Six Picks: Recommendations from the Monitor staff

Lyrical songs from Randy Newman, a charming screwball comedy out on DVD, a novelist's hysterical satire of the media, and more.

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Designing FASHION DREAMS

Young Asian Fashion Designers edited by Dora Chan (Daab Books) profiles 51 budding designers through brief biographies and sizzling, often surrealistic photography. As Chan notes, "young creators are ... finding new meanings in their rich diversity of culture, from highbrow to low, east to west, manga to kimono." Kazuaki Takashima creates a coatdress adorned with flying origami birds. The husband and wife team of Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi tailor clothes inspired by ancient cracked pottery patterns. High-tech fabrics and kitschy ornamentation abound.

Tales of today's America

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

If Mark Twain still walked among us and could play a little New Orleans-style piano, we might know him as Randy Newman. The songwriter/singer/film composer has released his first collection of new songs in nearly a decade and to listen to it is to know what it's like to be an American in 2008, only a lot funnier. The album, Harps and Angels features a tune about driven Korean parents, a ditty about the perks of celebrity "Easy Street," and two of the loveliest Newman songs yet, "Losing You" and "Feels Like Home." Throughout, Newman's witty lyrics and catchy tunesmithing combine to create a vivid, Capraesque portrait of a well-intentioned but highly conflicted contemporary America. And you can dance to it. Could Mark Twain do that?

Extra, extra!

If working at a newspaper weren't precarious enough today, now a murderer's loose in a newsroom of a New York daily in the hysterical media satire Black and White and Dead All Over. The Globe's deeply reviled assistant managing editor has been killed, and there are almost as many suspects as there are staff. Author John Darnton ("The Darwin Conspiracy") worked for decades as a newsman and uses that insider's knowledge to both skewer modern media and pen an ode to the glory days of reporting. The mystery's solution isn't worthy of the front page, but anyone who's ever gotten newsprint on their fingers will be in stitches.

Muppet Makeover

Sesame Street splashes out with a new fun-filled website this week sesamestreet.org. Young viewers are greeted by a muppet who guides them around the structured play space, with a big yellow star for a cursor and a sprinkle of sparkles surrounding each link. Oh to be 4 again.

'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day'

This charming movie is a screwball comedy set in 1930s London – (DVD release Aug. 19, $29.99) – and follows a frumpy governess down on her luck, whose cleverness and wisdom win the day. Full of delectable dialogue and Noel Coward-esque witticisms.

Never shy from asking

"When you see a president, ask a question," says the legendary diva of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas. The first woman to both open and close a presidential press conference, Ms. Thomas goes on the record with her sharp observations of nine presidents and more than 60 years as a reporter in Thank you, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House, which airs on HBO Aug. 18 at 9 p.m.

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