In literature, spring isn’t just a time, it’s a symbol — of renewal and fresh starts, of surviving hardship, of budding love, of longing, of change.
Think of the beginning of Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”: “Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing. … Something up above was calling him.” And with that, Mole tosses aside his whitewash bucket and bolts for the sun, and adventure.
Think of the ending of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter”: “And as they sang, the fear and the suffering of the long winter seemed to rise like a dark cloud and float away on the music. Spring had come. The sun was shining warm, the winds were soft, and the green grass growing.”
This has not been a bad winter, as far as winters go, but spring can never come soon enough. Late March and early April can make one weep with frustration and anticipation. So while we wait for the tulips to bloom and the grass to soften and green, here are some books that can put you in the mind-set of spring.
“Greenwillow,” by B.J. Chute. This enchanting novel — a finalist for a National Book Award in 1957 — is set in a village that “long ago, centuries perhaps … had been stood in the corner and forgotten.” It’s the story of the ill-fated love of Gideon and Dorrie, and though it takes place over a calendar year, it is the feeling of springtime — when the Rev. Birdsong appears in town carrying an open umbrella full of hawthorn blossoms — that permeates the story. (Chute, by the way, was born in Minnesota, as so many great authors were.)
“A Room With a View,” by E.M. Forster. Spring in Italy, stolen kisses, violets in “great profusion.” Young love, and the first steps toward independence. So lovely.
“Persuasion,” by Jane Austen. What says spring more than second chances, new growth? And in this wisest of Jane Austen novels the hero and heroine have already loved and parted and grown up a bit before the book opens. And 10 years later, they meet again. Will they get past their pride and their prejudice to rekindle their romance? You know the answer, of course, but it is still a wonderful read.
“The Beginning of Spring,” by Penelope Fitzgerald. Considered Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, “The Beginning of Spring” is set in Russia on the eve of the revolution. The book opens in March — still winter in Russia, of course — when Frank Reid comes home from work to find that his wife has left him and quietly returned to England. She has left an enigmatic note behind but it is unclear if she will return. Her bewildered husband must carry on — including caring for their three children — and ends up falling in love with a young Russian woman who comes to help out. Like spring itself, like Russia on the verge of revolution, this book is all about the old frozen world thawing and breaking apart, everything starting to change.
“Springtime: A Ghost Story,” by Michelle de Kretser. Not many ghost stories take place in full sun, in lush gardens, in verdant back streets where “azaleas as big as fists” bloom. But this one does. The main character, Frances, has moved to sunny Melbourne to be with her lover. Every day she takes her dog for a walk and often sees a mysterious woman in a big hat, walking a white dog. But does anyone else see this woman? The ghostliness of the story is only part of its mysterious charm; the novella dwells in the world of ambiguity.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks.