Petra Mayer

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THE FUNNIEST PANEL OF SUMMER POLL JUDGES WE'VE EVER HAD!

Voting in this year's Summer Reader Poll is in full swing — and if you still haven't voted, you can do that here — so it's time to meet our expert panel of professional funny people ... who I wish were writing this copy, because maaaan they're all way more hilarious than I am. But in fact, they'll be helping curate our final list of 100 favorite funny reads.

If you could use a laugh right about now — and I think we all could — the NPR Books Summer Reader Poll is here for you! This year, we want to hear all about your favorite funny books and stories, and we don't just mean comedy writing. If it makes you laugh (or giggle, or even snicker quietly), we want to hear about it!

Before she was a novelist (and occasional NPR contributor), Arkady Martine was a Byzantine historian and an apprentice city planner — and that expertise is on display in her new book A Memory Called Empire. It's the story of an ambassador from a small, independent space station on the edge of a huge, devouring galactic empire, who arrives in the imperial capital and is almost immediately launched on a wild ride of intrigue, courtly manners, poetry and plotting.

Well, Valentine's Day is upon us, and whether or not you're in love, I think we can all agree that sometimes the pressure to be in a relationship, or celebrate the fact that you're in one, can get a little ... less than delightful.

Renowned British actor Albert Finney has died at 82; his family confirmed the death in a short statement, saying he "passed away peacefully after a short illness with those closest to him by his side."

The Book Concierge is back! Explore more than 300 standout titles picked by NPR staff and critics.

Open the app now!

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Aspen Institute has announced this year's nominees for its annual prize — 16 titles (including several short story collections and quite a few debut authors) that, in the Institute's words, address "a vital contemporary issue."

At 7am, the Tower of London is peaceful — no tour groups, just distant traffic noise, and if you believe the legends, a ghost or three. Except in one corner, where there's a large, luxurious wood-and-wire enclosure that contains some very hungry ravens, hopping and croaking as they spot Christopher Skaife approaching with breakfast.

"The first time I saw my father do coke, I was about six," author (and occasional NPR critic) Juan Vidal writes in his new memoir, Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture that Shaped a Generation. "Batman Underoos in full effect. I didn't know what the powder was on his stache, but I remember wishing he'd take me to see the snow."

He never did. Vidal's father faded in and out of his life, eventually disappearing entirely, in a cloud of guns, drugs and other women. But he's still the spirit that haunts this poetic chronicle of beats, rhymes and life.

ElfQuest is something unique in the world of comics: It's one of the longest-running fantasy series ever — and it's been the passion project of just two people for its whole life.

There were few comics shops, fewer conventions, and not a lot of women were making comics when creators Wendy and Richard Pini began their epic quest in 1978. But now that quest is over, and they're on a farewell tour called Forty Years of Pointed Ears.

Tangier Island is in trouble — though that's kind of nothing new. The little island in the Chesapeake has been home to a small, self-reliant community for centuries, and it's been washing away little by little for just as long. But now, climate change is driving the waves higher.

David Bowie kind of bookends the 1970s – between "Space Oddity" in 1969 and its sequel "Ashes to Ashes" in 1980, music and science fiction crossed the streams in a way that hasn't been seen before or since – from Bowie to Funkadelic, suddenly, space was the (musical) place.

Today is cosplay day! As the con goes along, people start busting out better and better costumes, and we spent a few hours today seeing the extremely impressive sights. Oh, and did we mention — WE were part of those sights? Mallory dressed up as the Kate Bishop version of Hawkeye, from the Young Avengers, acknowledged by many people who saw her to be the BEST Hawkeye. And I was Spider Jerusalem from Transmetropolitan — a hero to journalists everywhere. We sat down behind the convention center at San Diego Comic-Con to talk about our favorite outfits.

Petra: Today is Thursday, but as far as I'm concerned, it's Doctor Whosday, and I'm starting the day by going to BBC America's press conference for their flagship show, and then ... and then ... I get to go on my first-ever trip to the famous, possibly infamous, Hall H, where only the biggest of wheels roll through.

Petra: Ah, the fresh hopefulness (a New Hope, even) of the first day of San Diego Comic-Con! Your feet don't hurt (yet), your nose isn't peeling (yet) and you haven't faced down the dark night of the soul that comes from acknowledging your deep desire to elbow aside that five-year-old dressed as Wonder Woman to get into the line that might let you buy this year's favorite toy — if they don't sell out before you get to the front. Tough luck, little Amazon.

Voting in this year's Summer Reader Poll is closed — and you've given us more than 6,000 of your favorite horror novels and stories to sort through. So while my shambling hordes of undead minions (OK, the interns) get to sorting and tabulating the results, let's meet the expert panelists who've agreed to help us build the final list. (Really, running the Summer Poll is just an excuse for me to hang around with authors I admire, but shhhh ... don't tell anyone.)

Editor's note: The poll is now closed! Thanks for voting.

This year's summer poll has me hiding under the bed — whether or not there's a monster there — because, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Frankenstein, we're celebrating horror. And I, your faithful correspondent, was scarred for life by a battered copy of Cujo I found in a summer house when I was a kid — so I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I'm making here to bring you the best of everything creepy, chilling and downright terrifying.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Philip Pullman introduced readers to his alternate Oxford, full of magic and danger, in the His Dark Materials trilogy, beginning with 1995's The Golden Compass. The story of young Lyra Belacqua, her soul-companion Pantalaimon, and their battle against the oppressive forces of the quasi-religious Magisterium became a massive world-wide hit. Now, he's returning to that world in The Book of Dust, which will explore how Lyra came to live in Oxford.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Faith "Zephyr" Herbert was the breakout star of Valiant Comics' Harbinger super-team. Now headlining her own Eisner Award-nominated series, she's an ebulliently nerdy — and yes, plus-size — superheroine who fights crime and marauding aliens in the streets of Los Angeles while holding down a day job at a Buzzfeed-esque website. (And making lots of Buffy and Doctor Who references. Faith is my kind of gal.)

Any self-respecting comics fan cringes at the phrase "comics aren't just for kids anymore." But any self-respecting comics fan also has to admit there are some great kids' comics out there — especially right now.

Before I left for San Diego Comic-Con this week, I checked in with Lucy Strother, a fourth grade teacher in Philadelphia whose students just love comics. "We have like a comics and graphic novels bin in the library and it's perpetually empty because the kids are so obsessed with comics and graphic novels," she says.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now to a famous British export - "Doctor Who."

(SOUNDBITE OF MURRAY GOLD'S "DOCTOR WHO THEME")

Back in May, we asked you to tell us about your favorite comics and graphic novels — and you rose to the challenge. We got more than 7,000 nominations, so while you all are lolling around in the frosty air conditioning (or outside in the sun ... weirdos) we've been working away to whittle those thousands of nominations down to an awesome list of 100. Also, OK, I read a lot of Elfquest. For work! Really!

The first comic book I ever read was an obscure DC title that I begged my parents to buy for me from a rotating rack at a New Jersey Turnpike rest stop.

When Ruthanna Emrys first read H.P. Lovecraft's classic story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," she already knew the basics: It's about a creepy New England harbor town populated by strange, froggy-looking people who turn out to be monstrous, sacrificing humans to their dark gods under the sea.

In the dark forests outside Poughkeepsie, N.Y., two sisters live alone. Lexa, mute, communicates only with her unnerving rag doll. Addison, the elder, gets on her motorbike after dark and ventures into the city, now deserted and terribly transformed after a mysterious incident called the Spill — which claimed both their parents.

Paula Hawkins' 2015 book — The Girl on the Train — was a massive bestseller. A tense domestic thriller with a boozy, unstable narrator, it caught the imagination of a reading public desperate for the kinds of dark deeds and desperate women Gillian Flynn pioneered in Gone Girl a few years earlier.

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