NPR Staff

When Sarah Hepola got her very first writing job at The Austin Chronicle, her editor-in-chief gave her an unlikely Christmas gift — a hat that could hold beers. "It was my top boss," Hepola recalls, who had drawn her name in a Secret Santa gift exchange. "He just threw it on my desk and said: 'So you can drink more at work.'"

Hepola's new memoir -- Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget -- is filled with such funny/tragic stories, about drinking until last call, blacking out, and then trying to piece it all together the following day.

For years, Naveed Jamali gave secrets to the Russians, selling out his country for cash.

Or so the Russians thought. In fact, Jamali was working for the FBI by pretending to be a spy for the Russians: a real-life double agent.

Jamali chronicles his experiences in his new book, How To Catch A Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent.

The story starts back when Jamali was a child. A well-dressed Russian man entered his parent's bookstore to buy some books.

In his 33 years on earth, rock critic Lester Bangs left behind tens of thousands of pages of writing. He died of a drug overdose in 1982 — but this month, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, Calif., Bangs and his ideas are coming to life on stage in the new one-man play How to Be a Rock Critic.

Emily St. John Mandel's new novel, Station Eleven, opens with a vain actor — and is there really any other kind? — who dies of a heart attack onstage as he plays King Lear in Toronto. His co-stars can't remember if he had a family to notify. But soon, within minutes, the death of one man playing Lear disappears into the vast, mass death of a worldwide plague called the Georgia Flu.

A new animated feature from Pixar aims to do the near-impossible, as any parent would tell you: get inside the mind of a preteen girl. Inside Out is about an 11-year-old girl named Riley, but the real stars are her emotions — five colorful characters representing joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust.

Pete Docter, the creative force behind Up and Monsters, Inc., wrote and directed the film, and actress Amy Poehler plays Joy. Both of them laugh about one of the biggest challenges of the movie: deciding how many emotions to include.

Mario Loiseau works two jobs, including long hours as a parking lot attendant, to help pay for his 9-year-old daughter Mabou's tutoring. Mabou is a science and language prodigy and is already studying college-level algebra.

"So Daddy, how did you feel when I was born?" she asked her father during a recent visit to StoryCorps in New York City.

The nine people who were killed in a mass shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday have been identified by the authorities.

In his stand-up, Aziz Ansari often talks about dating. And while he's now happily in a relationship, he's still fascinated with how people find each other — so fascinated, in fact, that he wrote a book about it called Modern Romance. The comic tells NPR's Audie Cornish, "I didn't want this book to be, you know, just for single people ... who are out there now, but I wanted to kind of do an overview of dating and relationships as a whole."

In his 2014 novel Crazy Rich Asians, author Kevin Kwan took readers to Singapore and into the lives of Asia's elite, who live in a world of opulence so extreme, it's absurd.

The novel became an international best-seller, with a movie in the works.

Now those Crazy Rich Asians are back as a mix of old and new characters in Kwan's new novel, China Rich Girlfriend.

When James Harrison was 14, he got really sick. One of his lungs had to be removed, and he needed a lot of blood.

"I was in the hospital for three months and I had 100 stitches," he recalls.

After receiving 13 units — almost 2 gallons — of donated blood, Harrison knew right away that he wanted to give back.

"I was always looking forward to donating, right from the operation, because I don't know how many people it took to save my life," he says. "I never met them, didn't know them."

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