Springtime Reading Roundup

It’s time for another seasonal roundup! I do love a good seasonal read to really wallow in the unique characteristics of whatever time of year I happen to be experiencing. I think I would hate living in a place that didn’t have seasons.

Right now, in my part of the world, spring is creeping in. The days are warmer, but still cool; the little green shoots are appearing all over the place, and the trees are budding like nobody’s business. April showers abound, and I can almost smell the lilac blooms.

I find springtime books to be elusive. It seems easier to find the other seasons represented in literature (or maybe I’m just reading the wrong books!). Nevertheless, here is a small list of books that give me those springtime feels.

The Virago Book of Women Gardeners

Whether you are a gardener or not, there is nothing quite so seasonal as dreaming about seedlings and shoots. I’ll be honest—sometimes I like the idea of gardening better than the reality, and The Virago Book of Women Gardeners serves as a great inspiration to get out there and get my hands in the dirt—or, on some days, gives me a vicarious gardening fix sans black flies. The book starts out with a fascinating history of garden-centred literature written by women, and then proceeds to break its contents up into chapters with titles like “”Weeders and Diggers,” “Plantswomen,” “Colourists” and “Visionaries.” Featured authors include Elizabeth Von Arnim, Sylvia Plath, Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Jekyll, and Margery Fish, among many others. It’s a lovely book to flip through in the springtime.

I went down the path leading to the stream on the east side of the garden, brushing aside the rockets that were bending across it drowsy with dew, the larkspurs on either side of me rearing their spikes of heavenly blue against the steely blue of the sky, and the huge poppies like splashes of blood amongst the greys and blues and faint pearly whites of the innocent, newborn day … I sat down on the twisted, half-fallen trunk of a birch and waited, my feet in the long grass and my slippers soaking in dew. Through the trees I could see the house with its closed shutters and drawn blinds, the people in it all missing, as I have missed day after day, the beauty of life at that hour.”

Elizabeth Von Arnim, 1899

Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women

I read this book for the first time in the spring, which may be why it evokes this time of year for me. But there is also something about a short story collection that is springlike, somehow—a new beginning every few pages! And this collection is truly special; there are SO MANY GOOD STORIES in here. Highlights for me were “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, “The Last Crop” by Elizabeth Jolley, “The Rainy Moon” by Colette, and “The Long Trial” Andrée Chedid.

“The room was brown and warm and comfortable, all polished wood and leather and a window high up in the wall let in the sunshine so it came in a kind of dust-dancing spotlight on the corner of the great big desk. I feel I will never forget that room for what happened there changed our lives in a way I could never even have dreamed of.”

Elizabeth Jolley, “The Last Crop”

A Tale of Two Families by Dodie Smith

A book soaked in the vibrant greens and damp, earthy air of the spring, this is one of Dodie Smith’s less-well-known works. May and June are two sisters who have married two brothers (George and Robert), and they decide to leave London one rainy April and move together into a beautiful and old-fashioned house in the English countryside, along with Baggy, their kindhearted father-in-law. Among the blooming lilacs and the cozy kitchen fireplace, a multitude of family members converge, along with their stories, their desires, and their eccentricities. Funny and touching, this book is a charmer.

Quick,” said Fran. “There’s a nightingale—if it is one. Where’s Robert? He’s sure to know.” Robert was knowledgeable about natural history.

June ran upstairs and appealed to Robert, who said he wasn’t sure one could hear nightingales in May, but he’d look it up.

Fran said, “Oh heavens, while he’s looking it up it’ll go away.” She hurried out of the cottage, followed by June and George. “Now listen!”

Dead silence from the nightingale.

“It would do that,” said Fran.

Dodie Smith

Tea with Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers

I feel a little bit bad recommending this one, because it’s not very readily available. But you can purchase it through the excellent Persephone Books, who print “neglected classics,” so I don’t feel that bad. Another short story collection, this is the one and only book ever published by author Frances Towers, and it is a masterpiece. It is full of exquisite details, vivid descriptions of light and colour and space, poignant relationships, and the revelation of truths that are at the same time both small and earth-shattering. One of my all-time favourites.

After the drabness of school, the drawing-room simply took one’s breath away. It was pale, and patternless except for the startled silver deer on the curtains, and colours showed up in it as though spot-lit. The celadon bowls, the bowls of peach-blow and sang-de-boeuf, shone with a lustre that seemed to shed tinted pools of reflected light, and their delicate curves against the cream walls made one want to stroke them. The tea-kettle was bubbling over a blue flame and there was a faint smell of methylated spirit and freesias, and a breath from Aunt Elena’s greenhouse as of earth freshly watered.”

Frances Towers, “Tea with Mr Rochester”

The Vagabond by Colette (translated by Enid McLeod)

I recently wrote an article for Write or Die Tribe about my favourite books in translation, and The Vagabond was one of them. It’s a novel that is both touching and funny (which is the best combination, in my opinion), and I’m including it in this springtime roundup because of its inextricable link to the seasons. As Renée, the impoverished Parisian dance hall performer, lives through a cycle of seasons, she grapples with love, loneliness, and independence in thought-provoking ways, and her feelings towards her admirer mirror the seasons, staying cold and aloof all winter, thawing in the spring, becoming suffocating in the summer heat. Her internal monologue is sharp and introspective, painting a portrait of a unique woman with deep convictions and doubts.

“The thaw has set in with a slight, almost stormy, shower; the lights are reflected, elongated and iridescent, in the blackish pavement. The top of the avenue is lost to view in a blurred mist, faintly rosy in the lingering dusk.”

Colette

I’d love to know what books evoke springtime for you. And, as always, happy reading!

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