Spring Reading, Part II: May, Moving and Swifts

Eight days after our move, there are still piles of boxes, but the furniture is in place and there are clear walkways, so we’ll call that progress. We got a lot of help on moving day from neighbours, one of whom built a tower of book boxes in the corner of the dining room! I had fun dismantling it last week and assigning each box to a particular bookcase. Arranging the contents on shelves will be for once we’re back from Spain.

What with moving and DIY, I haven’t had a lot of time for reading lately, so didn’t finish any more of the spring books I’d intended to include – except for one children’s book from the library. I’ll give a little rundown of some of what has been on my coffee table stack.

 

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up by Sean Taylor and Alex Morss; illus. Cinyee Chiu (2021)

This was a cute read about two little girls helping their father in the garden and discovering the natural wonders of the season, like tadpoles in a pond, birds building nests, and insects and worms in the compost heap. A section at the end gives more information about the science of spring – unfortunately, it mislabels one bird and includes North American species without labelling them as such, whereas the rest of the book was clearly set in the UK. The strategy reminded me of that in Wild Child by Dara McAnulty. This year is the first time a children’s book Wainwright Prize will be awarded, so we’ll see this kind of book being recognized more.

 

May reads:

Encore is my last unread journal of May Sarton’s. It begins in May 1991, when she’s 79 and in recovery from major illness. She’s still plagued by pain and fatigue, but her garden and visits from friends are a solace. Although she has to lie down to garden, “to put my hands in the earth to dig is life giving … it is almost as if the earth were nourishing me at the moment.” As usual, there are lovely reflections on the freedoms as well as the losses of ageing. This book, like the previous, was dictated, so there is a bit of repetition. I’ve been amused to see how pretentious she found A.S. Byatt’s Possession! An entry or two at a sitting helped calm my mind during the stress of moving week.

“In a funny way what drives me is the spring, the fleeting spring. Because of the enormous wind and rain we have had, a lot of the daffodils have blown down, though not as many as I feared. But the truth is that their peak is past. We shall have them for another week and then they will be gone. It seems quite unbearable but that is what spring is—the letting go. The waiting and waiting and waiting, and then the letting go.”


I started a reread of Snow in May by Kseniya Melnik and am partway through the second story. It’s a linked short story collection set in Magadan in northeast Russia – known for Stalin’s forced-labour camps. In “Love, Italian Style, or in Line for Bananas,” it’s 1975 and Tanya is on a shopping spree in Moscow. At a time of deprivation, she buys even things she doesn’t need or that aren’t quite right. Propositioned by an Italian football player on the plane ride over, she fantasizes about the exotic and romantic, juxtaposed against her everyday life.

“The pollen swirled around her like snow. There was a time when the distinctions between right and wrong seemed indisputable, and doing right felt good. When all the decisions had been premade and in her best interest. Back when she didn’t need so much to be happy.”

 

Belonging 

I saw it on shelf at the library and knew now was the perfect time to read My Life in Houses by Margaret Forster, a memoir via the places she’s lived, starting with the house where she was born in 1938, on a council estate in Carlisle. There’s something appealing to me about tracing a life story through homes – Paul Auster did the same in part of Winter Journal. I’d be tempted to undertake a similar exercise myself someday.


The swifts come screeching down our new street and we saw one investigating a crevice in our back roof for a nest! In Fledgling by Hannah Bourne-Taylor, she is lonely in rural Ghana, where she and her husband had moved for his work, and takes in a young swift displaced from its nest. I’m only in the early pages, but can tell that her care for the bird will be a way of exploring her own feeling of displacement and the desire to belong. “Although I was unaware of it at the time, the English countryside and the birds had turned into my anchor of home.”

17 responses

  1. The Foster seems an appropriate read. How lovely of your neighbours to pitch in and help!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad it’s going well! Enjoy Spain!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy holidays
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My Life in Houses sounds interesting. I liked Snow in May–no pressure at all to click here is my review, only if you are interested https://hopewellslibraryoflife.wordpress.com/2021/03/08/review-snow-in-may-stories-by-kseniya-melnik/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read Snow in May back in 2014 when it first came out. How fun that you chose it as a seasonal read as well! I didn’t continue with a reread on this occasion, but I remember sharing your appreciation of the details of everyday life and the slightly unusual setting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That one scene made me furious tho.

        Like

      2. I don’t think I got as far as that this time, whatever it might have been 🙂

        Like

  5. You look so cheerful among all those boxes! 🙂

    Hope you have a happy time in Spain.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m cheerful about unpacking book boxes … not so much about further DIY 😉

      We had a great trip, thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Did you see on Twitter, readers and writers are passing along a list of all the possible novel conceits. (It’s surprisingly short.) One is something like: “It’s a bird that means more than a bird.” Sounds like Fledgling fits that category–and it sounds like a nice read to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I missed that Twitter meme. I guess Helen Macdonald (H Is for Hawk) is to blame for that particular conceit! This is probably the fifth memoir I’ve read on a similar theme. I’m a sucker for a bird memoir.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I could read Helen Macdonald all year long! Yes, bring on all the birds!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a great picture – you look so happy to be among all those boxes!
    I agree! Tracing a life through homes (or objects) is appealing. Looking forward to reading your book someday, whatever it might be about! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being reunited with my book collection will be one of the few good things about moving. The DIY has been tedious so far. We don’t feel like we’re any good at it 😦 Though the paint job in my study turned out pretty well.

      I wish I had the discipline to do writing exercises. Something else always seems more fun, or pressing!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the window in your first picture. And the Forster does seem apt right now. I really liked that one that was the story of a house’s previous owners … Julie Myerson’s “Home” (I don’t seem to have reviewed it), and keep meaning to put together something from our deeds about all our home’s owners …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like narratives framed around particular buildings (e.g. 142 Strand). It’s fun to think about how my house’s first residents would have lived. Coal fires in the three now-decorative fireplaces, I suppose!

      Liked by 1 person

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