By Danielle Simpson
Any list of spring reading surely must begin with Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April. It begins one dreary April day in London when an ad in the Times offers a Medieval castle for rent on the Italian Riviera. Four very different women come together in Italy, and it’s gorgeous, and warm and tranquil. The flowers are in bloom, and the view is of a perfect, deep blue sea. Somehow it’s magical and their lives begin to change and transform. This is an utterly lovely book, and if you have not yet discovered it, you are in for a treat.
I have read this book many times and it never fails to work its magic on me. If ever a story can be a sensory experience, this is the one. A woman and her daughter open a chocolaterie in a provincial French town at the beginning of Lent. The story has this slightly subversive tone to it as you might imagine, which makes it all the more interesting. Just reading descriptions of Vianne Rocher’s confections makes your mouth water — you can nearly smell and taste the chocolate. Bitter orange cracknell, apricot marzipan roll, cerisette russe, white rum truffle, manon blanc, peche au miel millefleurs….things I have never even heard of but can imagine the sweetness on my tongue.
One Fine Day is a slender novel yet it’s quite thoughtful. There’s not much dialogue, but there’s lots of reminiscences and observations. Much of the story is made up of these beautifully descriptive passages of British village life post World War II. Although only one day passes, we’re given a compelling view of one family and the changing world they live in. Reading it you can feel the sunshine on your face and despite the changes and obstacles you still feel a contentment with the world.
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Almost any of the Little House books would be suitable spring reading as they tend to follow the rhythms of the year, but Farmer Boy has become a favorite of mine and seems especially appropriate for the season. Alonzo Wilder will grow up to meet and marry Laura Ingalls but in this story he is only nine and must help on his family’s farm. In spring, one’s attentions naturally turn to planting crops and tending to the new baby animals. Alonzo prefers life on the farm but must deal with schoolyard bullies and mischievous cousins. The story is a pure delight to read.
If a farm is a perfect way to think of the rhythms of seasons in nature, then Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea follows the rhythms of a woman’s life from youth to old age. She uses shells and other gifts that wash ashore to describe this process. Another slender work that so eloquently expresses how aging can be a form of renewal and rebirth.
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
What is springtime without at least one story about young love? Lucy Honeychurch is from a respectable, middle class Edwardian family. A young woman who has traveled to Italy as a tourist with her aunt Charlotte, she will have her first taste of real life in all its passion. This novel is a wonderful exploration of love and freedom and how one young woman learns to follow her own path in life. There are so many reasons why I love this book apart from the story itself. Forster’s prose is gorgeous and often witty and his characters are interesting and develop as the story progresses.
If you like Miss Marple, I think you’ll like Lucy Bex equally well. This vintage cozy mystery written at the tail end of World War II has the unusual wartime setting of the Irish countryside. Lucy and the other inhabitants of Clonmeen take their gardens seriously, all the more so when a local woman is found poisoned by a plant commonly found in everyone’s garden. Murder or accident is the question that prompts Lucy’s amateur sleuthing. A question almost more interesting than the upcoming flower show.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Who wouldn’t want to discover a secret garden? When ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire her uncle doesn’t even bother to greet her. She’s told by the servants he is not to be disturbed. She is left to a small section of the house, told not to stray or wander through other rooms and is absolutely forbidden to enter the walled garden outside, which in any case is locked and the key long lost and buried. This is of course an invitation to do all the things she’s not meant to. Another story, and this one a classic, of the transformative power of nature.
Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Escaping alone into a garden? Yes, please. Have you noticed that being solitary in a garden doesn’t always mean quiet, but nature has an entirely different sort of sound than any other kind of noise? Gardens have their own little symphonies, something von Arnim understood, appreciated and needed in her life, and she wrote about it so lovingly in this book.
In the hands of such a careful observer as Roger Deakin even the smallest detail in the natural world that the rest of us miss takes on an importance and beauty. Notes from Walnut Tree Farm is presented in diary format over the course of the year and is often just short jottings or reflections on nature. He had a great love and respect for the environment as well as a great curiosity. He didn’t just look at nature as something outside his window to be dealt with or put up with but lived with it and in it fully. And nothing was too big or more importantly too small to not give careful attention to.
Danielle blogs at A Work in Progress