It’s that time of year again: leaves are starting to change colors and some have already fallen to the ground, waiting to be stepped on in a crunchy way. I’ve broken out my hooded sweatshirts and one of my scarves. My scooter ride to work involves gloves now. This is my favorite season in general, and it’s also my favorite season for reading.
There’s something about the crisp autumn air that makes me want to grab a book, a cup of coffee, and a window seat where I can lazily watch the leaves swirl past as I turn the pages. I think part of it might be habit; after all, I’ve always been in school around this time. This is my first year as a real, bonafide grownup, with no classes to attend and no papers to write. My brain itches for knowledge and well-crafted sentences.
My favorite fall books tend to be kind of epic and maybe a little melancholy. Fall does not make me melancholy; I’m not sure why I pick the books I do. Again, it might be a school habit. Without further ado, here are three great books to read once the summer has retreated.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Two families in a university town find their lives becoming increasingly linked, despite their glaring differences. The Belseys are a liberal, atheist family led by Howard, a white Englishman, and Kiki, an African-American. Their children deal with issues of race, culture, and place throughout the novel. The Kipps family, on the other hand, is ultra-conservative and Christian, led by Monty, a Trinidadian Brit. Howard’s failures are highlighted by Monty’s successes, and generally, everyone in this novel is a prat. However, Smith’s prose and unrelenting descriptions of her characters makes this book feel appropriately bleak and collegiate.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
If you have never read the His Dark Materials Trilogy, start right now. Right now. The first book, The Golden Compass, is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s about a world where anbaric lights illuminate grand libraries, where people have daemons that are connected to their souls and manifest as animal companions, and where bears make and wear armor. It’s steampunk, it’s fantasy, it’s theology, it’s wonderful. The main character, Lyra Belacqua, is a little girl raised by the Scholars at Jordan College in Oxford. Children start disappearing in Oxford and surrounding towns, including Roger, Lyra’s friend. She tries to get him back from whoever took him, and goes on a journey that will change the world. I’m going through this series again, for the fifth time, because it’s so lush and enveloping. Pullman creates this world that you want to exist, if only so you could have a daemon of your own to comfort you or talk to you or play with you. The other books in the series, The Subtle Knifeand The Amber Spyglass, are even more gorgeous than this one.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This novel is about a devout Southern Christian family who goes to African in the 1960s to do missionary work. The second they step on African soil, however, their lives will never be the same. Told from the perspectives of the women in the family, this novel explores sisterhood, adolescence, sense of place, and how cultures combine and clash. I read this novel about once a year, just because it’s so terribly lovely. Kingsolver takes her time weaving the story, which takes place over twenty years, and that adds depth and texture to the characters. This is a big, fat, meaty book that will stick with you.