petra mayer

We said goodbye to our fall interns a few weeks ago … and with no one opening the mail and shelving the books, well – it gets ugly fast. Weekend Edition editor and Friend of the Desk Barrie Hardymon demonstrates the appropriate stance when confronted with an out of control book pile. And the results:

Clearly, um, I need to follow Barrie’s example actually USE this book that just came in the mail to tame my cubicle.

Here’s to getting stuff cleaned out for the New Year!

– Petra “Too Many Books” Mayer

The new Ms. Marvel hits comics stores next month and I am *so* excited to see G. Willow Wilson’s take on the character – who’s now a second-generation Pakistani-American teenager named Kamala. 

Wilson spoke to Wired about the process of creating Kamala and making her a shapeshifter.

Polymorphs have a very interesting history in comics, though, because they’re most often bad guys. They’re painted in a negative light because their powers are considered somewhat sneaky compared to the classic power sets like being strong or flying or shooting lightning bolts. So when we decided to make her a polymorph, it was very fraught because she can use her powers to escape what she sees as the conflict in her life between her family and faith and being an American teen …

The entire makeup of the United States is starting to change. There is more fluidity. There are many more people now who are the children of multi-racial, multi-ethnic families. We are starting to grapple as a nation with this idea of fluidity. In more than one way, this is a character whose time has come.

You can read the full interview here.

And if you haven’t read Wilson’s 2012 novel Alif the Unseen, get yourself to the library now – it’s fantastic!

The adjective ‘Orwellian’ gets tossed around with abandon these days. It’s become such a cliche that the intensity of the original experience, the layers of thought and meaning, can get lost in the noise — so I invite you to pull up a chair (in that little alcove the telescreen can’t see), pour yourself a glass of oily ersatz Victory Gin, and dive into [George Orwell’s '1984’].

Petra Mayer, Tumblrista 

Petra remembers the first time she read George Orwell’s 1984 – in the summer of 1984, when she was 9 years old. Since then, she’s read it again and again. She says it’s one of those books that burrows deep in your mind. 

You, Too, Will Love Big Brother: A Life Of Reading And Rereading ‘1984’

An appropriate sentiment for Friday Reads! (h/t to The Mind of a Fiction Book Lover).  This weekend I’m taking home an advance of Harlequin editor Patience Bloom’s new memoir, Romance Is My Day Job.

Nicole has a pile of children’s books in preparation for the Caldecott honors. 

Camila reports: “Emmaus, by Alessandro Baricco, an Italian novel (or novella, maybe) about four teenage Catholic boys with a crush on a rich girl. It’s got this lovely fog of ambiguity”

Rose says “I’ve just started The Bend of the World by Jacob Bacharach. So far it’s lovely.”

And New Intern Jordan has Maxine Hong Kingston’s classic memoir The Woman Warrior.

What about you?  What are you excited about this weekend?

We, as an industry, show the world what it looks like when women step up and work together. It looks like a billion bucks and a lot of happy women.

Day 12 Maya Rodale - Women, Read On! - Read-A-Romance Month

And bonus bodice-rippin’, because a) I own this book and b) it is my favorite cover art of ALL TIME.  Space Fabio: your argument is invalid.

External image

Fellow NPR Books tumblrer Petra Mayer was on All Things Considered yesterday with a profile of author Lizzie Skurnick, who has a new imprint dedicated to publishing beloved and forgotten YA books from the 1930s through the 1980s, including Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family stories.

Petra writes,

… they are almost entirely forgotten – except by a few people, like me, who remember those long still afternoons in the library. Skurnick says that’s because most of these books were written by women, for teenaged girls – and written off by everyone else. “I’ve never met anybody who didn’t know this period of literature and doesn’t immediately assume that it’s cutesy and about romance.”

You can read – and/or listen to! – the rest of Petra’s story here.

And, in conclusion, oh my god, All-of-a-Kind Family!

We had one of those classic DC “wintry mix” storms over the weekend (Anyone think “wintry mix” ought to be a kind of candy? Like bridge mix but with more peppermints?) which left a thin, jeweled coating of ice on all the trees; this is the view from my back porch. 

Whenever this happens, I always think of the scene in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” where the princesses are making their way through the strange underground woods on their way to the midnight ball: first silver, then gold, then diamond.

There are a million versions out there, but my favorite is by the Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen:

External image

External image

External image


Time for Friday Reads! Here’s what we’re working on:

Boss Lady Ellen Silva: Finishing up Pachinko by Min Jin lee. Sprawling novel about the Japanese occupation of Korea. Gorgeous, heartbreaking and that perfect combination of personal and political. Coming out in the spring.

Critic Annalisa Quinn: I’m in the middle of Dreams from my Father and White Tears.

Producer Jessica Reedy: I just started Homesick for Another World.

Tumblrista Petra Mayer: I’m reading Ghostland.

And I’m almost done with Kathleen Collins’ beautiful/devastating story collection Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? How about you??


For some comics fans, Alan Moore is basically a god. He’s the media-shy and magnificently bearded writer of comics like Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell.

Recently, Moore said he’s stepping back from comics to focus on other projects — like his epic new novel, Jerusalem. It’s full of angels, devils, saints and sinners, all circling his home town of Northampton, England. Moore still lives in Northampton, about an hour north of London. He rarely leaves, so our own Petra Mayer went there to meet him.

In ‘Jerusalem,’ Nothing You’ve Ever Lost Is Truly Gone

Today’s top item in Book News – Charlie Chaplin’s only known novel has been unveiled: The 34,000-word novella Footlights, which was the basis for his 1952 film Limelight, was found in the Cineteca di Bologna’s Chaplin archive. It is the only known work of fiction written by Chaplin, and, like Limelight, features a suicidal ballerina and a clown. The Guardian has an excerpt.

Notice my subtle photographic comments on which silent comedian *I* prefer.

External image

Images via Toronto Film Scene and Damian Blake.
Unicorns And Witches And Wild Mood Swings, Oh My!

The Black Jewels trilogy flips everything you thought you knew about fantasy on its head. But NPR editor Petra Mayer says it’s still a wild ride of mystery, erotica, violence and even true love. What is your favorite book that defies the conventions of its genre? Tell us in the comments below.

I’m a fervent, if not unabashed, fan of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels trilogy. I reread it at least once a year, and I never tire of the overheated adventures of Jaenelle, Saetan, Daemon and an awful lot of other characters with "ae” somewhere in their echt-fantasy-novel names. And, yes, Saetan is who you think he is — the ruler of this world’s version of hell. Warning: mild spoilers ahead!

Bishop actually has an interesting project. She’s flipping fantasy tropes on their heads: In this world, the common pairings of good/light and evil/dark have come uncoupled. Power and honor come from the darkness, and only women can rule. Not only that, but the ruling class arises from an inborn magical caste system quite separate from the standard oligarchy — even the poorest village girl can be a queen. And Saetan’s a good guy, when you get to know him.

Our heroine is Jaenelle Angelline, the misfit daughter of a noble family. Of course she’s blonde, fragile and lovely, and of course her family doesn’t understand or appreciate her because she shows none of the standard signs of magical power — but she does claim to talk to unicorns, which supposedly don’t exist.

And, of course, as it turns out, Jaenelle doesn’t register as a standard magic user because she’s just too strong. She’s not only a born queen — she’s also Witch, the prophesied savioress of this troubled world. Can she make it alive to adulthood and full power?

Well, I’m not spoiling that, but you can probably guess.“
Pop Culture Happy Hour, Small Batch: The Rise Of Fan Fiction

In the wake of news about One Direction erotic fiction, Stephen Thompson sits down with our resident fan-fiction enthusiast, Petra Mayer, to discuss fan-driven writing and the future of publishing.

Media - this is how you have a thoughtful and respectful conversation about fan fiction. It manages to talk about Fifty Shades and After without shitting all over the genre. 

Petra Mayer also discussed fanfic on NPR’s Morning Edition. 


The Windflower is a classic of old-skool historical romance – our friend Smart Bitch Sarah says it gave her book rebound:

“I remember clearly thinking to myself, ‘Well, that’s ruined me for historical romance forever.’ And it was a while before I could pick up another book without measuring it against the complete absorption I experienced with Windflower.”

But it’s been out of print for 20 years – I remember having to scrounge around the corners of the Internet for a used copy when I found out about it (via the Smart Bitches, natch).  And now it’s coming back into print! I die! I swoon! I know damn well what my #fridayread is going to be and it’s only Wednesday!

Here’s my Friday read! And I hope all you out there in radioland are getting ready to read along with us.  Of course, SOME people here on the NPR Books staff are just goofing off – Camila reports, “I’m reading Annihilation! Because the review we ran was so weirdly awesome I want to experience it for myself.” And Intern Jordan  is reading Joan Chase’s 1983 novel During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, which she describes as “like Winesburg, Ohio + Housekeeping.” Meanwhile, Internet-famous Proust fan Colin will be joining us in the Grapes of Wrath book club, but of course there’s “still Proust, yes, with whom after countless breaks I was finally hitting my stride (almost done with the third volume!).”

Boss Lady Tanya says “See, what had happened wuz, season 2 of House of Cards was on Netflix and so I watched it.” And she also says she took the Buzzfeed character quiz and came out as sociopath Frank Underwood. So I better not mess with her!

As if there wasn’t enough excitement going on around here – it’s time for today’s Antarctican!  And let me just say, discovering that there actually IS a pole at the South Pole is pretty much the greatest thing ever (apart from our new Book Concierge, that is).

This is Elaine Hood, who does communications and education outreach from McMurdo Station and South Pole Station. 

Favorite NPR show:  “Impossible to choose! I listen to NPR from 5:30 AM until 9 PM exclusively. At South Pole Station, the weak internet signal prevents streaming it online, but NPR podcasts get downloaded and put on the shared network drive every week. So while I was at the South Pole last week I listened to the last four week’s of Prairie Home Companion, Car Talk and other shows like Fresh Air, Morning Edition, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and Puzzle Master.”

Book recommendation: Robert Caro’s LBJ series (what an epically perfect choice for long Antarctic days! You can hear Caro talking about the most recent installment here)

Image courtesy of Jynne Dilling Martin