5 new books to read in May

Including a new read from the author of ‘Sweetbitter’ as well as a newly discovered memoir from a late great baseball icon.

5 new books to read in May

As the age of self-isolating continues, summer reading can start early this year. New books being published in May include a new memoir from the author of the popular novel Sweetbitter; a beginner’s guide on how to drink wine from an award-winning sommelier and one of the cofounders of The Infatuation; and a deeply researched cultural history of some of the most beloved children’s TV programs ever aired.

The Lost Memoir by Lou Gehrig

Available May 12

Published for the first time this year, The Lost Memoir (Simon & Schuster) is the rags-to-riches tale of a poor kid from New York who became one of the most revered baseball players of all time. At age 24, Gehrig was already one of the most famous athletes in the country, enjoying a record-breaking season with the legendary 1927 World Series–winning Yankees. Fourteen years after penning his autobiography, Gehrig would tragically die from ALS, a neuromuscular disorder now known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Included is an insightful biographical essay by historian Alan D. Gaff, who stumbled upon this rare find while researching another book.

Sunny-Days-May Books

Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America by David Kamp

Available May 12

If you’re looking for a healthy dose of nostalgia, this is your book of the month. Sunny Days (Simon & Schuster) is a deeply researched cultural history of beloved children’s TV programs—including Sesame Street, Schoolhouse Rock, The Muppets, and many more. At a time when few others even considered the emotional intelligence of children, programs like Fred Rogers’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be…You and Me introduced younger audiences to important social issues like feminism, diversity, and mental health.

Stray-A-Memoir-May Books

Stray: A Memoir by Stephanie Danler

Available May 19

Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, Sweetbitter, was an immediate bestseller when it was published in 2016 and was soon thereafter adapted as a soapy TV show about the New York City restaurant scene. Many readers assumed the narrative was Danler’s own, but the truth was something else entirely.

In Stray (Knopf), Danler remembers and relives what it was like growing up the child of addicts (her mother, a lifelong alcoholic; her father, a recovering opiate and crystal meth addict) and returning home to California after almost a decade away to confront her family’s past. She evaluates how it has weighed on her own life, from the decisions she’s made to the men she’s loved.


How to Drink Wine by Grant Reynolds and Chris Stang

Available May 20

While reports earlier this year found that millennials were buying wine at far lower rates than previous generations, that might all change during and after the coronavirus pandemic. The key is drinking responsibly. (Not to mention knowing more about what you like in a wine could also save your budget.) How to Drink Wine (Clarkson Potter) is not going to make you an immediate expert, but it will help you understand the fundamentals and give you enough knowledge to begin to incorporate wine into your life.

Very-Important-People-May Books

by Ashley Mears

Available May 26

With social distancing still the mandate of the moment, it might be hard to imagine going to a party, let alone a bar or a club, anytime in the near future. Let this new insider-y book from a sociologist and former fashion model take you on a ride. In Very Important People (Princeton University Press), Ashley Mears pulls back the curtain on the exclusive global nightclub and party circuit—from the Hamptons to Saint-Tropez—to reveal the intricate but power-hungry economy of beauty, status, and money. Mears spent 18 months researching this book, revealing the extreme gender inequality at play, as young women are frequently exploited to enhance the status of men and enrich club owners, exchanging their bodily capital for as little as free drinks and a chance to party with men who are rich—or aspire to be.

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AMC is at war with Universal Pictures. Is it a fair fight?

AMC banned Universal movies from theaters after a dispute over "Trolls World Tour." It's a drama suited to the silver screen—and a harbinger for the future of cinema, analysts say.

AMC is at war with Universal Pictures. Is it a fair fight?

Jeff Shell was trying to celebrate a victory. He ended up starting a new fight.

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, the NBCUniversal CEO touted the success of the digital release of its animated film Trolls World Tour. He had every good reason to: The movie, which Universal made available on digital platforms such as Apple TV for $19.99 per rental, made the studio $95 million in fees from nearly five million customers over the course of three weeks—more money than Universal’s first Trolls movie reportedly earned in a five-month theatrical run in the U.S.

“The results for Trolls World Tour have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the viability of PVOD,” Shell told the paper, using the acronym for the industry term “premium video on demand,” meaning a direct film release to digital platforms. “As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats.”

Shell’s statement seemed to enrage Adam Aron, the chief executive of AMC Theatres, the world’s largest theater chain. In a letter to Universal sent the same night, Aron said his theater group would no longer screen movies from Universal which, in addition to Trolls, is home to several billion-dollar franchises including Jurassic Park and Lego. The studio’s statement of intent to engage in more PVOD releases was “categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment,” Aron wrote. “Accordingly, we want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no ambiguity of any kind. AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theaters simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.”

Cineworld, the world’s second largest theater chain, echoed Aron’s explosive comments the following day. “Universal was the only studio that tried to take advantage of the current crisis and provide a ‘day-and-date’ release of a movie that was not yet released,” CEO Mooky Greidinger said in a statement. He added that his theaters would not show any movies that “fail to respect the windows as it does not make any economic sense for us.”

The war of words between longtime partners stunned many Hollywood observers and revealed unease about the future of movie-watching and the evolving relationship between studios and theaters. “Like any company, Universal is trying to find new streams for revenue right now,” says Jeff Bock, a box office analyst at Exhibitor Relations. “But they gloated about it. I just don’t think what Jeff Shell said was necessary. Not in front of the media, not when theaters’ backs are against the wall.”

Two days later, Shell retreated slightly. New movies released directly to digital platforms would be “complementary” and “not a replacement” to a traditional theatrical release, he told investors during Comcast’s quarterly earnings call. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, “I would expect that consumers will return to theaters and we will be part of that,” he added. (NBCUniversal did not respond to a Fortune request for comment.)

In truth, tension between movie theaters and film studios has been simmering for some time. Theater attendance has been in gradual decline even as box offices grosses have been on the upswing. Digital streaming services have become ubiquitous. Their parent companies have launched full-fledged production divisions and recruited acclaimed directors and actors who went on to win the industry’s top prizes—including Academy Awards, in the case of Netflix and Amazon Studios. All of these developments are squeezing long-established relationships and revenue streams, says Paul Dergarabedian, a longtime movie industry analyst at Comscore.

“I’ve never seen this in all my years. It’s a stress test on the industry. We are in a pressure cooker right now,” Dergarabedian says. “Who knew it would be this movie that would become the center of a major discussion surrounding the dynamics of the big screen and the small screen? It’s been something people have talked about for years, but the pandemic and this situation put a fine point on it—a spotlight.”

Cinemas have been hit especially hard by the effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Theaters remain closed in many parts of the world as social distancing measures continue. AMC is feeling the pain in a number of ways. Its shares plunged from $15.16 a year ago on April 30 to $4.72 today. AMC furloughed 25,000 of its 26,000 employees, including chief executive Aron, as news reports earlier this month evaluated the company’s likelihood to declare bankruptcy. Since then, AMC has announced plans to raise $500 million—enough to last into the fall, with hopes of a July reopening.

There is no guarantee that target can be met. Several health officials have estimated that coronavirus impacts will linger well into 2021. Beyond that, it remains to be seen if audiences are willing to rush back to theaters. In China, where the box office was poised to overtake the U.S. this year as the world’s largest, “attendance was very, very weak” when the country briefly reopened its theaters in March, studio head Steven Xiang of Huanxi Media .

That has some people questioning if theater chains like AMC and Cineworld are really in a position to make threats about streaming to major studios like Universal, which is sitting on numerous unreleased titles such as the latest Fast and Furious installment F9 and Minions: Rise of Gru, a sequel to the original that grossed over $1 billion globally in 2015.

“Theaters need studios’ content. They absolutely don’t survive as a business without it,” says Bock, the box office analyst. “The truth is that content wears the crown, and Universal has the content. Billion-dollar content. Three to four franchises that theaters need. Universal has been right that there is this streaming revolution, and certainly some genres of film could translate to PVOD.”

Others view the dispute as more evenly matched. “At the end of the day, the studio–exhibitor relationship is symbiotic, they rely on each other,” says Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Box Office Pro. “The loss of theatrical revenue on a major blockbuster would be devastating for a studio’s bottom line during its initial run. I see this as a balanced argument. Long term, what we’re seeing right now is a very public negotiation.”

Worldwide box office revenues in 2019 reached a new record of $42.5 billion, according to Comscore, even as new streaming services expanded their footprint with the arrival of Apple TV+ and Disney+. Still, studios like Universal remain tempted by PVOD because of favorable economics: Roughly 80% of digital rental or purchase fees are retained by the studio in a streaming rollout, compared to just 50% of box office sales.

Ultimately studios need theaters to show their content, just as theaters rely on studios for business, Comscore’s Dergarabedian says. “Without the theater component, some of these films may never become profitable. And also the prestige and exclusivity of a theatrical run around the world, makes it that much stronger for the home video,” he says. “It’s all about the positioning and the perception.”

Whatever the balance of power, analysts agree that both sides will come to a truce as tactics for battling the COVID-19 virus subside. “We’re kind of in a vacuum right now with PVOD because there’s not a competitive market for theatrical out there,” says Robbins. “It really just feels like a messaging issue.”

And theaters will likely stand together in solidarity—such as perennial rivals AMC and Regal—because an industry move to PVOD would fundamentally threaten the exhibition industry as a whole, analysts say. “At least now theaters have a chance to regroup, talk about it behind closed doors, and hammer out new guidelines,” Bock says, “both for safety and for a deal with the studios.”

And if they don’t? “I think we all know how close theaters were to shuttering,” Bock adds. “They have to fight. This isn’t boxing—this is MMA. This is for everything.”

More must-read stories from Fortune:

— season two in a global pandemic
—Hollywood artists are creating PPE for the medical community
—China’s movie theaters are closed again, causing anxiety for studios
— designers revived a 1970s feminist showdown
—How movie theaters can make a comeback after the coronavirus pandemic has receded

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