Smart, humane and just a bit quirky, The Best Strangers in the World is exactly the kind of memoir one would expect from Ari Shapiro, veteran NPR correspondent and host of the network's iconic evening news program All Things Considered. In an episodic collection of pieces, including two "musical interludes," Shapiro blends highlights of his two decades at NPR with personal stories, all intended to illuminate his goal of "seeking out ways to help people listen to one another."
Shapiro's moving description of his coverage of the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 ties together some of the book's political and personal threads. At the end of his junior year at a suburban Portland, Ore., high school, he describes how he made a flamboyant exit from the closet, and he tells of his annual spring visits to a gathering of "radical faeries" he considers "my tribe." In his account of the shooting's aftermath, he reveals how he brought a "unique set of experiences to this particular story," writing about his own presence at the nightclub a dozen years earlier and of reconnecting with one of the bartenders he met there.
On a lighter note, many fans of Shapiro's journalism may not be aware of his side gigs--as a singer with the genre-bending multilingual band Pink Martini, a role that landed him on stage at the Hollywood Bowl, and as a collaborator in a cabaret show with Broadway and TV star Alan Cumming. The eclectic quality of Shapiro's stories paints a vivid picture of his wide-ranging career and will leave readers and listeners eager to hear the many stories to come. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer