This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Many of us may not be able to point to Mali on a map, but this landlocked nation in West Africa has emerged as a crisis. Here's a quick synopsis: A government once hailed as a model of democracy collapses in a coup last March. Three northern provinces, an area the size of Texas, break away and declare themselves independent.
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're in the worst drought since the 1950s, according to NOAA, and while we associated extended dry spells with summer, conditions out west have remained unchanged since the warm weather ended.
2012 has been a very jittery year — what with the presidential election, extreme weather events and the looming "fiscal cliff." In response to these tense times, some readers seek out escape; others look to literature that directly confronts the atmospheric uncertainty of the age. I guess I'm in the latter camp, because many of my favorite books this year told stories, imagined and real, about ordinary people who felt like they didn't have a clue what hit 'em.