Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Every month, a deluge of new books comes flooding out from big publishers, indie houses, and self-publishing platforms. So every month, The A.V. Club narrows down the endless options to five of the books we’re most excited about.

Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel And The Making Of An American Imagination by Brian Jay Jones (May 7, Dutton)

Biographer Brian Jay Jones, the New York Times bestselling author of Jim Henson: The Biography (2013) and George Lucas: A Life (2016), continues his streak of chronicling creative visionaries with Becoming Dr. Seuss: Theodor Geisel And The Making Of An American Imagination. The biography follows the Cat In The Hat author from his days as an ad man and a political cartoonist during WWII to his wild success as the prolific, inventive creator of some the 20th (and 21st) century’s most beloved children’s books. While it sounds like Becoming Dr. Seuss will offer plenty of lighthearted trivia (e.g., the first time the word “nerd” ever appeared in print was in the author’s If I Ran The Zoo), Jones doesn’t shy away from darker notes in Geisel’s history, including racially insensitive cartoons he created early in his career and his first wife’s suicide. But as a whole, it’s a loving portrait of a singularly creative man, whose influence is as strong today as ever.

Calm Sea And Prosperous Voyage: Selected Stories by Bette Howland (May 7, A Public Space)

The first publication in literary journal A Public Space’s books division, Calm Sea And Prosperous Voyage assembles 10 stories and a novella from the late Bette Howland, a writer who oral historian and fellow Chicagoan Studs Terkel once called “one of the most perceptive observers of a city.” In winding stories, Howland reflects on racism, crime, family, and aging in a segregated Chicago. Early comparisons to Lucia Berlin, a contemporary, are apt, and not just for Howland’s recent rediscovery (Berlin’s A Manual For Cleaning Women was released to wide acclaim in 2015, followed by more stories and a memoir in 2018). Like Berlin, Howland, whose three books were published in the mid-’70s to early ’80s, also favored short, blunt sentences; colorful language; and observing the kind of down-and-out, working-class people one might call “characters.” Of particular interest to fans of Chicago literature.

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin (May 7, Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Early reviews of this debut novel have unfailingly included the word “bleak.” Whether or not this story about a Taiwanese immigrant family in rural 1980s Alaska is too bleak will almost certainly vary by reader. Early in The Unpassing, 11-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis and goes into a coma; after waking, he learns that his younger sister Ruby was also infected but died. Unfortunately, this will not be the only tragedy to strike the central family in this brutal but marvelous novel, brought to life by Chia-Chia Lin’s spare prose, echoing the harsh Alaska landscape while capturing what grief does to a family, isolated in more ways than one.

Exhalation by Ted Chiang (May 7, Knopf)

Ted Chiang’s previous story collection, published in 2002, contains “Story Of Your Life,” a work that won the Nebula for best novella, was nominated for a Hugo, and was eventually adapted into the film Arrival. Chiang brings a dissonant warmth to his sci-fi stories, bridging hard science, philosophical questions, and deeply probing narratives often built around the passage of time. His second collection, Exhalation, collects nine stories that promise to hold more poignant, confounding ideas: The title story revolves around an alien scientist’s discovery, while others contain portals through time, alternate universes, and past mistakes.

Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom Of A Filth Elder by John Waters (May 21, Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

John Waters has been dispensing advice for decades: How many of us have had his quote, “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them,” rattling around in our heads upon ascending the staircase to a date’s apartment? But now that he’s a self-proclaimed “filth elder,” Waters is setting down his thoughts on the proper way to conduct one’s affairs—both sexual and otherwise—in print, in the form of his new memoir, Mr. Know-It-All. Topics under discussion include how to decorate your house in a way that you love and everyone else finds hideous, dealing with Hollywood idiots, learning to love “car-accident teen novelty records,” and taking acid when you’re old enough for an AARP membership, among many others.

More in May: Juliet The Maniac by Juliet Escoria (May 7, Melville House); Riding The Elephant: A Memoir Of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, And Observations by Craig Ferguson (May 7, Blue Rider Press); No Walls And The Recurring Dream by Ani DiFranco (May 7, Viking); The Life Of David Hockney by Catherine Cusset (May 14, Other Press); Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene (May 14, Knopf); Orange World And Other Stories by Karen Russell (May 14, Knopf); Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang (May 14, Hogarth); Tears Of The Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores (May 14, MCD x FSG Originals); Biloxi by Mary Miller (May 21, Liveright); Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman (May 21, Simon & Schuster); The Organs Of Sense by Adam Ehrlich Sachs (May 21, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); The Edge Of Every Day: Sketches Of Schizophrenia by Marin Sardy (May 21, Pantheon); The Queen: The Forgotten Life Behind An American Myth by Josh Levin (May 21, Little, Brown); Where We Come From by Oscar Casares (May 23, Knopf); Stay Sexy And Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (May 28, Forge Books); Anthony Bourdain Remembered (May 28, Ecco)

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