Lynn Neary

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Asymmetry is a book whose title tells the tale: It's made up of two disparate stories with no apparent connection, and a third story that just hints at the link between the two. Debut author Lisa Halliday won the prestigious Whiting Award for her work — and while you may not have heard of her, you probably have heard of Colson Whitehead, Jeffrey Eugenides, Alice McDermott and Jonathan Franzen, all of whom are fellow Whiting winners

Take a little Hitchcock and a touch of Gone Girl. Add in a mysterious author and rumors of a very big price tag. Stir them all together and you come up with a rare bird: A debut novel that hits number one on the New York Times bestseller list in its first week on the market.

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It seems fitting that 2017 has been bookended by two novels about women and power. When the year began, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, which depicts a future where women are stripped of all power, began making its way to the top of best-seller lists. As 2017 draws to a close, another dystopian novel has made it onto some prominent top ten lists: Naomi Alderman's The Power.

Mary Higgins Clark has made a good living off of murder. She creates characters that readers can identify with, then puts them in scary situations — and her fans love it.

Known as the "queen of suspense," Higgins Clark has sold 100 million copies of her books in the U.S. alone, but she didn't publish her first book until she was a widow in her early 40s. When Higgins Clark turns 90 on Christmas Eve, she'll still be turning out two books a year.

Among the many movies opening for the holidays is one with a new take on an old story. The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer, is about Charles Dickens and the creation of A Christmas Carol. It's a distinctly literary tale — which isn't surprising, since one of the film's producers is a well known bookseller taking his first dip in the world of film.

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Binge-watching your favorite TV show is sometimes compared to reading a really good novel in a single sitting: You tell yourself you'll watch just one more episode. Before you know it, you've watched three, just like you keep moving to the next chapter of a book you just can't put down.

But Matthew Weiner says writing a novel is nothing like writing for TV, and he should know. He's the guy who created the very binge-worthy show Mad Men, and is now trying his hand at being a novelist.

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Amy Tan loves jazz and classical music. "I have a Steinway, which was my life's dream," she says, sitting at her grand piano in the middle of her New York living room. When Tan listens to a piece of music, she imagines stories to go with it, so she always listens when she writes.

When Ta-Nehisi Coates' new book, We Were Eight Years in Power, was released last week, there was a big party — bigger than most book parties, because this event was also celebrating the launch of a new venture for Chris Jackson, the editor who has helped make Coates famous.

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George Smiley is back.

For the first time in 25 years, John le Carré has written a new novel featuring the spy at the center of some his most popular books. The new release, A Legacy of Spies, is a kind of prequel to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963), the book that made le Carré famous and changed spy novels forever.

In A Legacy of Spies, le Carré goes deep into Smiley's past, re-examining the role he and his cohorts played in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, a story of betrayal and deception that ends badly at the Berlin Wall.

Back when Amazon first introduced the Kindle, and e-books were all the rage, a lot of people thought printed books and the stores that sell them were going the way of dinosaurs. But a decade later, print is outselling digital, and many independent bookstores are thriving. Even Amazon is opening brick-and-mortar stores (seven so far).

When Kelly Barrales-Saylor was a new mom, she got a lot of children's books as gifts. Most were simple books about shapes, colors and letters. There were none about science — or math.

"My editorial brain lit up and said there must be a need for this," says Barrales-Saylor, who works as an editor for a publishing company outside Chicago.

Halfway across the world, Chris Ferrie was similarly unsatisfied.

When reading to his kids, Ferrie noticed that most books used animals to introduce new words. In today's world, that just didn't make sense to him.

They call her the queen of summer, because writer Elin Hilderbrand has perfected the kind of book you can devour while sitting on the beach or by a lake, or pretty much anywhere on a hot summer day. She sets her stories in Nantucket, a summer paradise where she lives year round.

Hilderbrand fell in love with summer when she was young, at the cottage her family rented on Cape Cod. Her father set down some strict rules for the kids, including the most important one: If the sun was shining, they had to spend the whole day at the beach.

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The Library of Congress today named Tracy K. Smith as the nation's new poet laureate. NPR's Lynn Neary spoke with her about her new role.

Murder. For writer Anthony Horowitz, that's where it all starts. He says everyone is fascinated by murder — just look at Foyle's War, his BBC mystery series. The show is set in the U.K. during World War II, but that wasn't its selling point.

"If I had gone to the BBC and said I wanted write about, I don't know, the social history of 1940 to '47, they would have probably said no," Horowitz explains. "When I said, 'I've got a whole series of terrific murders which take place in that time,' they opened the door."

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