Petra Mayer

Petra Mayer is an editor (and the 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. You can also hear her on the air, and on the occasional episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Previously, she was an associate producer and director for All Things Considered on the weekends. 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 an audio archivist and producer at the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She still knows how to solder.

Faith "Zephyr" Herbert was the breakout star of Valiant Comics' Harbinger super-team. Now headlining her own Eisner Award-nominated series, she's an ebulliently nerdy — and yes, plus-size — superheroine who fights crime and marauding aliens in the streets of Los Angeles while holding down a day job at a Buzzfeed-esque website. (And making lots of Buffy and Doctor Who references. Faith is my kind of gal.)

Any self-respecting comics fan cringes at the phrase "comics aren't just for kids anymore." But any self-respecting comics fan also has to admit there are some great kids' comics out there — especially right now.

Before I left for San Diego Comic-Con this week, I checked in with Lucy Strother, a fourth grade teacher in Philadelphia whose students just love comics. "We have like a comics and graphic novels bin in the library and it's perpetually empty because the kids are so obsessed with comics and graphic novels," she says.

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Now to a famous British export - "Doctor Who."

(SOUNDBITE OF MURRAY GOLD'S "DOCTOR WHO THEME")

Back in May, we asked you to tell us about your favorite comics and graphic novels — and you rose to the challenge. We got more than 7,000 nominations, so while you all are lolling around in the frosty air conditioning (or outside in the sun ... weirdos) we've been working away to whittle those thousands of nominations down to an awesome list of 100. Also, OK, I read a lot of Elfquest. For work! Really!

The first comic book I ever read was an obscure DC title that I begged my parents to buy for me from a rotating rack at a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop.

When Ruthanna Emrys first read H.P. Lovecraft's classic story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," she already knew the basics: It's about a creepy New England harbor town populated by strange, froggy-looking people who turn out to be monstrous, sacrificing humans to their dark gods under the sea.

In the dark forests outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y., two sisters live alone. Lexa, mute, communicates only with her unnerving rag doll. Addison, the elder, gets on her motorbike after dark and ventures into the city, now deserted and terribly transformed after a mysterious incident called the Spill — which claimed both their parents.

Paula Hawkins' 2015 book — The Girl on the Train — was a massive bestseller. A tense domestic thriller with a boozy, unstable narrator, it caught the imagination of a reading public desperate for the kinds of dark deeds and desperate women Gillian Flynn pioneered in Gone Girl a few years earlier.

John Scalzi's novel The Collapsing Empire kicks off a new series set in — you guessed it — an interstellar empire teetering on the brink of collapse. The Interdependency sprawls across light-years of space, held together by a strange dimension called the Flow, which enables humans to span the immense distances between planets. But the Flow is failing, changing, fluctuating — cutting off some planets forever (including Earth). And in the Interdependency, no planet can survive without supplies from the others. So what's an emperox to do?

Neil Gaiman was 6 years old when he first met the Norse god Thor — although he wasn't the red-bearded hammer-slinger of legend. "Marvel. Marvel's Thor came first," he says. "I was reading the reprints of Marvel's Thor in an English comic called Fantastic. ... Dr. Don Blake found this stick in a cave, banged it down and transformed into Thor, and the stick transformed into the hammer." Gaiman says he spent a lot of his first decade looking for likely sticks, "just on the off chance that they might the Thor stick, and might transform into a mighty hammer.

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Margaret Atwood today, about the sudden popularity of her dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale. You can hear that story here. But there was one thing that didn't make it into the finished piece — a moment when I asked Atwood what she thought the next big trend would be in dystopian reading.

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It was a bright hot day in June. Or possibly July. And the clocks almost certainly weren't striking thirteen, because they don't do that in this country.

But it WAS the summer of 1984. I was 9 years old, and my father was handing me a beat-up paperback with an anonymous-looking white and green cover; his old college copy of George Orwell's 1984. "Here," he said. "I think you're ready for this." My dad has always had a weirdly inflated sense of my intellectual abilities.

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I was in New York for the weekend, visiting a friend who lives on West 27th Street. We'd been in at an event in Brooklyn; in the cab home, the radio had been saying something about an explosion in Chelsea, on 23rd Street between 6th and 7th — four blocks from her home.

For some comics fans, Alan Moore is basically a god.

He's the media-shy and magnificently bearded writer of comics like Watchmen, V for Vendetta and From Hell — though if you've only ever seen the movies, please, I implore you: Read the books.

Recently, Moore said he's stepping back from comics to focus on other projects — like his epic new novel, Jerusalem. It's full of angels, devils, saints and sinners and visionaries, ghost children and wandering writers, all circling his home town of Northampton, England.

Once upon a time, there was a strange little woman who lived in an upside down house.

Her name was Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and she was a combination of friend and therapist to all the kids who lived in her small town. Author Betty MacDonald began making up stories about Mrs. Piggle Wiggle for her family in the 1940s; those bedtime tales led to a series of classic children's books.

Now, MacDonald's great-granddaughter Annie Parnell has teamed up with Ann M. Martin — who created the Babysitter's Club books — to reboot the series for modern readers.

Snidely Whiplash may have been famous for yelling, "Curses, foiled again!" And those "meddling kids" have spoiled many a villainous plot.

But sometimes, good doesn't win the day. Sometimes the bad guys get away with it.

And if we're going to talk about villains, let's talk about the biggest of the Big Bads, the Grand-daddy of Ghouls, the Imperator of Iniquity — Satan himself. Specifically, the version of Satan set down by John Milton in Paradise Lost.

Blue Monday was a comic weirdly out of time. Creator Chynna Clugston-Flores started drawing the adventures of music-loving high-schooler Bleu Finnegan and her band of mad, mod friends in the late 1990s — but somehow they lived in a world where grunge never happened, where Adam Ant and Paul Weller were still style icons and The English Beat ruled the airwaves (in other words, my kind of place).

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America's favorite Amazon princess turns 75 this year — Wonder Woman first swung her golden lasso in All-Star Comics #8 in December 1941, and she's still fighting for freedom and the rights of women.

DC Entertainment is celebrating the Amazon's birthday with a series of events at this year's San Diego Comic-Con; a street corner in the downtown Gaslamp District has been turned into a tribute to Wonder Woman's home on Paradise Island, complete with artists painting giant portraits of her, and a replica of her famous invisible jet.

This year at San Diego Comic-Con, one of the biggest phenomena isn't just inside the convention center, it's all around. Yes, there are billboards and installations trumpeting things like Doctor Strange and Fear the Walking Dead. But the crowds of people here aren't looking up; they're mostly staring down at their phones, playing Pokémon Go.

Author Lois Duncan has died at the age of 82. She was the queen of teen thrillers, a pioneer in the young adult suspense genre.

Long before vampires sparkled or hunger was a game, Duncan was writing tense, scary stories for teenagers. Books like Down a Dark Hall and Stranger With My Face kept a generation of readers up at night.

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Beatrix Potter is famous for her charming tales of mice and rabbits, most notably Peter Rabbit, who was given this piece of sage advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIOBOOK, "THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT")

The free-speech organization PEN American Center says it is giving its 2016 PEN/Allen award to author J.K. Rowling. The prize honors "a critically acclaimed author whose work embodies its mission to oppose repression in any form and to champion the best of humanity."

The most prestigious prizes in American children's books were given out this morning: the John Newbery Medal for literature and the Randolph Caldecott Medal for illustration.

Matt de la Peña becomes the first Hispanic author to win the Newbery, for his book Last Stop on Market Street, illustrated by Christian Robinson. It's the story of a young boy riding the city bus with his grandmother, and wondering why their family doesn't have a car.

We get so many books in the mail — hundreds every week — that we can't read them all, and sometimes all we can do with a book is say hey, that looks interesting, and file it away on the shelf.

That's what happened to Anita Anand's book Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, which was definitely the One That Got Away from me this year. I put it aside with vague good intentions, and then I forgot about it — until Princess Sophia ended up in the news.

Marlon James has won this year's Man Booker literary award for his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings. James is the first Jamaican-born author to win the prestigious prize, which has only been open to writers outside the British Commonwealth for the past two years.

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