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It's Back! NPR Unveils 2019 Book Concierge

Dec 3, 2019
Originally published on December 4, 2019 1:53 pm

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?

CHANG: Oh, I already know. NPR book editor Petra Mayer, right?

KELLY: Who - yes, indeed. And believe it or not, she is here with us to talk about the fruits of her labor, not to mention the labor of many, many others here at NPR; the NPR Book Concierge, which is now live.

Hi, Petra.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Hi. Yes, it's live. It's Book Concierge day. I'm so excited.

KELLY: Congratulations.

MAYER: Thank you very much.

KELLY: I know that when we talk about the fruits of your labor, this is a long and laborious chore of joy. Tell us how it works.

MAYER: It is. It is. And also, I - as you said, it's not just me. It's so many other people on the books team and the visuals team. So the way it works is it's a giant visual matrix of, this year, more than 350 books. And they're all recommended by our staff and critics and down one side of the page, if you're looking at it on your desktop - and then on mobile, it's slightly different. But there's a list of filters - straight-up things like nonfiction, realistic fiction, science fiction. And then there's kind of what we call the subjective tags, which are the fun ones like ladies first or the dark side...

KELLY: (Laughter).

MAYER: ...Or book club ideas...

KELLY: Oh, yeah, I need that one.

MAYER: ...With handy-dandy (ph) links to booksellers and your local library.

KELLY: And we should mention, one of the things I love about it is it's not some big, long book review that I have to slog through before I decide if I want to read this book. It's just a few sentences, you know, how I would describe this to my best friend.

MAYER: Right, exactly. Every - when you click on a particular book, you get a little blurb from whoever recommended it. And there's also links to our coverage and to member station coverage, so if you want to find out more, you can.

KELLY: OK. I'm going to give you a pop quiz.

MAYER: OK (laughter).

KELLY: I'm in a book club here in D.C.

MAYER: All right.

KELLY: We're all women, ranging in age, I think, from 30s up to 70s. But we have read this just slog of super-depressing (laughter)...

MAYER: OK. OK.

KELLY: ...Grim books. And our project is for our next book to pick something actually funny. We don't care if it's fiction, nonfiction, whatever. Just - we want to be rolling around, laughing out loud.

MAYER: OK. So...

KELLY: So how would I do this on the Book Concierge?

MAYER: I have the Book Concierge up on my phone right now, even as we speak, so I'm going to pick book club ideas. Do you want it to be ladies first, which is our tag for stories that center women's voices or just...

KELLY: Sure, why not? Sure, yep. Go women.

MAYER: Okay, ladies first. And then we have a tag, funny stuff, for funny things. So that gives you a book of essays called "I Miss You When I Blink" by Mary Laura Philpott...

KELLY: Haven't read it.

MAYER: ...A book called "Queenie" by Candice Carty-Williams that's been billed as kind of the black "Bridget Jones." That's what the author calls it.

KELLY: Oh, that sounds good.

MAYER: Looks really good - Lindy West's new essay collection "The Witches Are Coming" and a book called "The Grammarians" by Cathleen Schine, which I think is loosely based on the relationship between Ann Landers and her sister, Dear Abby.

KELLY: I love it. I got to have a couple in the concierge.

MAYER: You did, yes.

KELLY: I have a couple recs in there this year. I picked two nonfiction ones; one by Elliot Ackerman, which is called "Places And Names." It's about war, and it's just - of the many, many books I read for work or pleasure this year one of just the most gorgeously written things I've read in ages - this year or others, so that's on my list. And then I picked another one that seemed really counterintuitive for a holiday book pick, the Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey book about Harvey Weinstein. It's titled "She Said." I found it a really empowering read - by women for women about women. It's just a great read.

MAYER: Well, that's what I love about the concierge. First of all, like, it's not just a holiday gift guide. It's anything you want, really. And interestingly, the staff picks tag, which is what your selections are listed as, is our most popular tag. People love to know what we're reading. So thank you for sharing your favorites.

KELLY: The 2019 Book Concierge, which is out as of now.

MAYER: Yes, it is. And you can find it at npr.org/bestbooks.

KELLY: OK, thank you. That's NPR book editor Petra Mayer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.