Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Books of Autumn... and The Best Places to Read Them

The Books of Autumn...
and The Best Places to Read Them

A lot of fuss is made about summer reading.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  Choosing the one, or two, special books to take along with you on a summer holiday is vitally important to the success of that holiday.  How dreadful it would be to return in the evening to your rented cottage at the shore, sated and slightly sunburned, climb into that porch hammock that sways ever so slightly in the ocean breeze, open up the special book you’ve brought to read for the week, and discover it’s as boring as a textbook, or worse, dumb as a teenager’s diary.  No, summer reading deserves all the attention it receives.

But for me, the really interesting season for books always starts in autumn.  Beginning in September, the release dates of my favourite authors line up like train departures, all the way through November till they culminate in that wonderfully tempting lineup of Christmas books, a clutch of special titles designed to tempt even the most disinterested.
For the reader, it seems we turn the clocks back every year just to gift us with more atmospheric hours in which to pull our chairs a bit closer to the fire, position our mugs of tea just so, invite our dogs to curl up on our feet, and crack open that one magic book that will reach out and envelope our reality so completely we will simply cease to exist in the present. This is the time of year that my handbag is always just a little bit heavier, a fat book being forever inside in case I pass a particularly inviting park bench beneath an especially colourful maple tree.  It’s the season when the stack of enticing titles by my bed grows precariously tall, the television is rarely switched on, and Edward gets many absentminded scratches behind his ears as he lays contentedly beside me, big white head in my lap, as I read.
So on this first day of fall, in honour of this special time of literary bounty, 
here are a few of the books catching my eye at present
 along with a few places and scenarios that seem to fit them.
 Click on the book covers to find out more about them.
 Do enjoy!

Inspiring Creativity
The first time you saw this place, you knew it had to be yours, though at the time it looked much different, filled as it was then with boxes and crates and covered over with a grey shroud of ancient dust.  You signed the lease that very day and set about transforming this old attic room into your own cabinet of curiousities, the one place in the old city where your secrets could roam freely, your creativity flourish unleashed.  It’s been years now, and still your heart skips a beat or two when you turn off Piccadilly and head down the dark, tiny side street.  You open the heavy leaded door to the tailor’s shop, nod to the varying collection of bespoke suited men inside and make your way to the twisting staircase behind the fabric storage room.  Climbing up to the attic, you take the large Victorian key out of your coat pocket, open the door and... sigh, you are home once more.  You turn the kettle on and when the transferware teapot is full, you reach for a sack of new books, books about inspiring people, books that promise to spark your imagination and cause you to dream even more fanciful dreams.

Grace, A Memoir
The life of American Vogue’s beautifully enigmatic creative director, Grace Coddington. 
In her own words. 
 Need I say more?

Alexander McQueen, The Life and the Legacy
by Judith Watt
With a foreword by his good friend, Daphne Guinness, this book promises to be the definitive biography of this much-missed genius of fashion.

Stella Adler on America’s Master Playwrights
Edited by Barry Paris
Great acting is a complete mystery to me because with the truly great actors one never sees the effort, never notices the technique.  Stella Adler was one of the world’s most revered acting teachers and in this book, compiled from her many lectures, she illuminates some of America’s most celebrated plays and playwrights, most of whom she knew intimately.
  One has to be fascinated by a woman who once told writer Clifford Odets,
 “Clifford, if you don’t become a genius, I’ll never forgive you”.

The Brontes, Wild Genius on the Moors
By Juliet Barker
The definitive biography.
Now updated with new information.
You won’t be able to put it down.

Return Journey

Up before dawn, you watched a pink peony sun melt away the grey morning as you packed the old wooden basket with shortbread, red apples, and books.  Tucking a bottle of pear cider in alongside a carefully wrapped crystal goblet, you set off through the woods to the river.  Your dog chases brown rabbits through the bracken as you follow along, wondering. Will it still be there?  That wonderful chair hanging from the tree limb above the swiftly moving water?  Even though no one has seen it but you, somehow you know, no matter when you return, if your arms are full of the books of your childhood, that magical chair will be there waiting for you.  Your pace quickens as you hear the laughter of the river at the edge of the wood.  Stepping out into the September sunlight, you see it.  You reach into the basket and pull out your books.  This is going to be a perfect afternoon.

The Wind in the Willows, An Annotated Edition 
by Kenneth Grahame
Supposedly a children’s book, The Wind in the Willows seems to gain, rather than lose,
 more wondrous appeal the older one becomes. 
 This new annotated edition is divine.

Wonder Struck
by Brian Selznick
The author of the deliciously imaginative, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is back 
and ready to take us on another adventure which, I am sure, will be
impossible to resist.

He Was There From The Day We Moved In
by Rhoda Levine
Drawings by Edward Gorey
Just what do you name the shaggy sheepdog waiting patiently in the back garden of your new house?  This is the problem facing Ogdon and his big brother.
Completely irresistible.

On a Dark and Stormy Night
It was dark before you set out and it wasn’t long before you were wishing you’d left earlier.  Every time you visit your Great Uncle Frederick, the weather seems to turn.  Driving out this evening for a weekend with the old man, the skies grew darker, the winds wilder, with each bend in the road.  Saucer-sized raindrops were bouncing off the pavement by the time you ran for his front door and Uncle Fred threw it open before you could knock.   Due to the lateness of the hour and the paleness of your countenance, he ushered you immediately to your favourite room, kissed you absentmindedly on the forehead and closed the door with a promise of pancakes for breakfast.  You turn to see a pot of hot tea, a basket of warm muffins, and a stack of new books by your bed.  Dear Uncle Freddy.  Slipping into your cotton nightgown, you climb into bed and open the first book on the stack just as a flash of lightning pierces the leaded window like a scream.

by Mary Shelley
I am utterly ashamed to say it, but I’ve never read this. 
This new annotated edition, so beautifully bound, is going to change that fact this fall.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A gorgeous new set.
Legendary, atmospheric writing for the ages.

Ghost Stories
A delightful little edition of classics.
Should be by every guest room bed in autumn.

Lost in Contentment

The fire is blazing now.  You’ve stacked extra logs by the hearth and there’s a hearty minestrone simmering on the stove.  You’ve left the front door cracked just a little so the dogs can let themselves in when they’re done with their run on the beach.  There are orange roses in every available vase.  Though it will still be several hours before he gets home, the setting is perfect.  Pouring yourself a glass of pink champagne, you wrap a crimson cashmere blanket around your knees, climb into your tufted leather chair and reach for the sackful of new books you purchased at the bookshop just this afternoon.  By the time the dogs return, sandy and tired, you are completely lost in the pages.

The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton
Kate Morton's books fill a void in the heart of a certain sort of reader, one besotted with old houses, tweed jackets, and a bracing glass of brandy before bed.
I confess, I am so looking forward to this new one.

The Casual Vacancy
by J. K. Rowling
No, this is not Harry Potter - The Adult Years.
That's what makes this book so exciting.
I can't wait to see what J.K. has in store for us next.

Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver
Resembling a lake of fire, millions of flame-coloured butterflies
take up residence in an Appalachian Valley.
The residents are divided.
Is it one more definitive sign of disastrous climate change?
Or is it a sign from God?
A book for our day if ever there was one.

Dancing to the Precipice
Lucie de la Tour du Pin and the French Revolution
Fascinating and fun!

Binocular Vision
New and Selected Stories 
By Edith Pearlman
Extraordinary, remarkable stories.
Each one different from the last; each one springing from a 
well of imagination fathoms deep.
I defy you to read Self Reliance and not be struck completely dumb.

Into The Woods

You come to the woods to feel small.
To reassess your role in the world, to remember who you are.
You stand silently still beneath the tall trees, with a thousand unseen observers in communion.
Breathing deeply.
Whispering prayers.
You bring along a book, or two.
You leave lighter of spirit, warmer of heart.

A Thousand Mornings
by Mary Oliver
How lucky we are to have a new volume of poems by this brilliantly observant poet.

Help, Thanks, Wow
 The Three Essential Prayers
by Anne Lamott
Readers love Anne Lamott for her unflinching honesty in the face of harsh and posing piety.
I know these three prayers are the ones I pray most.

Red Sky at Night
The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom
   by Jane Struthers
In our concrete, air-conditioned world, I’m afraid we have indeed lost the sort of seamless communication with the natural world that our ancestors enjoyed.
This book, with its advice on everything from navigating by the stars
 to baking one’s own bread, promises to reacquaint us with the realness of life.

And finally.....

There's a special new book coming in a couple of weeks.