After the long, dark, cold winter, spring peers around the corner and beckons us to wake up and reset our lives. It gives us hope for better days. Flowers begin to break through the solid ground and light the world with color. The Earth is renewing itself, and the cycle of life is once again fulfilled. The following books embody the theme of renewal after darkness, breaking through the hard times with the hope of better days. They will help you glide through the spring of life.
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
The Enchanted April begins in wet, rainy February in England and ends in Italy in spring. It follows four dissatisfied women who dream of change and a holiday in an Italian castle. The women find more than wisteria and solitude as the magic of spring in the Italian countryside awakes their very souls. The question is whether the enchantment will continue when their husbands and lovers pop up to join their adventure.
The Enchanted April was published in 1922, but it isn’t an out-of-date story. It was a best seller in England and the United States. It became a Book-of-the-Month-Club hit. The magic of the story cast its spell on many readers who immediately took off on holiday to Portofino, Italy after reading. It has also been made into a movie and a Broadway play.
Laddie by Gene Stratton-Porter
Laddie was originally written in 1913. It is a book about families, relationships, nature, and a time when life was simpler. It is based on the author’s own life, and is the story of “little sister” who is the youngest of eleven children. Little sister is born to a wholesome and well-educated Mid-West family that is busy with farm life. She is often lonely and unwanted, but her brother Laddie adores her. Laddie creates a love of nature in her, and nature is where she is happiest. While it is written in third person and little sister’s perspective, it does include intrigue and suspense.
Gene Stratton-Porter was an American author, early naturalist, nature photographer, and one of the first women to form a movie studio and production company, Gene Stratton-Porter Productions, Inc. She wrote several best-selling novels and received columns in national magazines, such as McCall’s. Her works were translated into several languages, including Braille.
Stratton-Porter was estimated to have had 50 million readers around the world. She used her position and income as a well-known author to support the conservation of Limberlost Swamp and other wetlands in the state of Indiana. All Stratton-Porter’s books are focused on nature and bring a breath of fresh air. They are perfect for a spring time refresh.
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is an eye-catching title that begs one to read it. Written in first person, it becomes a quiet life chat between you and the author, perhaps over a cup of tea. The most intimate parts of a woman’s emotional life are shared as if between friends.
It is not autobiographical. Comyns does tell real-life scenarios, including that of childbirth in 1930 at a public hospital. There are so few depictions of childbirth in books that it is almost mesmerizing to read. So why is it in my spring book category? Spring comes after the winter, and this book is all about the cycles of life and life decisions. Finally, it comes around to the new life and hope of a better life.
The story begins with two young bohemian lovers (in London 1930) who marry against the family’s wishes. Sophia, the wife, winds you through life in poverty. The loyalty of Sophia to Charles – a selfish young artist – will anger and enrage at times, but overall the intimate details of Sophia’s mind and heart are will keep one reading.
It’s a story of choices, consequences, and overcoming life’s difficulties. In the end, spring will come as Sophia grows inexperience. The endearing parts of her personality will leave you wanting a second chat over tea- even if Great Warty (Sophia’s pet newt) comes along.
Rose In Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
Rose In Bloom is the sequel to Eight Cousins with Rose Campbell and the male cousins at the courting age. In true Louisa May Alcott style, her feminine heroine is not a sappy mindless girl just waiting to be married off. In this story, Rose, an heiress to a large fortune, has her own ideas about love, marriage, money, and family. She is an independent young woman who believes all are equal. Luckily, she is wise about people and sees through the games people will play to get a hold of her fortune, including her aunts.
The aunts want to see the money kept in the family, so they want Rose to marry one of her cousins. This turns into quite the challenge, and true colors are revealed. In the end, love conquers all and three weddings are scheduled.
Why is it in my spring reading list? Well, spring is all about new beginnings and love. This is a story about both. Each character is at a new beginning in their life, and romance is bound to happen. The symbolism of “Rose” also stands out as a topic of spring. The rose represents beauty, strength, independence, and protection (thorns). All these are possessed by Rose Campbell. It is a delightful coming of age story in a long-gone era of romance.
A Room with A View by E.M. Forster
Spring weather is so unpredictable – rainy and cold one day and sunny and warm the next. It’s unlike the social norms of early 1900s England where the norms are predictable and understood by all.
A Room With A View begins with two English women, Lucy and her chaperone Charlotte, traveling to Florence, Italy. Lucy is middle-class, and her life is all mapped out for her including her betrothal to Cecil. However, the interesting people she meets in Italy and their adventures together begin to stir questions about the uptight British ways. Her experiences at the Pension Bertolini might be brief, but just like spring they seem to bring the unexpected at every turn.
Lucy and a fellow guest at Pension Bertolini, George, witness a murder in the streets of Italy, and it changes their lives. This event sets in motion an eventual romantic experience between the two, and Charlotte whisks Lucy back to England to avoid further encounters.
However, when fate steps in George ends up in England – in the same neighborhood as Lucy. She is pushed to discover her own heart rather than the planned marriage laid before her. Will Lucy break past the social norms of the day? What will be the consequences of such unexpected actions?
A Room With A View takes you on a journey through three countries: Italy, Greece, and England. It ranges from the upper-middle-class Edwardian norms to the looser Italian and Greek philosophies of the day. Comedy, murder, romance are all wrapped up into one book that, like spring, brings the unexpected at every turn.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret Garden is one of the most well-known English children’s classics. It is loved by old and young alike. It is the story of renewal, growth, and turbulent family relationships. It was written in 1911 but has endured the test of time.
It begins as Mary, a new orphan born in India to a British family, is shipped back to England to live with her recluse uncle at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire. The contrast between India and England is enough to depress anyone, but Mary has much more to overcome than the weather. She is a spoiled, rude, stubborn child, and no one has time for her tantrums. As the story continues, she begins to change. She softens as she focuses on the difficulties of others.
Eventually, she finds a walled garden which is always kept locked. If this isn’t mysterious enough, there are the constant sounds of sobbing within the vast mansion. No servants will engage in her queries, and she is left to unravel both mysteries herself. Like spring itself, the unexpected cultivates ground which had been neglected but is alive with possibilities.
This charming tale is full of innocence and childhood ideals, yet it tackles complicated family relationships, loss, and overcoming life’s difficulties. It is truly about the hope of spring in the middle of the dark winter.
The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates
The title of this book is taken from William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18: Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate: / Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, / And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Published in 1958, The Darling Buds of May is the first of five Larkin novels. Sticking with the spring theme, this is another book about the unexpected and transformation of its characters. The book is set in Kent and is about the Larkin family’s different way of living. They like to live the “good life,” but they don’t believe in the normal grind of life. They sell odds and ends, strawberries, and farm animals to make a living. The key concept of the book is Pa’s disbelief in taxes.
When Mr. Charlton, a timid tax clerk comes on the scene, schemes are hatched to move him away from their finances. He also seems to provide an escape from a sticky situation their daughter created.
The Larkin way isn’t pure and exactly wholesome, but it is a celebration of family, food, and getting back to nature. The book introduces the reader to the Brigadier, Miss Pilchester, and Angela Snow – all important characters in the story. The ending sets the stage for the rest of the book series with a celebration and wedding announcement.
“Bates, speaking of how he was inspired to create the Larkins, recalled the real junkyard that he often passed near his home in Kent; and he remembered seeing a family — a father, mother and many children, sucking at ice-creams and eating crisps in a ramshackle lorry that had been recently painted a violent electric blue”. (Wikipedia)
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
Elizabeth and Her German Garden is a semi-autobiographical novel of the author’s life. Elizabeth von Arnim (1866–1941) was born Mary Annette Beauchamp. By marriage, she became Gräfin (Countess) von Arnim-Schlagenthin and by a second marriage, Countess Russell. The novel, which is written in the late 1800s in Germany, gives a glimpse of the life of a countess.
Elizabeth didn’t care for city life or the limelight. She much preferred the country. The story is a year-long diary of her efforts to reclaim a neglected estate garden. The process of rebirth and renewal of the grounds is captivating as she captures the horticulture and plants of the day. Her garden is her solace, strength, and refuge from life.
Elizabeth refers to her husband throughout the book as “the Man of Wrath,” and her children are called after the month they were born – April, May, and June. Even though the story is really about her passion for gardening, the book is full of details of life and the constraints on women of the time.
The story is full of humor, friendship, nature, and the culture of the period. It is both endearing and sweet. It isn’t necessary to be a gardener to enjoy the humor and wit of the story. It will leave one wishing for the solitude of a garden though. (A little side note for Downton Abbey fans, Molesley gave Anna a copy of the book in the second episode of season two.)
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
As a flower must fight to push through the solid ground in the spring, the main character, Victoria Jones, must push past the hard world in which she was raised. As she slowly learns to let others in, we see the layers of beauty in her open to reveal the inner vessel of her human soul. This is a story of redemption, forgiveness, and hope beyond all hope.
Victoria has been raised in the foster care system and is being “emancipated” on her 18th birthday. This freedom leaves her with no one and nowhere to go. She reaches back and remembers the language of flowers taught her by a foster mother. She uses the old-fashioned meaning of flowers to bless the lives of others while refusing happiness for herself.
This story will break your heart several times, yet a sense of hope prevails at every turn. It is a true testimony of those who break past the abuse of childhood and reach for a higher ground – looking always to help others. The biggest question throughout the book is “will Victoria allow herself to be loved?”
“In The Language of Flowers, Victoria learns about this language as a young girl from her prospective adoptive mother Elizabeth. Elizabeth tells her that years ago, people communicated through flowers; and if a man gave a young lady a bouquet of flowers, she would race home and try to decode it like a secret message. So he would have to choose his flowers carefully.” (Vanessa Diffenbaugh) The author includes a chart with the meaning of flowers should the reader want to share a flower with a friend.
Absent in the Spring by Agatha Christie
This isn’t your average Agatha Christie book. Christie reveals part of herself in this book and will leave you wanting to know more about the author. Be prepared to be uncomfortable while reading this book. It will lead to self-reflection. The main character is living a busy but trivial life. On the return home from visiting her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself stranded and alone in a rest house. The train tracks have flooded, and she has nothing but time to reflect on her life.
Joan discovers herself for the first time, and it isn’t a pleasant journey. The book is masterly written weaving present and past in a grand narrative. Spring is a time for planning and reflecting, and this story will leave you analyzing your own life. The veil of truth will be lifted and Joan will return a better person more personally enriched. Are you ready for the journey?
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Prepare yourself for an epic story of living off the land and away from the typical American diet. This is the Kingsolver family’s goal as they move from Arizona to rural Appalachia. They decide to make a one-year goal to live with only what they produce or locally grown food.
Kingsolver is an incredible storyteller even as her family muddles through the task of learning the difficulties of a “simpler” way of life. It is a plea to Americans everywhere to become aware of the drawbacks of the commercial food industry and the myriad of health issues caused by the food we eat.
The topic might seem dry and/or preachy, but let me assure you – you will laugh out loud. Her descriptions of new career choices for unmotivated children will leave you reeling (turkey sperm wrangler, for example). Be warned: there are graphic scenes of heritage turkeys mating – “history in the making” as she describes it.
It’s altogether an enjoyable and educational read. Nothing is lost in the personal narrative of her family’s daily life. Join them through the joys of the first spring harvest of rhubarb to the final apple and potato harvest. Are you ready to take the one year challenge?