Required Reading for April, 2016: From Lab Girl to Louisa

Every month, Signature combs through the upcoming releases across nonfiction and literary fiction to provide a look at the most exciting titles rounding the bend.

This April brings with it a bounty of good stories: National Book Award-winner James McBride is back with a nonfiction exploration of James Brown’s legacy (Kill ‘Em and Leave), former Grantland writer Louisa Thomas looks at the unexplored and altogether fascinating life of Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams (Louisa), geobiologist and Fulbright Award-winner Hope Jahren has a refreshingly original memoir about plants, lab life, and more (Lab Girl), and acclaimed narrative nonfiction writer Richard Zacks returns with an uproarious look at Mark Twain’s late-in-life world comedy tour (Chasing the Last Laugh).

As the adage goes: The only way to be foolproof in April is to pick up a good book. Here’s where to start.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (4/5)

Hope Jahren is no newcomer to science. Over the course of her still-relatively-young career, she’s received three Fulbright Awards in geobiology. In 2005, she was named by Popular Science one of the “Brilliant 10” young scientists. And she’s taught extensively. Her memoir, Lab Girl, invites readers along as she revisits a childhood in which she found solace in science, and brings us through her career; her relationship with her lab partner and best friend, Bill; adventures in travels and in plants; and more. Lab Girl promises to be a wholly original memoir to be enjoyed in the world of science and well beyond.


The Translation of Love by Lynne KutsukakeThe Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake (4/5)

The Translation of Love takes us to post-war Tokyo via the perspectives of thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura and her father, after having spent the war in a Canadian internment camp. Aya is seen as other in both Canada and Japan, and struggles to find her footing after her life is uprooted. Through multiple interwoven perspectives, Kutsukake breathes life into war, its aftereffects, and the unbreakable bond between father and daughter.

Alice and Oliver by Charles BockAlice and Oliver by Charles Bock (4/5)

Charles Bock’s bestselling debut novel Beautiful Children stole the hearts of readers across the world, and Bock is back at it a second time with Alice and Oliver. His latest novel follows a young married couple as they navigate marriage and parenthood in 1993 New York City. It seems that the whole world is before them as they marvel over their infant daughter Doe until Alice’s cancer diagnosis, which wrenches the hope and possibility that so occupied their lives almost entirely away from them. Alice and Oliver, inspired by the author’s life, is a tale of the power of love and family in the face of mortality and devastation. It is sure to be a breathtaking read.

Louisa by Louisa ThomasLouisa by Louisa Thomas (4/5)

In Louisa, former Grantland writer Louisa Thomas takes on a subject who has gone largely overlooked across American history: Louisa Adams, wife of John Quincy Adams. Louisa Adams was forced to straddle contradictions her whole life as a woman who was both British and American, and as the wife of a president and diplomat in a newly developing country. She wrote extensively, in the form of letters, diary entries, memoirs, and even novellas and short stories. She had much to say, but was often forced to stay silent, forever in the shadow of her husband and the mighty Adams family. However, as Thomas makes clear in Louisa, her fierce loyalty, biting wit, and outstanding courage helped her make her mark on American history, and her story is well worth our attention.

Kill em and LeaveKill ‘Em and Leave by James McBride (4/5)

The King of Funk. The Godfather of Soul. No number of honorary titles would be enough for James Brown, a man who broke musical boundaries while looking ever so good doing it. But the fame fuzzies our understanding of the man who gained it. In Kill ‘Em and Leave, National Book Award-winner James McBride (The Good Lord Bird) searches for the real James Brown. In traveling far and wide to interview family, friends, and creative souls touched by Brown’s music, McBride captures a wealth of knowledge and never-before-told stories that offer new notes in the refrain of Brown’s ambitious and deeply troubled life, and plants him firmly in the race, class, and geographic realities of the era.

Chasing the Last LaughChasing the Last Laugh by Richard Zacks (4/19)

Next time you find yourself at a stand-up comedy club, pay a little thanks to Mark Twain. (If you liked the show, that is.) Twain basically pioneered the one-man humorous monologue routine that’s become today’s vaunted ‘stand up’ routine, and when he found himself bleeding cash in the late 19th century following a string of poor investments, Twain did something every comic can relate to: He shopped his humor around the world for handsome fees. OK, today’s comics may not relate, but we’re talking about Mark Twain, and Richard Zacks’s delightful Chasing the Last Laugh follows him on his redemptive globetrotting — from Tasmania, to India, to South Africa — where he refined his routine, cracked up his guests, and helped pave the way for a new genre of entertainment.

Approval Junkie by Faith SalieApproval Junkie by Faith Salie (4/19)

Faith Salie just wants you to like her. And it’s possible you do: she’s a well-known politics and pop culture commentator, and has been a key player in shows like “CBS News Sunday Morning,” NPR’s “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and “Science Goes to the Movies” on PBS. And still, she continues to seek approval. It started early and continues to this day and Salie explores this quest through essays that are often funny and always revealing and usually poignant, touching on impressing her (now ex-) husband during their divorce proceedings, her prep for “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and more.

A Rage for Order by Robert F. WorthA Rage for Order by Robert F. Worth (4/26)

Though the Middle East is half a world away, the trouble and terror that has its roots there is now an international issue. Though the region’s history began eons before, Robert F. Worth — former Beirut bureau chief for The New York Times — begins his new book, A Rage for Order, with the Arab Spring. Through reportage coupled with portraits of individuals whose lives are immediately impacted by the turmoil and events surrounding it, Worth’s book promises to be a humanizing and illuminating look at this complex piece of our world.