Petra Mayer

On a storm-tossed sea, a blind young man with crow-shaped scars carved into his chest and a jewel-eyed, trouble-prone sea captain are heading for an uncertain, probably terrible destiny. And a street beggar-turned-High Priest struggles to maintain position and power in a treacherous city.

In Rebecca Roanhorse's new fantasy novel Black Sun, all paths lead towards the city of Tova, where a coming eclipse could signal rebirth — or disaster.

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature has been given to the U.S. poet Louise Glück for what the Swedish Academy calls "her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."

Glück is the 16th woman to win a literature Nobel, and she already has a bookshelf's worth of heavyweight awards: a National Book Award, a National Humanities Medal and a Pulitzer Prize for her 1992 collection The Wild Iris.

This year's MacArthur Fellows — recipients of what's commonly known as the Genius Grant — are engineers and writers, scientists and musicians, artists and scholars and filmmakers. They've mapped the universe and the human brain, created new worlds and picked apart what makes our own world tick.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Want to social-distance in style this fall? Couturiers at Viktor & Rolf — known for campy, high-concept looks — are introducing a fall collection they're describing as "three wardrobes for three mindsets in extraordinary times of change." Those three mindsets: Anxiety, Confusion and a hopeful ending with Love.

In the early 1960s, Rudolfo Anaya was teaching high school during the day and writing at night, struggling to find the voice that would bring his first novel alive.

A long, long summer is stretching ahead of us — many summer camps and programs are closed, kids are restless and parents and caregivers are stretched thin. But story time is always a little moment of escape.

So this year, we want to hear all about your very favorite books for the littlest readers, specifically picture books and very easy chapter books. Is it something you loved as a kid? Something the kids in your life demand at Every. Single. Bedtime? Something they love to read by themselves? Something you gift to every kid you know? Tell us about it!

Gather 'round, children, and let me tell you a story about the amazing group of authors, librarians and critics we've assembled to help judge this year's Summer Reader Poll!

In Liara Tamani's swirling, poetic new young adult novel All the Things We Never Knew, two high school basketball stars, Rex and Carli, fall in love at first sight — the falling is literal in Carli's case; she has a gallbladder attack and collapses in Rex's arms courtside at a basketball game.

But how do you turn love at first sight into lasting love, when you don't really know how to love yourself? Both Rex and Carli struggle with their own doubts and depths and family secrets.

In this time of fear and uncertainty, people are going back to the land — more or less. Gardening might just be overtaking sourdough baking, TV binging and playing Animal Crossing as our favorite pandemic coping mechanism

Journalist and activist George M. Johnson's new memoir is an unvarnished look at growing up black and queer in New Jersey and later Virginia. Johnson draws readers into his own experiences with clear, confiding essays — from childhood encounters with bullies to sexual experiences good and bad, to finding unexpected brotherhood in a college fraternity, all of it grounded in the love and support of his family.

Grady Hendrix's new novel stars a group of determined women who confront a supernatural threat in their community — and while vampires aren't real (as far as we know), Hendrix says The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires has its roots in his own real life.

Cartoonist and literary jokester Tom Gauld usually lampoons classic novels and the predicaments of the writing life. But in his new book, Department of Mind-Blowing Theories — collecting comics from his ongoing column in New Scientist magazine — he turns his pen to the realm of science (and occasionally science fiction).

Gene Luen Yang is known as a cartoonist — the author of American Born Chinese and the New Super-Man comics, he's received a MacArthur genius grant for his work, and the Library of Congress named him as its Ambassador for Young People's Literature in 2016.

But for years, Yang was a computer science teacher at Bishop O'Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif., and his new book Dragon Hoops, chronicles a year he spent observing the school's incredibly talented basketball team as they strove for the state championship.

Flatiron Books, publisher of the controversial new novel American Dirt, has cancelled the remainder of author Jeanine Cummins' book tour after what it called "specific threats to booksellers and the author." This follows several individual event cancellations. [Disclosure: Flatiron Books, publisher of American Dirt, is among NPR's financial supporters]

Goodbye to Mr. Creosote. Goodbye to the naked organist. Goodbye to Brian's mum, and to all her screeching sisters. Goodbye to Terry Jones, who has consumed his final wafer-thin mint.

When the creators of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were working on adapting the wizarding world for the stage, they knew a lot of people have seen the Harry Potter movies. And they didn't want to reproduce the things most people have already seen.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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.

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