12 Must-Read Books of April 2024

April showers are in the forecast here in Chicago, but thankfully with the arrival of spring comes a downpour of new book releases!

This month is a celebration of lyricism in all forms, from masterful poetry collections and insightful memoirs to fiction that prods at the connections we make with one another. There’s something for everyone this April, and we’re happy to get the recommendations started with these 12 must-read books!

We Are the Culture: Black Chicago’s Influence on Everything
By Arionne Nettles
Lawrence Hill Books

Part historical reportage and part love letter, Arionne Nettles’s new release sends a powerful message about the influence Black Chicagoans have had on the formation of our modern city. Spanning generations from the Great Migration to the rise of Oprah Winfrey, Chance the Rapper, and modern art icon Hebru Brantley, Nettles traces the roots of Chicago and rightfully acknowledges the contributions of Black Chicago. We Are the Culture deserves a prime spot on the bookshelf of anyone serious about the history of Chicago, as it provides one of the most comprehensive and nuanced looks into the people who made the city truly great.

The Span of Small Forevers
By April Gibson

From Chicago poet April Gibson comes The Span of Small Forevers, a breathtaking debut poetry collection that features the depth and lyricism of a late career masterpiece. Echoing writers such as Audre Lorde and Susan Sontag, Gibson chronicles the frustrations and joys of a Black woman living with chronic illness. In these moving poems, “the body” becomes a prismatic image through which the author interrogates our country’s failures of care and ultimately reinterprets what it means to survive and thrive through pain.

Table for Two
By Amor Towles

Lovers of A Gentleman in Moscow rejoice, because Amor Towles is back with a new collection of short stories—including a novella featuring one of his most beloved characters. Set mostly in New York, the stories in Table for Two highlight the intimacy of brief encounters and the consequences that can spring forth from them. Towles continues to show his signature wit and literary prowess in this new collection, making Table for Two a can’t-miss for current or future fans of his work. 

The Long Hallway
By Richard Scott Larson
University of Wisconsin Press

Growing up queer, closeted, and afraid, Richard Scott Larson found necessary expression for his interior life in horror films, especially John Carpenter’s classic Halloween. In The Long Hallway, he analyzes horror’s metaphorical significance and its relationship to the torments of living a closeted life—from the ways in which he had to hide his true face to the world like Michael Myers to the undercurrents of violence and death in his own seemingly safe suburban upbringing. The Long Hallway is a feat of lyrical memoir, and Larson continually shows a depth of love and care for his journey toward acceptance and the often misunderstood genre’s influence on his life.  

The Garden
By Clare Beams
Doubleday Books

When Irene Willard—a woman who’s had five previous miscarriages and now finds herself pregnant again—discovers a long-walled garden on the grounds of an isolated house-cum-hospital she’s staying at, she finds that it may hold the secret to finally gain agency over her body and her desires. With shades of Shirley Jackson and Rosemary’s Baby, The Garden is a page-turning thriller with a powerful message at its core, as it explores the immense pain of yearning for motherhood and the ways in which the female body has always been policed and manipulated.

Loose of Earth: A Memoir
By Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn
University of Texas Press

In this captivating memoir, Kathleen Dorothy Blackburn tells the story of ecological disaster and the boundaries of love and faith. When her father was diagnosed with cancer, Kathleen’s mother sought her family’s deliverance from a local faith-healer who led services called “Miracle on 34th Street.” As their unbending faith devastated their family, the discovery of “forever chemicals” in their West Texas town’s water supply further threatened to take more from them and left them praying for a miracle that would never come. Loose of Earth is an important read on the precarious state of America, as the dangers of religious fanaticism and the damage humans have caused to the planet continue to creep forward.

A Kind of Madness
By Uche Okonkwo
Tin House Books

2024 has been a fantastic year for short stories, and Uche Okonkwo’s debut collection belongs squarely in the conversation. Through ten vivid stories set in modern Nigeria, Okonkwo unravels the knot of tension found in many familial and romantic loves. In addition to striking a perfect balance between humor and heartbreak, A Kind of Madness shows incredible wiseness on the complexity and at times maddening nature of loving our family, our friends, and our home. 

Committed: On Meaning and Madwomen
By Suzanne Scanlon

When Suzanne Scanlon was a student at Barnard in the 90s, grieving the loss of her mother and feeling untethered by inarticulable pain, she made a suicide attempt that landed her in the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Committed: On Meaning and Madwomen explores the lingering trauma of nearly three years and countless experimental treatments during her time in the ward and places it within the long tradition of women whose complicated stories of self-actualization are reduced to “madwoman” narratives. Both lyrical in its prose and insightful in its wisdom, this unforgettable memoir is a powerful work of survival and reclamation. 

See Also

Real Americans
By Rachel Khong
Knopf Publishing Group

From the award-winning author of Goodbye, Vitamin comes Real Americans, a time-trekking novel that takes readers from the precipice of Y2K to the notable uncertainty in the year 2021. When Lily—an unpaid intern and child of refugees from Mao’s Cultural Revolution—meets an heir to a vast pharmaceutical empire named Matthew, the two ignore their differences and fall in love. Years later, their child Nick sets out to find out who his father is, launching a journey that will make him rethink everything he knows about race, class, and what we inherit versus what we make for ourselves.

What’s Not Mine
By Nora Decter
ECW Press

What’s Not Mine finds Bria Powers and her hometown of Beauchamp in peril, as a confluence of disasters ranging from fentanyl overdoses and wildfires to a plague of insects threatens to upend everything. Nora Decter doesn’t shy from the rough realities of growing up in an unforgiving world, creating a wry and wrenching novel that finds a way to delight even in its tragedy. What’s Not Mine consistently hums in its humor and clear-eyed approach to the desperation that comes with survival. 

Rough Trade
By Katrina Carrasco

Set in Washington Territory in 1888, Rough Trade follows Alma Rosales and her opium-smuggling crew as they spend their days moving product and nights in Tacoma’s queer scene. But when two local men end up dead with all signs pointing to the opium trade, Alma must scramble to keep the lawmen off the trail of her operation. Katrina Carrasco’s latest is a propulsive queer thriller in which bonds are frequently broken and desire leads to untold consequences.

Black Bell
By Alison C. Rollins
Copper Canyon Press

We were big fans of Alison C. Rollins’s last collection Library of Small Catastrophes, so we’re eagerly anticipating her followup. Inspired by the nineteenth century image of an enslaved woman wearing iron horns and bells, the poems of Black Bell interpret and reinvision the archival research to navigate what it means to be both invisible and spectacle. Rollins’s poetry is always haunting in the best way, and Black Bell continues that trend. 

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