7 Books Set During Spring Time

The magnolias are blooming where I live in Spain — big bursts of pink blossoms garlanding the streets, sprays of pastel petals on gray pavements, a twist of color among concrete. It feels like magic every time, every year: the shoots and sprouts, buds, blooms, and blossoms, that literal spring in your step as winter fades. I buy bouquets of daffodils, fawn over sidewalk tulips, and embrace with open arms the big fat cliché that this season is. A grand old flowering tree after a cold, dark winter is surely enough to warm even a cynic’s heart, no?

Perhaps you’re a cynic, perhaps a seasoned spring fiend, or ambivalent about this season that can feel in-between. Here are some reads to welcome the new season:

Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa

Dorayaki is a delicious Japanese pancake filled with sweet bean paste. A treat that you will most definitely be craving when reading this book, so fair warning to seek out some sweet bites to snack on. To set the scene: it’s cherry blossom season in Tokyo, a disgruntled, depressed employee runs a dorayaki shop on the blossomiest street of them all, and an elderly lady appears out of nowhere and infiltrates his life with her magical bean paste. A story of friendship, loneliness, injustice, aging, and empathy.

Intimations by Zadie Smith

This is a whole different kind of spring story — a pandemic spring. Zadie Smith famously wrote this slim tome of excellent essays during the early days of Covid, reflecting on life in this strange time of ours: the miseries of lockdown and ruminations on writing, George Floyd, privilege, suffering, contempt.

In Intimations, Smith compares writing novels to baking banana bread (it’s just something to do). She sketches a few portraits of New York City with the sharpest of pencils, turning tulips into peonies and deploying memes as readily as she references Marcus Aurelius. She offers us a handful of tiny, brilliant gems — crisp, catching the light, and full of clarity.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

When I think of spring in literature, the first thing that comes to mind is my childhood friend, Anne Shirley. Even though life in Green Gables moves through all the seasons, to me it seems to be always enveloped in branches bursting with blossoms, in green shoots sprouting out of fresh dirt, in birdsong and perpetual May. Spring is there on the very first page, lush and shimmery, the orchard “in a bridal flush of pinky-white bloom, hummed over by a myriad of bees.” If you have not met Anne yet, maybe now’s the time for a little escape into her world.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

“I want to do with you what Spring does to the cherry trees,” Neruda once famously wrote in a poem. This sentiment succinctly captures the atmosphere of Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday, which is rich with Salter-esque sensuality set against a backdrop of a blooming spring day in the English countryside, a March day that feels like June. Mother’s Day, to be precise, traditionally a day off for servants so they could return home and visit their mothers. For Jane, a maid, this is a day of celebration, a day to do what she pleases, as she has no home to return to: a day to spend with her lover. A deliciously seductive handful of hours turns out to be a turning point in her life. Moving, dreamy, and enviously crafted.

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald

This is the kind of book that soaks in and settles into your corners and cobwebs. Long after reading it, I kept thinking of the windows in Moscow and their springtime opening, the unsealing of winter layers to let the fresh air in, finally.

Penelope Fitzgerald weaves a fine, elegant tale, as always, masterfully setting a scene with just a few brushstrokes. It is March 1913 in the city and Frank Reid’s wife has left him, hopping on a train with destination unknown, leaving three kids behind. He is left to pick up the pieces, to solve the mystery of her sudden vanishing, hoping for a return. The minutiae of Russian life during this era are skillfully constructed, with plenty of samovars, birch trees, and wintry scenes to make you feel fully transported. And the timing of it all, Russia on the brink of war and revolution, injects the book with an underlying haunted, electric energy.

Things I Do Not Want To Know by Deborah Levy

A compact book that I keep coming back to, this is the first part of Deborah Levy’s “Living Autobiography.” Levy has a way of crafting sentences that you both want to savor and swallow without chewing so as to gobble up the next and the next. A response to Orwell’s famous “Why I Write” essay, this is a meditation on the writing life, primarily, but also on family, womanhood, living and being and love and everything that makes a life. Levy’s spring is one of crying on escalators. The book opens just so:

“That spring when life was hard and I was at war with my lot and simply could not see where there was to get to, I seemed to cry most on escalators at train stations.”

And it unfurls from there, skipping off to Mallorca, with flights of recollection to Poland, to South Africa, to England.

Running by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Knausgaard’s Seasons quartet is dedicated to his youngest daughter, each book containing letters, essays, and diaries addressing the author’s newest child. Running veers away from this formula and into autofiction territory, a tried-and-true comfort zone for Knausgaard. The novel takes place on Walpurgis, a big Scandinavian celebration on the last day of April, an eve of bonfires and flaming torches that herald spring.

The narrator goes through his daily motions of caring for his kids, attempting to write, spiraling into the past and into a recounting of his wife’s pregnancy. Like a bonfire, this book crackles and mesmerizes, lends itself to reminiscing and drawn-out discussions, fades and flickers a bit, drifts off into monotony, but ultimately snaps and sparks and celebrates life.

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