How Do the Seasons Affect Your Reading Habits?

April 9, 2006 @ 3:50 pm | Filed under:

The potted peach tree on our deck has burst into bloom. This may be Virginia, but on overcast mornings with the fog rolling up from the creek valley and the trees shrouded in a “misty green veil” straight out of The Secret Garden, it’s easy to imagine myself in England. Always at this time of year, I find myself reaching for old favorites like Burnett’s classic tale of the reawakening of a neglected garden and neglected souls. I crave L. M. Montgomery, too; so far this spring it has been Anne of Windy Poplars—not at all my favorite of the Anne books, but what I was in the mood for—and The Blue Castle. This is the season in which my children rediscover Beatrix Potter and Brambly Hedge. I ransack the shelves for Katharine White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden, a collection of wry horticultural essays by the wife of E. B. White.

E. B.’s work, now, that’s summer reading. Charlotte’s Web may be the finest American summer novel ever written. I’ll have to think a bit to see if I come up with anything that tops it. In winter I want Beowulf, the Heaney translation, with a good fire going and, if possible, a howling wind rattling the windows. And Lord of the Rings, that’s definitely hunker-down-under-the-quilt material for me.

I was thinking about this tendency of mine to return to certain beloved novels over and over, interspersing them between new-to-me works of fiction and nonfiction, and it reminded me of the discussion of how long a book “stays read.” This time that question struck me from a new angle: I realized that I don’t necessarily want a book to stay read. The books that have touched me the most—books by Dickens, Austen, Tolkien, Alcott, Montgomery, Lovelace, Wilder, Eliot, Hardy, Wharton, Lewis, Forster, Byatt, Michael D. O’Brien, the incredible Fred Chappell—these are the books I return to time and again for refreshment of spirit and nourishment of mind.

I don’t think I want my own books to stay read. I want them to be books people return to with the joy and eagerness of reuniting with an old friend. How disappointing to be a passing acquaintance! Let something linger, yes, let some part of the book become a part of the reader; but let it be a relationship that renews itself from time to time.

There are many books I have read and lost: Gatsby, as I wrote in that earlier post, was one of them. After revisiting it as an adult, I find it has moved into the “will visit again with joy” category. The Pickwick Papers, though, that was most definitely a one-time read for me—and a long, hard slog it was. We shall have a nodding acquaintance, but I’m afraid we will never be close. A Room with a View, which I somehow never got around to meeting until last year, became at once a close friend, Anne-and-Diana close, a book I felt I’d known all my life before I was three chapters in. It is for me an August book, to be reserved for a certain kind of sun-drenched day, when the air is heavy but the heart is light.

*UPDATE: Final paragraph has been corrected: see explanation here.

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11 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Steph says:

    I love many of the same authors you do … including Fred Chappell. I need to re-read his books soon (I’m glad you reminded me). I never thought about seasonal influences on reading preferences. 🙂

  2. Maria says:

    I too have never thought much about seasonal influences to reading.

    I was intrugued by the concepet of books that stay read. I will have to think on that some more.

    I must get together a reading list of my own.

  3. Jamie says:

    Lissa, I can’t find the post now to leave this comment in the right spot, but weren’t you looking recently for a book on bacteria and such? We have a library book called “There’s a Zoo on You” — lots of electron microscope pictures, interesting text. My 9yo and I have both enjoyed it.

    At your recommendation we picked up Round Buildings, Square Buildings and Buildings For Which I Can’t Remember the Descriptor — good stuff! Thanks for the recommendation.

    Sorry to hear Pickwick didn’t grow on you. I read it after The Old Curiosity Shop, which is a little too steeped in bathos for me. I loved the lightheartedness of Pickwick. What made it tough going for you?

  4. Carrie K. says:

    I’m not sure about the physical seasons, but I know that “emotional” seasons very much affect what I read. I had my reading list for the year all planned out and then have recently been hit with some health issues that have me reaching for old friends, like the Mitford series. Anne-with-an-e will probably be next. It’s comforting to my mind to read something I alreay know and love.

  5. Karen E. says:

    I love this post! The same thing happens to me — both the physical seasons having an effect, as well as emotional and spiritual seasons. Beautiful.

  6. Jared says:

    I have to read Dandelion Wine at the start of every summer; usually sometime in June.

    Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a wonderful book for springtime reading.

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  8. Tracy says:

    if a book is going to stay read, then I don’t necessarily want to own it! I think I enjoy books more the second time around (or more).

    As for seasons – yes. Not just nature’s seasons but those emotional seasons as well often determine what I read or re-read.

  9. Mama Squirrel says:

    I read The Blue Castle for the first time when I was 10 or 11, and I still love it–it’s a weird book and of course most of its coincidences are absolutely unbelievable–but that’s what makes it a good story.

  10. Theresa says:

    We are definitely seasonal readers. The Little House books are our winter snuggle reads. Spring tends to find us reading less and being outdoors more, but with the return of the heat in summer comes novels of mystery and intrigue for me and adventure for the dc.

  11. Becky says:

    I love “Onward and Upward”; it’s been on my night table since last month, when it looked as if Spring was imminent (that was before the big dump of snow). It’s a lovely book for dipping into, and reading just snippets before bedtime…

    The books I read don’t stay read most of the time, which can be a pain, but it does justify having all these books and all these bookshelves! Besides, when I reread books, I always find something new, which is a special pleasure, almost a gift from the book.