16 Books Guaranteed To Brighten Your Spring

Before summer hits, dive into these must-read titles.

May 12, 2017
16 Books Guaranteed To Brighten Your Spring SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP/Getty Images

Things are, well, pretty fucked right now. And because life has felt like an unceasing rollercoaster to hell under Trump’s first 100 days, it’s time for an escape. Luckily, we’ve got that covered for you. A recent smattering of books of varying genres — from fiction and memoir to poetry — offer a way out, even if only for a few hours. Spring is in full swing. So grab a book and take a reprieve from the doomsday of 2017. Here are 16 worthy suggestions.


16 Books Guaranteed To Brighten Your Spring
1. What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky: Stories, Lesley Nneka Arimah

Fiction, Published: April 2017

In perhaps the year’s most daring and time-defying collection of short stories, writer and National Magazine Award fiction finalist Lesley Nneka Arimah maps a world replete with fleshy discord, wartime ghosts, and familial warmth. In 12 divergent stories that primarily take place across Africa’s vast and rich terrains, the thirtysomething Nigerian author extends the tradition of writers like sci-fi bard Octavia Butler but with a fresh dystopian twist: her stories, however dark and grief stricken, splinter with streaks of hope and humanity. Which is to say, the bodies that flicker throughout her deft collection are as complex as they are captivating. “My real life was just as rooted in the spiritual, where demons and angels and spirits were as real as you and I,” Arimah told The Village Voice earlier this year. “So these are not necessarily separate sides of my storytelling, but ways in which I’m accustomed to engaging with the world.” Get it here.

2. Iron Ambition: My Life With Cus D’Amato, Mike Tyson

Nonfiction, Published: May 2017

Ninety-nine percent of author memoirs are anodyne trash. But when they hit — Andre Agassi’s Open, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s I Am Zlatan — they’re sublime. Thankfully, Mike Tyson’s 2013 memoir Undisputed Truth provided the right swirl of true vulnerability and literary excess (via his co-writer Larry “Ratso” Sloman) to execute the form correctly. Mike’s now back with his second, this one focusing on his life with the legendary trainer Cus D’Amato. It starts off with misplaced anger at the modern state of Times Square — “Everybody’s got their cameras out taking selfies with strangers ... back in the 70s, you didn’t even say hi to people you didn’t know. Motherfucker would start beating on you and leave you in a coma on the street” — and doesn’t really let up from there. Get it here.

3. Priestdaddy, Patricia Lockwood

Memoir, Published: May 2017

Reading Patricia Lockwood can be disorienting. Her poetry, published in The New Yorker and The New York Times, simultaneously tweaks two parts of your brain that rarely meet: the section that process toilet humor and the grey matter that responds to transcendent beauty. On top of that, she’s one of the individuals whose posts gave an identity to the online comedy riff bubble known as Weird Twitter. Her absurdist credentials are impeccable, but even she would have trouble creating a character as unusual, both in temperament and concept, as her own father. Lockwood Sr., a powder keg who shuns pants, shreds on his expensive guitar collection, and became a priest after he was married with children thanks to a loophole in Catholic doctrine.

Priestdaddy, Lockwood’s memoir, was written as an escape hatch after financial struggles forced the 35-year-old author and her husband to move back with her parents. She maintains the ridiculous novelty of her past and present situation with consistency, and it’s strikingly powerful from so many different angles: Priestdaddy is one of the funniest I’ve ever read, but the clarity with which it addresses the moral issues surrounding the institution Patricia was raised in is truly stunning. She allows herself to be swallowed up in her own implications, only to draw herself back out with another compelling chapter exploring the conflict of who we are versus who we were. This universal, unresolvable question is mapped out with the skill of someone who found her voice a long time ago. She’s sculpted it into a tool to find rapture in life’s most mundane and filthy moments. Get it here.

4. Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs, Douglas Smith

Nonfiction, Published: November 2016

There are a million beguiling rumors about the life of Grigori Rasputin, the “mad monk” that supposedly controlled the last Tsar of Russia in the early part of the 20th century. Thankfully, Douglas Smith's giant new biography doesn’t shy away, choosing instead to engage with the loose talk in a tireless effort to figure out what’s real and what's fake. Which means we get a studiously serious piece of writing that also includes stuff like this: “The report states that Rasputin began to dance the ‘mattchiche’ and the ‘cake walk’ ... [next] his 'behavior took on the utterly outrageous character of some sexual psychopath: he allegedly revealed his sexual organs and in this fashion he continued to hold a conversation with the singers, giving some of them handwritten notes.’” Get it here.

16 Books Guaranteed To Brighten Your Spring
5. My Soul Looks Back, Jessica B. Harris

Memoir, Published: May 2017

In My Soul Looks Back, the Queens-raised food historian and writer Jessica B. Harris traces her zigzagging roadmap of a life in 1970s New York City, as she befriends Black American giants like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Paule Marshall, and, with ample doses of brevity, details her personal and professional tribulations through it all. A former book editor at Essence and theater critic for The New York Amsterdam News, Harris became a player within the West Village’s “hub of activity” and set about to live a life of joy and abundance. As she fondly remembers of those golden-skied years: “Each day offered another possibility for exploration, expansion, and delight.” Get it here.

6. Attrib. and Other Stories, Eley Williams

Fiction, Published: March 2017

The debut collection of short stories from British writer Eley Williams fixates on the briefest moments of confusion and miscommunication — the kind of exchanges that feel so vivid, but look so mundane from the outside. A woman hesitates to kiss her girlfriend in public; a man brashly steps in front of a woman on the subway; a pigeon coos and sounds like it’s calling your ex’s name. Williams brings these moments of internal intensity into the spotlight, with 170 pages that positively glow. Get it here.

7. Kintu, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Fiction, Published: May 2017

Thematically and structurally sprawling, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu has finally, and mercifully, arrived on U.S. shores (the novel was originally published in Kenya in 2014 to wide praise). The 400-plus-page epic tracks the ill-fated lineage of the Kintu bloodline through generations of peril and hard-won prosperity. It is a book that squarely and powerfully questions: What does it take to escape the past? Get it here.

8. Nature Poem, Tommy Pico

Poetry, Published: May 2017

In the follow-up to IRL, American Indian writer Tommy Pico’s second book-length poem fully contends with the world around him, as he confronts the “noble savage/ narrative” of white colonialism while trying to make sense of the terrors and curiosities of modern living. To find the answers, Pico digs deep — equal parts morose and comically enlightening. “I can’t write a nature poem bc English is some Stockholm shit/ makes me complicit in my tribe’s erasure — why shld I give a fuck abt/ ‘poetry’? It’s a container.” Get it here.

16 Books Guaranteed To Brighten Your Spring
9. Good As You: From Pride to Prejudice — 30 Years of Gay Britain, Paul Flynn

Nonfiction, Published: April 2017

I welled up after reading the three-page prologue of this elegantly-written gay social history of the U.K., and instantly knew it was something special. Journalist and author Paul Flynn traces a story from “prejudice to pride” through the prism of his personal experiences growing up in working-class Manchester, with the help of famous cultural figures like Holly Johnson, Kylie Minogue, and Will Young. But some of the most moving testimonials come from lesser-known figures like activists, nurses, and politicians, who gave everything they had to support and fight for the gay community. I can’t stop thinking about it. Get it here.

10. One More Year, Simon Hanselmann

Comic, Published: June 2017

Simon Hanselmann never stops. The masterfully observant cartoonist is back this June with a new collection of Megg & Mogg comics, featuring her regular cast of characters — Megg the witch, her boyfriend Mogg the cat, Owl, and Werewolf Jones and sons. It’s signature Hanselmann: a tale of friends and their endlessly fucked up antics. Get it here.

11. My Brother’s Husband: Volume 1, Gengoroh Tagame

Graphic Novel, Published: May 2017

All of the men inMy Brother's Husband, Volume 1 are staggeringly hot. That's no surprise, as the graphic novel was created by Gengoroh Tagame, whose work is filled with otherworldly, beefy men and their kinky interests. (Vice recently described Tagame as “Japan’s most influential gay manga artist” and compared him to gay art legend Tom of Finland.) But his latest work, which was released in America this month, is mostly devoid of sex. Instead, there’s a lot of cute interaction between a single Japanese dad, Yaichi, and his now-dead brother’s Canadian husband, Mike, who has come to visit Japan for the first time. It can get a little after-school special-y at points but Tagame has crafted an engrossing story that still feels fresh. With queer representation in media mostly being completely desexualized, Tagame manages to sneak in a few panels every few pages that align more closely with his earlier work. It’s an electric element that makes the conventional novel feel like a beam of light from the future. Get it here.

12. The Dinner Party and Other Stories, Joshua Ferris

Fiction, Published: May 2017

Since his award-heralding debut, Then We Came to the End, made waves in 2006, the Illinois-born author’s literary ember has burned bright. The Dinner Party, his latest — though his fourth book, it marks Ferris’s debut collection of short stories — exposes the true, and sometimes absurdly comic, wiles of men who flail through life in remarkably routine fashion. “Some errands a man runs without taking much notice of the world around him,” Ferris writes in “A Night Out.” “The weather, or what’s outside the cab window. What’s outside the window is life, rioting life, but the man experiences only his own blind impatience to get past it all and on to the errand at hand. A man is a monster. He turns away from the crowds, the buildings, the bridges, as if this alone will speed things up, urging the cabbie on in all sorts of ways.” Get it here.

16 Books Guaranteed To Brighten Your Spring
13. Too Much and Not the Mood, Durga Chew-Bose

Nonfiction, Published: April 2017

Chew-Bose’s debut book, a collection of 14 essays, is philosophical as hell, funny, and quietly heartbreaking. “Flattened on my floor near my bed were the pummeled shards of a bullet. Some kids on the street,” she writes in the book’s opening account, “had been playing with a gun. My heart clampled and didn’t recoup for days. I slept on the couch, not out of fear—I don’t think— but because, no matter how diligently I swept, I kept finding slivers of glass on my floor. They seemed to suggest it’s okay to be someone who is slow to move on.” Somehow Chew-Bose rides the stream-of-consciousness wave while effortlessly testing the boundaries of literary theory without ever losing stride. Get it here.

14. Do What You Want, Various authors

Nonfiction, Published: April 2017

Do What You Wantis a 300-page zine (so, pretty much a book) about the contours of mental health. Blessedly, it’s packed with nuanced and rarely heard perspectives from women and men who come up against mental illnesses in their day-to-day lives. Expect to find an essay on mental well-being from a Somali refugee woman, and a piece on how a non-binary person experiences treatment, alongside feel-good recipes, interviews, and comics. All proceeds go to mental health charities. For a taster, read this excerpt published by The FADER, on the realities of being a black woman with Borderline Personality Disorder. Get it here.

15. On A Sunbeam, Tillie Walden

Comic, Published: April 2017

If you only know one young cartoonist let it be 21-year-old Tillie Walden. Her recent, serialized webcomic On A Sunbeam — which isn’t a book yet but I’m sure will be some day, and will probably be seen as a heralded crossover work into the more literary worlds of The New York Times and NPR, and, I don't know, likely be a PG-13 blockbuster smash — is a towering work of architectural illustration, teen romance, spare coloring, and above all of the feelings everyone gets. I know I’m being breathless, but I’m not exaggerating. Get it here.

16. The Sarah Book, Scott McClanahan

Fiction, Published: June 2017

The Sarah Book is the saddest song you’ve ever heard. It’s the last sip of whiskey from a bottle that’s been kicking around for too long. It’s a mixed-up story of a great romance gone awry, told in Scott McClanahan's distinctive voice. The main characters are true love, paranoia, the devil, and God. It’s set in parking lots and strip clubs and in shopping malls. It’s fiction and it’s memoir and it’s also neither of those things. It’s a hell of a read. Get it here.

16 Books Guaranteed To Brighten Your Spring