ettlinger/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


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Marion Ettlinger/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Sarai Walker is the author of the 2015 novel Dietland. She has also written for Seventeen and Mademoiselle and was a writer and editor for Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Marion Ettlinger/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

“What happens to Plum doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she says. “It’s part of a larger problem: This pressure on women to look a certain way and the objectification of women and the violence that can come from that. So I wanted to explore the issue of why is this fat body so stigmatized. Why is the fat female body in general is so stigmatized in this larger framework.”

Dietland, which came out in 2015, has just been optioned for TV and Walker couldn’t be happier. She believes that it is possible to change attitudes — and having complex, well-written fat characters will help.

“I think a big part of the change that needs to happen,” she says, “is to have books, to have TV shows, to have films with fat characters who don’t hate themselves, who accept themselves and who challenge the way we think about our bodies.”

Walker says when she spoke with writers and producers interested in adapting her book she always made sure of one thing: That they wouldn’t cast a thin woman in a fat suit. The actress who plays Plum, says Walker, has to be fat.

Sense Of Place Asheville: River Arts District


Wedge Studios in the River Arts District of Asheville, N.C.i

Wedge Studios in the River Arts District of Asheville, N.C.

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Wedge Studios in the River Arts District of Asheville, N.C.

Wedge Studios in the River Arts District of Asheville, N.C.

John Vettese/WXPN

Craftspeople and artists look to Asheville, N.C., as a center of creativity and make up a big part of the area’s identity. They’ve flocked to the city’s River Arts District, which houses several art studios and has become a destination for visitors.

Take a tour with Josh Copus, a longtime area resident and founder of the Clayspace Co-op, as he comments on the forces bringing change to the River Arts District and describes how the community has responded.

Ray Romano Gets Deep, Dark And Angsty For Martin Scorsese’s ‘Vinyl’


Ray Romano plays Zak Yankovich, a record company's head of promotions, in HBO's Vinyl.i

Ray Romano plays Zak Yankovich, a record company’s head of promotions, in HBO’s Vinyl.

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Ray Romano plays Zak Yankovich, a record company's head of promotions, in HBO's Vinyl.

Ray Romano plays Zak Yankovich, a record company’s head of promotions, in HBO’s Vinyl.

Macall B. Polay/HBO

Ray Romano became famous in the mid 1990s as the star of the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which was loosely based on his life as a married man with a daughter and twin boys. After that show ended in 2005, he co-created and co-starred in TNT’s Men of a Certain Age, about three friends dealing with middle age, and had a recurring role on NBC’s Parenthood.

Now, in the HBO drama Vinyl, Romano plays the head of promotions at a record company that’s in financial trouble. He tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that ever since Everybody Loves Raymond ended, his goal has been to try something different. “And when I say different, I mean something a bit dramatic.”

Vinyl was co-created by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Terence Winter and Rich Cohen, and it’s set in the 1970s.

Interview Highlights

On how he got the role in Vinyl

So the luckiest thing in the world happened. … The casting woman, Ellen Lewis, she’s been [Martin Scorsese’s] casting partner for everything he does. … My agent actually went to her after he saw the script and said, “What do you think of Ray Romano?” And she said, “Well, that’s an interesting choice, but have him send in a tape.” …

I had to look from the 1970s and I went to my wardrobe — it was actually very easy to find a shirt in there that fit in that era. … I told my wife, who is constantly trying to throw those things out, I told her it would come in handy one day. I put that on; I did a couple scenes; we sent it. And the feedback we got from Ellen was, “Marty likes what he saw. … He knows this person,” meaning he knows the guy I was playing. “He knows this guy. But also, he’s never heard of Ray Romano,” and it turned out to be a blessing.

On how his work in Vinyl differs from his previous roles

It’s much darker, there’s more depth to it, there’s more angst, of course. In the very second episode of Vinyl, my character kind of contemplates killing himself — not kind of, he does.

It was very intimidating to me because I did the pilot and almost a year later we got the script for the second episode as we were about to start filming. And in the pilot my character is in a good place — he’s happy they’re selling the company. And I got to be honest, I didn’t even know my character was married in the pilot. Nine months later, I get the second script, and I find he’s married, he has children. And here he is sitting in the car in his garage when the sale of the company goes down, and he’s contemplating swallowing these pills. …

The difference between Men of a Certain Age [and Vinyl] is I’m writing Men of a Certain Age, so I know what’s coming and I know why it’s coming. And here it’s all having to process it and figure out and get myself to that place, so it’s different but it’s very exhilarating.

On having to cry on camera in an episode of Vinyl

Just from an acting standpoint, that was frightening to me and scary. And I was talking to my agent, like, “This is such a test for me. It’s the second episode and I want to make sure I can deliver what they think they’re writing for this character.” My agent was very sensitive — he was like, “Well, you better. You better.” …

By the way, I do in real life. I’m at an age where crying is easier for me now. I like it. I can cry at a poignant commercial; I can cry at a — this is a running joke in my house, but … a good “Star-Spangled Banner” can make me cry. I’m not kidding. I look them up on YouTube and I find the most emotional ones. And I like a good cry — it’s cathartic; it’s a release. But I’ve never been able to be so free to do that on camera the way some actors can.

On the story behind the title Everybody Loves Raymond

My brother is a New York police officer, or was then at that time. He actually coined … the title Everybody Loves Raymond. … In real life, he would come over and he’d see I got an award or I got something for stand-up comedy and he would jokingly, kind of tongue-in-cheek, he’d say, “Well, look at Raymond! Raymond gets awards when he goes to work. When I go to work, people shoot at me, people spit at me. But when Raymond goes, everybody loves Raymond.”

So I told this story to [Everybody Loves Raymond executive producer Phil Rosenthal]. Phil said, “We have to use that … as the title.” And I said, “Please don’t.” He said, “Well, let’s just use it as the working title, and then we’ll change it when it comes time to go to pilot.” And of course Les Moonves, the head of CBS, fell in love with the title and he would not — I tried desperately to change that title. … It’s just asking for trouble. … Even if they don’t take it at face value, to this day someone will start an article with, “Well, not everybody loves Raymond!”

On Everybody Loves Raymond ending and figuring out what to do next

The show was ending and it was a bit of a cool feeling in the beginning because now, all of a sudden, you’ve got all this time, you’ve got this money and this fame now. But it was like coming out of a submarine — it was like, “What is this now? My kids are teenagers and I live here? I live in L.A?” It was kind of an odd new feeling.

At first I liked it. I kind of said, “Let’s see what’s next!” I was going to a therapist — I’ve been going to a therapist forever — but my therapist then said, when the show was ending, he says, “You want to start coming twice a week?” And I said, “No, I’m running out of things to talk about now, I’m not going to come twice a week.” Sure enough, in three months after the show ended, I was going twice a week. It was really a hard adjustment all of a sudden because I’m not really doing stand-up now. Before the show, I was doing stand-up every night, writing new material. It was this void. It was this big, big void. And I realized I need to do stuff, I need to continue. … I went through a little rough patch there.

I finally talked with my buddy Mike Royce, who was also a writer on Raymond and he said he’s got the same feeling. It’s kind of this weird, “Where am I? What am I doing now? Where’s my next passion and purpose? I’m at a time in my life where I accomplished what I wanted to.” We said, “Let’s write about it. That’s what Raymond was — Raymond was about writing what you know. Let’s do that. We’re not going to do a sitcom, of course, we want to do it real and keep it funny. But let’s do a single-camera and write about it.” And that’s where Men of a Certain Age came out of. We won a Peabody Award and then they canceled us.

On how fame has changed his life

When Everybody Loves Raymond started, I remember the first person [who recognized me]. We had gone back to Queens, [New York]. It was during a hiatus week and I went to a gas station, and I was pumping my gas and a woman said, “Hey, aren’t you on that show?” I said, “Yeah, I am. Thank you.” And that was it. It was still a long ways off before I ever had to worry about being somewhere — not that I have to worry, I mean I’m not Justin Bieber. I can outrun my fans, I’ll put it that way. …

It doesn’t really affect my life too much, really. Yes, it does in some sense. Here’s what I say: Before I thought my cab driver hated me; now I think my limo driver hates me. I think it’s all the same. … I’m just as neurotic. If I had never gotten famous or rich, I think I’d be equally neurotic.