DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Maybe you're looking to crack open a few books this holiday season. Maybe you're looking to buy some as holiday gifts. Well, we have for you this morning a guide of sorts to 2014's great reads. We call it our Book Concierge. This is not a best-of list, but it's suggestions from NPR staff and critics about what they've liked in fiction, nonfiction, biography, young adult literature and plenty of other genres. Here to tell us more is NPR's Lynn Neary, who covers the book industry and Petra Mayer, a Books editor for npr.org. Welcome to you both.
LYNN NEARY: Hi.
PETRA MAYER: Good to be here.
GREENE: All right, Petra, we're going to pull this thing up on the computers in here. Tell me first how this Book Concierge works.
MAYER: If you're looking at the screen you'll see this just rows and rows of book covers.
MAYER: And along the left side are these lists of tags. And they're things like book club ideas, family matters, kidsâ books, love stories, things like that. And so you click on these tags, you say, you know, I want to read, oh, a mystery.
MAYER: And it'll narrow down...
GREENE: So can I actually do that here?
GREENE: I could click on mystery.
MAYER: Click on, yeah.
GREENE: Mysteries and thrillers.
MAYER: Yeah. So then you have...
GREENE: Oh, so it limited the number of book covers I'm seeing. It just goes to books in that category.
MAYER: And then you'll see the tag list on the left is narrowed down a little bit with - and now it has all the things that are also listed under mysteries and thrillers. So let's say you wanted mystery, and you wanted a funny mystery.
GREENE: Oh, I could pick both of those categories.
GREENE: OK. That's pretty cool.
MAYER: And then it narrows down a little further. So you can kind of just play with it and mix and match the tags and...
NEARY: Yeah, let's play with it. I want to play with it.
GREENE: Lynn wants to play with this. Let's play with this.
NEARY: Here's what we're going to do first.
NEARY: So we're going to clear the board. We're going to go back to the beginning...
GREENE: Petra, we have just cleared your filters here, back to the beginning.
MAYER: And that's fine. Click clear filters.
GREENE: All right.
NEARY: And I'm going to go to book club ideas because people are always looking for books for their book clubs. And if you click on book clubs ideas you see you have a huge number of books here, right? And a great variety, look, the first one is "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" by Roz Chast.
GREENE: (Laughter). That's a good title.
NEARY: This is a graphic memoir. It was nominated for a National Book Award. And it is both a memoir and a graphic book. Right...
GREENE: What makes a book good for a book club versus just other books?
NEARY: Well, of course it depends on the book club because some are interested in historical books, some are interested in nonfiction, some want only fiction. That's why this page is so great because if you just go across the first line here you'll see memoir, graphic memoir, then "Deep Down Dark." This is a nonfiction book about the 33 men who were buried in the Chilean mine a number of years ago. Joshua Ferris, this is a great work of fiction - "To Rise Again At A Decent Hour." It was one of the first American books to be nominated for The Man Booker Award.
GREENE: So big variety here, but these are from people who might've had these books in their books clubs. They're saying great discussions. I'll suggest this for your book club.
NEARY: Yeah, exactly.
NEARY: I mean, if you really just want to go in you can click on any one of these. Let's click on Marilynne Robinson's "Lila," which is a book that many people might be interested in reading who read "Gilead." This is the last book in that trilogy. If we click on Marilynne Robinson, now click on this, look what happens. You see at the top this is an NPR staff pick because I picked it, a book club idea. It's about family matters, love stories and its realistic fiction. So you can go in and get a sense of this might be the kind of book I like. I like realistic fiction.
GREENE: Oh, I like how this works. But, Petra, you do know - because I know you and your tastes. You kind of like science fiction, right?
GREENE: So could I go to science fiction and young adults and find something that you would like? OK. Science fiction and fantasy, and young adult and I have three books here.
GREENE: Are these ones that you like?
MAYER: These are ones that our reviewers certainly liked.
MAYER: (Laughter). I'm actually reading "Heap House" by Edward Carey right now, which is this great kind of - I hesitate to say steam punk because it's so overused but it's...
GREENE: Did you say steam punk?
MAYER: Yes. It's a fantasy genre generally set in sort of an alternate Victorian England where you know, elaborate steam engines and contraptions have taken the place of modern technology.
MAYER: You know it's steam punk if somebody's wearing goggles and there's an airship involved, you know?
NEARY: I have to mention a couple of other books on this list because I like to use this list also to catch up with books that I haven't read during the year. Like, December always seems to be a time where I'm saying, what didn't I get to in this past year? So I'm read "The Bone Clocks" by David Mitchell right now and that is an amazing book and if you want a good, long read with a combination of sort of - it begins - you think you're reading realistic fiction and then it goes pretty quickly all of a sudden you're in a very fantastic kind of place with it and it goes back and forth between realism and fantasy and it's a good long read if you want, you know, a nice long read over those cold winter months.
GREENE: This really does feel like a virtual library, like you're going through shelves.
NEARY: It is so much fun to wander around there and to click on the different categories and see what comes up and, you know, like, I'm looking at this science fiction page. I'm amazed because I've read three of the books on that page and I'm not supposed to be a science fiction person.
MAYER: I'm amazed by that too.
GREENE: Amazed by each other. NPR's Lynn Neary and NPR's Petra Mayer, thank you both so much.
NEARY: Thank you.
GREENE: If you want to explore these virtual shelves, you can visit NPR's Book Concierge at npr.org/bestbooks.
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