Petra Mayer

Petra Mayer is an editor (and the resident nerd) at NPR Books, focusing on fiction, and particularly genre fiction. She brings to the job passion, speed-reading skills, and a truly impressive collection of Doctor Who doodads. You can also hear her on the air and on the occasional episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Previously, she was an associate producer and director for All Things Considered on the weekends. She handled all of the show's books coverage, and she was also the person to ask if you wanted to know how much snow falls outside NPR's Washington headquarters on a Saturday, how to belly dance, or what pro wrestling looks like up close and personal.

Mayer originally came to NPR as an engineering assistant in 1994, while still attending Amherst College. After three years spending summers honing her soldering skills in the maintenance shop, she made the jump to Boston's WBUR as a newswriter in 1997. Mayer returned to NPR in 2000 after a roundabout journey that included a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a two-year stint as an audio archivist and producer at the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She still knows how to solder.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So, Mary Louise, have you read any good books lately?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

I have, actually - tons of good books this year. But you know who has read way more, I'm guessing, than you or me?

On the north side of the river Thames, between a pub and a railway bridge, there's a rickety staircase down to another world. Or rather, several worlds, layered on top of each other and jumbled together in the slightly stinky river mud. It's a bright, blowy day — seagulls are wheeling overhead, barges pass by in the background, and everywhere I look, there are little fragments of history.

Sheila O'Connor's Evidence of V is a novel built around a void, a blank space in O'Connor's own life: The story of her unknown maternal grandmother, a talented young singer who ended up sentenced to six years in a state reform school for the crime of becoming pregnant at 15.

"I did not know her, and I cannot know the truth of her story, but like so much 'missing family' she has occupied a major place in my imagination for most of my life," O'Connor tells me in an email conversation.

Violet Speedwell is a "surplus woman." She lost her brother and her fiancé to World War I, and she's been living quietly ever since, learning to accept that she's not going to have a husband or a family.

Violet is the protagonist of Tracy Chevalier's new novel, A Single Thread. When we meet her in 1932, she's had enough of sitting at home, taking care of her grieving, difficult mother. She wants a life of her own, so she moves to nearby Winchester, where she meets a group of women who make embroidered kneeling cushions for Winchester Cathedral.

Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale ended on a cliffhanger: The rebellious handmaid Offred stepping into a mysterious black van, on her way to freedom — or to arrest.

The news cycle is driving us to the edge of madness, so why not switch off, unplug and pick up a book? We know you could use a laugh right now — and luckily, several thousand of you told us all about the books, stories and poems that make you laugh.

Petra: It's Saturday! (Or actually, as we're posting this it's now Sunday) I feel the need to reiterate this, lest I forget what day it is or which direction is up! Saturday tends to be the day people bust out their best cosplays — I saw some truly amazing getups, including countless Deadpools (Deadspool?), a lot of women dressed as Loki and Doctor Strange, a really well-done armored Cersei Lannister, Missandei of Naath carrying her own head, and my personal favorite, Logan and Jessica from Logan's Run, complete with life-clocks in their palms.

Cartoonist Dylan Meconis's new book Queen of the Sea is set in a convent on a tiny island, somewhere off the coast of a country that could be Tudor England, but it isn't, not quite.

The story plays out in a mysterious, possibly magical alternate world just a few degrees off what you might have learned in history class — but it's packed with intricate, well-researched details. And goats.

Mallory: It's Friday! By this point in the con, the crowds are much crowdier, the lines for everything are much longer, the cosplay is starting to come out ... we're in the full swing of things, folks.

Fifty years ago, a bunch of comics fans in San Diego decided they wanted a way to meet other fans. They were mostly teenagers — okay, and two adults — but what they created became the pop culture phenomenon we know as San Diego Comic-Con.

Today, Roger Freedman is a physics professor, but in 1969 he was 17 years old — and he had no idea what he was about to get himself into. "I think it's fair to say that if you had come to us and said how Comic-Con was going to evolve, we would have said A) what are you smoking, and B) where can we buy some?"

Welcome to the 50th San Diego Comic-Con!

A good convention is almost a ritual space — a time and place away from time and place. Once you step through that glass door and swipe your badge, you could be anywhere, anywhen; the hours pass by outside and you don't notice. It's almost as if the rest of the world doesn't exist — you are at Comic-Con. You have always been at Comic-Con. What I'm trying to say, here, is that I've barely been here 24 hours and I already don't know which way is up or really what day it is. Mallory, I hope you're less disoriented than I am.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Knock knock!

Who's there?

THE FUNNIEST PANEL OF SUMMER POLL JUDGES WE'VE EVER HAD!

Voting in this year's Summer Reader Poll is in full swing — and if you still haven't voted, you can do that here — so it's time to meet our expert panel of professional funny people ... who I wish were writing this copy, because maaaan they're all way more hilarious than I am. But in fact, they'll be helping curate our final list of 100 favorite funny reads.

Voting for the 2019 poll is now closed. Thanks for your input! Stay tuned – the final list of 100 favorite funny books is coming in August!

If you could use a laugh right about now — and I think we all could — the NPR Books Summer Reader Poll is here for you! This year, we want to hear all about your favorite funny books and stories, and we don't just mean comedy writing. If it makes you laugh (or giggle, or even snicker quietly), we want to hear about it!

Before she was a novelist (and occasional NPR contributor), Arkady Martine was a Byzantine historian and an apprentice city planner — and that expertise is on display in her new book A Memory Called Empire. It's the story of an ambassador from a small, independent space station on the edge of a huge, devouring galactic empire, who arrives in the imperial capital and is almost immediately launched on a wild ride of intrigue, courtly manners, poetry and plotting.

Well, Valentine's Day is upon us, and whether or not you're in love, I think we can all agree that sometimes the pressure to be in a relationship, or celebrate the fact that you're in one, can get a little ... less than delightful.

Renowned British actor Albert Finney has died at 82; his family confirmed the death in a short statement, saying he "passed away peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side."

I don't think, as a teenage fangirl, that I realized exactly how bitter, how cynical, how teeth-grittingly furious the Monkees' 1968 movie Head is. How it starts with — more or less — a suicide: Micky Dolenz running in a panic through a municipal ribbon-cutting ceremony and taking a leap off of a shiny new suspension bridge, tumbling through the air and crashing into the water to the stately chords of "Porpoise Song" while the rest of the band watches in consternation from the railing. How it ends the same way, except this time it's all four of them jumping.

The Book Concierge is back! Explore more than 300 standout titles picked by NPR staff and critics.

Open the app now!

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Aspen Institute has announced this year's nominees for its annual prize — 16 titles (including several short story collections and quite a few debut authors) that, in the Institute's words, address "a vital contemporary issue."

At 7am, the Tower of London is peaceful — no tour groups, just distant traffic noise, and if you believe the legends, a ghost or three. Except in one corner, where there's a large, luxurious wood-and-wire enclosure that contains some very hungry ravens, hopping and croaking as they spot Christopher Skaife approaching with breakfast.

"The first time I saw my father do coke, I was about six," author (and occasional NPR critic) Juan Vidal writes in his new memoir, Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture that Shaped a Generation. "Batman Underoos in full effect. I didn't know what the powder was on his stache, but I remember wishing he'd take me to see the snow."

He never did. Vidal's father faded in and out of his life, eventually disappearing entirely, in a cloud of guns, drugs and other women. But he's still the spirit that haunts this poetic chronicle of beats, rhymes and life.

ElfQuest is something unique in the world of comics: It's one of the longest-running fantasy series ever — and it's been the passion project of just two people for its whole life.

There were few comics shops, fewer conventions, and not a lot of women were making comics when creators Wendy and Richard Pini began their epic quest in 1978. But now that quest is over, and they're on a farewell tour called Forty Years of Pointed Ears.

Tangier Island is in trouble — though that's kind of nothing new. The little island in the Chesapeake has been home to a small, self-reliant community for centuries, and it's been washing away little by little for just as long. But now, climate change is driving the waves higher.

David Bowie kind of bookends the 1970s – between "Space Oddity" in 1969 and its sequel "Ashes to Ashes" in 1980, music and science fiction crossed the streams in a way that hasn't been seen before or since – from Bowie to Funkadelic, suddenly, space was the (musical) place.

Seanan McGuire published her first book in 2009, and since then she's written more than two dozen novels across multiple fictional universes, from urban fairy fantasy to cryptozoology to zombie horror — and this year, she achieved her lifelong dream: to write an X-Men comic.

She says she knew she was a storyteller when she was three years old, "because that's when people started saying, she sure is a little storyteller, isn't she?" And when she saw the old Ray Bradbury Theater TV show, well, that was it: "A career path was set."

Today is cosplay day! As the con goes along, people start busting out better and better costumes, and we spent a few hours today seeing the extremely impressive sights. Oh, and did we mention — WE were part of those sights? Mallory dressed up as the Kate Bishop version of Hawkeye, from the Young Avengers, acknowledged by many people who saw her to be the BEST Hawkeye. And I was Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan — a hero to journalists everywhere. We sat down behind the convention center at San Diego Comic-Con to talk about our favorite outfits.

Petra: Today is Thursday, but as far as I'm concerned, it's Doctor Whosday, and I'm starting the day by going to BBC America's press conference for their flagship show, and then ... and then ... I get to go on my first-ever trip to the famous, possibly infamous, Hall H, where only the biggest of wheels roll through.

Petra: Ah, the fresh hopefulness (a New Hope, even) of the first day of San Diego Comic-Con! Your feet don't hurt (yet), your nose isn't peeling (yet) and you haven't faced down the dark night of the soul that comes from acknowledging your deep desire to elbow aside that five-year-old dressed as Wonder Woman to get into the line that might let you buy this year's favorite toy — if they don't sell out before you get to the front. Tough luck, little Amazon.

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