Petra Mayer

Petra Mayer is an associate editor and resident nerd at NPR Books, focusing on genre fiction. She brings to the job passion, speed-reading skills, and a truly impressive collection of Doctor Who doodads.

Previously, she was an associate producer and director for the weekend editions of All Things Considered. She handled all of the show's books coverage, and she was also the person to ask if you wanted to know how much snow falls outside NPR's Washington headquarters on a Saturday, how to belly dance, or what pro wrestling looks like up close and personal.

Mayer originally came to NPR as an engineering assistant in 1994, while still attending Amherst College. After three years spending summers honing her soldering skills in the maintenance shop, she made the jump to Boston's WBUR as a newswriter in 1997. Mayer returned to NPR in 2000 after a roundabout journey that included a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a two-year stint as a producer at the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. While at Columbia, she made a three-part documentary on pirate radio in America.

Book News & Features
3:26 am
Mon November 3, 2014

After 'Fifty Shades,' Could This Be The Next Big Online Hit?

Charles Sykes /AP

Originally published on Mon November 3, 2014 5:23 pm

Much like Fifty Shades of Grey, After is an epic, erotic fan fiction that's being repackaged by a major publishing house. But where Fifty Shades was inspired by the Twilight books, After is loosely based on real people: The British boy band One Direction. And the first volume of After has just hit stores — but let's rewind a little, to those words, "fan fiction." I know, you're probably making a face right now, but bear with me.

Read more
NPR Story
7:03 am
Sat October 18, 2014

Back Across The Wall: Questions For Garth Nix

Cover crop

Originally published on Sat October 18, 2014 7:07 pm

Australian author Garth Nix anticipated the boom in young adult literature almost 20 years ago with Sabriel, a dark and delightful tale of a young woman from a long line of necromancers tasked with making sure the dead stay dead. Sabriel and its sequels Lirael and Abhorsen were set in two neighboring countries divided by a mysterious wall: to the south, unmagical Ancelstierre, roughly analogous to 1920s England — and to the north, the Old Kingdom, saturated by magic and menaced by the roaming Dead.

Read more
Book News & Features
5:03 am
Sat August 9, 2014

Lev Grossman: A 'Magician' Grows Up

Lev Grossman's bestselling Magicians series was inspired by the long wait between books five and six of the Harry Potter series.
Mathieu Bourgois

Originally published on Sat August 9, 2014 11:40 am

The final book in Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy comes out this week — The Magician's Land. It's a literary fantasy, inspired by Narnia and Harry Potter, that tells the story of what happens to brilliant young wizards when they grow up and have to deal with the world.

Grossman was promoting the novel at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, and as I discovered, he's a fantastic — and slightly terrifying — person to see Comic-Con with. He has no problem taking unspoken insecurities and dragging them out into the light.

Read more
Author Interviews
7:03 am
Sat July 12, 2014

History In The Groove: Q&A With Author (And 78 Collector) Amanda Petrusich

Amanda Petrusich and the beginnings of her 78 collection.
Bret Stetka

If you've ever enjoyed the ghostly weird-old-America wail of Robert Johnson, the deep blues of Charley Patton or Skip James' guitar wizardry, you can thank the 78 collecting community — those dedicated (okay, obsessive) folks who hunt down the rare old shellac records that hold so much of our musical past.

Read more
Author Interviews
7:03 am
Sat May 10, 2014

Questions For Earl Swift, Author Of 'Auto Biography'

Earl Swift traced the history of this '57 Chevy wagon and all of its owners — here it is, rusting quietly on the lot of owner number 13, Tommy Arney, in January 2010.
Earl Swift

Originally published on Sun May 11, 2014 5:16 pm

This '57 Chevy station wagon was once pristine, the epitome of American automotive glory: two-tone green, with sweeping fins and enough chrome to blind pedestrians. But by the time journalist Earl Swift came across it, those days were gone, and it was subsiding gently into a heap of rust and torn upholstery.

Read more
Book News & Features
8:07 am
Sun April 20, 2014

'Traveling Pants' Author Tries Traveling In Time

Author Ann Brashares became a young adult superstar more than a decade ago with the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a feel-good series of books about the adventures of four best friends and a really great pair of jeans. It was eventually made into a couple of movies.

Read more
Arts & Life
5:08 am
Sun December 29, 2013

Winging It: Biking Around Again In Margaritaville

NPR's Petra Mayer has finally learned how to ride a bike.
Izolda Trakhtenberg

Originally published on Mon December 30, 2013 11:53 am

I love Key West, and I go there as often as possible: pina coladas, drag queens, shady hammocks, feral chickens — it's the best. There's just one problem: everyone gets around the island by bike, and I've never learned to ride one. Obviously that had to change.

Why didn't I learn? I really don't remember, and neither did my mom, when I asked her about the one time my parents tried to teach me. "You got on a big bicycle that was so big you couldn't really turn the wheels and got discouraged."

Read more
Television
4:21 am
Sat November 23, 2013

Allons-y! Why We've Been Traveling With 'Doctor Who' For 50 Years

Jenna Coleman plays Clara, companion to Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith. The relationship between the Doctor and his companions is at the core of Doctor Who's long-lived appeal.
Adrian Rogers/BBC

Originally published on Sat November 23, 2013 11:18 am

This afternoon, millions of fez-wearing fans around the world will tune in to a very special episode of Doctor Who. The venerable British sci-fi series turns 50 today — though the time traveling alien Doctor himself is probably somewhere on the wrong side of 1,000.

From scrappy, low-budget beginnings (bubble-wrap monsters, anyone?), Doctor Who has become a global phenomenon. Only soap operas can match it for longevity and popularity. So what's the secret to the Doctor's appeal?

Read more
Author Interviews
3:03 pm
Tue October 22, 2013

'Boxers & Saints' & Compassion: Questions For Gene Luen Yang

Originally published on Tue October 22, 2013 4:00 pm

Gene Luen Yang broke out in 2006 with American Born Chinese, the first graphic novel nominated for a National Book Award. It weaves three stories — about a Chinese-American boy, a terrible stereotype named Chin-Kee and the mythical Monkey King — into a complex tapestry of identity and assimilation.

Read more
Book Reviews
7:03 am
Thu October 10, 2013

Austen Unvarnished: Q&A With Jo Baker, Author Of 'Longbourn'

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 3:21 pm

The world of Jane Austen — gracious country houses, empire-waist dresses, card parties and suppers and genteel raillery and a touch of social anxiety — is familiar literary ground. And no house is more familar and comforting than Longbourn, home to Elizabeth and Jane Bennet. But what goes on behind the scenes? Who irons those dresses and prepares those suppers?

Read more
Books News & Features
2:22 pm
Sun August 18, 2013

Fans Are Like Friends To 'Reigning Queen' Of Women's Fiction

Debbie Macomber's latest book is Rose Harbor in Bloom.
Deborah Feingold

Originally published on Sun August 18, 2013 6:12 pm

Go to your nearest paperback rack, and odds are, you'll see two or three, or four, or — well, a lot of books by Debbie Macomber, an author The Sacramento Bee has dubbed "the reigning queen of women's fiction."

Macomber has 170 million books in print; the newest, Rose Harbor in Bloom, has just been released. Her publisher, Random House, celebrated Macomber's selling power earlier this month with a fan retreat at the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville, where 400 women gathered for a weekend of tea, knitting and literary friendship.

Read more
NPR Story
7:03 am
Tue June 11, 2013

School's Out: 5 Great Summer Reads For Teens

Andrew Bannecker

Originally published on Tue June 11, 2013 11:48 am

I'm surrounded here at NPR Books by people with sophisticated, grown-up tastes — happy to dive into the latest Claire Messud or Daniel Alarcon or James Salter. Meanwhile, give me — any day — a book about teenagers (and preferably dragons). A good YA novel is a polished gem of solid storytelling, but more than that, it draws us back in time to the teenagers we once were — or never were, or wanted desperately to be.

Read more
Book Reviews
7:01 am
Thu June 6, 2013

'Cinnamon And Gunpowder': Haute Cuisine On The High Seas

Food porn and rip-roaring pirate adventure are two great tastes that taste great together in Eli Brown's rollicking Cinnamon and Gunpowder. Owen Wedgwood is the brilliant but rather prissy chef to shipping magnate Lord Ramsey — until privateer captain "Mad Hannah" Mabbot shoots Ramsey at point-blank range and takes Wedgwood prisoner, charging him to earn his keep by preparing her one magnificent dinner a week, using only the ingredients he can find on her ship, the Flying Rose.

Read more
Author Interviews
8:33 am
Mon May 27, 2013

Questions For Barbara J. King, Author Of 'How Animals Grieve'

iStockphoto.com

Attributing human characteristics to animals makes for great cartoons, but it's not usually considered rigorous science. Now, a new book argues that animals do think and feel in ways similar to humans.

Barbara J. King is a professor of anthropology and a commentator on NPR's science blog, 13.7. And her book, How Animals Grieve, makes a powerful case for the presence of love, affection and grief in animals — from a house cat mourning her lost sister to elephants who pay respects to the bones of their matriarchs.

Read more
Book Reviews
7:03 am
Tue April 23, 2013

A Bird-Watching Babe In The Woods Stumbles Toward Maturity

Oh no, I thought, cracking open Brian Kimberling's debut novel, Snapper. It's a collection of linked stories. Starring an aimless birdwatcher. Who drives an ancient, glitter-encrusted pickup truck named Gypsy Moth and has a grand passion for an honest-to-God Manic Pixie Dream Girl with red hair, floaty dresses, a flute and a killer pancake recipe. And her name is Lola. Lola! I was braced for a thorough beat-down with the dreaded Whimsy Hammer.

Read more
Book Reviews
10:27 am
Thu March 7, 2013

Samba, Spiderbots And 'Summer' Love In Far-Future Brazil

Arthur A. Levine Books

In the 17th century, fugitive slaves founded a free community in the mountains of northeastern Brazil. They called it Palmares. Contemporary accounts describe the courtyards and the fountains, the churches and council meetings of that sprawling settlement, which survived for decades before a concerted military effort by Portuguese colonists wiped it out in 1695.

Read more
First Reads
7:03 am
Fri February 15, 2013

Questions For Alaya Dawn Johnson, Author Of 'The Summer Prince'

Alaya Dawn Johnson lives and writes in New York City.
Alden Ford

Alaya Dawn Johnson has written a number of novels for adults (including the delightful Zephyr Hollis series), and now she's venturing onto the young adult shelves with The Summer Prince, a complex science-fiction narrative set in post-apocalyptic Brazil. The action takes place in the city of Palmares Tres, which is entirely contained in a giant pyramidal structure on a bay, surrounded and fed by giant algae vats.

Read more
The Picture Show
6:15 am
Sun October 7, 2012

Catching The 'Shadow' Of A Lost World

Wedding party, 1914. A still from the film In the Land of the Head Hunters, in which Curtis sought to re-create a mythic story of the Kwakiutl.
Edward Curtis Library of Congress

Originally published on Tue October 9, 2012 1:24 pm

Photographer Edward Curtis started off his career at the tail end of the 19th century, making portraits of Seattle's wealthiest citizens. But a preoccupation with Native Americans and a chance encounter on a mountaintop triggered an idea: Curtis decided to chronicle the experience of the vanishing tribes — all of them. It was an unbelievably ambitious project that would define Curtis, his work and his legacy.

Read more
Book Reviews
7:03 am
Thu October 4, 2012

A Mashup Of Mundane And Magical In 'Dragonslayer'

Courtesy of Harcourt

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 8:48 am

It's been a big year — well, a big few years — for young adult fiction, which I'm not going to complain about in the slightest; nothing beats a good YA novel for pure storytelling punch. But I might complain, just a little, about the overwhelming sameness of some of the plots. Dystopian futures, quiet-yet-spunky teenage girls, doomed love triangles — sound familiar? Suzanne Collins has a lot to answer for. Luckily, you can crack open The Last Dragonslayer and spend time with a protagonist who has a refreshingly different set of priorities.

Read more