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25 Amazing New Books for Spring

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ISTOCK / REBECCA O'CONNELL

Spring is here, and the first warm rays of the sun are finally loosening the country from winter’s death grip. You could go outside to celebrate, but why not hide from seasonal allergens instead by staying inside with a book? The non-fiction titles below, hand-picked by mental_floss staff, are smart looks at history, science, language, culture and more. And if you really have to, you could probably take one to the park.

1. IF AT BIRTH YOU DON’T SUCCEED BY ZACH ANNER 

A memoir about cerebral palsy doesn’t sound like a laugh-a-minute read, but comedian Zach Annar (who says he has “the sexiest of the palsies”) proves otherwise. If At Birth You Don’t Succeed recounts his journey from being what he calls a “crappy baby” through a childhood obsessed with Cindy Crawford and a young adulthood that has seen him become the host of his own travel show and an improbable workout guru. If there was ever a book that showed the importance of laughing at yourself, this is probably it. Out March 8. — Bess Lovejoy

2. GOATMAN: HOW I TOOK A HOLIDAY FROM BEING HUMAN BY THOMAS THWAITES

Many kids go through an animal phase, where they "become" horses or dogs. But full-grown engineer Thomas Thwaites took it to another level, building himself prosthetic goat legs and actually joining a herd. Best taken in short bursts, Thwaites's high-energy, stream-of-consciousness account of his experiences makes for good commute or bathroom reading. Out May 17. — Kate Horowitz

3. NEITHER SNOW NOR RAIN: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE BY DEVIN LEONARD

From its earliest incarnation under Ben Franklin, the USPS has always been the best deal in federal spending: For pocket change, mail carriers transport letters clear across the country. Leonard delivers the first major history of the service in more than 50 years, from forging early postal routes to the obsessive nature of stamp collectors. An engrossing account of a once-vital service that may soon be nothing more than a memory. Out May 3. — Jake Rossen 

4. ALL THE SINGLE LADIES: UNMARRIED WOMEN AND THE RISE OF AN INDEPENDENT NATION BY REBECCA TRAISTER

According to journalist Rebecca Traister, being single is the new normal for many American women. The average age of a woman’s first marriage in the U.S. has risen to an all-time high of 27, and by 2009 the proportion of married women in our country had dipped below 50 percent. For the first time ever, there are more unmarried adult women than married adult women. In All the Single Ladies, Traister examines how this phenomenon will affect our nation—and the way women view themselves. Out March 1. — Kirstin Fawcett 

5. HAMILTON: THE REVOLUTION BY LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA AND JEREMY MCCARTER

Hamilton has conquered Broadway, the Grammys, and the music charts—and now, it’s coming to a bookstore near you. Hamilton: The Revolution, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, follows the development of the show from the time when Manuel performed a version of its opening number at the White House to its opening night on Broadway. In addition to profiles of the show’s cast members, the book contains a Miranda-annotated version of the show’s libretto. McCarter, who wrote the chapters, told Vulture in an exclusive preview of the book that “Lin wrote the show largely in sequence, so the text ... is a series of chapters that describe another episode in its development, or share a profile of a person involved in the production, or something essayistic about what it means.” The book’s extra-long chapter titles are a nod to Hamilton’s time, when books had “crazy-long, all-inclusive titles,” McCarter says. The book hits shelves April 16; the audiobook will be read, in part, by Law & Order: SVU actor Mariska Hargitay (Miranda and McCarter will also contribute). — Erin McCarthy

6. CHASING THE LAST LAUGH : MARK TWAIN'S RAUCOUS AND REDEMPTIVE ROUND-THE-WORLD COMEDY TOUR BY RICHARD ZACKS

Humor often dates itself, but somehow Mark Twain stays fresh. Chasing the Last Laugh tells the story of how Mark Twain’s round-the-world standup comedy tour in the 1890s—said to be the first of its kind for an author—saved Twain from financial and familial ruin after a series of bad investments. When other men his age might have been settling into retirement, Twain was steaming his way to Australia, India, Ceylon and South Africa, raising huge sums of money and rounds of applause. Back then word traveled slowly, however, and one American newspaper reported that Twain had died poverty-stricken in London, allowing the humorist to deliver his famous line: "The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Out April 19. — BL 

7. DEAD DISTILLERS: A HISTORY OF THE UPSTARTS AND OUTLAWS WHO MADE AMERICAN SPIRITS BY COLIN SPOELMAN AND DAVID HASKELL

How can we resist a book about “the storied origins of forgotten drunkenness”? The distillers behind Brooklyn’s Kings County Distillery, Colin Spoelman and David Haskell (the later is also an editor at New York magazine), have compiled 50 biographies of farmers, scientists, criminals, plus the occasional U.S. president, who were crucial to the historic manufacture and trade of whisky and other craft spirits. The book is supplemented with vintage photos and newspaper clippings, plus infographics and walking tours, all of which will probably leave you very thirsty. Out May 17. — BL

8. THE ABUNDANCE: NARRATIVE ESSAYS OLD AND NEW BY ANNIE DILLARD 

There is no one like Annie Dillard. The Pulitzer Prize-winning essayist and novelist has a singularly rich and surprising voice, one that readers tend to either love or hate. Dillard writes about nature; she writes about childhood; she writes about jokes; she writes about writing. She writes, more than anything, about the astonishing experience of being alive on this strange planet. From her first book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: "'Seem like we're just set down here,' a woman said to me recently, 'and don't nobody know why.'" Out March 15. — Kate Horowitz

9. HOOD BY ALISON KINNEY

Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons is a series of short works that expose the hidden histories behind seemingly banal everyday items—remote controls, telephone booths, hair, dust. In Hood, Alison Kinney thinks deeply about medieval clerics, the KKK, Trayvon Martin, Abu Ghraib, and street fashion, always with an eye to how hoods have protected the powerful at the expense of the powerless. Provocative and surprising, the book proves that your hoodie is far from an innocent garment. Out January 28.— BL

10. WHAT'S IT LIKE IN SPACE? STORIES FROM ASTRONAUTS WHO'VE BEEN THERE BY ARIEL WALDMAN AND BRIAN STANDEFORD

This illustrated collection of facts and anecdotes provided by dozens of international astronauts explains what it’s really like to be in space—not so much the awe-inspiring, little blue dot stuff as the realities of “moon face” (the bloat caused by a lack of gravity), why you can’t burp there, how to aim your sneeze during a spacewalk, and why you’ll want to pack plenty of hot sauce. Out April 5. — BL 

11. IMMUNITY: HOW ELIE METCHNIKOFF CHANGED THE COURSE OF MODERN MEDICINE BY LUBA VIKHANSKI

When, in 1883, Elie Metchnikoff proposed that “phagocytes” (types of white blood cells) ingested the cells of foreign invaders in the body—specifically after examining the wounds of starfish larvae that had been speared with thorns from a tangerine tree—his theory was dismissed by other scientists as a “fairy tale.” But while Metchnikoff had some weird ideas—he boiled his fruit before he ate it—he was right about this natural immunological defense, and in 1908 he won the Nobel Prize for his insights, as science journalist Luba Vikhanski recounts here. Out April 1.—Jen Pinkowski

12. GETTING HIGH: MARIJUANA THROUGH THE AGES BY JOHN CHARLES CHASTEEN

Herodotus once watched the Scythians (you probably know the women better as Amazons) get super stoned during a funeral ritual. That’s one deep dive into the history of marijuana use that writer and history professor John Charles Chasteen makes in Getting High: Marijuana Through The Ages, a globe-spanning survey that looks at the use of the herb from the medieval Mideast through India, Africa, and Latin America to the American counterculture of the 1960s. Out February 9. — JP

13. THE NATURALIST: THEODORE ROOSEVELT AND THE RISE OF AMERICAN NATURAL HISTORY  BY DARRIN LUNDE

Theodore Roosevelt was captivated by nature. As a young, asthma-prone boy living in New York City, he observed animals in the wild and collected specimens for “The Roosevelt Museum of Natural History,” located in his bedroom at the family’s 20th Street brownstone. As an adult, he was one of the founders of the Boone & Crockett Club, which placed an emphasis on conservation and education in addition to bagging big game trophies. In his book The Naturalist, Darrin Lunde, a specialist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, examines Roosevelt’s journals and the historical record to trace his path from young natural historian to “conservationist president.” Out April 12. — EM

14. AT THE EXISTENTIALIST CAFÉ: FREEDOM, BEING, AND APRICOT COCKTAILS BY SARAH BAKEWELL

A surprisingly lively intellectual history of existentialism, from its roots in the smoky bars and cafes of the Left Bank to its role in contemporary feminism, postcolonialism, and LGBT movements. Chock-full of the kind of scenic details that make history (and philosophy) come alive, from Simone de Beauvoir’s “elegant hooded eyes” to Sartre’s Donald Duck impressions. Out March 1. — BL 

15. THE STORY OF EMOJI BY GAVIN LUCAS

A history of image-speak, from early printing press characters to the cell phone language of today. Also includes a section where graphic designers share emoji they wish existed—maybe one day we'll see “vinyl record” or “stabbed in the back.” Out April 15. — JR

16. PIT BULL: THE BATTLE OVER AN AMERICAN ICON BY BRONWEN DICKEY 

Are pit bulls really vicious, or did we just make them that way? Journalist Bronwen Dickey ponders how America’s (now) most maligned breed went from Teddy Roosevelt and Helen Keller’s fave—not to mention advertisers’—to public enemy number one. Along the way, she learns just as much about humans as their pooches. Out May 10. — BL

17. DEAD PRESIDENTS: AN AMERICAN ADVENTURE INTO THE STRANGE DEATHS AND SURPRISING AFTERLIVES OF OUR NATION’S LEADERS BY BRADY CARLSON

American presidents don’t really get to die, according to public radio host Brady Carlson: their physical existence might come to an end, but there’s a whole host of new responsibilities in the afterlife. In this tour through geography and history, Carlson looks at how we memorialize our dead presidents, from the Washington Monument to JFK’s eternal flame and beyond. Out February 1. — BL 

18. ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE? BY FRANS DE WAAL

Renowned biologist and primatologist De Waal argues we've underestimated animal cognition—that humans are not necessarily smarter, and that animals have specialized thinking deserving of more study. Out April 25. — JR  

19. ABANDONED IN PLACE BY ROLAND MILLER

Partly a work of history and partly a photography book, Abandoned in Place is a photographic and textual exploration of abandoned NASA, military, and air force facilities across the country, many quietly rusting in the middle of the desert. (The phrase “Abandoned in Place” is sometimes stenciled on deactivated equipment.)  Many sites have disappeared since the photos were taken, so the book serves as a kind of record, as well as some serious eye candy for space history aficionados. Out March 1. — BL  

20. HOW MAY WE HATE YOU?: NOTES FROM THE CONCIERGE DESK BY ANNA DREZEN AND TODD DAKOTAH BRISCOE

If you’ve ever wondered how badly people really behave at hotels, How May We Hate You? has all the answers. Written by two NYU students-turned-concierges at New York hotels, the book is a funny, graphics-packed look at life in this particularly fetid corner of the service industry, where women demand blow-outs only at salons that don’t have time for them, and tourists get lost walking three blocks. There’s plenty of insight into how hotels really work, plus a role the authors explain has shifted from “the keeper of the keys” to “The Googler of the closest McDonald’s." Out May 17. — BL  

21. TINY PANTONE OBJECTS BY INKA MATHEW

For years, graphic designer Inka Mathew has been photographing items in the natural and manufactured world, from shamrocks to Cheetos, that perfectly match Pantone shades. Now she’s turned her popular PMS Match Tumblr into a book that’s perfect for all you Pantone obsessives. Out May 3. — BL

22. THE FIELD GUIDE TO SPORTS METAPHORS: A COMPENDIUM OF COMPETITIVE WORDS AND IDIOMS BY JOSH CHETWYND

Many of us use sports idioms and metaphors—ballpark figure, all-star—with little awareness of where they came from. This field guide delves into the weird histories behind many of the sports-related phrases we use every day, from the ones with obvious connections (batting a thousand) to the more obscurely connected (who knew stymie comes from golf). Even “soccer mom” and “armchair quarterback” make an appearance. Written by a former pro baseball player who also happens to be a journalist. Out May 10. — BL

23. THE ANATOMICAL VENUS: WAX, GOD, DEATH & THE ECSTATIC BY JOANNA EBENSTEIN

Brooklyn’s Morbid Anatomy Museum grew out of founder Joanna Ebenstein’s obsession with historical wax medical models. The most arresting of those models is probably an anatomical teaching tool known as the Anatomical Venus, a dissectible woman who lies prone, often in seeming ecstasy, with all her guts on display. This exhaustively researched and profusely illustrated book—the first to focus on the Anatomical Venus—examines the troubling figure’s rise in 18th century Florence, examining what it has to tell us about death, the body, women, medicine and the uncanny. Out May 24. — BL

24. THE CABARET OF PLANTS: FORTY THOUSAND YEARS OF PLANT LIFE AND THE HUMAN IMAGINATION BY RICHARD MABEY

Why should humans have all the fun when it comes to biographies? In The Cabaret of Plants, British naturalist Richard Mabey muses about how plants have played a central role in history and culture, from a symbolic perspective (Britain’s oak, Newton’s apple) as well as a practical one. Out Jan 11. — BL

25. DEATH ON EARTH: ADVENTURES IN EVOLUTION AND MORTALITY BY JULES HOWARD

Why do animals die, and do we really need the Grim Reaper after all? Zoologist Jules Howard explores the role of mortality in the natural world, from nematodes to humans, looking at how death has shaped our bodies and our culture. Will we ever evolve past death? And would that even be a good idea? Out May 10.  — BL

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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12 Fantastic Facts About A Wrinkle in Time
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Madeleine L’Engle’s acclaimed science fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time has been delighting readers since its 1962 release. Whether you’ve never had the chance to read this timeless tale or haven’t picked it up in a while, here are some facts that are sure to get you in the mood for a literary journey through the universe—not to mention its upcoming big-screen adaptation.

1. THE AUTHOR’S PERSISTENCE PAID OFF.

She’s a revered writer today, but Madeleine L’Engle’s early literary career was rocky. She nearly gave up on writing on her 40th birthday. L’Engle stuck with it, though, and on a 10-week cross-country camping trip she found herself inspired to begin writing A Wrinkle in Time.

2. EINSTEIN SPARKED L'ENGLE'S INTEREST IN QUANTUM PHYSICS AND TESSERACTS.

L’Engle was never a strong math student, but as an adult she found herself drawn to concepts of cosmology and non-linear time after picking up a book about Albert Einstein. L’Engle adamantly believed that any theory of writing is also a theory of cosmology because “one cannot discuss structure in writing without discussing structure in all life." The idea that religion, science, and magic are different aspects of a single reality and should not be thought of as conflicting is a recurring theme in her work.

3. L’ENGLE BASED THE PROTAGONIST ON HERSELF.

L’Engle often compared her young heroine, Meg Murry, to her childhood self—gangly, awkward, and a poor student. Like many young girls, both Meg and L’Engle were dissatisfied with their looks and felt their appearances were homely, unkempt, and in a constant state of disarray.

4. IT WAS REJECTED BY MORE THAN TWO DOZEN PUBLISHERS.

L’Engle weathered 26 rejections before Farrar, Straus & Giroux finally took a chance on A Wrinkle in Time. Many publishers were nervous about acquiring the novel because it was too difficult to categorize. Was it written for children or adults? Was the genre science fiction or fantasy?

5. L’ENGLE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO CATEGORIZE THE BOOK, EITHER.

To compound publishers’ worries, L’Engle famously rejected these arbitrary categories and insisted that her writing was for anyone, regardless of age. She believed that children could often understand concepts that would baffle adults, due to their childlike ability to use their imaginations with the unknown.

6. MEG MURRY WAS ONE OF SCIENCE FICTION'S FIRST GREAT FEMALE PROTAGONISTS ...

… and that scared publishers even more. L’Engle believed that the relatively uncommon choice of a young heroine contributed to her struggles getting the book in stores since men and boys dominated science fiction.

Nevertheless, the author stood by her heroine and consistently promoted acceptance of one’s unique traits and personality. When A Wrinkle in Time won the 1963 Newbury Award, L’Engle used her acceptance speech to decry forces working for the standardization of mankind, or, as she so eloquently put it, “making muffins of us, muffins like every other muffin in the muffin tin.” L’Engle’s commitment to individualism contributed to the very future of science fiction. Without her we may never have met The Hunger Games’s Katniss Everdeen or Divergent’s Tris Prior.

7. THE MURKY GENRE HELPED MAKE THE BOOK A SUCCESS.

Once A Wrinkle in Time hit bookstores, its slippery categorization stopped being a drawback. The book was smart enough for adults without losing sight of the storytelling elements kids love. A glowing 1963 review in The Milwaukee Sentinel captured this sentiment: “A sort of space age Alice in Wonderland, Miss L’Engle’s book combines a warm story of family life with science fiction and a most convincing case for nonconformity. Adults who still enjoy Alice will find it delightful reading along with their youngsters.”

8. THE BOOK IS ACTUALLY THE FIRST OF A SERIES.

Although the other four novels are not as well known as A Wrinkle in Time, the “Time Quintet” is a favorite of science fiction fans. The series, written over a period of nearly 30 years, follows the Murry family’s continuing battle over evil forces.

9. IT IS ONE OF THE MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

Oddly enough, A Wrinkle in Time has been accused of being both too religious and anti-Christian. L’Engle’s particular brand of liberal Christianity was deeply rooted in universal salvation, a view that some critics have claimed “denigrates organized Christianity and promotes an occultic world view.” There have also been objections to the use of Jesus Christ’s name alongside figures like Buddha, Shakespeare, and Gandhi. Detractors feel that grouping these names together trivializes Christ’s divine nature.

10. L’ENGLE LEARNED TO SEE THE UPSIDE OF THIS CONTROVERSY.

The author revealed how she felt about all this sniping in a 2001 interview with The New York Times. She brushed it aside, saying, “It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it. Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, 'Ah, the hell with it.' It's great publicity, really.''

11. THE SCIENCE FICTION HAS INSPIRED SCIENCE FACTS.

American astronaut Janice Voss once told L’Engle that A Wrinkle in Time inspired her career path. When Voss asked if she could bring a copy of the novel into space, L’Engle jokingly asked why she couldn’t go, too.

Inspiring astronauts wasn’t L’Engle’s only out-of-this-world achievement. In 2013 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) honored the writer’s memory by naming a crater on Mercury’s south pole “L’Engle.”

12. A STAR-STUDDED MOVIE ADAPTATION WILL HIT THEATERS IN 2018.

Although L’Engle was famously skeptical of film adaptations of the novel, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay (13th; Selma) is bringing a star-filled version of the book to the big screen next year. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Mindy Kaling, and Zach Galifianakis are among the film's stars. It's due in theaters on March 9, 2018.

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