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.

Philip Pullman introduced readers to his alternate Oxford, full of magic and danger, in the His Dark Materials trilogy, beginning with 1995's The Golden Compass. The story of young Lyra Belacqua, her soul-companion Pantalaimon, and their battle against the oppressive forces of the quasi-religious Magisterium became a massive world-wide hit. Now, he's returning to that world in The Book of Dust, which will explore how Lyra came to live in Oxford.

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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