A Literary Guide for Welcoming Spring
If you're as tired of checking the weather app and only seeing rain as I am, try taking your mind on a vacation by reading! Even if it's drizzly and depressing outside right now, reading books that evoke the essence of springtime is a lovely way to welcome the new season and forget about dreary winter days.
1. Branches by Rhiannon McGavin
As an English nerd in high school, I was a huge fan of Los Angeles poet Rhiannon McGavin, whose first poetry collection Branches is a dynamic mix of nostalgic sunny days and growing pains. This coming-of-age collection frequently shifts from lighter, abstract poems to more serious ideas of religious identity and intersections of self-discovery. The airiness of her poetry, however, doesn't take away from the depth of the emotions and experiences she explores. In “Angel Coda,” the poet grapples with contemporary issues in Los Angeles through natural, spring-like images of blue skies and jasmine. Similarly, McGavin questions the necessity of studying literature written by abusive men in “Chick Lit” by deconstructing the art of poetry through the women in her life, like the “sonnet in each of [her] nana's old lipsticks.” Among the serious poems, some are blissfully nostalgic and innocent. “Pan Pacific Bourse,” my personal favorite poem in the collection, reminisces on early childhood summers spent checking out library books and eating ice cream at the pool. To put it in seasonally appropriate terms, Branches is like spring cleaning your brain. As corny as it may sound, McGavin just makes you want to pick flowers and water your plants. I recommend reading her poems with a hot drink and open windows if you really want to romanticize yourself.
Bonus: the poet is working on releasing the second edition of the collection this April, which includes new and revised poems.
2. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
If poetry isn't necessarily your thing, try Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. This short story collection is excruciatingly bittersweet, yet also warm and thoughtful. Through her careful prose, Lahiri takes you around the world and exposes you to vulnerability, cultural differences, and missed connections. Despite the sad, uniquely human themes that permeate throughout the book, you'll still finish each story with the refreshment and fulfillment of coming home from a trip. In “Hell-Heaven,” you experience the tension of a girl's frustrating dynamic with her dissatisfied mother and unusual family friends. In a trio of short stories about two characters named Hema and Kaushik, Lahiri explores the lives of two people who share emotional experiences across the world, throughout their whole lives. Unaccustomed Earth is a vividly compelling representation of the matters of the heart, from family to romance. The heaviness of emotions is lifted up by the lightness of the prose, which is why I'd recommend it for springtime. After reading Unaccustomed Earth, I'd suggest going for a walk to a new place, listening to a new playlist, or calling your best friend for extra spring excitement and comfort.
3. Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises by Rebecca Solnit
For those of you who prefer non-fiction, Rebecca Solnit's latest essay collection Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises is eye-opening and impressively written political prose. Solnit gracefully tackles contemporary social issues like feminism and racism in plain language, truly living up to the collection's title. Even though the work contains intense material, it's still a great way to clear your head by reminding yourself of what's really going on in the world, especially in the Bay Area. With constant midterms and essays, it's understandably easy to lose yourself in the bubble of school and work. Solnit bursts this bubble and brings an inspiring breath of fresh air to the world of political resistance. This collection embraces the power of anger and encourages readers to do the same, which is why I'd consider it a worthwhile spring read. Solnit will make you want to organize and take action. An added bonus is that she's a Bay Area native (and a Cal graduate!), which makes her essays about local issues especially enlightening.
The most essential essays in this collection are “Death by Gentrification,” which covers contemporary police brutality and racial disparities in San Francisco's Mission District, and “Bird in a Cage,” which gives insight into Marin County's corrupt criminal justice system by examining the life of an inmate on death row. After reading this collection, I'd recommend cleaning out your living space or reviewing the new year's resolutions you forgot about in January. Solnit's prose just makes you want to change your lifestyle for the better.
As an English major, I think literary escapism is a great way to welcome new seasons, phases, or changes. Reading refreshes your mindset and allows you to be more in tune with your thoughts and others, which is why I believe it's such a soothing way to welcome springtime.