Reading and the Celebration of Spring

Spring is not only a good time for reading—although what season isn’t—it’s a time of year that features into many of my favourite books. Spring is a time of transition, but more than that, it’s a time the world explodes into new life. If you live, like me, anywhere north of the forty-ninth parallel, you know that we sometimes bypass spring altogether and go straight to summer. Technically speaking, spring begins with the vernal equinox, but sometimes it takes a while to get some traction, especially in a place like Edmonton.
Here are three passages from favourite books that note the interesting, changeable, and verdant nature of spring. Spring is the herald of new life, but sometimes, too, it’s the herald of new adventure. So take care the next time you leave your front door.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
So he scraped and scratched and scrabbled and scrooged and then he scrooged again and scrabbled and scratched and scraped, working busily with his little paws and muttering to himself, `Up we go! Up we go!’ till at last, pop! his snout came out into the sunlight, and he found himself rolling in the warm grass of a great meadow.
“This is fine!” he said to himself. “This is better than whitewashing!” The sunshine struck hot on his fur, soft breezes caressed his heated brow, and after the seclusion of the cellarage he had lived in so long the carol of happy birds fell on his dulled hearing almost like a shout. Jumping off all his four legs at once, in the joy of living and the delight of spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow till he reached the hedge on the further side.

L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Spring had come once more to Green Gables the beautiful capricious, reluctant Canadian spring, lingering along through April and May in a succession of sweet, fresh, chilly days, with pink sunsets and miracles of resurrection and growth. The maples in Lover’s Lane were red budded and little curly ferns pushed up around the Dryad’s Bubble. Away up in the barrens, behind Mr. Silas Sloane’s place, the Mayflowers blossomed out, pink and white stars of sweetness under their brown leaves. All the school girls and boys had one golden afternoon gathering them, coming home in the clear, echoing twilight with arms and baskets full of flowery spoil.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Sam sat silent and said no more. He had a good deal to think about. For one thing, there was a lot to do up in the Bag End garden, and he would have a busy day tomorrow, if the weather cleared. The grass was growing fast. But Sam had more on his mind than gardening. After a while he sighed, and got up and went out.
It was early April and the sky was now clearing after heavy rain. The sun was down, and a cool pale evening was quietly fading into night. He walked home under the early stars through Hobbiton and up the Hill, whistling softly and thoughtfully.
It was just at this time that Gandalf reappeared after his long absence. …

Spring Walking, Spring Reading

As the days get longer, and the university term winds down, I find myself walking more and more. These days, I’m stress walking. It’s the kind of walking I do in the spring to help me recover from the year at the university. My average is ten to twelve kilometres a day—or so my IPhone tells me. That’s enough to help me sleep at night.
Apart from the stress, spring is the best time of year to walk in Edmonton. The days become longer and longer, while the geese, robins, and crows fill the evening air with a sound like longing.
The end of term is a transitional period—a stepping out of one thing and into another. It’s also that time of year in which we, who choose to live in these northern climes, embrace our seasonal amnesia and forget the six months of winter we’ve just left behind. We see the detritus of winter littering the ground, the dull nakedness of trees, the brownness of fields, and we think it’s spring. And every year it snows in late March, April, or May, just as it did this passed Easter weekend. But do we care? No, because the sun will shine and the snow will melt and soon the world will explode in a profusion of green.
In the meantime, I walk; I walk, and I read. I have to manage myself in these transitional periods. If I don’t, I will fall on my face from exhaustion as soon as the marking is done and the grades are posted. Reading and rereading is one way I manage myself. As I’m walking this spring, here are some of the books I’m reading.

Station Eleven
By Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven was the MacEwan book of the year for 2016-17. I read the book for that reason, but I also love dystopian fiction—and this one is by a Canadian. And, I was able to hear St. John Mandel read at MacEwan this past March.

The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood

And speaking of dystopian fiction written by a Canadian, I’m finally reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I’m not a big Atwood fan, and I had trouble getting through Oryx and Crake, the first book in her MaddAddam trilogy. However, I’m determined to read this book. I have a softer spot for Atwood after seeing her very disarming and personal talk at last year’s Kreisel Lecture in Edmonton.

Great Schools of Dune Series
Sisterhood of Dune
Mentats of Dune
Navigators of Dune
By Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson

Herbert and Anderson continue their stories in the Dune saga, created by Frank Herbert. None of the books by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson match the books in the original series, but if you want to immerse yourself in a science fiction universe, this is one place to do it.

The Underland Chronicles
By Susanne Collins

Before she wrote The Hunger Games, Collins wrote The Underland Chronicles, five books about Gregor and his adventures in the underworld that lies deep below New York city. This is a lost civilization series, populated with giant bats, cockroaches, and rats, all in a battle for control of the Underland. Great coming of age stuff.

Warriors of the Storm
By Bernard Cornwell

Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles are set in the Britain of Alfred the Great, and each one is a wild ride—battles, horses, long boats, Northmen, and a mostly corrupt Christian church, all narrated by Uhtred of Bebbenburg. This is the ninth book in the series, and I’ve loved them all. Again, if you want to lose yourself in another world, and another time, check out this series.

Happy spring, and happy reading!

Welcome to Spring


Happy spring. This year apparently marks the earliest spring in over a century. The vernal equinox  happened on March 19 or twentieth, depending where you live in the northern hemisphere. Spring is about many things to many people. For me, it’s about yard clean-up, restarting the composter, the Easter weekend, the end of the academic year, and most of all being outside, walking, and reading.
Alberta has seen a mild winter, so I haven’t felt as caged as I normally do by this time of year. Nonetheless, the sense of freedom that comes with walking, especially in the evening, is one that always takes me a little by surprise. And, of course, I’m not the only one out there. People are out walking, biking, and running—all exhibiting the intoxicating possession that overcomes those who look eagerly for signs of spring.
Reading and walking is something I do all year, but going for a walk in a spring evening is a far cry from navigating ice and snow on my way to catch the train. And when I say walking and reading, I mean playing audio books on my MP3 player as I tramp around the neighbourhood. I know of people who walk while reading a physical book, but this strikes me as a more dangerous form of distracted walking. I listen to my books, which I recommend to anyone who wants to be outside and reading.
I always try to keep a new book on the go, but I also tend to reread more than most people I know. A good way for me to both reread and read something new is to read everything by a single author. A few years ago, I decided to read all of the dune books, which meant everything by Frank Herbert, but also everything by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson took it upon themselves to write prequels for the Dune books, as well as a conclusion to the series. It kept me going for most of a summer.
This spring and early summer, I’m thinking either DouglasAdams, Terry Pratchett, or Patricia McKillip. Pratchett might be the most challenging of these three because of the sheer number of Disc World books. But whatever I go with, I’ll be happy to be walking and reading as the spring unfolds. Get out and enjoy the lengthening days.

Walking into Spring


Spring in Edmonton means many things. It means sunshine and longer days, warm afternoons as the snow slushes around your boots. It means longer evenings, actual evenings when you can go outside after six o’clock and it’s not dark. It means spring snowstorms—wet snow and sloppy sidewalks that freeze, melt, and freeze again.
Spring means the world is suddenly on the move. Canada geese sometimes fly right over my house. The song-birds return, and I can hear the piercing cry of the small hawks called merlins that live in the neighbourhood. Spring used to mean the return of the crows, but a couple of years ago the crows made up their minds to stay here through the winters—and I always thought they were smart birds.
Spring means the unclenching of winter. For me, it’s the end of the academic term, it’s my sister’s birthday, and it’s Easter, but most of all it’s about walking—walking in the afternoons and feeling the sun that has the power to make me sweat beneath my too-heavy coat, , and walking in the evenings as the sun is setting and the quiet of the evening fills the sky.
When I walk, I read. I walk and read all the time. I have a small reader that I keep in my pocket, and I plug in a portable speaker that I carry in another pocket, or sometimes tucked into the collar of the fleece I wear under my coat.
I’m lucky enough to live in a place where walking is easy. And as I walk, I read anything and everything.
The past few summers I’ve had a reading project. A couple of years ago I wanted to read all of the books in the Dune cycle, including those published by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. I think I got through twelve of those books as I tramped around the neighbourhood. I wanted to read The Song of Ice and Fire series, but I only got a hundred pages in and quit. I reread as well. I’ve reread Tolkien, Lewis, and Le Guin; I’ve read books by Montgomery, Phillip K. Dick, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Bernard Cornwell. I’ve read The Silkworm, Oryx and Crake, The Shadow of Malabron, The Fountains of Paradise, Blood Red Road, The Road, the Magicians, and The Horseman’s Graves, all while walking—in the morning, in the evening, at night, and sometimes in the rain.
Along with many others, I was sad to learn of the death of Terry Pratchett this spring. Pratchett is another author whose gift to the world is a place to visit when this one gets too grim. His books are my next project. I’ve already read the Bromeliadtrilogy, and I’m onto the Tiffany Aching books. Who knows how far I’ll get with Pratchett, but if it isn’t Discworld, then it will be somewhere else. Enjoy the season, and enjoy whatever you are reading.