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Here are the Books We Love: 380+ great 2023 reads recommended by NPR

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NPR's Books We Love returns with 380+ new titles handpicked by NPR staff and trusted critics. Find 11 years of recommendations all in one place – that's more than 3,600 great reads.

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In need of a good read? Or just want to keep up with the books everyone's talking about? NPR's Book of the Day gives you today's very best writing in a snackable, skimmable, pocket-sized podcast. Whether you're looking to engage with the big questions of our times – or temporarily escape from them – we've got an author who will speak to you, all genres, mood and writing styles included. Catch today's great books in 15 minutes or less.

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In 'We Loved It All,' Lydia Millet dives into nonfiction

April 15, 2024

In 'we loved it all,' lydia millet dives into nonfiction.

April 15, 2024 • Pulitzer Prize finalist Lydia Millet is known for writing novels that are sometimes dark, yet funny peeks into communities and relationships. Her new book, We Loved It All , still follows some of those satirical undertones, but it's a nonfiction work that blends the author's real life experiences with anecdotes about the natural world. In today's episode, NPR's Leila Fadel asks Millet how what started as an encyclopedia of animals morphed into a bigger project about the nature of life, and how it changed her writing process.

Two books offer lessons on love and acceptance for young readers

April 12, 2024

Two books offer lessons on love and acceptance for young readers.

April 12, 2024 • Today's episode features two books for younger readers. First, NPR's Scott Simon speaks with John Schu about Louder Than Hunger , his new semi-fictional memoir that follows a middle school boy's journey with an eating disorder. Then, NPR's Scott Detrow asks author Omar Abed and illustrator Hatem Aly — both older siblings — about The Book That Almost Rhymed , their story about a big brother finding the silver lining in his little sister's constant interruptions.

'All The World Beside' explores a queer relationship in a 1700s Puritan community

April 11, 2024

'all the world beside' explores a queer relationship in a 1700s puritan community.

April 11, 2024 • Garrard Conley's memoir Boy Erased chronicled his upbringing as a Baptist preacher's son and his experience being sent to conversion therapy. His new novel, All The World Beside , explores similar themes of faith, love and queer identity — but through the lens of a relationship between two men in Puritan New England. In today's episode, Conley speaks with NPR's Ari Shapiro about how fiction allowed him to actually provide even more autobiographical details than a memoir, and how writing this book grounded him in his relationship to Christianity.

'Wild Kingdom' co-host Rae Wynn-Grant found nature on TV

April 10, 2024

'wild kingdom' co-host rae wynn-grant found nature on tv.

April 10, 2024 • Rae Wynn-Grant grew up in the Bay Area of California. But even if she was in the city, she was still fascinated by nature, eventually becoming one of those on-screen nature adventurers she spent her youth watching on TV. She speaks with NPR's Ayesha Roscoe about her new memoir Wild Life , and what she learned from other Black experts in the outdoors.

Amor Towles revisits an old protagonist in 'Table for Two'

April 9, 2024

Amor towles revisits an old protagonist in 'table for two'.

April 9, 2024 • In Amor Towles' story collection Table for Two , the writer revisits a character from his very first book – Rules of Civility . Towles talks to NPR's Mary Louise Kelly about checking into the Beverly Hills Hotel for research purposes, and why he avoids technology in his stories.

Hanif Abdurraqib's new book ponders LeBron James, growing up and going home

April 8, 2024

Hanif abdurraqib's new book ponders lebron james, growing up and going home.

April 8, 2024 • Hanif Abdurraqib's new book, There's Always This Year , is difficult even for the author to summarize — it's part memoir, part basketball analysis, part poetry and essay collections. In today's episode, the MacArthur Fellow and writer speaks with NPR's Scott Detrow about how growing up in Columbus, Ohio, watching LeBron James' spectacular ascent, and understanding the passage of time all led to a meditation on mortality and success.

Two picture books use vivid colors to convey messages of joy and unity

April 5, 2024

Two picture books use vivid colors to convey messages of joy and unity.

April 5, 2024 • Today's episode features two books that use bright, colorful illustrations to convey larger messages about acceptance and community. First, Here & Now's Deepa Fernandes speaks with author-illustrator Steve Asbell about Flap Your Hands , which celebrates how stimming is an act of self-care for autistic children. Then, NPR's Samantha Balaban gathers actress Julie Andrews, her daughter Emma Walton Hamilton and illustrator Elly MacKay to describe how shadows operate in their new fairytale, The Enchanted Symphony, about how music revives the plants – and people – in a village.

'Grief Is for People' is Sloane Crosley's memoir about losing a close friend

April 4, 2024

'grief is for people' is sloane crosley's memoir about losing a close friend.

April 4, 2024 • Editor's note: This episode contains a discussion of suicide.

'Wuhan' analyzes China's management and response to the COVID-19 pandemic

April 3, 2024

'wuhan' analyzes china's management and response to the covid-19 pandemic.

April 3, 2024 • It's been four years since the world went into lockdown mode as COVID-19 rapidly spread across the globe. But a new book by political scientist Dali Yang dives into the information about, and mitigation of, the disease in its earliest days in China. In today's episode, Yang speaks with Here & Now's Scott Tong about the research that went into Wuhan , the way local governments and medical officials abstained from disclosing crucial intelligence in the early days, and the strict lockdown that followed.

'Whalefall' by Daniel Kraus is a thriller about diving, loss and new beginnings

April 2, 2024

'whalefall' by daniel kraus is a thriller about diving, loss and new beginnings.

April 2, 2024 • Jay, the 17-year-old at the heart of Daniel Kraus' novel Whalefall , has an hour of oxygen left on his tank. He's been diving in the ocean off the coast of Monterey, California trying to recover a skeleton — but his mission is complicated when he's swallowed whole by a sperm whale. In today's episode, Kraus speaks with NPR's Ayesha Rascoe about how a book that's so enmeshed in death also reveals quite a lot about life, and how he conceptualized the pacing of his chapters to emphasize Jay's race against time.

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Here are the books we love: 360+ great 2021 reads recommended by npr.

Books We Love (formerly known as NPR's Book Concierge) is back with a new name and 360+ new books handpicked just for you by NPR staff and trusted...

book reviews npr

NPR's Books We Love , formerly the Book Concierge, has a new name and 360+ new titles handpicked by NPR staff and trusted critics. Find nine years of Concierge recommendations all in one place – that's more than 2,800 great reads.

book reviews npr

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Fbi agents are searching the ship that crashed into baltimore's key bridge, trump's criminal trial, a first for a former president, has begun in new york, gay people often have older brothers. why and does it matter, truth social shares tumble again. it's making for an incredibly volatile ride, supreme court temporarily revives idaho law banning gender affirming care for minors, drugmakers' low u.s. taxes belie their high sales, photos: a year of war in sudan, 'rust' armorer hannah gutierrez-reed sentenced to 18 months in prison, iran's leaders insist the attack against israel was a 'victory', why nike's new olympic track uniform for women is stirring controversy, alabama holds its first ever u.s. olympic trial for a little-known sport, never seen an exploding star this year, you'll have your chance.

book reviews npr

Title: Meet The Voice Behind NPR Fresh Air’s Book Reviews

In “Behind the CV,” we explore professors’ deepest passions, what makes them tick and how they got to where they are in academia.

Maureen Corrigan grew up loving all sorts of books. After earning her undergraduate English degree and on her way to her Ph.D., she applied for a job as a book critic at what would become one of the most popular radio shows in America.

Maureen Corrigan in a red blazer holding a book by a bookshelf

She was rejected for being “too academic.” But that didn’t hold her back from trying again.

Thirty-five years later, Corrigan is one of the most recognizable radio and podcast voices as the book reviewer for Fresh Air , one of the most popular programs on public radio and a hit NPR podcast. 

On top of reading countless books every year for Fresh Air , she also teaches in the College of Arts & Sciences as the Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism. She is also a prolific writer and has authored two books while regularly writing for the Wall Street Journal , Washington Post and other major media outlets

“I still feel like I’ve got the greatest combination of jobs in the world,” Corrigan said. “I get to go back and read classics like The Great Gatsby every year with my students, and then I get to read the latest books that are coming down the pike.”

Discover how Corrigan found her love of books and became one of the country’s most popular book critics.

Behind the CV: Maureen Corrigan on NPR, Book Reviews, and What Makes a Great Read

My love of reading came: early from my dad, who was a refrigeration mechanic and loved to read. He would come home from work installing refrigeration systems on buildings all over New York City and he would always crack open a paperback, usually an adventure story about World War II since he had been in the war, but also detective novels and some canonical novels. I remember one day when he saw me reading A Tale of Two Cities for school and he said, “That’s a good one.” So that kind of encouragement to read really took root.

The first book that made me upset: was Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch because my mother was set on giving it to a younger cousin and I wanted to keep that book. I was probably around six and I really loved that book because it was about a woman with a lot of children. As an only child I was fascinated by big families.

The summer of 1975 was magical because: One of my wonderful English professors at Fordham, Mary Fitzgerald, took six of us rabid English majors to the Yeats International Summer School. She knew Seamus Heaney, who later won the Nobel Prize, and we kept running into him all throughout that trip in Dublin and Sligo. My memory of that summer is of a time that was enchanted. I met a lot of writers and poets and saw that they were living a life immersed in literature, and I felt that somehow such a life might be possible.

Why I hated my Ph.D program: I went to Fordham University for college and had the greatest professors of my life there, and they inspired me to go ahead for my Ph.D.  I was fortunate to be awarded a fellowship to the University of Pennsylvania, but hated the Ph.D program — although I stuck it out because I wanted to be a professor. I was at Penn during the period when deconstruction and continental critical theory ruled, and I found those ways of talking about books deadening and, now I would say, elitist, too. 

I love to teach because: It’s a lot like opening up a fresh book. You walk into the classroom the first day of the semester, and you don’t know who you’re going to be with for the next few months and what your shared experience is going to be. When a class gels, you really feel, as a professor, that you and your students are all together on a freshly illuminating and, sometimes, unpredictable journey through the material.

I got into reviewing books when: a friend of mine in graduate school asked if I would help her with a take-home editing test for a job she was applying to at the Village Voice , which was back then the greatest alternative newspaper in America. The Village Voice is the newspaper that the Georgetown Voice is named after. I helped her, and as a way of thanking me, she asked if I wanted to try to write a book review for the literary supplement. Writing that review felt like the magic antidote to what I so disliked about academic writing. It was as if somebody gave me a life support system to get through the rest of graduate school. In my reviews I could write about books with enthusiasm and humor and, I hope, intelligence, rather than putting my voice through what I considered to be the “deflavorizing machine” of academic critical theory.

“Writing that review felt like the magic antidote to what I so disliked about academic writing. It was as if somebody gave me a life support system to get through the rest of graduate school.” Maureen Corrigan

I landed my job at NPR’s Fresh Air because: I had a gig during two summers during graduate school grading AP English exams. I always compare the speed with which we had to grade those essays to the classic scene of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory. The conveyor belt would get faster, and you, as a grader, had to read faster. The system was nuts and immoral. I did an exposé for the Village Voice about that escapade. A producer from Fresh Air called me and asked me to do a much shorter on-air version for the show, and the folks at Fresh Air liked it and asked me if I would like to join as a secondary book critic. John Leonard was the book critic at the time and had a reputation for being very generous to younger writers, and when he eventually left the show, I became the book critic — a position I’ve held for some 35 years and counting. 

Maureen Corrigan holding a book

Reading books every day never gets old: because, while the books I’m considering as a critic may not always be great, they’re always new. Every year there are some books by writers I haven’t read before who are amazing; every year there are books by familiar writers I love who surprise me by going off in new directions. You just never know what you’re going to encounter when you open up a book.

I choose what books to review by: making a master list of what’s coming out at least a season ahead. I probably get at least 25 emails a day from publicists and publishers. I also talk to independent booksellers I know and trust to learn what forthcoming books they are excited about. My current review list changes from week to week. If I feel like I’m getting in a rut or I’m doing a lot of literary fiction, I’ll make a special effort to find some promising non-fiction or genre fiction. If I’m doing a lot of books from major publishing houses written by big-name authors, I’ll try to make a special effort to change up my review list and find an academic or independent press book or something else that’s a little off-road. 

What makes a great book is: if it’s fresh, authentic, conceived out of the author’s soul or imagination; in short, a subject hasn’t been done 5,000 times before or not quite in that same style or voice or form before.

book reviews npr

A book I keep coming back to: The Great Gatsby . I’ve read Gatsby well over a hundred times. I learn something new every time I reread it:  that’s one of the marks of a great work of art. Gatsby, as F. Scott Fitzgerald himself said, is about aspiration. It’s about reaching with the knowledge that one’s efforts are always going to fall short. And Fitzgerald’s language is so gorgeous. It’s almost unearthly. As other people have said, the last seven and a half pages of The Great Gatsby are the best writing that anybody has ever produced about the promise of America.

In my free time, I gravitate toward: hard-boiled detective fiction. At its best, it’s a form that investigates the underside of American life and society. Detective fiction is also the only literary genre where the act of thinking is at the center of the narrative.  Edgar Allan Poe, the inventor of the detective story, called his strange new creation “tales of ratiocination” — tales of thinking. How do you make thinking itself engrossing, suspenseful, even sexy? That’s the challenge for detective fiction writers. 

If you asked me how many books I read this year: I couldn’t possibly tell you. 

Behind the CV

Roman Forum at sunrise

Do Men Really Think About the Roman Empire Every Day? This Roman History Professor Sure Does

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NPR in Turmoil After It Is Accused of Liberal Bias

An essay from an editor at the broadcaster has generated a firestorm of criticism about the network on social media, especially among conservatives.

Uri Berliner, wearing a dark zipped sweater over a white T-shirt, sits in a darkened room, a big plant and a yellow sofa behind him.

By Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson

NPR is facing both internal tumult and a fusillade of attacks by prominent conservatives this week after a senior editor publicly claimed the broadcaster had allowed liberal bias to affect its coverage, risking its trust with audiences.

Uri Berliner, a senior business editor who has worked at NPR for 25 years, wrote in an essay published Tuesday by The Free Press, a popular Substack publication, that “people at every level of NPR have comfortably coalesced around the progressive worldview.”

Mr. Berliner, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, castigated NPR for what he said was a litany of journalistic missteps around coverage of several major news events, including the origins of Covid-19 and the war in Gaza. He also said the internal culture at NPR had placed race and identity as “paramount in nearly every aspect of the workplace.”

Mr. Berliner’s essay has ignited a firestorm of criticism of NPR on social media, especially among conservatives who have long accused the network of political bias in its reporting. Former President Donald J. Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, to argue that NPR’s government funding should be rescinded, an argument he has made in the past.

NPR has forcefully pushed back on Mr. Berliner’s accusations and the criticism.

“We’re proud to stand behind the exceptional work that our desks and shows do to cover a wide range of challenging stories,” Edith Chapin, the organization’s editor in chief, said in an email to staff on Tuesday. “We believe that inclusion — among our staff, with our sourcing, and in our overall coverage — is critical to telling the nuanced stories of this country and our world.” Some other NPR journalists also criticized the essay publicly, including Eric Deggans, its TV critic, who faulted Mr. Berliner for not giving NPR an opportunity to comment on the piece.

In an interview on Thursday, Mr. Berliner expressed no regrets about publishing the essay, saying he loved NPR and hoped to make it better by airing criticisms that have gone unheeded by leaders for years. He called NPR a “national trust” that people rely on for fair reporting and superb storytelling.

“I decided to go out and publish it in hopes that something would change, and that we get a broader conversation going about how the news is covered,” Mr. Berliner said.

He said he had not been disciplined by managers, though he said he had received a note from his supervisor reminding him that NPR requires employees to clear speaking appearances and media requests with standards and media relations. He said he didn’t run his remarks to The New York Times by network spokespeople.

When the hosts of NPR’s biggest shows, including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” convened on Wednesday afternoon for a long-scheduled meet-and-greet with the network’s new chief executive, Katherine Maher , conversation soon turned to Mr. Berliner’s essay, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting. During the lunch, Ms. Chapin told the hosts that she didn’t want Mr. Berliner to become a “martyr,” the people said.

Mr. Berliner’s essay also sent critical Slack messages whizzing through some of the same employee affinity groups focused on racial and sexual identity that he cited in his essay. In one group, several staff members disputed Mr. Berliner’s points about a lack of ideological diversity and said efforts to recruit more people of color would make NPR’s journalism better.

On Wednesday, staff members from “Morning Edition” convened to discuss the fallout from Mr. Berliner’s essay. During the meeting, an NPR producer took issue with Mr. Berliner’s argument for why NPR’s listenership has fallen off, describing a variety of factors that have contributed to the change.

Mr. Berliner’s remarks prompted vehement pushback from several news executives. Tony Cavin, NPR’s managing editor of standards and practices, said in an interview that he rejected all of Mr. Berliner’s claims of unfairness, adding that his remarks would probably make it harder for NPR journalists to do their jobs.

“The next time one of our people calls up a Republican congressman or something and tries to get an answer from them, they may well say, ‘Oh, I read these stories, you guys aren’t fair, so I’m not going to talk to you,’” Mr. Cavin said.

Some journalists have defended Mr. Berliner’s essay. Jeffrey A. Dvorkin, NPR’s former ombudsman, said Mr. Berliner was “not wrong” on social media. Chuck Holmes, a former managing editor at NPR, called Mr. Berliner’s essay “brave” on Facebook.

Mr. Berliner’s criticism was the latest salvo within NPR, which is no stranger to internal division. In October, Mr. Berliner took part in a lengthy debate over whether NPR should defer to language proposed by the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association while covering the conflict in Gaza.

“We don’t need to rely on an advocacy group’s guidance,” Mr. Berliner wrote, according to a copy of the email exchange viewed by The Times. “Our job is to seek out the facts and report them.” The debate didn’t change NPR’s language guidance, which is made by editors who weren’t part of the discussion. And in a statement on Thursday, the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association said it is a professional association for journalists, not a political advocacy group.

Mr. Berliner’s public criticism has highlighted broader concerns within NPR about the public broadcaster’s mission amid continued financial struggles. Last year, NPR cut 10 percent of its staff and canceled four podcasts, including the popular “Invisibilia,” as it tried to make up for a $30 million budget shortfall. Listeners have drifted away from traditional radio to podcasts, and the advertising market has been unsteady.

In his essay, Mr. Berliner laid some of the blame at the feet of NPR’s former chief executive, John Lansing, who said he was retiring at the end of last year after four years in the role. He was replaced by Ms. Maher, who started on March 25.

During a meeting with employees in her first week, Ms. Maher was asked what she thought about decisions to give a platform to political figures like Ronna McDaniel, the former Republican Party chair whose position as a political analyst at NBC News became untenable after an on-air revolt from hosts who criticized her efforts to undermine the 2020 election.

“I think that this conversation has been one that does not have an easy answer,” Ms. Maher responded.

Benjamin Mullin reports on the major companies behind news and entertainment. Contact Ben securely on Signal at +1 530-961-3223 or email at [email protected] . More about Benjamin Mullin

Katie Robertson covers the media industry for The Times. Email:  [email protected]   More about Katie Robertson

Libraries are full of books about great cats. This one is special.

Caleb carr’s memoir, ‘my beloved monster,’ is a heart-rending tale of human-feline connection.

Over the years, my wife and I have been blessed with 15 cats, three rescued from the streets of Brooklyn, three from barns near our home in Vermont, one from a Canadian resort and the others from the nearby shelter, where my wife has volunteered as a “cat whisperer” for the most emotionally scarred of its feline inhabitants for years. Twelve of our beloved pets have died (usually in our arms), and we could lose any of our current three cats — whose combined age is roughly 52 — any day now. So, I am either the best person to offer an opinion on Caleb Carr’s memoir, “ My Beloved Monster ,” or the worst.

For the many who have read Carr’s 1994 novel, “The Alienist,” an atmospheric crime story set in 19th-century New York, or watched the Netflix series it inspired, Carr’s new book might come as something of a surprise. “My Beloved Monster” is a warm, wrenching love story about Carr and his cat, a half-wild rescue named Masha who, according to the subtitle of his book, in fact rescued Carr. The author is, by his own admission, a curmudgeon, scarred by childhood abuse, living alone and watching his health and his career go the way of all flesh.

What makes the book so moving is that it is not merely the saga of a great cat. Libraries are filled with books like that, some better than others. It’s the 17-year chronicle of Carr and Masha aging together, and the bond they forged in decline. (As Philip Roth observed, “Old age isn’t a battle; old age is a massacre.”) He chronicles their lives, beginning with the moment the animal shelter begs Carr to bring the young lioness home because the creature is so ferocious she unnerves the staff — “You have to take that cat!” one implores.

Interspersed throughout Carr’s account of his years with Masha are his recollections of all the other cats he has had in his life, going back to his youth in Manhattan. And there are a lot. Cats often provided him comfort after yet another torment his father, the writer Lucien Carr , and stepfather visited upon him. Moreover, Carr identifies so deeply with the species that as a small child he drew a self-portrait of a boy with a cat’s head. He knows a great deal about cats and is eager to share his knowledge, for instance about the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of their mouths that helps them decide if another creature is predator or prey. His observations are always astute: “Dogs tend to trust blindly, unless and until abuse teaches them discretion. … Cats, conversely, trust conditionally from the start.”

Carr, now 68, was a much younger man when he adopted Masha. Soon, however, they were joined at the hip. As the two of them bonded, the writer found himself marveling at what he believed were their shared childhood traumas, which move between horrifying and, in Carr’s hands, morbidly hilarious: “I began to accept my father’s behavior in the spirit with which he intended it … he was trying to kill me.” Man and cat shared the same physical ailments, including arthritis and neuropathy, possibly caused by physical violence in both cases. Carr allowed Masha, a Siberian forest cat, to go outside, a decision many cat owners may decry, but he defends it: “Masha was an entirely different kind of feline,” and keeping her inside “would have killed her just as certainly as any bear or dog.” Indeed, Masha took on fishers and bears (yes, bears!) on Carr’s wooded property in Upstate New York.

But bears and dogs are humdrum fare compared with cancer and old age, which come for both the novelist and his cat. Carr’s diagnosis came first, and his first concern was whether he would outlive Masha. (The existence of the book gives us the answer he didn’t have at the time.) Illness adds new intensity to the human-feline connection: “Coming back from a hospital or a medical facility to Masha was always particularly heartening,” Carr writes, “not just because she’d been worried and was glad to see me, but because she seemed to know exactly what had been going on … and also because she was so anxious to show that she hadn’t been scared, that she’d held the fort bravely.”

Sometimes, perhaps, Carr anthropomorphizes too much and exaggerates Masha’s language comprehension, or gives her more human emotion than she had. But maybe not. Heaven knows, I see a lot behind my own cats’ eyes. Moreover, it’s hard to argue with a passage as beautiful as this: “In each other’s company, nothing seemed insurmountable. We were left with outward scars. … But the only wounds that really mattered to either of us were the psychic wounds caused by the occasional possibility of losing each other; and those did heal, always, blending and dissolving back into joy.”

Like all good memoirs — and this is an excellent one — “My Beloved Monster” is not always for the faint of heart. Because life is not for the faint of heart. But it is worth the emotional investment, and the tissues you will need by the end, to spend time with a writer and cat duo as extraordinary as Masha and Carr.

Chris Bohjalian is the best-selling author of 24 books. His most recent novel, “The Princess of Las Vegas,” was published last month.

My Beloved Monster

Masha, the Half-Wild Rescue Cat Who Rescued Me

By Caleb Carr

Little, Brown. 435 pp. $29

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

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