NPR Staff

If you've stepped foot in a comic book store in the past few years, you'll have noticed a distinct shift. Superheroes, once almost entirely white men, have become more diverse.

There's been a biracial Spider-Man, a Muslim Ms. Marvel, and just last week, Marvel announced that the new Iron Man will be a teenage African-American girl.

Joining this lineup today is Kong Kenan, a Chinese boy who, as part of a reboot of the DC comics universe, is one of four characters taking up Superman's mantle.

Journalist Gay Talese has never shied away from controversial topics. He took on the mafia in Honor Thy Father and dove deep into America's sex life in Thy Neighbor's Wife. But even Talese paused when he first heard about the Manor House Motel in Aurora Colo., back in 1980. Innkeeper Gerald Foos had outfitted his motel with a special platform which allowed him to spy on his guests — and he invited Talese to take a peek as well. Talese, a man of seemigly insatiable curiosity, did just that. But Foos demanded anonymity, so Talese decided not to write about the experience.

Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker made a life together gazing at the stars. For 17 years, the couple worked side by side — Gene, as a renowned astrogeologist, studying planets and other celestial bodies, and Carolyn, who had turned to astronomy later in life yet discovered more comets than most pros.

"When I was 50 years old and my kids were grown, Gene suggested, well, maybe I would like to try my hand at astronomy a little bit," Carolyn tells her son-in-law Phred Salazar, on a recent visit with StoryCorps.

Hisham Matar spent his childhood in Libya. But then his father became a dissident, working against Libyan dictator, Moammar Ghadhafi.

The family eventually left Libya for Cairo. But even in exile, Ghadafi's men could find you. "If you said the wrong thing about someone in company that you weren't sure of, people could disappear," he tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "So the sense that there was a ghost in every gathering, you know a potential transporter of what is being said, is something that all dictatorships instill in their people."

What does it mean to be middle class in America?

When All Things Considered's Ari Shapiro asked people in New York City's Times Square, the answers were all over the place.

"You're struggling, like, paycheck to paycheck, and you're going, 'Oh shoot, I want to go into H&M, but you know what, I'll do it next week when I get paid again,' " said Erin Kennedy, a 44-year-old who runs a gym in the Bronx.

Building manager Bob Berger, who's in his 60s, also identifies as middle class, but this New Yorker's experience differs greatly.

Maxwell does things on his own schedule. The 43-year-old R&B singer just celebrated the 20th anniversary of his first album, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, which helped inaugurate the neo-soul movement. Now, he's releasing his fifth studio album, blackSUMMERS'night.

"The middle class is disappearing" has been a standard line during this election cycle. As it turns out, it's not wrong.

The novel Valley of the Dolls turns fifty this year — and it still looks fabulous.

Maybe it's the nips and tucks, or the booze and pills — you know, the dolls — or the backstabbing. Or the bonking.

If, for some reason you have not come across this book in your literary travels — or maybe you're pretending you haven't — it's the seamy Hollywood showbiz story of three women, Anne Welles, Jennifer North and Neely O'Hara.

"It was very cryptic, and quite mysterious. I received a phone call and I was told that Kanye was an enormous fan of my work, and he would like to meet me."

That's how it started for painter Vincent Desiderio. The next day, he flew from New York to Los Angeles to meet Kanye West. When he arrived, he says, "It was as if I'd entered into a surprise party for me."

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