Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Amy Einhorn, $25.95) is a book that makes you laugh long after you’ve stopped reading. Jenny Lawson relays the details of her childhood in a way that makes you glad you didn’t grow up in her house, but still wish that her stories were your own. From domesticated raccoons to pirate alligators, Lawson turns everyday activities into side-splitting tales, and when you think she can’t possibly make you laugh harder, she’ll get lost in her hometown with a GPS. Buy a copy for yourself and a friend so you don’t have to wait to talk about it!
Like the Aztecs and Incas who developed skilled crafts using them, or the 19th-century milliners who set them waving from every hat, Thor Hanson is fascinated with Feathers (Basic Books, $15.99). His enthusiasm is infectious and informative. A field biologist, Hanson takes readers through what is known of the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, and speculates on the first function of feathers—which was probably not flight. He presents the various capacities of feathers to warm and cool and keep birds dry, and explains how feathers scatter light to appear colorful. He provides expert commentary on the superb design of feathers and the many ways they have benefited humans, from quill pens (“pen” from Latin penna, for “feather”) to pillows to airplanes, noting that da Vinci and the Wright brothers were all avid birdwatchers.
Can you name the capital of imperial Vietnam? This was a question in a recent National Geographic Bee, an annual event that challenges the downward trend in U.S. geographical literacy. These are just a few of the facts collected by Ken Jennings, a life-long Maphead (Scribner, $15), in his exuberant look at all things cartographic. As you would expect from a record-holding Jeapordy! champion, Jennings is well-supplied with trivia. He’s a perfect guide to a subject as diverse as geography; the “ultimate interdisciplinary study,” geography encompasses language, history, biology, public health, urban planning, and, of course, maps. Jennings offers paeans to the early cartographers, working without GPS, and he revels in GPS-enabled games, becoming an avid geocacher. He visits people who travel by checklist, collecting countries, elevations, and even Starbucks shops, then goes on his own road-atlas rally, an exercise that involves staying home. Throughout, he demonstrates how vital a tool a map is, while also savoring it as “a beautiful system in and of itself.”