NPR's Book Concierge To The Rescue With Last-Minute Gift Ideas

Dec 24, 2016
Originally published on December 24, 2016 6:30 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ALLISON AUBREY, HOST:

If you're looking for the last-minute gift for that book lover in your life, we have got a handy tool that can help. NPR's Book Concierge on npr.org has more than 300 recommendations from NPR staffers and freelancers. Books editor Petra Mayer joins us now in the studio to walk us through it.

Hi there, Petra.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Allison. Thanks for having me.

AUBREY: Yeah, sure. So tell us - how does the Book Concierge work?

MAYER: It's very simple. Well, you can make it as complicated as you like, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

AUBREY: OK.

MAYER: It's a giant matrix of more than 300 books. And down the left side of the screen is a list of filters, and there are things like book club ideas, ladies first, science fiction and fantasy, funny stuff, short, long - you name it, we've thought of a filter for it. And those filters are stackable, so you can pick more than one. You know, you can click - I want a nonfiction book, and I want it to be kind of long because I need to while away the long winter nights. I picked those...

AUBREY: Got it.

MAYER: ...Tags at random. But you can - that's how you can sort things.

AUBREY: I get it. So you can pick your filters. So let's say I want a book for a friend of mine who loves to cook. She also likes mystery novels, and she loves to travel. What do you got for me?

MAYER: So we have just the thing for you. It is called, "Yashim Cooks Istanbul." And it's...

AUBREY: "Yashim Cooks Istanbul"?

MAYER: Yeah. It's based on a series of mysteries set in 19th-century Istanbul about an inspector, Yashim. And as he solves mysteries, he cooks. And so the guy who writes the series, you know, I guess he got lots of requests for the recipes because they sound so delicious. And so he ended up doing a cookbook of all the things. So you can cook right along with Yashim as he solves crimes. And they're, like, incredibly, delightfully evocative names like assassin's steak tartare, ladies thighs - which I had to look up because I was like, what's that? - it's a kind of lamb meatball, apparently, that you deep-fry.

AUBREY: OK. I love it. So it's mystery stacked with food...

MAYER: Yeah.

AUBREY: ...Lots of intrigue there. I want to challenge you here for a moment.

MAYER: Yeah.

AUBREY: I'm looking for a nonfiction book. It's got to be short. And I want it to appeal to the other people in my book group. So if I toggle through and I check - you know, book group, nonfiction, short side - do you have anything?

MAYER: You will get a real treat. You will get "Alive, Alive Oh!" by Diana Athill. And she is a legendary British author and book editor. She was an editor for something like 50 years, and she worked with pretty much every big name of the 20th century, like everyone from Jack Kerouac to Margaret Atwood. And she also has written a series of really interesting memoirs. I mean, she's had this crazy life and worked with all these famous people. It's a wonderful book club idea, actually, because Diana Athill connects to, sort of, six degrees of separation-style to so many other authors.

AUBREY: Sounds wonderful. Petra, what are you finding about how people are using this site? What do they search for the most?

MAYER: The most popular thing people tend to search for every year is staff picks, which is great for us this year because we have way more staff picks than ever. It's lots of fun because you get books that way that kind of aren't the big buzz books. You get the things that tweaked people's individual interests. And in a place like this, people's individual interests are really interesting.

(LAUGHTER)

AUBREY: I see that there's a category for books on the dark side. Wondering if there's anything that skews the opposite - a little more affirmative, uplifting.

MAYER: Huh...

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: You know...

AUBREY: Please, tell me there's something.

MAYER: Well, there's plenty of affirmative and uplifting books in the Concierge. But we don't have a specific tag for it unfortunately.

AUBREY: People just don't search that way.

MAYER: No, no. But there's a lot of dark books, so we had to kind - we felt like we had to kind of set that aside on its own special tag.

AUBREY: OK. We'll leave it at that.

MAYER: Yep.

AUBREY: NPR's Petra Mayer and the NPR Books team put together our Book Concierge. You can check it out at npr.org/bestbooks.

Thanks, Petra.

MAYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.