Petra Mayer | Texas Public Radio

Petra Mayer

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?"

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

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.

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.

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.

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