cover image The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening

The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening

Ari Shapiro. HarperOne, $28.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-322134-5

In this genial debut memoir-in-essays, NPR host and occasional Pink Martini singer Shapiro mixes reported vignettes with reflections on his own life. As one of a few Jewish children at his North Dakota elementary school and later one of the only openly gay students at his Oregon high school, Shapiro describes how his lifelong “otherness” and natural capacity for performance launched his career as a professional raconteur. In brisk and lucid prose, Shapiro recounts the ups and downs of his impressive résumé, including clandestinely traveling aboard Air Force One with President Obama, touring with Pink Martini, and grieving beside Orlando’s LGBTQ community while reporting on the 2016 Pulse nightclub shootings. Shapiro reflects on these “seemingly effortless achievements,” however, by acknowledging, “I am aware of how blessed and lucky I am. I have a job I love, I’m happily married, and millions of people pay attention to what I have to say. But the cliche end of that sentence would be, ‘And I do it all without breaking a sweat.’ Well... I sweat like a goddamn snowman in heat.” Shapiro’s style is engaging and unfussy, and his spotlighting of other people—mostly those whose stories he’s told on NPR—adds depth and empathy to the proceedings. Longtime listeners and first-time callers alike will delight in this collection. (Mar.)