10 Pastoral Reads For the First Day of Spring

Spring is here—or so sayeth the calendar—and that means lots of leg shaving, swimsuit buying, seed planting, and covertly snipping branches of frothy apple blossoms from your neighbor’s tree in the dead of night.

After all that, when you’re in more of a lounging mood, dive into a hammock with a mug of the cherry blossom tea and a thick book in hand—preferably one in the pastoral genre. Totally forgotten what pastoral means? It’s usually used to describe books that show country life in an idealized light; think shepherds gently herding pure white sheep around rich green pastures and undisturbed lakes. Today, the pastoral genre has gone quiet—we’re a cynical folk and prefer to read books about time-traveling serial killers—but if you’re ready for a quick return to nature, here are a few springtime reads to get you in that “new life is sprouting around us” mood.

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
You haven’t experienced spring until you’ve experienced spring in the Swiss Alps, and buying a really nice hardcover version of Heidi that you can re-gift to your niece later is cheaper than a round-trip ticket. 

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, by Pablo Neruda
If for nothing else, read this collection solely for the line, “I want to do to you what spring does to the cherry trees.”

On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Living in a dugout wasn’t necessarily the highlight of the Ingalls girls’ lives, but it certainly was one way of communing with nature.

Spring Fever, by P. G. Wodehouse
Spring is typically the time when plants and animals go a little wild. Throw in a few lovesick Americans and suave British butlers and you’ll see that it happens in human nature, too.

As You Like It, by William Shakespeare
This classic pastoral romp through the woods features lots of melodramatic lovers and a healthy dose of cross-dressing.

The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, by Tennessee Williams
Williams’ first novel follows an aging actress to Rome where she strikes up with a gigolo. Spoiler alert: it’s no Eat, Pray, Love.

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman
Whitman’s delight in nature is addictive. This is the perfect exuberant read to get you in the mood for spring, a.k.a. nature dressing herself up as a bride in her wedding finery or whatever metaphor you prefer.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
This children’s novel pairs fantasy (talking animals!) with a delightful pastoral setting. Mr. Toad is a beloved character for the ages.

The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller
Nature and the countryside play a significant role in this novel—especially nature that’s conveniently positioned around bridges—and its theme of forbidden (if slightly sappy) love is perfect for spring.

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Yeah, yeah, you were assigned it in high school but only read the SparkNotes version. Perhaps this spring is the right season in your life (GET IT?) to curl up with Walden, preferably by the banks of some idyllic yet controversial pond.

What are your favorite books to spring forth with?

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