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How to find your next favorite read with NPR's Books We Love

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, HOST:

Just like peaches in summer and pumpkins in fall, books are a seasonal commodity. In June, beach reads are in full bloom. By September, we're looking at weighty biographies and potentially prize-winning fiction. And by early winter, well, it's time to look back over the year and pick our favorites.

In what's become an annual tradition at NPR, we don't do a best-of list. Instead, our books team builds a tool with over 300 of their favorite picks from the whole year. Here to tell us about it is arts and culture editor Rose Friedman. Hey, Rose.

ROSE FRIEDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

FOLKENFLIK: The headline this year - let's start. I mean, you've changed the name.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. It's now called Books We Love. But, you know, we've been doing this since 2013, when it was called The Books Concierge. And if you know it and love it, it's got the same structure. It's a grid of about 370 books. They were all chosen by NPR staff and outside critics, and then we have ways to filter and sort through them so it's easy to find something for whatever your taste is. And I should say it's on NPR's homepage, but you can also find it at npr.org/bookswelove.

FOLKENFLIK: OK. News you can use. What's in there this year?

FRIEDMAN: OK, well, tons. But since I knew that I'd be talking to you about it and because we're friends, I thought I'd look for something that you would like. So there's this whole system of different tags like book club ideas or historical fiction. But I know that you're a curious person, so I clicked on eye-opening reads. And then I added nonfiction, and then, just for fun, I hit tales from around the world. And that gave me a list of about 15 books.

FOLKENFLIK: So hit me. Any I might like?

FRIEDMAN: OK, so the one I thought you'd get a kick out of is called "A Most Remarkable Creature: The Hidden Life And Epic Journey Of The World's Smartest Birds Of Prey." So this is kind of delightfully written by a rock musician named Jonathan Meiburg, and he gets obsessed with this bird that's only found in the Falkland Islands, or the Malvinas Islands, off the coast of Argentina. And it's just full of these fun, weird facts about this bird. It likes to steal things like hats and shoes from humans. And because they're so smart, they can do things like start a fire and then eat all the animals who run away from the fire. Apparently, Darwin wrote about them, but since then, Meiburg seems to be kind of the first person to really do a deep dive. So the point is that anyone can go in and click on the combination of tags and find something fun to read.

FOLKENFLIK: All right. So that's great. What are some of the other tags in there?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the most popular tag by far is always staff picks, and this year, we got a little glimpse into what kind of year the NPR staff was having. You know, we sent out the call in the organization to participate, and nine different people recommended the same romance. It's called "People We Meet On Vacation." It's a retelling of "When Harry Met Sally." You know, in the end, we can only let one person do the write-up for each book. That was producer Anjuli Sastry. But, you know - just a fun, totally nonscientific study of what NPR staffers were up to in a year when I think everybody needed a love story.

FOLKENFLIK: So obviously, as we said, you don't really use the word best now, but come on. Are these the best books of the year?

FRIEDMAN: So the answer to that question has to do with a beloved and important colleague who we just lost at NPR. Petra Mayer was our books editor, and she died suddenly about two weeks ago. And we all just desperately miss her. And she was really the person who made sure that NPR covered all kinds of books, especially science fiction, fantasy and romance. She loved genre fiction, and she took it really seriously.

Petra would always say that there is no best book. There are great books for each reader, and whatever you like to read is what NPR should be helping you find. So she was really involved in this year's Books We Love. She worked on it every year, and it's kind of in the spirit of Petra that we don't do best. We do the greatest books for you, whatever you want to read.

FOLKENFLIK: In the spirit of a woman who loved books. I've been talking to NPR arts and culture editor Rose Friedman. Been too long, Rose. Thanks.

FRIEDMAN: Thanks, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF KHRUANGBIN AND LEON BRIDGES' "TEXAS SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rose Friedman is an Associate Editor for NPR's Arts, Books & Culture desk. She edits radio pieces on a range of subjects, including books, pop culture, fine arts, theater, obituaries and the occasional Harry Potter-check-in. She is also co-creator of NPR's annual Book Concierge and the podcast recommendation site Earbud.fm. In addition, Rose has edited commentaries for the network, as well as regular features like This Week's Must Read on All Things Considered.