Interview: Kee Malesky, Author of 'Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life' NPR's longest-serving reference librarian, Kee Malesky, is the author of a new book, Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life. Malesky offers facts for each day of the year, from the landing on the moon to the invention of sliced bread.
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A Year's Worth Of Facts From An NPR Librarian

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A Year's Worth Of Facts From An NPR Librarian

A Year's Worth Of Facts From An NPR Librarian

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The people who host NPR shows are often credited - or accused - of being knowledgeable. Actually, all we know how to do is to punch in an extension...


SIMON: get...


KEE MALESKY: Library. It's Kee.

SIMON: Kee, could I please have the names and contact numbers for every left-handed plumber in Kuala Lumpur?


SIMON: Oh. That's Kee Malesky...


SIMON: ...the longest-serving member of a stellar company of NPR reference librarians who check, double-check, and mine miles of information, urban legend and spin for cold, hard, glittering facts. Kee is also the author of the Oscar-winning book "All Facts Considered." Check that please, won't you, Kee? Her new book, "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life."

Let's slip into the studio. Kee, thanks so much for being with us.

MALESKY: Thank you.

SIMON: This book gives readers something that they can learn every day. So, let's begin with today's date, OK, October 13. What do Woolworth's and the U.S. Supreme Court have in common?

MALESKY: Well, you mean the Woolworth Building, in New York City, and the Supreme Court building, here in Washington, were both designed by the same architect, Cass Gilbert. But of course, Cass Gilbert is a 19th century architect, and the Supreme Court's been around a lot longer than that. But I call this fact "wandering SCOTUS" because they didn't have a home until - on this date, in 1932, when the cornerstone was laid for the building we know as the Supreme Court. When the government came to Washington, D.C., they had some rooms in the Capitol. Then, of course, the Capitol was burned by the British in the War of 1812. But it was actually former President William Howard Taft, who had become Supreme Court chief justice, who finally persuaded Congress that the Supreme Court ought to have its own building.

SIMON: OK. March 2nd - on that date in 1959 - well, all right. Let's cue the music.


SIMON: Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue."

MALESKY: "Kind of Blue."

SIMON: Help us appreciate this recording.

MALESKY: Well, March 2nd, 1959, Miles Davis called a bunch of musicians into a studio in New York - Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, "Cannonball" Adderley, John Coltrane. And the idea was to try something completely different.


MALESKY: He didn't give them charts. He just gave them ideas, outlines, of what the tunes would be. They did only one take for each of the songs. And it was an experiment with modal jazz, which was different from the more prevalent and popular types of jazz at the time.

SIMON: The date, July 20.


NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

SIMON: Of course, the world just said goodbye to Neil Armstrong, and many stories were told of the moment that he piloted the Eagle onto the surface of the moon. When they lifted off the next day, what did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin leave behind, on the surface of the moon?

MALESKY: Well, they had brought up a few mementos that they wanted to leave there. It was a gold olive branch, to signify peace; a patch from the Apollo 1 flight, to honor the three astronauts who had died in the fire on the launchpad, in 1967; and two medals from the Soviet Union, commemorating Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Vladimir Komarov, who had died in re-entry of his Soyuz 1 capsule.

SIMON: Finally, September 20th - OK. If Martians were to hear our interview, and they decided to come here; and they found you - and say, Kee, finally, someone who can answer all of our questions. How many species live on your - how do you call it - Earth? What would you say?

MALESKY: We would have to say that we don't really know - because there's millions of them, and nobody's been able to sit down and count them all. But last year, a group of scientists came up with a pretty good estimate - approximately 8.7 million species, not counting bacteria and viruses. Most of those are not yet described and analyzed, and they did it by a mathematical formula. As I say, not by going out and...

SIMON: So, they haven't really...

MALESKY: ...counting 8.7. But they feel that's a pretty good estimate.

SIMON: Mm-hm. And of that number, how many cast votes on "Dancing with the Stars"?

MALESKY: I think all 7.7 million animals...


MALESKY: ...298,000 plants, 611,000 fungi and, you know, a bunch of protozoa.

SIMON: Kee Malesky, NPR's longest-serving librarian, and author of the new book "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life."

MALESKY: Plus a bonus fact, for leap year!

SIMON: You're not going to tell us that one, are you?

MALESKY: It's about leap year!



SIMON: Hey, that's Miles. And this is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


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