The Well-Dressed Ape: A Natural History of Myself

A classic science fiction trope asks us to imagine a human on exhibit in an interplanetary zoo. Thus deracinated, the captured human offers us a startling perspective on our species: we are just another cage-worthy animal, albeit with some unique traits and capabilities, but subject like any creature to scientifically objective categorization and analysis. It's precisely this devilishly sly and illuminating alien viewpoint that Hannah Holmes adopts in her new book, a "fact sheet" for Homo sapiens. Employing her own body as representative subject and her own experiences as a well-traveled journalist, she marshals wide-ranging, up-to-the-minute scientific research, along with intriguing speculations, to craft a fascinating, eminently readable portrait of humanity's physiology and behavior, our past, present and future amidst all creation. Throughout, Holmes deploys her love for and knowledge of the rest of the animal kingdom to good effect, comparing and contrasting humanity with our feathered, furred, chitinous and even microscopic cousins. As well, she plucks pertinent details from various non-Western cultures with anthropological exactitude. Her language is rich with nuance and metaphor ("The Maasai are as elongated as Giacometti sculptures."), lighthearted and playful while simultaneously rigorous with the facts. She is not shy about approaching thorny matters involving gender or racial differences. And she deals in a non-partisan manner with unresolved controversies. By the end of her survey, Holmes has succeeded admirably in "defining my animal self ? clarify my identity in the natural world," a valuable prize we all share along the way.

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.