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  • Srishti Ramakrishnan

The Broad’s Seasonal Recommendations: What to Read this Spring


Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq


The Broad's Creative Editor, Srishti Ramakrishnan, has created a list of ten pieces of literature which embody the season of spring. In this list you're sure to find the perfect read for a sunny afternoon, spread out on the Meadows. Or perhaps some ideas to add to your to-be-read list for after you've finished the semester...



 Madeline Miller - Circe (2018)

“I thought: I cannot bear this world a moment longer. Then, child, make another.”























John William Waterhouse, Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus (1891)

 

Madeline Miller is known for her retellings of Greek mythology, especially The Song of Achilles. Something about Circe feels more fitting for spring, maybe because of its strong female protagonist and the reclaiming of her story from the misogyny of its history. Circe is born with the gift of witchcraft, but when her power threatens the gods, she is banished to a remote island, where she lives in peace until the arrival of the mortal Odysseus (leave it to a man to disrupt a woman’s peace). A tale of love, loss and feminine rage, the blooming of Circe’s power is the perfect companion to the blooming of flowers in spring.



Julie Berry - Lovely War (2019)

“Let them start their dreadful wars, let destruction rain down, and let plague sweep through, but I will still be here, doing my work, holding humankind together with love like this.”





















Penguin Books, Lovely War (2019)

 

Another Greek mythology-inspired book, but this time combined with historical fiction – two of my favourite things. Lovely War is a stunning book which tells the story of four mortals during World Wars One and Two, through the eyes of various gods and goddesses who hold the mortals’ fates in their hands. It is beautifully and imaginatively written, and the sectioning of the book into Acts reinforces its cinematic scope and plot. This book is a testament to the power of love over war which feels reflective of the victory of spring over winter, and I think it should be much more well-known!



Rupi Kaur - milk and honey (2014)

stay strong through your pain / grow flowers from it / you have helped me / grow flowers out of mine so / bloom beautifully / dangerously / loudly / bloom softly / however you need / just bloom”














Rupi Kaur, milk and honey (2014)

 

Rupi Kaur’s poetry gained fame on Instagram, marking her as a leading figure in the ‘instapoetry’ genre. This collection features both poetry and prose, and is divided into four sections: “the hurting”, “the loving”, “the breaking” and “the healing”. The writing is simple, but deals with themes of violence, abuse, love and femininity among others, accompanied by simple line art illustrations. Kaur draws on her experiences as an Indian-Canadian woman and victim of sexual assault in this work, and its simplicity means it is inclusive and relatable to a wide audience. Its messages of survival and resilience make it the perfect read for the months of spring – reading one piece every morning might be a nice way to start the day!



Ali Smith - Spring (2019)

“We move from one invisibility to another.”























Penguin Random House, Spring (2019)

 

This is the third book in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, each named after a different season. They are stand alone novels, so can be read in any order, but they all deal with everyday life in Britain. Spring follows two main characters: Richard, an older man dealing with the loss of a loved-one, and Brit, who works at a detention centre for migrants. Their stories are interconnected, as are the seasons, and the book deals with important contemporary issues such as Brexit, the climate crisis, and immigration. Smith also parallels Shakespeare’s Pericles in the character of Florence, a young girl whom Brit befriends at the migrant centre. The darker issues and themes of the book make for an interesting contrast with the images of joy and life inspired by the season of spring, serving to remind us that everyone is experiencing their own difficulties whatever the season.



Frank Wedekind - Spring Awakening (1906)

“The fog is clearing: life is a matter of taste.”









Monique Carboni, Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in Spring Awakening (2006)

 

Written by German dramatist Frank Wedekind, this play was deeply significant in the history of modern theatre. Following several German teenagers as they come of age, it critiques the sexually oppressive culture of fin de siècle Germany and the tragic consequences it can have. The theme of growing up and maturing parallels with spring, which feels like the teenage season of the year. It deals with extremely heavy content, so should be read with caution, and its subject matter has led to its being often banned or censored – the first uncensored version in England was in 1974. The plot is perhaps better known through the more recent adaptation of the play into a musical in 2006, which won eight Tony Awards and a Grammy.



Jojo Moyes - The Giver of Stars (2019)

There was still beauty in this world, even if some days it took every bit of strength and obstinacy to find it.”





















Penguin, The Giver of Stars (2020)

 

All Jojo Moyes books tend to be optimistic if a little, or a lot, heartbreaking (looking at you, Me Before You). The Giver of Stars is no exception: it follows a group of women in Kentucky during the Depression as they deliver books to people in remote areas of the mountains, part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s travelling library scheme. The women face adversity from the traditional community they live in as well as the dangers of the landscape, but ultimately overcome those opposing them. A story of female friendships, love and loyalty, this book demonstrates the power of books and education, and its heartwarming message makes it a lovely read for the warmer spring days.



Margaret Atwood - The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

“We thought we had such problems. How were we to know we were happy?”




















Vintage Classics, The Handmaid’s Tale (2016)

 

This may seem like an odd choice given its horrifying setting: the dystopian world of Gilead, Atwood’s vision of an America taken over by a totalitarian, patriarchal regime. However, the emphasis on femininity and retaining an individual identity in the face of attempts to completely dehumanise women speaks to the power of female strength, and Atwood’s heavy use of floral symbolism makes this book feel fitting for spring. This is an extremely important book to read, particularly given the political climate of the US, and at least the real world will look beautiful while you are chilled by the world Atwood has created!



Matt Haig - The Midnight Library (2020)

“You see, doing one thing differently is very often the same as doing everything differently.”










Chris Coady, inews.co.uk

 

Nora Seed is unhappy with the way her life has turned out, and feels she has nothing left to live for. She finds herself in a liminal library where each book she opens tells the story of her life had she decided something differently. The Midnight Library is gripping and beautifully written, and forces you to confront what about your own life might have turned out differently had you made alternate choices. Matt Haig creates an exciting world full of possibilities and questions, and makes a compelling case to keep on living, however hopeless life might seem, a message also associated with the season of spring.



Frances Hodgson Burnett - The Secret Garden (1911)

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.”






















Puffin Classics, The Secret Garden (2019)

 

The Secret Garden is a childhood favourite for many, and whether you’ve read it or not, is perfect for this time of year. Mary Lennox is sent to live with her reclusive uncle on the Yorkshire Moors after the death of her parents in India, and while at first she is angry and stroppy, she soon befriends her sickly cousin and, along with Dickon, a local boy, they discover a forgotten secret garden which they slowly bring back to life. A heartwarming story about friendship and family, Mary’s childlike wonder at nature and her dedication to the garden can help remind us of the magic of spring, and maybe inspire us to bring our own plants to life!



Thomas Hardy - The Woodlanders (1887)

“She looked towards the western sky, which was now aglow like some vast foundry wherein new worlds were cast.”





















Penguin Classics, The Woodlanders (1998)

 

A classic Hardy novel, this book is set in the countryside (the woodland, surprisingly enough!) and follows the story of Grace Melbury, who has been informally betrothed to her childhood sweetheart, the woodsman Giles Winterborne. After being sent away for a superior education, however, her father decides she must marry someone better, namely the doctor Edred Fitzpiers (what a name). As is to be expected from Hardy, the book deals with themes of class, gender and sexuality, as Grace suffers an unhappy marriage in the name of improving her social class. Compared to Hardy’s other novels, this one is less depressing (although I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call it happy) and the beautiful descriptions of the countryside make it distinctly spring-like!



Make sure you check out The Broad’s other seasonal picks on the creative section of our website!

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