This interview was originally broadcast on Dec. 5, 2011. Social Q's is now out in paperback.
Need advice on when it's appropriate to break up with someone over email? Want to know how to react if your dinner companion whips out a cellphone midway through a meal? What about how to deal with your annoying relatives during the holidays?
Tracey Thorn's interpretation of "Maybe This Christmas," by the Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, is typical of her new holiday album, Tinsel and Lights: It's simply arranged, emphasizing Thorn's lovely, delicate voice and bolstered by a firm intelligence; it avoids the fatty treacle that weighs down lots of Christmas albums. Tinsel and Lights mixes familiar songs with new ones, such as the title song written by Thorn.
Blues is so much a part of the fabric of American music and American culture — not only as a defined musical form, but also as a springboard for all kinds of creativity — that it seems crazy to try to encapsulate it in any way. Bear Family Records, though, has just released a 12-disc survey of electric blues called Plug It In! Turn It Up! that does a great job of illuminating one particular aspect of the blues.
Director, producer and screenwriter Robert Zemeckis is known for the Back to the Future films — which marked his arrival onto the Hollywood scene in the mid-1980s — as well as Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump. His latest film, Flight, stars Denzel Washington as William "Whip" Whitaker, a heroic airline pilot with a dark secret.
Writing for the New York Review of Books at the beginning of November, Robert Malley, the program director for the Middle East and North Africa with the International Crisis Group, and Hussein Agha described the current situation in the Middle East: