Spring Reading

A little while ago I saw a friend of mine in a long time on Zoom to catch up on things. She asked me for book recommendations which has made me revisit some of my favorite novels. I might have got a little too excited because I almost gave away spoilers while trying to describe some of the stories—her having to say “okay wait, don’t spoil it”—but it was one of those times that makes me all the more eager to find new stories as well as go back to what I have read. Therefore, I thought I would share a little list of recommendations for some spring reading here as well.

 

Middlemarch (1871-1872) by George Eliot

This remarkable Victorian novel not only gives a fascinating story with provincial characters but also demonstrates the beauty of the more philosophical thought within the narrative. It portrays a fictional English town called Middlemarch and follows the lives of many characters in order to give a more panoramic view of a provincial town—of which most notable are the intelligent Dorothea Brooke and talented but idealistic Dr Tertius Lydgate who both want to effect change in their community. The novel is significant for its portrayal of a community as a whole, and the different individuals that show the social structure of that community. Eliot was a philosopher and an essayist which makes her story exceedingly rich with contemplations about the position of women, marriage, intellectual aspirations, self-interest and religion. Also, her character portrayals are one of my favorite aspects of the lengthy novel, strikingly illustrating the complex psychology and emotions of a person as they are hopeful, anxious or become disappointed. The length of it may pose a challenge, but I myself resolved to take my time with this book and read it along with others.

 

The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin

One of the most mesmerizing stories, Chopin composed a narrative that shows how captivatingly a story can be written, and how words can impressively depict the inner, complex world of a person. The beautiful, sensual imagery made me wish that Chopin had written more works in the same length. The novella is set in Louisiana, beginning at a resort on the Gulf of Mexico and continuing in New Orleans, and centers on the character Edna Pontellier. Edna begins to experience an inner struggle as she gradually feels a sensual and intellectual awakening and spends time with other affecting men. Her thoughts and ideas become more intricate and she begins to feel restless in her manner of existing, feeling that being a wife and a mother do not define her at all and so, should also not restrict her. Chopin’s story, then, is remarkable for its time because it explores a woman’s struggles with femininity and womanhood in a way where Edna’s growing sense of self is merely narrated as a naturally born aspect—naturally occurring and growing. In fact, it caused an outrage, affecting Chopin’s career negatively—therefore, worth the read.

 

The Waves (1931) by Virginia Woolf

Woolf poses a challenge. If you have not read her extraordinarily poetical novel, you are in for a lovely, and perhaps strange, surprise. Woolf has composed this novel with the stream-of-consciousness method which becomes an intriguing experiment also for the reader – in that it might be a new reading experience given the structure. The story presents six characters and they form the narrative by each speaking soliloquies, therefore, are entirely given the space to narrate their own thoughts, perceptions and emotions. It is, then, experimental and truly remarkable in that it strives to portray how the mind works – filled with ideas, aware of every perceptible thing and sensitive to sensations, all constantly moving and flowing through the mind, so these are written in simpler form and not in the classic, lengthier prose structure. Woolf vividly explores the self and individuality as well as how these six individuals – Susan, Rhoda, Jinny, Bernard, Neville and Louis – perceive their community as they grow from childhood to middle age. The characters are strikingly different, Bernard a storyteller, Jinny a socialite and Susan the more familial kind, for example, and they experience profound sensations that illustrates the depth of a person’s consciousness and the complexity of individuality as they grow older.

 

Wise Children (1991) by Angela Carter

Angela Carter’s amazingly funny and bawdy novel is an excellent combination of Shakespearean drama and the elements of the carnivalesque, also incorporating magical realism into the comic story that portrays a bizarre theatrical family. (By bizarre I also mean that some parts of the story can get a bit vulgar. But, no spoilers. So I hope, dear reader, you will consider picking up the book to find out for yourself.) Wise Children follows the fortunes of witty twin chorus girls, Dora and Nora Chance, the illegitimate children of a legendary Shakespearean actor who refuses to acknowledge them as his daughters, but whose twin brother becomes their legal father. However, their guardian is their eccentric (not biological) grandmother who helps them in their theatrical careers from a young age, as their uncle keeps disappearing for his adventures. The novel is narrated by Dora who is incredibly funny, and as the twins grow and proceed in their careers, their father marries three other women and manages to have two other sets of twins. Talk about carnivalesque. This strange family becomes tangled in a way where Carter manages to create drama in a vividly Shakespearean fashion, occasionally being tragic and other times more vulgar which might astonish the reader as they suddenly come to the bizarre occurrences between the characters. However, it becomes funny when we think that the author is intentionally twisting our expectations of reality—through the magical world of theater and show.

 

Artful (2012) by Ali Smith

Artful, in its composition, is a novel that definitely sets itself apart from other books. I remember being a little bewildered when I started it, but also became incredibly fascinated in everything written on the pages. The book was born from four lectures on European comparative literature, given by Smith at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, in the beginning of 2012. They are titled “On Time”, “On Form”, “On Edge” and “On Offer and On Reflection”. Having the lectures—“published [in the book] pretty much as they were delivered”—she has proceeded to create a heartfelt story of a narrator who has mourned her dead lover for a year. In the beginning of the story, she goes through the dead woman’s work, some of which are, in fact, the lectures Smith wrote. So, the narrator reminisces, then picks up her copy of Oliver Twist, and moments later she hears someone coming up the stairs. This turns out to be the deceased lover, seemingly risen out of her grave for she is covered in “dust and what looked like bits of rubble.” The novel, then, turns out to be more peculiar than you would think. Smith, in a way, is messing with our heads in giving credit for actual lectures to a dead, fictional woman, and as the story goes on, the mourner becomes more haunted by her. However, their interactions are pretty amusing, accompanied with memories. The beauty of the novel, then, is the mourner’s contemplations about love and life, and of course the fascinating lectures about art and literature, which are somewhat unconventional, almost like stories themselves—making us actually experience literature.