What are the best books to read in April 2023? Here’s our take on the best novels, poetry and essay collections and other nonfiction books to read that capture the mood, the vibe and the feel of the month of April, when something new is being born. Or perhaps something old is struggling mightily to be reborn. In our humble opinion, these are great reads not just for this April. They’re perfect for any April.
recommended reads for the month of april
So many books, so little time! Reading can be one of life’s sweetest luxuries. But how to quickly find the next great volume to dive into? To lend a hand, every month we’ll share our Dandelion Chandelier Recommended Reads: books that we’ve personally read and loved – some brand new, and some published long ago. Selected to suit the season, we think they deserve a place on your nightstand. Or your e-reader. In your backpack. Or your carry-on bag. You get the idea.
In this edition: 15 perfect books to read in April. We think these are among the books out there that best capture the mood of the month.
what is the essential spirit of april?
April gets a bad rap, thanks to T.S. Eliot — that line about the cruelest month and all. Personally, we totally disagree.
We think April is like a deep, satisfying drink of ice cold water after a long dry spell. Refreshing, cleansing, stimulating and right on time.
Sure, there’s rain. But that just means we get to sport our cute wellies and on-trend anoraks. And yes, we have to pay our taxes here in America. But we’re OK with that.
Because there are so many other wonderful things about the month. In many years, there’s Easter. Also baby lambs being born, and flowers, and vibrant green grass, and animal spirits loose in the air. People are foraging in the woods, and who knows what they’ll find?
Something’s coming, and it’s too early to know exactly what. But April is up for anything, and so are we.
what makes for the best April reading list?
What does that imply for our recommended reads for April? Well, an April book should involve something totally new being born. Or perhaps something old struggling to be reborn. An April read should feel lighter in spirit than what we’ve read so far this year – but not yet all the way to the truly simple pleasures of a hammock or beach read.
April feels like the right moment for a reminder of the fragility of our planet, and the wonders of the natural world. There should be a garden or flowers embroidered into the fabric of the tale. Somehow, the story should involve rain.
Plus, a tale of a new beginning in a new place – real or fictional – feels right.
And there absolutely must be a smart and sexy romance or two, because it’s the season of spring fever and crazy acts in the name of love. Of course, an April romance can lead to a story of heartbreak, so we’ve tossed in one or two of those, too.
perfect books to read to feel the month of April
Here’s our list of novels and nonfiction books that capture the feel of the month: our top picks for what to read in April.
Tuck one into your bag on your way to hang out in the park. Or crack one open as your reward for filing your taxes on time. Curl up with one on a rainy day; read one aloud to your housemates. Or if you’re living large, pour a prosecco and settle into one of these in a lounge chair beside your pool. Just don’t forget to come up for air.
1. Weather by Jenny Offill.
Our list of top picks for what books to read to feel the month of April begins with one about the natural world. Without question, Weather wins our prize for “Most April of all.” In diamond-sharp prose, the author explores the existential dread and sometimes irrational hope that surrounds climate change. And no, these is not a screed or a polemic. Quite the opposite, actually. We view these matters through the eyes of a young mother living in Brooklyn. She’s simultaneously juggling a precocious young son, a drug-addicted brother, a loving but increasingly impatient husband, and a job for her mentor, who hosts a popular podcast on the impact of global warming.
This is a slim volume, and you may imagine that you’ll breeze through it in no time flat. We found our experience to be just the opposite: like a slice of fudge, this sliver of prose is so rich, so deep, and so full of pleasure that you’ll read it very slowly. Smart, witty, poignant and austere, this is the book we need right now. It’s a novel to be savored.
2. Creatures by Crissy van Meter.
The milieu for the wonderful novel Creatures is the fictional Winter Island, off the coast of Southern California. Life there is governed by the weather, the tides, and the rhythms of sea creatures, animals and plants. We first meet 20-something Evie on the eve of her wedding, when her estranged mother turns up uninvited.
From there we move backward and forward in time, learning the story of the intense bond between Evie and her ramshackle father, who for a brief time made real money selling Winter Wonderland, a famous stain of weed grown only on the island. He’s loving, and also a hot mess. The sections of the story that illuminate this father-daughter relationship are among the strongest we’ve read anywhere. But this tale is full of satisfying surprises – brilliantly and quietly done.
3. Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad.
Bangkok Wakes to Rain is a beautiful, elegiac mediation on the city of Bangkok, known in the Thai language as Krungthep, is another novel that makes for ideal April reading. It’s a gorgeously-written debut novel that moves backward and forward in time across the lives of five people and their families as they experience the allure and the devastation of the watery metropolis.
These interconnected lives tell a story about memory, and forgetfulness, and the emotional price of both. Reading it made us reach for non-fiction books and articles about the history of Thailand and its waves of political unrest. We’ll never think about the country quite the same way again. There’s nothing more you can ask from a great novel than to allow you to see a part of the world and its people with completely fresh eyes. This is one of those books.
4. London Fog: The Biography by Christine L. Corton.
With all due respect to San Francisco, London is the definitive city of fog. The classic London fogs – the thick yellow “pea-soupers” – were born in the industrial age of the early nineteenth century. In London Fog, Corton tells the story of these epic London fogs, their dangers and beauty, and their lasting effects on our culture and imagination. It’s a wonderful read, as much about British society as it is about science. But don’t just take our word for it: this volume garners rave reviews from those who know a thing or two: it’s a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. A Telegraph Editor’s Choice. And an Evening Standard “Best Books about London.”
5. Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi.
Spicy, sweet, comforting, startling – gingerbread can be all of those things. And so it is with this novel from British-Nigerian author Oyeyemi. It’s a story of mothers and daughters, female friends, great loves, and the lure of home. Also farming, carrier pigeons, real estate in London and a changeling.
The key to enjoying this tale is total surrender – you’ll have no idea where it’s taking you, and at some point you’ll stop caring. The prose is wonderful – smart, sharp and surprising. And the images created will stay with you long after you close the final page. If you’ve experienced heartbreak, disappointment or loss (and who among us hasn’t), this inventive novel might be just what you need. It’s honest about the pain of loss. Insightful about how we cope when we’ve lost our way. And filled with the belief that the bonds between loved ones are strong enough to last though space, time, and our own bad decisions. It’s comforting. And delicious.
6. Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane.
“Are we being good ancestors to the future Earth?” That’s the question at the heart of this epic examination of the rich life and history of the world beneath our feet. Underland: A Deep Time Journey takes us from Norwegian sea caves to the waters of Greenland ice cap. From Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacombs below Paris, we travel alongside people of good will (explorers, artists, dreamers) and ill will (criminals and polluters) to limn the paths trod through history in “the underland.” Present in myth, memory, and actuality, this is an urgent reminder of the vital importance of what lies beneath the surface.
7. Vesper Flights by Helene McDonald.
Following her breakout book H is for Hawk, Vesper Flights is a collection of the author’s best loved essays, along with new pieces on topics ranging from nostalgia for a vanishing countryside to the tribulations of farming ostriches to her own private vespers while trying to fall asleep. Meditating on notions of captivity and freedom, immigration and flight, we learn about the lives of birds. And how we might learn from them some useful lessons for our own lives.
8. Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw.
Five Star Billionaire is the story of four young people fighting to build a life in the cacophony and frenzy of modern-day Shanghai, the shining symbol of the New China. Just as many a great novel is about a newcomer’s adventures in Manhattan, this glittering and smart novel makes us see the city of Shanghai through the eyes of dreamers, schemers, romantics and robbers – and most sharply through the jaded vision of the billionaire of the title.
The novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize the year it was published. And it feels just as urgent and timely now as did then.
9. Transit by Rachel Cusk.
As the middle volume in the author’s Outline trilogy, Transit is an apt read in a month of in-betweens. A mother of two still recovering from a bitter divorce and trying to renovate a new home in London that she can barely afford, the narrator rarely discloses her own thoughts. She is, however, a very careful listener to the thoughts of others. As she journeys from a dark time in her life to an uncertain future, it’s moving and instructive to walk alongside her.
10. Nine Days by Paul Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick.
Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election is a riveting history of a little-understood chapter of American history and the Civil Rights movement. In the days leading up to the Presidential election in 1960, Southern police officers arrested and held Martin Luther King, Jr. in a local jail. Three of John F. Kennedy’s civil rights staffers went rogue to free him―a move that changed the face of the Democratic Party and propelled Kennedy to the White House. In the month where we mark the tragic anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, this is a reminder of his legacy – and the legacy of those who did the right thing at a life-or-death moment for the iconic leader.
11. Want by Lynn Steger Strong.
Frequently named as one of the best books of 2020, Want is another entry in the noble genre of New York City novels. This one provides a ground-level view of what happens when you arrive in the city, young and brash, and then make one or two reckless choices involving how you’ll make a living. Choices that permanently knock you out of the fast lane. Set in 2019 (it’s pre-coronavirus), this is the story of an unnamed narrator – a young white woman with an Ivy League Ph.D – who has, with her husband, decided to jump off the white-collar treadmill and live an “authentic” life.
The problem is that New York is way too expensive to support a family with two small kids and two parents who are both dreamers and full-fledged members of the gig economy (the husband left Wall Street after the 2008 crash to become a carpenter; the wife teaches high school and has an adjunct role teaching night classes at NYU). Always being afraid about money is not great for the psyche – or for a marriage. In addition to her current struggles, our narrator spends a great deal of time reflecting on her childhood and her relationship with her parents (who have plenty of money, but who are very controlling about how they’ll share it). She’s also highly preoccupied with the greatest friendship she’s had in her life: Sasha, a troubled woman one year older than she, who has shared the narrator’s anxiety and depression for years, but handled it differently.
It’s refreshing to read a novel about the white creative class in Brooklyn that tries hard to keep it real when it comes to race in New York. There are several Black characters, and lots of rumination about white privilege. It’s a fairly compelling portrayal of wanting, striving and settling in the big city as middle age draws near.
12. Wow, No Thank You: Essays by Samantha Irby.
In Wow, No Thank You, the author of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life returns with a razor-sharp and hysterically funny new essay collection. The vibe is fresh and sassy. And underneath the jokes, there’s a beating heart that makes you feel that Irby is your best friend or auntie – the one who can tell you the truth, no matter how painful, and still make you feel seen, heard, understood and admired. Everything we all need to make a fresh start.
13. Brood by Jackie Polzin.
Few things represent the promise of spring better than an egg. When fluffy yellow chicks emerge from the shell, it feels like the new season incarnate. But even in the midst of new life’s arrival, there can still be loss. And that’s what has just happened when we meet the narrator of Brood. After a devastating miscarriage, she’s plagued and nearly paralyzed by fears. That her marriage may not last. That she may never become a mother. Even as her best friend is parenting her own adorable child. And so she adopts four chickens and sets out (perhaps unconsciously) to mother them.
Raising, protecting and feeding chickens turns out to be really hard and confounding work. Almost as hard as working on a relationship. Or deciding what kind of life is possible after a deep loss. It’s a beautiful meditation on hardship, resilience and ambition. And you may never think about chickens or their keepers the same way again.
14. Intimacies by Katie Kitamura.
Creating a new life in a new city is one of the most iconic storylines in all of modern literature, and one that we never seem to tire of. So the arrival of Intimacies was welcome – and it turns out that this age-old plot still has plenty of life and surprises in it. It’s also a book that carries the distinct feel of April.
A young woman leaves New York to start a new life and career in The Hague, where she works as an interpreter for the International Court. Because of her skill and empathy, she’s tapped to translate on behalf of an accused war criminal who is manipulative and remorseless. Causing her to question her role as an interpreter charged with nuanced communication of the words of a butcher. As the trail unfolds, her personal life becomes increasingly complex. She has a boyfriend who seems unreasonably attached to his ex-wife. She witnesses a street crime, wrestles with whether or not to stay in Europe. In light of the current conflict in Ukraine, the importance of bearing witness, and the moral ambiguity of even the highest courts, feels fiercely relevant.
15. Joan is Okay by Weike Wang.
We end our list of the best books to read to feel April with a novel that seems tailor-made for this purpose.
April is in many ways always a liminal moment, neither fully spring nor winter. And the eponymous heroine of Joan is Okay is similarly caught between two strong cultures, finding herself feeling neither fully one nor the other. She’s a thirty-something doctor in the cardiac unit at a large hospital in New York. We meet her in the months before coronavirus swept the globe, and even before chants of “Kung Flu” were heard in America, she struggled to reconcile the demands of being Chinese. And American. Of balancing relations with demanding parents who needed her to translate literally and figuratively for them. And the frequent lectures from a brother who wants only to climb the financial ladder as quicly as possible, cutlure be damned.
But ultimately, this is a story about loss, and the struggle to be reborn in its aftermath. Joan’s father has died unexpectedly, and she finds solace in her work, even when the hospital administration refuses to accept that for her, the workplace is a haven and hard long days a temporary release from grief. The sadness, anger and confusion Joan experiences after losing a father she longed desperately to know, but never really did, is universal – it is neither Chinese nor American. It’s just human. And with time as the ultimate healer (even for doctors), Joan might actually turn out okay.
best books to read in April, with the feel of the month
That’s it. Recommended books that capture the essential vibe – the mood, the feel and the spirit of April. What’s on your reading list this month, dear reader?