Ari Shapiro

The novel Abundance begins with a birthday celebration: Henry's son, Junior, is turning eight. So Henry splurges on a dinner at McDonalds.

While Junior runs around the PlayPlace, Henry stuffs ketchup packets into his pockets for when he gets hungry later. That first chapter is titled, $89.34 — which is all the money Henry has. Each chapter title is a different dollar amount, Henry's cash in hand.

With a new year comes a new season of "Play It Forward," All Things Considered's chain of artistic inspiration, where we ask musicians to tell us about their work and the people who inspire them, after which we ask the person mentioned for their own, and so it continues. This series often takes leaps from one genre to another, which makes Devonté Hynes a tricky and exciting place to jump back in.

Updated March 11, 2021 at 5:07 PM ET

In Birmingham, Ala., Alabama Regional Medical Services — a health clinic that primarily serves a lower-income, Black neighborhood — has not administered a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That is scheduled to begin Saturday.

Meanwhile, the first doses in the state went to nearby Mountain Brook, an affluent white suburb of Birmingham, says Sheila Tyson, a commissioner for Jefferson County, where Birmingham is located.

Early predictions were wrong.

The continent of Africa has seen fewer deaths from COVID-19 in the last year than people initially projected, thanks to its early response to the pandemic.

The continent of 1.2 billion people has had roughly 4 million cases and 106,000 deaths, far below Europe, the Americas or Asia.

The song "Strange Fruit" was written by a man named Abel Meeropol in the 1930s — but it will forever be associated with Billie Holiday. The lyrics vividly describe a lynching, and this haunting protest song is central to the new movie The United States Vs. Billie Holiday. The Grammy-nominated singer Andra Day plays the title character. The role is Day's acting debut, but she has already won a Golden Globe for her performance.

The number of refugees has soared over the past four years, with more than 26 million refugees worldwide as of mid-2020, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

Two COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed in the U.S. right now, and this week an FDA advisory committee will vote on whether a third should join them.

If granted emergency use authorization, Johnson & Johnson's one-dose vaccine would become available in the U.S., along with those from Pfizer and Moderna.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, big parts of the U.S. economy just turned off. Voluntary social distancing and lockdowns, like those during the first wave in March, were necessary to help "flatten the curve" of COVID-19's spread throughout the country, but these lockdowns had ripple effects on the economy.

The new podcast Anything for Selena, from NPR member station WBUR, doesn't begin with the late singer's biography or her most popular songs. Instead, it starts on the U.S.-Mexico border, with a narrator describing the creosote plants that grow there in vivid sensory terms.

"It has this unforgettable smell when it rains," the voice says. "It's slightly floral, but mostly it's this very specific, cool earthy desert aroma. And there's usually a calm clear breeze, which carries these concentrated little pockets of fragrance."

For novelist Chang-rae Lee, a new book is often a response to the last one. His previous novel, On Such A Full Sea, was a dystopian parable. It was concise, controlled.

"One of the metaphors of that last book is an aquarium," he says. "That the world and our souls are aquariums. In this one I just wanted to break out of the glass, and just let everything flow and maybe spill."

This new novel, My Year Abroad, does overflow with characters and scenes. It's a travelogue and a coming-of-age tale — and a mafia thriller that also skewers global capitalism.

Slightly more than 6% of American adults have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine — but a disproportionately small number of them are Black and Hispanic people.

Aid groups who help resettle refugees in the U.S. are hopeful about what President Biden's actions will mean for people fleeing persecution.

The equation for COVID-19 hot spots has been clear since the earliest days of the pandemic: Take facilities where people live in close quarters, then add conditions that make it hard to take preventive measures such as wearing personal protective equipment or keeping socially distant.

Major outbreaks in nursing homes this spring shocked the nation. Now, residents of those facilities are among the first in line for the vaccine.

Updated at 7:11 p.m. ET

The director Christopher Nolan has spent a lot of time exploring the concept of time.

In 2000, his breakthrough movie, the thriller Memento, told the story — from end to beginning — of a man who'd lost his short-term memory.

As Nolan's films got bigger and more ambitious, he found different ways to manipulate time, in movies like Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk.

The Food and Drug Administration looks set to allow emergency authorization of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine shortly. With that, vaccinations will likely begin soon for health care workers and people in nursing homes.

The pandemic has made 2020 a crazy year for the movie industry. And Warner Bros. made a recent announcement that guarantees next year will be just as upside-down.

Hanukkah is here, which means eight nights of eating latkes, spinning dreidels and lighting the menorah. Well, a new picture book makes a radical suggestion — a ninth night.

In Erica Perl's new children's book The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, Rachel and Max move into a new apartment with their parents. It's Hanukkah and they can't find the box that contains the family's menorah, dreidel and other supplies.

For 78 years, the Advertising Council has been helping Americans face national challenges. From Smokey Bear's "remember, only you can prevent forest fires," to "loose lips sink ships" during World War II and the 1990s campaign friends don't let friends drive drunk.

More recently, during the coronavirus pandemic, the nonprofit advertising group launched a #MaskUpAmerica campaign.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're celebrating an annual December tradition today, the launch of NPR's Book Concierge. It's bigger than a top 10 list - much bigger - more than 350 titles, including NPR staff picks. And one of mine is a novel called "Piranesi" by Susanna Clarke. When I interviewed Clarke earlier this year, she told me about parallels between her protagonist and her own experience. The character Piranesi is disoriented and trapped in a mysterious sort of house, and Susanna Clarke spent years struggling with an illness that left her disoriented and housebound.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It may only be weeks until a COVID-19 vaccine is approved for use in the U.S. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech asked the Food and Drug Administration to grant an emergency use authorization for their vaccine a week ago, and Moderna is expected to follow suit in coming days.

On the last edition of Play It Forward, All Things Considered's chain of musical gratitude, Los Angeles singer-songwriter Mia Doi Todd spoke about Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist Thundercat.

Some day, historians will look back on this time and ask how Americans kept their cool during a pandemic, a recession, and a stressful presidential race. Those historians may be surprised to find the coping mechanisms included a British reality TV show.

The Great British Bake Off — or The Great British Baking Show, as it's technically called in the U.S. — does not have backstabbing alliances or obstacle courses. It's just home cooks in a big white tent baking cakes, pastries, and biscuits — that is, cookies.

There are certain hit songs that are almost inseparable from the dance moves that go with them. Hum a few bars of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)," and your hand might start flipping back and forth on its own.

Choreographer JaQuel Knight created that dance for Beyoncé when he was just 19 years old — and this summer, he did it again with the routine for the monster hit by Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B, "WAP."

On the last edition of Play It Forward, All Things Considered's chain of musical gratitude, Philly-bred multi-instrumentalist Laraaji spoke about Los Angeles singer-songwriter Mia Doi Todd.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

When Kylie Minogue was a kid growing up in Australia, her parents played a lot of disco at home. As she and her siblings danced around the house to artists like ABBA and the Bee Gees, she says, she imagined herself as one of them: "I definitely wanted to be Olivia Newton-John, or Agnetha from ABBA, or Donna Summer."

On the last edition of Play It Forward, All Things Considered's chain of musical gratitude, Brooklyn-based musician and producer Nick Hakim spoke about Philly-bred multi-instrumentalist Laraaji. In particular, he explained his love for Laraaji's healing sounds and ambient compositions.

At any hour of any day, somewhere on the radio dial, chances are you can find the voice of Stevie Nicks. This fall, decades after her 1970s breakthrough with Fleetwood Mac, she even became a chart sensation again, after a skateboarding TikTok star gave one of the band's classic songs a boost.

He came from Saturn, on a mission to spread peace through the power of music — or so Sun Ra claimed. "I'm really not a man, you see. I'm an angel," the legendary bandleader said in an interview in the late 1980s. "If you're an angel, you're a step above man."

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