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The first flowers are beginning to peek their heads out of the ground and the mint in my window is slowly recovering from its winter hibernation. Soon it will be winding its way around the pots of basil and thyme (those, alas, are still unwilling to give up their slumber). When it begins, I am enamored with winter: its cold blankness, grey skies, hot chocolate and reading books snuggled under a pile of blankets by the radiator. By now, though, I’m ready for the warmth of spring and summer, for spending days outside in the sun, for tromping around in the woods, and for food made with bright vegetables and fresh herbs. As I grow older, the timing of the seasons always seems so perfect. By the end of summer I’m exhausted with the heat, and the cool autumn nights fill me with joy. Now winter has been dragging on for what feels like too long, and I appreciate every new sign of spring with an intensity that can only be brought by long absence.
I am, of course, reading books that fall in line with the feeling of newness in the world around me. My favorite of these right now is Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. I wrote briefly about it when I first read it at the beginning of the year. I wasn’t really expecting that it would stay burrowed inside me over the remaining winter months, but here we are in March and it’s still filling my head.
The baby was almost certainly one year old. They knew this because of the red rosette pinned to her front, which read, 1!
"Or rather," said Charles Maxim, "the child is either one year old or she has come first in a competition. I believe babies are rarely keen participants in competitive sport. Shall we therefore assume it is the former?”
Rooftoppers is just gorgeous. It takes place mostly on the rooftops of Paris, and it follows a cast of characters that will effortlessly take up residence in your heart. It’s one of those books that reminded me of all the beauty in life: its wildness, its kindness, its surprising joys. There’s a scene in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente where Lye the soap golem scrubs September’s spirit clean of all the dirt and grime it’s gathered over the years, and she emerges with “warm cinnamon courage…fresh and bright.” That is precisely what reading Rooftoppers feels like.
Less bright and hopeful, perhaps, but equally wonderful, is Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. This was my favorite new release last year, and it just came out in paperback. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re now out of excuses. Go pick up a copy. It’s brilliant and beautiful, and Hamid writes with such driving force you won’t be able to resist being caught up in his storytelling. How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia isn’t very sentimental or exactly light-hearted (though it doesn’t feel unbearably heavy while you’re reading it), but it still manages to be lovely and romantic in ways that are unexpected and maybe a bit more wonderful for being so.
We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.
My poetry selections right now are slightly less shiny and new (but there’s a lot to say for the faithful companions that stay with you throughout the years). I’m reading a lot of Margaret Atwood, Pablo Neruda, and Sylvia Plath. (You may think that Plath is an incongruous choice for spring, and it’s true that she doesn’t shy away from the tougher emotions. Her work is just so fantastic, though, and I’m constantly impressed with what she does with language.) A lot of us are poetry-lovers here, so our selection is large and there’s bound to be someone on hand to help you find a poet that they’ve been carrying inside of themselves and want to pass on to someone else.
I hope that the coming spring finds you all well, that you’re taking a moment to enjoy all the green things popping up, and that you’re populating your lives with the literature that makes your brain tick and your heart sing.
With Love from Your Always-Affectionate Bookseller,
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