Stacked Up

7 Books That Will Ease You Into Spring

Bustle’s books columnist recommends a selection of titles that celebrate nature.

A selection of books recommended for April 2024.
Stacked Up
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It’s April and I don’t want to jinx it, but — at least here in New York — I think we can safely shove our winter coats into the back of the closet. It’s getting warmer and sunnier, and a hint of optimism is finally breaking through. I find it’s just easier to feel gratitude when I’m spending time in nature, rather than holed up in my apartment binging Gossip Girl.

With that in mind, and because April is the month for celebrating the outdoors — in addition to Earth Day and Arbor Day, it’s apparently also National Garden Month? — this list contains some of my favorite books that showcase our planet’s beauty. Below, you’ll find odes to the natural world and the people who honor it, meditations on the lessons we can learn from even the tiniest creatures, and visions of a future in which the planet pushes back against humanity’s mistreatment. As always, these are alongside a few favorites from this month’s new releases. (And in case you missed it, you can find more of our spring picks here.)

Something Old

World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil brings her lyricism to this collection of short essays about the world’s most beautiful oddities. She describes what she loves about these plants and animals, and how she’s learned from them — deploying the axolotl smile when facing a microaggression, finding both wildness and its balm in the dragonfruit — while reflecting on her own coming of age as a Filipina and Indian American among white children determined to make her feel like an outcast. As much a memoir as it is a book of praise, World of Wonders is illuminating, profound, and joyful.

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

When essayist Elisabeth Tova Bailey was 34 years old, she developed chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition so debilitating it left her bedridden and mostly isolated for a year. She is, understandably, distraught — but soon finds hope in the form of a stowaway: a tiny snail hiding in the leaves of a houseplant she’s gifted by a friend. Bailey has described this book as a biography of the snail rather than a memoir, and this comes through in her loving descriptions of the creature. Bailey sees a kindred spirit in the snail — another creature struggling to adapt to a new life — and is moved to learn everything she can about it. Where does the snail usually live? What does it eat? How does it defend itself? What she finds is startling resilience in the smallest of creatures, and the possibility for connection in the unlikeliest of places.

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

Dakhóta memoirist Diane Wilson’s debut novel is a quiet, stirring story about four generations of Dakhóta women and their devotion to the land. It centers on Rosalie Iron Wing, who returns to the remote cabin where she lived until, at 12 years old, she was wrested from her father and placed into foster care. As Rosalie seeks a better understanding of herself and a stronger connection to her heritage, the story jumps back in time, bringing in voices of ancestors she never knew. It’s an affecting condemnation of colonization and its forced alienation from nature, but also a poignant exploration of family, identity, and survival.

Something New

One of Us Knows by Alyssa Cole

Longtime queen of romance Alyssa Cole branched out into thrillers with 2020’s When No One Is Watching, and it’s so exciting to see her back with another. In her latest, we meet Kenetria Nash six years after the breakdown that led to her being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), as one of her long-dormant identities comes to the forefront. Kenetria has taken a job managing a historic Hudson estate, but when she arrives at this place she thought she’d never been, she realizes the castle looks exactly like the one that houses the “headmates” in her mind. A storm hits; a ghost appears; an ex shows up; danger ensues. It’s an eerie, juicy psychological thriller that explores trauma and survival, refusing to reduce the protagonist’s disorder to a gimmick.

The Husbands by Holly Gramazio

One day in London, a strange man descends from the attic in 20-something Lauren’s apartment, and he, along with everyone she knows, insists he is her husband. When he goes back up a few days later, and a new husband comes down, Lauren’s baffling new reality comes into full focus. Each husband carries a whole history, changing the lives of not only Lauren but also everyone she knows, and as years and hundreds of these men pass by, Lauren travels through confusion, detached amusement, boredom, grief, and fear. Somehow the cycle never gets old. The concept is bonkers, but, crucially, Gramazio is able to bring it down to earth with humor and fully fleshed-out emotions. Each brief relationship — and one unexpected friendship — has gravity and serious existential consequences. And what joy it is, in a world of remakes and retrodden plots, to find a story that is so truly unexpected! As I listened to the audiobook, I couldn’t stop thinking: How on earth did someone come up with this? And if it were me, if it were my series of stranger husbands, what would I do?

I Cheerfully Refuse by Leif Enger

Enger’s modern epic follows Rainy, a musician in an environmentally and politically dystopian future. Grieving for his recently deceased wife, Rainy sets sail on Lake Superior in search of a mysterious island where the dead are said to live, and where his bookseller wife once thought she spotted a legendary but long-deceased writer. The story clearly borrows from the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which an enchanting lyre player follows his wife into Hades, but his larger-than-life misadventures also evoke Odysseus, Don Quixote, and Gulliver. It’s a book that loves books (the title is the name of a never-published manuscript by the above-mentioned writer, lost amid the collapse of the publishing industry) and the many literary references underscore a timely theme: the vital, transformative power of books, especially as weapons against willful ignorance.

Something Out of the Blue

The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges

I’ve loved this book — a compendium of 116 fantastical creatures from around the world — for years, but I’ve recently started sharing the less-creepy entries with my 4-year-old. Borges’ descriptions of the familiar (centaurs, elves) and lesser-known (the alarming half lion–half ant mermecolion) are brief but vivid and thoroughly researched, and the 2005 edition’s whimsical illustrations bring the words to life. It’s perfect for dipping into randomly, whenever the mood strikes.