Whoever said we would have more time to read now did not anticipate how hard it would be to focus. Although sure to change in the summer, sticking to five books in April was only challenging in that I struggled to finish five, opting for some poetry at the end of the month to ease my mind. If you missed my previous 2020 reads, you can find them all here: January, February, and March.
I hope you are still ordering from your local bookstore, and I hope you find something here worth reading, as I did through and through. Although I often prefer essays, I read quite a bit of fiction in April, as stories with at least some semblance of unreality were easier to delve into than the so-called real world in this moment.
Orange World: Stories by Karen Russell
But let’s not mistake this for a happy ending. Nothing destroyed me, and nothing is over.
I’m a longtime fan of Karen Russell’s fiction (her first two story collections, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Vampires in the Lemon Grave, are fantastic) and Orange World may just be her best work yet. Two girls end up at the wrong party and find themselves among dead men who don’t know they’re immortal. A lonely tornado farmer regrets that his line of work estranged him from his family. Through these and six other stories, I felt the isolation of Russell’s characters deeply while gleefully entering the magical worlds they inhabit.
Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera
April’s Deep Vellum Book Cult pick was Juliana Delgado Lopera’s debut novel, a story told in both English and Spanish. Francisca’s family moves from Colombia to Miami, where Francisca navigates her family’s assimilation to the States through church while she falls for the pastor’s daughter. Lopera’s narration is conversational and warm, even as they challenge English-language readers to embrace the discomfort of not understanding every Spanish word or phrase. Although I stopped to use Google Translate throughout, I found myself reading Fiebre Tropical in one weekend, caught up in Francisca’s experience of religious doubt and queer desire. You can listen to our Spotify playlist for the novel here.
The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg
… to plunge a viewer into a state of terror meant to take away their compass, their tools for navigating the world, and to replace it with a compass that told a different kind of truth… it was a secret transaction between their imagination and the film, and when they left the theater, those new truths would go with them, swimming like eels under the skin.
In Laura van den Berg’s short novel, Clare travels to Cuba for a horror film festival after her husband’s untimely death, only to see him wandering the streets as if a ghost or zombie, but certainly not the man who left her behind. I especially enjoyed the commentary on the horror genre as “a dislocation of reality, a dislocation designed to reveal the reality that has been there all along.” I have gravitated to horror films in recent years, and van den Berg illuminated some of what draws me to the genre, as it unsettles what I know to bring me to someplace both new yet all-too-familiar.
The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison
I spent most of April reading through Morrison’s large collection of essays, and I was delighted and challenged at every turn. From Morrison’s argument that writers need protection during times of peril (hello, right now) because they teach us stillness as a sacred gift, to her examination of society’s collective refusal to imagine a future as an excuse to not deal with the present and its realities, Morrison was as much a force in nonfiction as she was in her novels. I’ll be returning to the ideas in this volume for years to come.
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
Gratitude, not for love itself, but for the way it can end / without a house on fire. / This is how I plan to leave next.
To celebrate National Poetry Month (and to finish a fifth book), I picked up Hanif Abdurraqib’s latest collection. Aside from a poem here or there, I had not read his poetry nearly as much as his essays, but I was unsurprised to find Abdurraqib’s same attention to language through the lens of popular culture. The ghost of Marvin Gaye, The Prestige, and Michael Jordan all make appearances alongside lyrical nods to Kanye, JAY-Z, and Radiohead, as Abdurraqib uses widely known references to examine and wring meaning from private moments of loss and love.