Petra Mayer

Author and Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro has explored multiple settings over the course of his career, from the English country house in 1989's The Remains of the Day to the dystopian future of 2005's Never Let Me Go. But no matter where he sets his stories, they're always deeply felt and deeply human.

Three novels and two story collections — selected from a longlist of 15 — remain in contention for this year's Aspen Words Literary Prize.

The $35,000 prize honors fiction that "illuminates vital contemporary issues," and this year's finalists span the globe, covering everything from Native American land ownership questions to the intersections of Blackness and queerness to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Past Golden Globe winners Sarah Jessica Parker and Taraji P. Henson kicked off the announcement of this year's nominees, in a livestream simulcast by the Today show.

Netflix led the pack with 22 nominations for motion pictures and 20 for TV; Mank garnered the most movie nominations with 6, and The Crown matched that on the TV side with 6 nominations of its own.

Last fall, former President Barack Obama told Stephen Colbert that he was "shocked" Dolly Parton hadn't gotten a Presidential Medal of Freedom during his time in office. "That was a screwup," he said. "I think I assumed she had already got one."

When I found out about The Ex Talk, I absolutely had to read it (even though, as a rule, I don't love contemporary romances) because it's set at a Pacific Northwest public radio station. Office rivals Shay and Dominic — she's a veteran producer, he's a cocky J-school grad who won't shut up about his master's degree — end up having to pose as exes to host a new dating and relationships show for their struggling station. Naturally, they fall for each other.

The morning after her powerful performance of "The Hill We Climb" at the inauguration of President Biden, poet Amanda Gorman hit another high point: She took the top two slots on Amazon's bestseller list — for titles that won't be out until the fall.

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Denver's beloved local chain — founded in 1971 — has been having a rough year. Several of its locations had to close temporarily because of the pandemic, making a massive dent in sales.

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People looking for holiday gift ideas have a resource - the NPR Book Concierge. It's a page with more than 400 book titles selected by NPR critics and staff. NPR Books editor Petra Mayer is here to explain how it works. Hey there, Petra.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: And let's first talk about what this is. This is not exactly one of those lists where the top books are listed one through 10 or whatever.

This year's National Book Awards ceremony was an evening with a message: We can do better.

The online-only event included a montage of Black winners past — narrated by LeVar Burton — with this admission: From 1936 to 1999, only 13 writers of color won a National Book Award.

In London's Hyde Park, there's a heartbreaking series of sculptures called the Animals in War Memorial — heavily laden bronze donkeys struggling through a gap in an enormous curved wall. It honors creatures from elephants to glow worms, who served alongside humans in war; as the memorial says, "they had no choice."

The 15 nominees for this year's Aspen Words Literary Prize span the globe and the headlines — from Uganda to Palestine to Miami to rural North Dakota, and even a nameless Wilderness that's not quite in the world we know.

Wherever they are, the characters in these novels are grappling with issues that we're all familiar with, whether in headlines or in our own lives.

"The books on this longlist examine subjects that cut across racial, economic, political and sexual divides," Aspen Words Executive Director Adrienne Brodeur said in a statement.

On a storm-tossed sea, a blind young man with crow-shaped scars carved into his chest and a jewel-eyed, trouble-prone sea captain are heading for an uncertain, probably terrible destiny. And a street beggar-turned-High Priest struggles to maintain position and power in a treacherous city.

In Rebecca Roanhorse's new fantasy novel Black Sun, all paths lead towards the city of Tova, where a coming eclipse could signal rebirth — or disaster.

The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature has been given to the U.S. poet Louise Glück for what the Swedish Academy calls "her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal."

Glück is the 16th woman to win a literature Nobel, and she already has a bookshelf's worth of heavyweight awards: a National Book Award, a National Humanities Medal and a Pulitzer Prize for her 1992 collection The Wild Iris.

This year's MacArthur Fellows — recipients of what's commonly known as the Genius Grant — are engineers and writers, scientists and musicians, artists and scholars and filmmakers. They've mapped the universe and the human brain, created new worlds and picked apart what makes our own world tick.

The National Book Foundation has announced the 25 finalists for this year's National Book Awards, in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literature in translation, and young people's literature.

This year's authors are a diverse group that includes several debuts — from Deesha Philyaw and Douglas Stuart in the fiction category, and Tommye Blount and Anthony Cody in poetry.

Yadriel is a lot of things: He's queer, he's trans, he's Latinx and he's a brujo, born to free the souls of the dead so they can pass over — or he would be if only his family could accept him as he is. They carry on the ancient traditions of guiding the dead and healing the living, but only men can free spirits. And they don't believe Yadriel's truly a man.

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This month marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of science fiction writer Ray Bradbury. Oh, I remember reading "The Illustrated Man" when I was a kid in school. NPR's Petra Mayer reports on his legacy.

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George Orwell's "Animal Farm" turns 75 this week. The book is now considered a classic, but NPR's Petra Mayer reminds us that it almost wasn't published at all.

Lauren Beukes' new Afterland takes place in a world that exists not long after our own — a very near future in which a terrible virus has wiped out almost all the men in the world, leaving a scant few million, mostly held in government research facilities.

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Want to social-distance in style this fall? Couturiers at Viktor & Rolf — known for campy, high-concept looks — are introducing a fall collection they're describing as "three wardrobes for three mindsets in extraordinary times of change." Those three mindsets: Anxiety, Confusion and a hopeful ending with Love.

In the early 1960s, Rudolfo Anaya was teaching high school during the day and writing at night, struggling to find the voice that would bring his first novel alive.

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The CEO of Macmillan — one of the Big Five book publishing houses — has announced he'll step back from day-to-day responsibilities, following an industry-wide day of action protest against racism organized by five Macmillan employees.

Gather 'round, children, and let me tell you a story about the amazing group of authors, librarians and critics we've assembled to help judge this year's Summer Reader Poll!

A long, long summer is stretching ahead of us — many summer camps and programs are closed, kids are restless and parents and caregivers are stretched thin. But story time is always a little moment of escape.

So this year, we want to hear all about your very favorite books for the littlest readers, specifically picture books and very easy chapter books. Is it something you loved as a kid? Something the kids in your life demand at Every. Single. Bedtime? Something they love to read by themselves? Something you gift to every kid you know? Tell us about it!

Carlos Ruiz Zafón was frequently called the most-read Spanish author since Cervantes. His breakout 2001 novel The Shadow of the Wind follows Daniel, a young boy in Barcelona just after World War II, whose father takes him to The Cemetery of Lost Books, a mysterious bookstore at the heart of the city.

The National Book Critics Circle — which represents hundreds of critics nationwide, and hands out several prestigious prizes — is the latest literary organization to be riled by accusations of racism.

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