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Remembering fabled book yeller Petra Mayer

Petra Mayer (Allison Shelley/NPR)
Petra Mayer (Allison Shelley/NPR)

NPR Books editor Petra Mayer — who died unexpectedly on Saturday — was so much fun. Who can forget the time when her cat Godfrey interrupted just as host Robin Young was introducing her?

And who but Mayer would immediately send a picture of the culprit?

Mayer was also easy to work with. Ask her to come up with a list of books to yell about, talk about George Orwell or mingle with cosplaying fans at a Comic Con and she'd pull a segment together for you. And if she didn’t think it was her thing, she'd cheerfully direct you to the right person.

And Mayer loved books. Deeply. You could hear it in her voice when she talked about her picks, like Cassandra Khaw’s “The All-Consuming World.”

As a Here & Now producer, I've edited well over a thousand conversations, probably closer to two thousand. And I can tell you that hearing that genuine love come through so clearly is pretty rare, but with Mayer, it happened every single time.

Most of all, Mayer was a joy. I used to look forward to Book Expo, the trade fair where we’d find out what publishers had in store for us, because it gave me the chance to hang out with her.

When the pandemic put an end to that, we'd still exchange emails about cats, Food Network shows and, of course, books. I don't think I'll ever be able to pick up a "Murderbot" book again without thinking that it was Mayer who introduced me to Martha Wells' cranky but lovable creation.

Mayer's fun, love and joy lit up her Here & Now conversations. Her passing leaves behind a great void, not only for me but for the show and for our book-loving listeners. But I'm grateful for the time that she spent with all of us.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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