NPR Staff

Thomas Maggs is a lonely little boy. When Esther Freud's new novel Mr. Mac And Me opens, he is 13 years old. His brothers have died, his father, who runs a bar, drinks too much of his own stock and beats his son. Thomas dreams of sailing away – and then World War I descends on his small English sea coast town. Tours stop coming, blackout curtains go up, village boys enlist and go off to war.

Writer Ben Yagoda has set out to explain a shift in American popular culture, one that happened in the early 1950s. Before then, songwriters like Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin and Jerome Kern wrote popular songs that achieved a notable artistry, both in lyrics and music.

When the U.S. Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet Union in 1980's "Miracle on Ice," President Jimmy Carter called coach Herb Brooks to congratulate him on the win.

"Tell the whole team that we're extremely proud of them," Carter said. "I think it just proves that our way of life is the proper way to continue on."

The other way of life, the Soviet way — which produced some of the best hockey players in the world — only went on for another decade or so.

When Hostess Brands announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012, there was a lot of anguish on the Internet about the death of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Donettes and the like.

And it got Jennifer Steinhauer, a New York Times reporter and food writer, wondering why anyone would even want a Twinkie in adulthood?

Facing a Republican-controlled Congress in his sixth State of the Union speech, President Obama took credit Tuesday for an improving economy and focused on proposals aimed at advancing the middle class.

After years of recession and war, Obama claimed "the shadow of crisis has passed." In its place, he asserted, is a future marked by "a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production."

Here's what Obama proposed on the policy front:

Economy

Cartoonist and theorist Scott McCloud is sometimes called the "Aristotle of Comics" because of his three landmark nonfiction works: Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics and Making Comics. He's a man who's spent a lot of time thinking about making art — and that's reflected in The Sculptor, his first full-length graphic novel.

Welcome to the first session of the Morning Edition Reads book club! Here's how it works: A well-known writer will pick a book he or she loved. We'll all read it. Then, you'll send us your questions about the book. About a month later, we'll reconvene to talk about the book with the author and the writer who picked it.

In 1973, Burton Malkiel published a very readable guide to investing called A Random Walk Down Wall Street. He didn't rest with the first edition, though. Over the past 42 years — as we've lived through bubbles and crashes, scandals and fads — Malkiel has returned more than a few times to his seminal Walk.

In fact, this year he plans to release the book's 11th edition.

History is literally fading away in London right now.

Many of the items in The British Library's vast collection of recorded sound are in danger of disappearing. Some just physically won't last much longer. Others are stored in long-dead formats.

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.

The Los Angeles-based band Fitz and the Tantrums has been called a "genre-smashing" group — blending retro soul and R&B with indie pop.

Pages