petra mayer

NPR’s Petra Mayer: Atwood says, back when she wrote the book 30 years ago, she got three distinct reactions.

Margaret Atwood: The English said, jolly good yarn. They obviously weren’t too worried about it (laughter). The Canadians, in their nervous way, said, could it happen here? And the Americans said, how long have we got?

Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Soars To Top Of Amazon Bestseller List

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!

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.

We gave you a little taste last week, and now the full piece is up on NPR’s Code Switch blog: award-winning comic artist Afua Richardson’s lovely rendering of the Langston Hughes poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.”

Stay tuned; we’re winding down Black History Month in style with two more artists – the great Brian Stelfreeze and the equally great Kyle Baker!

- Petra


It’s the perfect day (and month) to revisit our coverage of Ezra Jack Keats’ classic The Snowy Day, which celebrated its 50th anniversary a few years ago. The Snowy Day, a 1963 Caldecott winner, was the first mainstream children’s book to feature a non-caricatured African-American protagonist.

In 2012, Ezra Jack Keats Foundation director Deborah Pope told NPR:

“There was a teacher [who] wrote in to Ezra, saying, ‘The kids in my class, for the first time, are using brown crayons to draw themselves.’ These are African-American children. Before this, they drew themselves with pink crayons. But now, they can see themselves.”

You can see the rest of that story (and hear the book read, in its entirety, by Reading Rainbow superstar Levar Burton) here.

(OK, I’m tooting my own horn a little here, because I produced this piece, back in my Weekend All Things Considered days, but come on – LEVAR BURTON! Who, by the way, was one of the most pleasant and delightful people I’ve ever dealt with.)


TED-Ed’s Michael Molina made this AMAZING pop-up book that explains the dissolution of the super-continent Pangaea and the formation of the continents as we recognize them today (fun fact: did you know that the top layers of the Earth’s crust are moving at about the rate your fingernails grow?).  Here’s the full video:

If you want to try your hand at making your own pop-up books, the Extreme Cards and Papercrafting blog has very detailed instructions. And if you DO make your own, we want to see! 

h/t to io9 for the link!


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

Critic Annalisa Quinn: Going retro with The Count of Monte Cristo, plus The Woman in Cabin 10 because I haven’t been having nearly enough nightmares.

Blogger Colin Dwyer:Duplex by Kathryn Davis! Finally acting on repeated recommendations from a friend with immaculate taste in books. I’m jumping in with high expectations.

Producer Jessica Reedy: This weekend I plan on starting Scaachi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter. Alyssa Rosenberg compared Koul’s writing to Nora Ephron, so I’m VERY excited!

Tumblr-ista Petra Mayer: I’m catching up with my MASSIVE comics TBR pile, in honor of Free Comic Book Day tomorrow.

And I’m reading Ben Lerner’s 10:04. How about you??


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 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’


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??


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?

Today in book news,  NASA is working with sci-fi publisher tordotcom to create “NASA-Inspired Works of Fiction.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, “The partnership pairs up novelists with NASA scientists and engineers, who help writers develop scientifically plausible story lines and spot-check manuscripts for technical errors.” An unnamed NASA official told the Journal that in return, NASA gets “an innovative way to reach out to the public to raise awareness of what the agency is doing.”

Obviously, Petra is very excited.

You can read an excerpt of the first novel in the series – Pillar To The Sky, about a multibillion-dollar effort to build a 23,000-mile-high space elevator – over on Tor’s website.

Image: NASA illustration shows the concept of a space elevator.


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!

When icicles hang by the wall 
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail 
And Tom bears logs into the hall, 
And milk comes frozen home in pail, 
When Blood is nipped and ways be foul, 
Then nightly sings the staring owl, 
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note, 
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. 

When all aloud the wind doth blow, 
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw, 
And birds sit brooding in the snow, 
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw 
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl, 
Then nightly sings the staring owl, 
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note, 
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot. 

– from Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1593 (ish)

Because, really, the only appropriate response to today was to build a Shakesnow in my front yard.  All hail the highly-non-immortal Bard of Takoma Park!