There's a certain melancholy in the air that comes with fall. I mean, it is joined at the hip with winter. And, even if you live in warmer climates, in the northern hemisphere, we're tilting away from the sun. I don't mean to bum you out, but there's no way around the fact that the days are getting shorter with each passing 24 hours.
But before you come rushing at me angrily for the Debbie Downer vibes, wait! This time of year has its own beauty and rewards. After all, it's harvest season — or latté season, your choice — when all that summer fertility literally comes to fruition by the bushel. And I have my own literary bounty to recommend. Yes, while farmers have been busy gathering up their goods, and squirrels have been frantically secreting away their stash for winter, I've been scouring my shelves looking for books to get cozy with this autumn. Sure, it's a cliché — wearing a turtleneck with that Brontë novel by the hearth — but, seriously, isn't that what books are for?
Some of these books are no-brainers, and some stretch the concept of the season, but all of them will put you in a mood to read no matter the fading light. So, get your candles, your mulled cider, and your library card. Here are 11 books to fall for.
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
This is the sequel to Little Women , so this assumes you've read that one first. (If not, get right to it!) It's a warm book, filled with a family committed to schooling and community, all set in the transcendentalist period of hearty New England. Jo is back at it, and this time her married life is the topic. She's no typical wife of the period, though. A headstrong, smart woman, Alcott's heroine is on the list of top literary women for the ages for good reason.
The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
All those fecund aromas of autumn calling you back to the land? Let Kimball's book give you a first hand account. A New York writer living in a studio apartment goes on assignment to interview a young sustainable farmer and gets handed a hoe instead — and eventually a husband. This book recounts their first year from sowing to harvest on the farm they wind up working together.
The Road Back To Sweetgrass by Linda LeGarde Grover
In a different take on the individual's relationship to the land, this novel is about life on and off an Ojibwe reservation and the individual “allotments” that were given out to Native Americans by the Federal government. The Sweetgrass allotment is a parcel of land that draws the three female lead characters to return over and over again. A lyrical story of love, economic hardship, and loss, The Road Back to Sweetgrass also offers healing, humor, and a powerful sense of place and home.
All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki
Let's not forget the reality that is agribusiness as we think of the harvest. Fortunately Ozeki's writing provides plenty of bracing entertainment to help us confront how we humans have been treating our planetary home. The novel features millennial farmers, environmental activists, illicit affairs, and interracial relationships and elegantly weaves together multiple subplots in what otherwise might have been a standard family drama. This one's wicked fun.
California by Edan Lepucki
In California two twentysomethings have also returned to the land, though this time in flight from the fall of civilization as we know it. Lepucki's book is set in post-apocalyptic SoCal in 2060. How will marriage fare in the latter 21st century? What will be the ties that bind when it's a dog eat dog world? For those who want to cuddle up with a story about a near-future survival tale, this book is for you.
Agnes Gray by Anne Brontë
OK, I couldn't resist. I just had to include one of the sisters. But this novel is one of the lesser read ones by the Brontë trio — Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights being the far better known. This is a tale of a governess, a woman of reduced means in charge of the education of wealthy children. It's not as brooding as the other books, but there's wit, careful observation, and a handsome man nonetheless.
The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat
While I'm on those harrowing tales of love and survival, Danticat's story of a young Haitian servant is exquisitely searing and drenched with loss. It's a tough period in human history recorded here, the genocide committed in the Dominican Republic, but ultimately the story serves as a testament to dignity, witnessing, and endurance, all rendered in the author's sensual prose.
Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Set in Kenya, Dust also deals with relationships which confront a legacy of unequal status. This book's focus is the remnants of colonialism and subsequent violent conflicts of a nation attempting to become itself in post-colonial Africa. Owuor's writing is raw, visceral, and dense. The story evokes a landscape in which “massive purple clouds rush in” and themselves can be “ambushed” becoming “a routed guerrilla force.” Stunning.
The Lost Landscape: A Writer's Coming of Age by Joyce Carol Oates
Who knew? Oates grew up in rural western New York on a farm. In The Lost Landscape she tells us the story of her storytelling youth. It's filled with adventure, hard work, and bonding with hens. Oates is one of our best-read contemporary female authors, and for good reason. If autumn fills you with nostalgia for your childhood, this book will take you back in glowing detail.
Ordinary Light: A Memoir by Tracy K. Smith
As literary reflections on youth go, Ordinary Light is right up there. Smith is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, so her prose is gorgeous. Hers was a happy home, and it is lovingly rendered for us, but her life has not been without its challenges (whose hasn't?). Smith reflects on race, cancer, faith, and her desire to be a writer with such lyricism and passion you'll be glad she followed the path.
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko
To round out the list here's another Jo, only this one's a single mother who buys a rundown farm through her divorce settlement. Of Aboriginal heritage, our heroine here is feisty, proud, and determined. Lucashenko immerses the reader in the Australian indigenous dialect, complete with a glossary to guide the reader through the experience. Surrender!
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