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10 books to add to your reading list in April

A collage of 10 book covers
A critic’s top 10 books to read in April.
(Viking, HarperOne, Avid Reader, Grove Press, Scribner, Penguin Press, William Morrow, Knopf, Pantheon and Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Critic Bethanne Patrick recommends 10 promising titles, fiction and nonfiction, to consider for your April list.

April is the kindest month, the season when novels spring forth from the richest literary soil. Beloved novelists return to push their particular talents in bold new directions (and one, Ocean Vuong, returns to poetry). These recommendations include amazing books on some dark and difficult subjects, but there is always joy in great writing.

FICTION

Sea of Tranquility
By Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf: 272 pages, $25
(April 5)

Mandel is perhaps justly best known for “Station Eleven,” her bestselling dystopian pandemic tale of mourning and recovery in which art may be the only thing worth saving. After a beloved HBO Max adaptation and a realist follow-up novel, “The Glass Hotel,” the author comes roaring back into sci-fi with a saga about a time-travel wormhole and a group of lost souls who might hold the key to humanity’s survival.

'The Candy House,' By Jennifer Egan
(Scribner)

The Candy House
By Jennifer Egan
Scribner: 352 pages, $28
(April 5)

Egan already stretched the possibilities of fiction with “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” her time- and genre-jumping 2010 novel-in-stories — and won the Pulitzer for it. But she wasn’t done with her eclectic, eccentric characters. “The Candy House” takes them up to the ever-receding future, a time of AI-melded consciousness that still leaves room for hope, change and rock ’n’ roll.

A guest at this year’s virtual Times Festival of Books, the Scottish writer discusses his Booker Prize-winning novel’s difficult story — and his own.

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Young Mungo
By Douglas Stuart
Grove: 400 pages, $27
(April 5)

Stuart’s debut novel, “Shuggie Bain,” won the 2020 Booker Prize. Any writer would find that a tough act to follow. “Young Mungo,” a gay “Romeo and Juliet” set in Glasgow, has the same dynamic writing as “Shuggie,” but a word of warning: It goes to much darker places in exploring the entanglements of love and violence. Then again, Shuggie Bain is a child, Mungo Hamilton a teenager. Growing up can be brutal.

"A Tiny Upward Shove," by Melissa Chadburn
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

A Tiny Upward Shove
By Melissa Chadburn
FSG: 352 pages, $27
(April 12)

Born to a Filipina mother and a Black father, Marina Salles experiences sexual violence, the horrors of foster care, a struggle with drug abuse and an all-too-brief period of happiness with a girlfriend before a serial killer ends her life. But that isn’t the end: A Filipino spirit known as an aswang inhabits Marina’s consciousness and opens up perspectives on her life she never had while living it. The novel shocks, but always to a purpose.

The bestselling crime novelist plans a virtual book tour for his new title, “Broken,” as the coronavirus keeps him home in Southern California.

City on Fire
By Don Winslow
William Morrow: 384 pages, $29
(April 26)

The first volume in a planned trilogy, “City on Fire” takes on two crime families in 1980s Providence, R.I., and follows their ongoing war with an eye to the greatest epic ever written: “The Iliad” by Homer. Is this also a new version of “The Godfather”? Trading in the Southwest of his “Border” trilogy for the more corrupt corners of the Northeast, Winslow shows that criminal dynasties know no borders.

NONFICTION

Easy Beauty: A Memoir
By Chloé Cooper Jones
Avid Reader: 288 pages, $28
(April 5)

Taking her title from a philosopher who describes “easy beauty” as “apparent and unchallenging,” Cooper Jones, herself a philosopher and journalist, examines aesthetics from her perspective as a person born with sacral agenesis and its attendant challenges. For all its heady ideas, the book has bite, especially when the author connects those ideas to her real-life conversations and practical concessions.

"Time is a Mother," by Ocean Vuong
(Penguin Press)

Time Is a Mother
By Ocean Vuong
Penguin Press: 128 pages, $24
(April 5)

Vuong, acclaimed for his 2019 novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” returns to poetry (after 2016’s “Night Sky With Exit Wounds”) in a collection focused on his mother’s death that incorporates fragments of her life (one poem is based on her Amazon orders). The immediacy of the verse and the universality of family loss will surely bring new readers to Vuong — and to poetry.

At a time when black people are disrupting presidential campaign speeches nationwide in an effort to be recognized as human beings, “Negroland,” the new memoir by Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson, offers poignant insight into what it means to have been raised in the sheltered Kingdom of Negroes that Jefferson refers to as “the Third Race” — upper-middle-class African Americans who, among a long list of other things, “refused to be held back by the lower element.”

Constructing a Nervous System: A Memoir
By Margo Jefferson
Pantheon: 208 pages, $27
(April 12)

In her 2015 memoir, “Negroland,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic wrote about how her upbringing in a privileged Black community shaped her. Her new memoir takes the story forward to her formation as a critic and thinker, analyzing her heroes, influences and foils, from her parents to Bing Crosby and Ike Turner. These examinations of self double as reconsiderations of culture and society, including those artists she now sees in a far more complicated light.

"Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace," by Christopher Blattman
(Viking)

Why We Fight: The Roots of War and the Paths to Peace
By Christopher Blattman
Viking: 400 pages, $32
(April 19)

The University of Chicago professor writes about how violence, crime and poverty are intertwined and how they can feed into larger-scale conflict. Blattman takes on fighting at every level, from local beatings to world war, offering eye-opening examples of escalation. But perhaps his most salient point is this: “There is seldom one reason for a war.” It’s a relevant, urgent new study.

Viola Davis stars as blues legend Ma Rainey opposite Chadwick Boseman in the Netflix adaptation of August Wilson’s celebrated play.

Finding Me: A Memoir
By Viola Davis
HarperOne: 288 pages, $29
(April 26)

Let’s hope Davis wins a Grammy for her Audible recording of this memoir, thereby becoming the first Black woman to claim a coveted EGOT. The Oscar, Tony and Emmy winner’s memoir untangles the story she constructed along the path to fame from the real one, a more difficult but ultimately more fulfilling narrative of struggle and success. Her gorgeous storytelling will inspire anyone wishing to shed old labels.


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