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NPR's Book of the Day

501 episodes   Last Updated: Aug 25, 23
In need of a good read? Or just want to keep up with the books everyone's talking about? NPR's Book of the Day gives you today's very best writing in a snackable, skimmable, pocket-sized podcast. Whether you're looking to engage with the big questions of our times – or temporarily escape from them – we've got an author who will speak to you, all genres, mood and writing styles included. Catch today's great books in 15 minutes or less.


Today's episode features interviews with two authors of short story collections. First, NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Steven Millhauser about Disruptions, and why he likes to write stories that start off in the normal world and slowly become more and more unsettling until he feels he's pushed the limits as far as he can. Then, NPR's Juana Summers asks Jamel Brinkley about Witness, and how he incorporated gentrification in New York, masculinity and Blackness into his larger themes of obsession.
Pidgeon Pagonis grew up thinking they'd survived cancer as a child, and the disease was the reason their body didn't develop quite like the other girls at school. It wasn't until college that they realized they were actually born intersex, and all the surgeries, secrets and confusion came into focus. In their new memoir, Nobody Needs to Know, Pagonis reckons with how they came to understand and accept the truth about their body. They tell NPR's Leila Fadel about that journey and about how they're thinking about community and activism now that their story is out in the world.
There are lots of secrets that 105-year-old Hak Jeonga has carried with her throughout her life. But even after she dies, there's still one big one – generational curse included – that she must resolve. Jimin Han's new novel, The Apology, follows the family from South Korea to Chicago to right some of the wrongs that have happened over time. Han tells NPR's Eyder Peralta how she was influenced by her own family's experience of longing and separation following the Korean War, and why Korean shamanism influenced this story of immortality.
In James McBride's new novel – the titular shop at its heart – The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store – can be found in a neighborhood in Pottstown,Pennsylvania, where working-class Jewish immigrants and African-Americans live side by side, forming a community of protection and respect for one another. In today's episode, McBride speaks with NPR's Scott Detrow about the murder mystery that unfolds in the novel, the inspiration he took from his own grandmother, and the allure of writing about Pennsylvania.
Journalist Mikhail Zygar says a lot of Russian historians were actually propagandists – they worked for people in power and wrote recorded events the way politicians and elites wanted. In his new book, War and Punishment, he breaks down the historical myths he says are part of the Russian psyche, one he says Putin uses to defend the invasion of Ukraine. Zygar tells NPR's Leila Fadel that he doesn't think everyone believes the propaganda, but that it's essential to uncover the truth about the Russian empire to understand how we got to today's war, and where it might go next.
Today's episode focuses on very different experiences of the teenage years. First, NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Christine Suggs about their new graphic novel, ¡Ay, Mija!, inspired by Suggs' formative trip to Mexico to understand their parents' upbringing and reconnect with their family and culture. Then, NPR's Rachel Martin sits down with psychologist Lisa Damour to discuss her new book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers. They discuss the stresses and anxieties young people deal with – especially as a result of the pandemic – and how parents can help manage these intense feelings.
Writing is a practice – especially for MacArthur Genius Grant and National Book Award winner Terrance Hayes. His new collection of poems, So to Speak, comes out of that practice during turbulent times: COVID quarantine, the 2020 protests after the killing of George Floyd. And they reach further back, too, to the Jim Crow South and his mother's youth. In today's episode, Hayes speaks with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly about engaging with language and reimagining family members in a new light.
In C.K. Chau's new novel, Good Fortune, Elizabeth Chen is highly wary of the Wong brothers who have swooped in to buy a New York City community center. But where Elizabeth sees a threat to her neighborhood, her mother sees an opportunity – and not just for their block. In today's episode, Chau speaks with NPR's Ailsa Chang about reframing Pride and Prejudice as an early aughts story about love and aspiration in a Cantonese American family, and how reframing certain characters as immigrants brings a whole new level to their outlook on relationships.
In Filthy Rich Politicians, conservative columnist Matt Lewis presents some startling figures. Senator Rick Scott: net worth of approximately $200 million. Representative Michael McCaul: $125 million. Nancy Pelosi: $46 million. In his book, Lewis takes a close look at how people get richer after they're elected to office, and what this wealth means for our political systems. He speaks with NPR's Steve Inskeep about how politicians amass money not just for themselves, but their families – and how Donald Trump is a prime example of that.
Lara, the protagonist of Ann Patchett's Tom Lake, finds a silver lining during the frightening first few months of the COVID pandemic: her three adult daughters return home to the family orchard in Northern Michigan. In today's episode, Patchett tells NPR's Mary Louise Kelly how they bond while Lara tells them of a romance from her youth, and how looking back to the past brings up all kinds of questions about love and relationships for all the women in the family.