We are very close to the official start of summer. Which you all know I am very much not looking forward to. But since spring is almost over, it’s a great excuse for me to talk about the best books I have read recently. If you’re new here, I post my quarterly/seasonal favorites every thaw months. Today I’m talking about the best books I read this spring. Just in case the title didn’t make that obvious.
I am pretty happy with my reading overall from the last three months. I read a wide variety of things this spring, including some new favorites. So far, my summer reading hasn’t gone quite as well (I know it’s not technically summer yet, but it’s hot so whatever). And while I sit here annoyed about my most recent read and also my current audiobook listen (both of which will likely turn out to be two-star books), it’s really nice to look back on some of the great books I read in spring. Hopefully my summer reads get the memo and step up their game
If you missed it, click here to read my winter favorites post.
Click the links below for my monthly wrap ups if you want to see everything I read this spring:
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc
This is the only nonfiction book on this list, but it has definitely earned its spot. It’s about how disabilities are portrayed in fairy tales, which I think we all kind of know is not great. But this book really opened my eyes to just how terrible fairy tales – from a variety of sources – treat disability and disabled characters. I had never even realized that in The Lion King, Scar is only known by his facial disfigurement. (His original name was Taka, which means “waste” in Swahili. Not great, but still better.) We grow up being taught that disability = broken. You can’t be a princess if you have a scar on your face or you use a mobility aid. This book does such a brilliant job of shining a light on just how important a problem this actually is.
The author intersperses her massive amount of research and evidence with her own experience being diagnosed and then living with cerebral palsy. She does such a great job of tying that into the traditional fairy tale narrative. She also includes conversations with other disabled people about their experiences and opinions, which I thought was great. It’s something I particularly identify with based on my own experiences with disability. There is a quote from Neil Gaiman I think of all the time, particularly when I’m having a bad disability day: “Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
You all know I am a Shakespeare fangirl. (And you won’t let me forget it. The post where I ranked all of Shakespeare’s plays still consistently outranks all of my recent posts, five years later.) But while I knew a bit about Shakespeare and had even been to his house, I didn’t know all that much about his family. One of the reasons I loved this book so much was that it’s very clearly about Shakespeare’s family, but he is not once mentioned by name. He’s such a dominant figure, but here he is only “the father” or “the husband”.
I had previously read I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell, which was kind of meh for me.. So going into Hamnet, I was wary, but hopeful. But even if I wasn’t excited by the author so much, we all know I was going to read this one at some point. It also won the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020, and I’ve been loving the recent winners (the 2021 winner, Piranesi, was my favorite book last year). Obviously, this is not an exception. I loved it.
Honesty, I do feel I connected with Hamnet so much because of my affinity for Shakespeare. But I think this is still just an overall great historical novel. Despite bearing the name of Shakespeare’s son, it’s very much about the women in his life. And you all know I love some female-centric historical fiction. It also has an almost magical realism, eerie sort of quality. Which I absolutely loved. This novel is quietly ambitious in a way you won’t realize until after you turn the last page. I’m still thinking about it almost three months later.
Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots
Here’s where I acknowledge that the books on this list are not the happiest bunch. But here’s the exception, because this is such a fun novel. It’s about a henchwoman who is injured by a superhero in the course of her job. Permanently disabled by the “accident”, she uses her technical skills for revenge. She ends up being hired by one of the most elusive supervillains. And the story goes from there.
I picked this book up because it seemed like it would be a fun read. I’m also trying to read more books with disabled characters, or about disability, and this was perfect. I was not expecting to love it as much as I did. I don’t want to say too much about it, because it’s really fun to discover things as you read. But it was great. I’m a little sad there isn’t a sequel (yet). But if there ever is, I will be buying that immediately. I’m not even annoyed I accidentally bought two copies of this book. I loved it that much.
Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
This year, I have been super into Japanese literature for whatever reason. So I decided to turn it into a reading experiment post and read five of them. This was a recommendation from a follower on Instagram, and it sounded cute, so I picked it up. I didn’t really look too much into it. I think I skimmed the synopsis and liked the cover. Plus, I was already thinking about doing that reading experiment post at the time, and this book was perfect. Sometimes reading books you don’t know much about works out. This book is proof. And it turned out to be the perfect book to read for spring.
Sweet Bean Paste is about a man who is kind of down on his luck. He’s a former criminal working in a dorayaki shop and kind of hating his life. Then he meets an old woman who can make killer sweet bean paste – turning the little shop into a success. This was a cute read that was also kind of bittersweet. Which I think could be said of almost all of the Japanese books I’ve read. Maybe I just like their cute, weird, slightly sad vibes. I didn’t have very high expectations going into this book, but it has stuck with me. And the more I think about it, the more I just adore this book. I don’t think any of this author’s other books have been translated into English yet, but I will absolutely be reading them if/when they do.
How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
I honestly had no idea what to expect from this one. I don’t think I even knew all that much about it going in. But I am so, so glad I did. This book absolutely blew me away. It’s probably one of the most ambitious things I’ve ever read. And it completely pulls off everything it tries to accomplish (plus some). This is about the aftermath of an ice-age era virus being released into a modern world. It follows a cast of diverse characters as they survive and live during a horrible pandemic. Maybe a little too close to home for some, but it was different enough that it didn’t feel too familiar.
I think this book in particular might be great for people who like short stories. The chapters each follow different characters as the book progresses over hundreds of years. Their experiences vary widely, but are each so fascinating. And the ending absolutely blind-sided me. Not to brag, but I’m really good at predicting endings. I read a lot of books, and it takes a lot to genuinely shock me. This one did it. I promise you won’t see the ending of this book coming. It was so good and weird that it made me immediately want to start this book over. And also regret staying up late to finish it. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this is the best 2022 release I’ve read so far. It will take a lot to top this book.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
I am definitely a member of the Station Eleven fan club. It’s one of the books that got me back into reading back in 2015. But I was sadly disappointed by The Glass Hotel when I read it last year. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t really like it. Which had me questioning whether I liked Emily St. John Mandel’s writing as much as I remember. So I was both a little skeptical and honestly a bit worried going into this one. Turns out, I didn’t need to be, because this one was really, really good.
It’s about a post-pandemic world. And while this one is also speculative sci-fi, the virus in this book is the one we’re all very familiar with. So just a heads up. (It isn’t discussed too in depth, but it’s definitely mentioned.) I also don’t particularly recommend reading this one right after How High We Go in the Dark. The structure is very similar, I kept expecting characters from the other book to pop up. The overall story is fairly different, but if you like one, I think you’ll like the other.
That said, it is a little weird that two speculative sci-fi pandemic books set over hundreds of years both came out in the same year. I ended up loving both, though I think I liked How High We Go in the Dark a little more. I think it was just a tad more original.
This post is going up a little later than anticipated (it has been a week), but it’s always fun to revisit my recent favorites. I hope you enjoyed this post! What was your favorite spring read?
And check out my bookshop, where you can buy books and also shop my curated collections of my personal favorites AND all of the books I’ve read for my reading experiments. Or you can just buy whatever books you want to. I get a small commission at no extra cost to you, and you get to support your choice of indie bookstores – it’s a win all around!