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Ode to Spring: 10 Books to Celebrate the Season of Renewal

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • March 20, 2020

"Hope is the thing with feathers." –Emily Dickinson

With everything that's going on in the world (or perhaps more accurately, everything that is NOT happening), we could use some diversions. COVID-19 may be eliminating just about everything else, but it can't cancel spring!

Spring is nature's time of renewal and rebirth. It infuses us with hope in the form of burgeoning buds and fragrant breezes. Light lingers and birdsong fills our ears. The earth pulses with life and resilience. So get out there and enjoy it! (Going outdoors is generally still safe as long as you avoid large groups!) And while you're at it, here are ten books that are rich with themes of rejuvenation. Tip: These volumes are best enjoyed while lying in the grass on a balmy afternoon.

Vintage Vernal Delights

Authors have long been inspired by the natural world. So it only makes sense that springtime, as the earth is waking up and returning to life, would often serve as the perfect muse. Here are five classics that celebrate nature and new horizons.

A Room With a View by E. M. Forster
As the well-bred Miss Lucy Honeychurch ventures forth to explore Tuscany in the spring, she can't imagine the awakening that lies ahead of her. Her journey introduces an intriguing cast of characters, including the sensual, provocative George Emerson. "In the company of this common man the world was beautiful and direct. For the first time she felt the influence of Spring." A romance for the ages.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
"All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered." This beloved children's novel centers on the anthropomorphic animal characters: Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger. Exploring themes of friendship, adventure, home, and kindness, this tale never loses its freshness.

Flush by Virginia Woolf
English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent more than half of her short life confined to her childhood home due to poor health and a controlling father. She began publishing books of poetry in her thirties and attracted the admiration of writer Robert Browning. They fell in love and moved to Italy, where Browning's health improved. This unique version of that narrative, imagined by Woolf, comes from the point of view of Barrett Browning's faithful cocker spaniel.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Revolutionary in its time, this collection of poetry still packs an effervescent, searing punch. Whitman glories in the delights of every season, but spring gets the all-star treatment. Whitman has the ability to delve deep into the pleasures of the earth, perfectly melding the emotional to the physical. Like this: "I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love. If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles."

Emily of New Moon by L. M. Montgomery (The first in a trilogy)
Lesser known—but every bit as wonderful—as Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, Emily Starr is a young orphan, sent to live with relatives after her father's tuberculosis death. Amidst the bucolic setting of New Moon Farm on Prince Edward Island, the sensitive, stubborn Emily delights in the natural world, getting into scrapes, winning over curmudgeons, and finding daily inspiration for her craft as a budding writer.

Fresh Literary Flowers

Spring is a time of volatility: Fleeting sunlight is interspersed with stinging rains and bitter winds. Glowing cloudbanks are pierced with rainbows. We dig in the cold dirt and muddle through slushy puddles, reminding ourselves that gentler weather is coming soon. Here are five contemporary novels that capture the wildness of the season and the glimmering hope that propels us forward.

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year by Anne Lamott
Few authors are better at finding the light in hard times. Lamott's refreshingly honest account of becoming a single mother weaves together her unique perspectives on art, spirituality, and recovery. Fearless in the face of her own darkness, her uproarious, yet heartfelt, narrative moves between hilarity and poignancy with startling agility.

Birds of America by Lorrie Moore
Themes of renewal are threaded through this collection. Moore embraces the darker side of humanity, but never loses that kernel of hope. With stories of the conventional—marriage difficulties, new homes, and political campaigns—Moore finds a way to disrupt our expectations and capture the heady mix of unpredictable weather that punctuates a changing season.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt
"I was strong and he was not, so it was me who went to war to defend the Republic." A harrowing war tale with a twist, this historical novel captures America on the cusp of a pivotal shift. Ash is a loving wife who disguises herself as a man and marches away from their farm to fight in the Civil War. With spare, authentic prose, the fierce heroine's account is brutal and unsparing, but nevertheless, she persists.

Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race by Lara Prior-Palmer
This extraordinary memoir comes from a young woman who, on a whim, traveled to Mongolia to compete in the world's longest horse race. With no formal training, Prior-Palmer was driven only by her stubbornness and a lifelong love of horses. Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she forged ahead and, against all odds, became the youngest and first-ever female winner of this extraordinary race.

Lot by Bryan Washington
This powerful, engrossing collection of linked stories focuses on a young man coming of age in Houston, Texas. The son of a black mother and a Latino father works in his family's restaurant and weathers the storms of growing up. Washington announces himself as an important new talent, depicting, with an urgent and exultant energy, the lives of a diverse cast of characters, living and dying in the city's neighborhoods.

"Begin afresh, afresh, afresh." –Philip Larkin

As T. S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month." In other words, spring can be bittersweet. The beauty of literature is that it offers not only an escape from our sorrows, but also a safe place to embrace the darker aspects of life. During times of stress and hardship, some choose to avoid the heavy topics, while others find solace by delving deep in the mire. Whatever you're after, we've tried to offer an eclectic set of spring reads that will satisfy a variety of readers.

Let us know how we've done or if you've got recommendations of your own.

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