The latest from beloved humorist David Sedaris, a enthralling history of heredity, and an autobiography of a "magnificent weirdo" also described as one of the most important directors of this era. Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Reading ruminations on middle age and mortality is not typically a cheery exercise, unless David Sedaris is doing the writing. Many of the essays in Calypso are set at the “Sea Section”—Sedaris’s retreat on the Carolina coast. There, his family whiles away the holidays playing cutthroat board games, baking in the sun, and feeding tumors to snapping turtles (yes, you read that right). In others, he describes shopping shenanigans in Japan (you can thank him for the resurgence of the culotte, or not), his unhealthy Fitbit obsession, and a side vocation picking up trash near his Sussex home. All provide the sort of everyday fodder that is ripe for his beloved brand of witty repartee. But Calypso is as dark as it is droll; it also touches on his late mother’s alcoholism, his sister’s suicide, and a sometimes strained relationship with an irascible father. Any one of these things could fracture a family but it’s clear from these pages that their bond is strong. Calypso is David Sedaris’s funniest, most outrageous, most moving offering yet. —Erin Kodicek
Heredity is a lot more complex than most people think. In She Has Her Mother’s Laugh, New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer dives deep into the ways that we pass along our genetic inheritance. Through history, science, and a boatload of personal curiosity (the book originated from questions he had regarding his own child, and he had his entire genome mapped in the process of writing it), Zimmer seeks to retell the story of heredity in broader and more inclusive terms than the ones we’re used to hearing. For example, who we become is determined by our ancestors’ genes, yes; but it is also a product of our own cells—for one cell can contribute to millions of future cells. How we treat ourselves, what we learn, and even how we feel, eventually contributes to our hereditary future. The forces at work are myriad, mostly unseen, and subject to variables that we barely understand. Zimmer is trying to help us here, to teach us, and in doing so he succeeds in entertaining us as well. --Chris Schluep
With his aversions to linear storytelling and explanations of his often inscrutable films, a straightforward autobiography was probably never in the cards for iconoclast director and magnificent weirdo David Lynch. That’s why the call-and-response construction of Room to Dream is ingenious. For this hybrid biography/memoir, critic-journalist (and longtime Lynch friend) Kristine McKenna tackled the just-the-facts biographical bits, very standardly organized in chapters describing pivotal periods of Lynch’s life and career: childhood, art school, the making of Elephant Man, etc. Lynch read McKenna’s pieces and presented his own recollections in reply. Like his films, his memories are unconstrained by narrative, often dropping into peculiar moments that would appear later in his work, whether it’s a shocking moment from Blue Velvet or a seemingly inscrutable clue from Twin Peaks. Lynch’s singular voice and stream-of-consciousness style are transmitted faithfully to the page, and a reader might imagine Lynch dictating his comments from a dark basement studio, speaking into a vintage chrome microphone. For fans, this is damn fine reading. —Jon Foro