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ISTOCK / REBECCA O'CONNELL

25 Amazing New Books for Spring

ISTOCK / REBECCA O'CONNELL
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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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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