NPR books

Books We Love

This year’s Books We Love is dedicated in memory of Petra Mayer.

What is this thing?

Books We Love is NPR’s annual, interactive, year-end reading guide. (You might have known us as the Book Concierge, but this year we got a makeover! We’ve changed our name and adopted a warm and welcoming new look.) What hasn’t changed is the annual bounty of hand-picked books. Mix and match tags such as Book Club Ideas, Biography & Memoir or Eye-Opening Reads to filter results and find the book that’s perfect for you or someone you love.

image Chelsea Conrad/NPR

How are the books selected?

Each fall, we reach out to our staffers and trusted critics and ask them to nominate their favorite books of the year. They respond with hundreds of titles. Then, the editors and producers at NPR Books sit down with a huge spreadsheet of responses; we resolve duplications, note omissions, consider the overall mix and balance of books recommended and then make assignments.

Why isn’t this just a list?

Back in 2013, the NPR Books staff was suffering from an acute case of list fatigue. So we teamed up with our friends at NPR News Apps and started to think about a site that would be more Venn diagram-y than list-y – a site that could help you seek out the best biographies that were also love stories, or the best mysteries that were also set in the past. We wholeheartedly believe that human beings are capable of absorbing new information in formats that are 1) not sequentially ordered and 2) wait … dammit! and 3) never mind.

But no, really, I just want to see a list of books

We got you. To view these books as a list of titles rather than as an array of covers, you are welcome to select the “List” option in the upper right-hand corner of the site.

So what’s the deal with these tags?

At NPR Books, we’re all about discovery: helping you find your next great read – the mystery you can’t put down, the memoir you recommend to all your friends. In 2013, we hashed out a basic taxonomy that was both functional (e.g., Biography & Memoir or Kids’ Books) and fun (e.g., It’s All Geek To Me and Let’s Talk About Sex). Over the years, we’ve refined our filters and added new tags, like The States We’re In and No Biz Like Show Biz.

The names are cute, but what do they mean?

The States We’re In is for stories of the American experience both true and fictional. It’s All Geek To Me is for deep dives on particular topics – trees, personality tests, tiny houses, you name it. In The Dark Side, you’ll find dystopias, serial killers, true crime and people behaving badly in general. Eye-Opening Reads will give you a new perspective on the topic at hand, whether it’s the state of philanthropy or a new pair of shoes.

How do the books get tagged?

Our critics and staffers make suggestions, but to ensure we are applying tags consistently, the producers and editors at NPR Books consider and discuss every tag on every book.

That must take a very long time

YUP.

Can I look under the hood?

If you want to know more about how Books We Love was designed and coded, you can read about the process here. And if you’re curious to see the code and adapt it for your own project, you can check it out here.

If I click on the links and purchase one of the books, does that purchase help NPR?

Yes. And you can read more about how that works here.

This year’s edition of Books We Love is in memory of Petra Mayer. What is that about?

Petra was an NPR lifer — she got her start here at 19! — and became books editor in 2012. She was one of the original architects of the Book Concierge and was still hard at work on this year’s edition when she died suddenly on Nov. 13 at age 46. Petra connected readers with books that they would love – it was her superpower. She worked tirelessly to broaden our coverage and was a passionate champion for romance, science fiction and fantasy. She was smart, creative, generous, funny, irreverent – and hands down the fastest reader, biggest nerd and best baker on the team. We never imagined we’d be publishing Books We Love without her. Petra was so happy with this year’s collection of titles, and we are proud to bring them to you today, in her honor.

So, please, dive into Books We Love, and find something wonderful to read today.

The 2021 Books We Love Team: Tayla Burney, Beth Donovan, Natalie Escobar, Rose Friedman, Megan Lim, Petra Mayer, Beth Novey, Ashley Pointer and Meghan Collins Sullivan

Project Credits

This edition of Books We Love was published on Nov. 24, 2021.

Previous editions of Books We Love: Annette Elizabeth Allen, Jeremy Bowers, Nicole Cohen, Danny DeBelius, Camila Domonoske, David Eads, Juan Elosua, Jess Eng, Rose Friedman, Alice Goldfarb, Christopher Groskopf, Geoff Hing, Clinton King, Becky Lettenberger, Wes Lindamood, Petra Mayer, Beth Novey, Katie Park, Christina Rees, Ellen Silva, Meghan Collins Sullivan, Shelly Tan, Glen Weldon, Thomas Wilburn, Matthew Zhang

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