A couple of years ago, I put together some themed posts showcasing a few of my favourite autumn and winter reads. They were interesting to compile, but for some reason the spring and summer equivalents never happened, possibly due to forgetfulness on my part or a lack of time.
So, as the weather begins to turn a little milder, I thought it might be fun to pick some of my favourite spring reads from the shelves. I always look forward to this season, seeing it as a time of renewal, recovery and transformation, especially after the crippling harshness of winter (my least favourite of the four). Hopefully my choices will reflect this!
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (1922)
No self-respecting list of spring reads would be complete without Elizabeth von Arnim’s utterly delightful novel The Enchanted April, in which four very different English women come together to rent a medieval castle on the Italian Riviera for the month. Without wishing to give away too much about the ending, this charming story has a touch of the fairy tale about it as the four women are transformed in various ways by their time at San Salvatore. A truly magical read, guaranteed to lift the spirits – an enchanting experience indeed!
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (1938)
Another sparkling read that taps into the ‘transformation’ theme with plenty of humour and verve! Set in London in the 1930s, Watson’s book captures an extraordinary day in the life of Miss Guinevere Pettigrew, a rather timid, down-at-heel spinster who has fallen on hard times. It’s a lovely take on the classic Cinderella story as Miss Pettigrew finds herself drawn into a new world, a place of adventure, excitement and new experiences. This is a charming novel, full of warmth, wit and a certain joie de vivre. One to read or revisit if you ever need a treat.
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953)
Every now and again, a book comes along that captivates the reader with its elegant form and glittering prose. Maud Martha is one such book, painting an evocative portrait of the titular character’s life from childhood to early adulthood. Over the course of the novella (which is written as a series of short vignettes), we follow Maud Martha through childhood in Chicago’s South Side, her early romances as a teenager, to marriage and motherhood, moving seamlessly from the early 1920s to the mid-’40s. I loved this book for its gorgeous, poetic prose and beautiful use of imagery. A wonderful rediscovered gem courtesy of Faber Editions, a fascinating imprint that consistently delivers the goods.
The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
We’re in darker territory with this one, set as it is in Moscow in 1913, a time of political and industrial change for Russia. Ostensibly, the novel tells the story of a marriage, but with Fitzgerald, there’s often something deeper or mysterious happening below the surface. It’s also a wonderfully evocative portrayal of early 20th-century Russia, complete with bustling tea rooms and well-to-do houses. Towards the end of the book, there’s a beautiful extended passage covering the change and evolution of birch trees as the seasons pass from spring through to winter and back to spring again. In the space of two pages, Fitzgerald describes the lifecycle of the birch as we follow the trees from birth to decay – and ultimately to death. A quietly compelling book that leaves much unsaid, encouraging the reader to reflect, colouring in the gaps.
These Days by Lucy Caldwell (2022)
I loved this novel, an immersive portrayal of the WW2 bombing raids in the Belfast Blitz, seen through the eyes of a fictional middle-class family, the Bells. The story takes place in the spring of 1941, encompassing the Easter Raid – a devastating sequence of bombings that led to nine hundred deaths and multiple additional casualties. What Caldwell does so well here is to make us care about her characters, ensuring we feel invested in their respective hopes and dreams, their anxieties and concerns. It’s the depth of this emotional investment that makes her portrayal of the Belfast Blitz so powerful and affecting to read. A lyrical, exquisitely-written novel from one of my favourite contemporary writers.
The Springs of Affection by Maeve Brennan (stories from 1953 to 1973)
I’m bending the rules a little to include this sublime collection of short stories as it’s not very spring-like despite the title. In this instance, the word ‘spring’ has a different meaning. There is no rejuvenation or renewal here; instead, we find heartache, disappointment and resentment lurking in the rhythms of day-to-day life. All the stories are set in the same modest terraced house in the Ranelagh suburb of Dublin, opening with a sequence of seven short autobiographical pieces offering brief glimpses of Brennan’s childhood in the 1920s. Brennan then casts her eye on the Derdons (a middle-aged couple whose marriage is characterised by an intense emotional distance) and the Bagots (another couple experiencing difficulties in their marriage). What sets this collection apart from many others is the cumulative sense of disconnection conveyed through the stories, the layers of insight and meaning that gradually reveal themselves with each additional piece. (I’m currently rereading it for my book group, another timely reason for its inclusion here!)
How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup by J. L. Carr (1975)
We’re back to spring in earnest here with this charming, amusing novella which earns its slot because the FA Cup Final takes place in May. In short, the book charts the progress of a village football team who, through a combination of talent, discipline and determination, achieve their dream of going all the way to the cup final, snatching victory in the game’s closing minutes. (This isn’t a spoiler, by the way, as the novella’s title reveals the story’s outcome upfront.) I love this tale of the plucky underdogs – titular non-leaguers Steeple Sinderby Wanderers – overcoming all the odds to beat the mighty Glasgow Rangers, scooping the treasured Cup in the process. Although very different in style to Carr’s Booker-shortlisted A Month in the Country, Steeple Sinderby shares something of that sublime novella’s tone, an air of wistfulness and longing for halcyon times past.
Do let me know what you think of these books if you’ve read some of them already or if you’re thinking of reading any of them in the future. Perhaps you have a favourite spring read or two? Please feel free to mention them in the comments below.
Lovely selection, Jacqui. I have fond memories of both Miss Pettigrew and Enchanted April. There’s a lovely early ’90s film of the latter I might see if I can track down.
I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the film, Susan, if you do watch it. I tend to be a little wary of watching screen adaptations of much-loved books, but some of my favourites (e.g. Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place and Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin) play with the original novels, taking the narratives in somewhat different directions!
I loved it when I first saw it but revisiting it might be a different matter!
Hopefully it will still hold up. :)
The Enchanted April is such a delight—I first encountered it through the film version, which is absolutely lovely (Alfred Molina as Mellersh! Joan Plowright as Mrs. Fisher! Jim Broadbent as Frederick Arbuthnot!) but the book is a joy. Maud Martha is a wonderful spring choice—something about those short, fresh vignettes feels very seasonally appropriate. And I absolutely loved The Beginning of Spring. For some reason I often feel like reading Russians at this time of year; maybe it’s because they’re too dour to cope with in winter and summer?
Oh, that cast list for The Enchanted April sounds very tempting! I’m often a little nervous about watching the film adaptation of something like this, but I’ll have a peek at the trailer to see what it’s like. Alfred Molina is a treasure, and Joan Plowright seems perfect for Mrs Fisher!
Great point about the structure of Maud Martha. It does feel very springlike, both in form and in tone! And I like your way of looking at the Russians. I tend to think of them as winter reads, partly because of their length; but reading them in spring seems more appealing. I could definitely see Anna Karenina working well in that context.
Anna Karenina is probably the reason I started thinking of Russians as springy! First read it around Easter and it felt so appropriate.
What a collection! I’ve read “The Springs of Affection,” which actually made me cry. So sad, beautiful, and touching. I’ve also read “A Month in the Country,” and what a gem it is. Nearly perfect novella. Will be adding “Maud Martha” and “Miss Pettigrew” to my TBR list.
I love The Springs of Affection so much, and it’s interesting to come back to the stories for a second reading. A friend has picked the collection for our April book group (much to my delight), but I’ll be crushed if the others don’t click with it. Fingers crossed for a good discussion as there should be enough to talk about, especially with the Derdons and the Bagots.
A Month in the Country is gorgeous, isn’t it? The perfect late summer read. I might put it back on the pile for later this year.
Some great suggestions there Jacqui. I also adore The Enchanted April. I read it pretty much every year, last year I listened to the audio book which is equally enchanting. I can vouch for the movie. It’s not quite as good as the book but it is a lovely watch.
I have Miss Pettigrew waiting to be read, maybe I’ll bump that up the list.
That’s lovely, Bii. I can imagine The Enchanted April working really as an annual read! Some people return to Ethan Frome every winter as a seasonal tradition, so the von Arnim would be a similar thing. As for Miss Pettigrew, it’s a joy, pure unalloyed pleasure – I hope you find time for it soon.
So pleased to see two of my favourites here–The Enchanted April (which I see as a Secret Garden for grown ups) and Miss Pettigrew! Maud Martha and The Steeple Sinderby Wanderers sound wonderful too!
A Secret Garden for grown-ups is a wonderful way of viewing it! I loved the Frances Hodgson Burnett as a child, so no wonder The Enchanted April is a favourite book. Now I’m wondering why I never made that connection myself! Thank you for pointing it out…
Maud Martha and the Carr are very different from one another, but both are delightful in their individual ways. Well worth considering, especially as they’re very slim!
Great choices, Jacqui! There are some books I really love there, like the von Arnim and Miss Pettigrew and Steeple Sinderby – I adore the latter, such a brilliant piece of writing!! I’m very keen to read Brennan, too, she sounds marvellous – but I didn’t get on so well with the Fitzgerald – somehow it underwhelmed me a little…
Thanks, Karen. I remember you feeling quite lukewarm about the Fitzgerald, but life would be very dull if we all felt the same way about everything. :) It was my first PF, so I’ll always have a soft spot for – the gateway drug, so to speak!
Miss Pettigrew, Maud Martha, and The Beginning of Spring are lovely books and I still have the pleasure of looking forward to reading Enchanted Ajpril. I was going to choose one more title to throw into the hat, but ended up with three – Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and My Life in France by Julia Child.
The Enchanted April is a delight, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it whenever you chose to read it!
Thank you for those suggestions, Jule. I’ve seen Naomi’s Kawase’s film adaptation of Sukegawa’s novel, and it lived up to its title (Sweet Bean). Perhaps a little too sentimental at times, but the performances were very touching.
I adore The Enchanted April and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Fabulous books.
They immediately *spring* to mind when I think of this season!
Spring is my favourite season but you’ve made me realise I’ve never considered books that celebrate it! I’ve only read your first two choices so plenty for me to explore :-)
Cool. I think you’d really appreciate Maud Martha and The Springs of Affection. They’re well worth looking out for in your favourite charity shop!
Ah, some really lovely books in that pile. I haven’t read the Fitzgerald or the Carr but they both sound excellent. Of the others it would be hard to pick a favourite but I am so fond of Miss Pettigrew… and The Enchanted April. Great post.
Thanks, Ali. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Fitzgerald if you ever decide to read it. As ever with her work, the characterisation is excellent – distinctive and unusual while still feeling authentic.
Coming into winter here, so this is a nice list to refer to. I loved Month in the Country which I think I read on your recommendation.
Ah, good luck with surviving winter. It’s by far my least favourite season as I have a medical condition that is severely aggravated by the cold…so I’m delighted to be seeing the back of it here! A Month in the Country is wonderful, isn’t it? The perfect late summer read (with Steeple Sinderby for spring).
Now I’ve checked and see there are several books by A L Carr I haven’t read. Super! Thanks Jacqui
Very welcome! Alongside Steeple Sinderby, I would thoroughly recommend Carr’s The Harpole Report, a wonderful satire on life as a headmaster in a 1970s primary school. It’s highly amusing.
What a lovely collection!
I love these lists, though on this occasion I haven’t read any of your choices. Perhaps I’m just not a spring person – especially as I can’t think of any suggestions if my own!
Haha, everyone loves a stack of books, especially if there’s a common theme! Maybe one of Elizabeth Taylor’s novels would fit the bill for you? Or something by Muriel Spark?
I’ve enjoyed several of the books on your list but the Brooks and Caldwell are new to me. I loved the Brennan as much as you did. The Carr sounds delightful and I’ll move it up the TBR pile due to your comments. Now, will Carr’s A Day in Summer be on your list of summer books?
I think you’d really enjoy Lucy Caldwell’s These Days, Grier. Even though it’s a recently published book, the narrative has a very ‘classic’ feel. No stylistic smoke and mirrors, just good, traditional storytelling at its very best. And the Gwendolyn Brooks is lovely too, so beautifully written.
I’m so glad you mentioned that summery book by J.L. Carr as it’s not one I’ve come across before. On the list it goes, especially for searches in charity shops!