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Recommendations from NPR's Books We Love


It's December, and that means it's time for NPR's Books We Love. That's our curated collection of recommendations from 2022. And I'm told that many people would appreciate some light reads during what can be a hectic season. So we called Maureen Pao from NPR's Culture Desk to help us. And she is with us now. Maureen, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks so much for walking down the hall.

MAUREEN PAO, BYLINE: Absolutely, Michel. It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: So before we dive in, would you just say a little bit more about Books We Love?

PAO: Absolutely. It is a massive labor of love. And this year, NPR staffers and freelancers picked more than 400 of their favorite books from the year. You can see the whole list if you go to npr.org and search specifically, you know, for things like book club ideas or memoirs or graphic novels. And the really cool thing is, I think especially as we're going into the gift-giving season, is that you can mix and match different genres. So let's say you're looking for a gift for your dad, and he likes thrillers that have a historical twist. You can select both of those categories and hopefully come up with a really good gift for him.

MARTIN: So let's say you're looking for a little light reading because the news is heavy and you want a little bit of a distraction. What do you recommend?

PAO: All right. So I have a couple of choices for you here. First up is a rom-com that is come to us from across the pond. It's called "Honey And Spice." It's by a British author named Bolu Babalola. And our reviewer called it Beyonce meets Jane Austen on a London campus. It follows a spicy female college DJ who spins hip-hop and also dispenses advice on how to avoid relationships. So she's kind of an anti-relationship guru. And she literally runs into the hot new guy on campus. She immediately sizes him up as bad news and to be avoided at all costs. So they start out as adversaries. But, as we know, first impressions are often very, very wrong. So...

MARTIN: That sounds very cute. OK. If meet-cute isn't your thing, how about another one?

PAO: OK, so if meet-cute is not your thing, then we have a heist/rollicking caper, but it does have some romance in it. Of course, like any good caper, it's set in Las Vegas. And it's called "Partners In Crime" by Alisha Rai. The main character is an accountant, and all she really wants is to settle down with a nice Indian boy. But fate intervenes, and her aunt dies. And that brings her face to face with a handsome ex-boyfriend. And not only are they thrust together, they're actually kidnapped together. And so during one action-packed night, they've got to recover a stolen diamond necklace with gangsters on their trail. And it's all very, very "Ocean's 11," which, you know, in my book is a good thing.

MARTIN: I bet a screenplay is coming, right? It just - it sounds like it's - (laughter).

PAO: It definitely struck me that way.

MARTIN: Right. OK, so if rom-coms aren't your thing, do you have some other picks for somebody that's still a little on the lighter side?

PAO: Absolutely. I got you. My first recommendation is a memoir. It's called "The World's Worst Assistant," and it's by Sona Movsesian. And she's the long-time assistant to Conan O'Brien. And, you know, she's actually really hilarious herself. This book is billed as a how-to guide to getting away with doing as little as possible on your job. You know, for instance, she once binge-watched 58 episodes of the TV show "Friends" while she was on the clock.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

PAO: And she's definitely going for this, like, slacker, deadpan vibe. But, you know, she made it to the top echelons of Hollywood. So there are a lot of layers to the story.

MARTIN: I'm not sure I want to be encouraging people to read how to be a slacker. I don't know - I'm not quite sure who I'm giving that to. But how about one more?

PAO: OK. Well, you know, if you don't want to teach people how to be a slacker, I'm not sure you're going to like this next one, which is called "How To Take Over The World." And it's basically - you know, the subtitle of the book is "Practical Schemes And Scientific Solutions For The Aspiring Supervillain." And so I think that tells you everything you need to know about this book. It's by Ryan North, and he's written chapters on things like cloning dinosaurs and time travel and controlling the weather and other dastardly deeds. So it's, like, these outlandish scenarios. It's really cheeky writing, but he backs it up with facts and research. So it makes science a lot of fun. But again, I don't know. Do you want to give a gift that's going to tell people how to be a supervillain? I don't know.

MARTIN: I don't know. Maureen, I'm kind of seeing a theme here. Maybe we should chat later. But - (laughter).

PAO: My subconscious is coming to the conscious, I guess.

MARTIN: I see that. I see that. Well, all right. Well, thanks so much for these suggestions. Thanks, Maureen. That's Maureen Pao from NPR's Culture Desk. Maureen, thank you so much.

PAO: Michel, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS ANIMALS SONG, "GOOEY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Maureen Pao is an editor, producer and reporter on NPR's Digital News team. In her current role, she is lead digital editor and producer for All Things Considered. Her primary responsibility is coordinating, producing and editing high-impact online components for complex, multipart show projects and host field reporting.