My book On Sheep: Diary of a Swedish Shepherd is a memoir about my move away from an urban life as a literary academic to work on a remote rural sheep farm. Suddenly, the seasons became much more than dull weather reports on the radio or the cause for delays in my commute. When I became a novice shepherd, the seasons transformed into acute physical sensations; cold, heat, snow, rain and wind that could chill me to the bone. For the sheep, the seasons govern their entire existence – their life goes from nibbling on winter feed, to the lambing in the spring, to grazing on the vast summer pastures and finally ends with the autumn slaughter.

In many ways, my lifestyle change has resulted in a clash between a reflective, philosophical mind and a practical, weather-dependent reality. However, I still like to read books and what I have come to realise is that my reading experience is closely intertwined with my physical reality. Here are 10 books – fiction and non-fiction – that are my ode to the seasons.


1. Outline by Rachel Cusk
The novel shows us exactly how the seasons appear in the context of an urban intellectual life – they hardly exist at all. However, the most significant change in weather in Outline takes place on a flight to Greece and Cusk evokes the sense of a steamy Greek summer, marked by sticky relationships, an alter ego attempting to cool off and, in the end, the stifling heat from the life stories of the surrounding characters crawling under the protagonist’s skin.

2. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome
The humour in this tale of summer boating holiday along the River Thames may be outdated but this could be the reason why it made me laugh so much. Despite the Victorian English upper-class setting, this book still strikes a chord and the nuisances of everyday life are an inexhaustible source of amusement and laughter.


3. The History of Bees by Maja Lunde
This is a debut novel about the honey bee’s crucial significance to humankind’s life on Earth. To me, it is an autumnal book because this is the time when I feed my bees – we have five hives on the farm. The autumn is when I sense the bees’ desperation, knowing they will have to face the cold and wintry conditions ahead. Lunde poignantly depicts our fragile relationship with the environment in the stories of succeeding generations of beekeepers. Just as bees tirelessly produce their honey milligram by milligram, Lunde builds her story detail by detail into an intricate treat for her readers.

4. The Lives of Animals by JM Coetzee
In the autumn we slaughter our lambs – there are blood, intestines, slaughtering guns and knives. Before the move to the farm, I was a vegetarian. It was a decision founded both on logic and on emotion. In his book, Coetzee combines these two seemingly disparate aspects – logical thinking and emotion. He presents noble and coherent arguments against eating meat, while portraying our complex feelings towards it and the killing of animals.


5. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
Sometimes the winter in Sweden is unbearable. The skin on my hands begins to freeze and my face stiffens against the wind. I go inside, put some extra logs on the stove and tuck into Proust. Of course, I no longer have the time to devote days and weeks to this epic work, but now that I have read it once, I am able to open any one of the seven volumes and become totally absorbed within minutes. The text is like an onion with layer on layer of meaning. Despite its underlying cynicism, it always warms me up. It seems to activate so many parts of the brain and emotions; even though I sit still, I find my body filled with a kind of kinetic energy.

a hiker looking over Glacier Grey in Chile.

‘Blue is the colour of longing for the distance you never arrive in’ … a hiker looking over Glacier Grey in Chile. Photograph: Alamy

6. A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
A book about social criticism, thinking outside the box and political resistance, but also about wandering in nature without a map. Four of Solnit’s essays share a common title, The Blue of Distance, which alludes to how the nuances of blue colour in the snow can help hikers determine distance and orientate themselves. A true ode to the winter: “Blue is the colour of longing for the distance you never arrive in.”


7. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
Reading Wohlleben is like joining him on one of his excursions to a national park in northern Germany. Yes, it is wordy and a bit sententious, but still so very seductive. I am amazed by the multi-faceted interaction between the trees and other plants and animals. It made me look at the beech trees on my farm with a new, almost religious, sense of awe. The beeches stand strong and dense, forming their own climate zone. In the spring an almost surreal jade-tinged light sifts through the foliage. After reading Wohlleben, I walk there humbly, as if walking into a cathedral.

8. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Carson’s book was a breakthrough for modern environmental awareness. Some say that the problems that Carson addresses have become obsolete, (for instance the fact that pesticide DDT is now banned). I think that in the past 50 years, society has become desensitised to the idea that human activity constantly destroys nature. For Carson, any deterioration of the environment poses a problem. She wonders why we should be content withwith animals and plants just barely surviving?

Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill, San Francisco. Film Film Stills Film Still

A still from the documentary The Wild Parrots Of Telegraph Hill, which records Mark Bittner’s story.

9. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner
Bittner describes his fascinating relationship with a flock of wild parrots that he discovers in his bohemian neighbourhood in San Francisco. The book portrays the surprising and charming love story between man, animal and nature, especially the relationship between the wild and the tame. In one of the finest scenes, the wild parrots chatter in triumph having survived the cold winter nights and welcome the spring, reminding them of their Amazonian origins.

For all seasons

10. The Wall by Marlen Haushofer
A woman is inexplicably caught behind a transparent wall in the Alps. On the other side of the wall a strange catastrophe has taken place and everything seems to have died. Her only companions are a dog, some cats and a cow. In many ways, the novel is a fascinating manual for living off the grid. There is the hay harvest, the milking, the hilling of potatoes, the wood-chopping and the hunting – a dream for someone like me. At the same time, this is a tale of utter futility where there is no one to talk to. Not even the changing of the seasons, nature’s fantastic way of continual death and rebirth, is a relief against total loneliness.

On Sheep: Diary of a Swedish Shepherd by Axel Lindén, translated by Frank Perry, is published by Quercus, priced £9.99. It is available from the Guardian bookshop for £8.79.