Happy Friday and Happy Fall! Today author Jocelyn Koehler writes about books for Fall (and ooh, what delicious choices!) In addition, she’s giving away three ecopies of her spectacular book of fairy tales, The Way Through the Woods. Check out the instructions below her bio to enter. The contest runs through next Thursday at midnight!
Writers Read: Books About Fall (and a bonus Apple Cider Recipe)
by Jocelyn Koehler
Something I’ve never understood is the phrase “beach read”. Oh, I know what it means. It means a fluffy, throwaway story suitable to take on a trip. But “beach” read? Ugh. The idea of sitting on baking hot sand while the sun roasts me to a lobster-like hue is not my idea of a good time. What book is worth enduring that?
However, early autumn quickens my breath. There’s a lovely, dry coolness to the air. The evenings come sooner, and the falling leaves mean that I can see more of the sunsets through the branches. Pumpkin starts to appear in every ingredient list. It’s a great time to be alive…and a wonderful time to be a reader.
In fact, it’s a perfect time to be a re-reader. I’m a notorious re-reader. Do you have books that call to you on a regular basis? When a certain confluence of events happen, do you reach for the book that you read last time that happened? For instance, whenever I eat a grilled cheese sandwich, I have a strange urge to read Agatha Christie. It’s Pavlovian, a reminder of my high school years when I came home from school each day, made myself a grilled cheese and ate it while working my way through Christie’s ouvre. Poirot and cheddar: I can’t disassociate them.
Fall does the same thing to me. When I see a yellow bus roll by, I need to read a school story. The first roadside apple stand sparks a desire to read all my fall favorites. Here are just a few:
An Acceptable Time by Madeliene L’Engle. You’ve probably read A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle’s most famous story. This one is a companion book, set in the same world and featuring some of the same characters. But you don’t have to read any of the other books to appreciate the gentle, delicate magic of L’Engle’s writing in An Acceptable Time. The story opens on a glorious autumn afternoon, as the teenage protagonist Polly wanders through her grandparents woods in Connecticut. The magic of fall is not enough, of course, and Polly soon encounters a strange, beautiful young woman who is both compelling and confusing…because she isn’t from Polly’s time at all.
The story is pure L’Engle, with smart and well-intentioned characters moving through a world so real that L’Engle’s twists (time travel! magic!) seem not only believable but fitting. As the story advances toward the mystic date of Halloween, Polly grows ever more entangled in the threads of past and present, with little but her own moral convictions to guide her choices. Ostensibly, An Acceptable Time is a young adult book, but her true audience is anyone who values thought as much as action, and is willing to let L’Engle spin out a story in her own time.
Mollie Peer by Van Reid. Another sort of time travel book, this will take you back to Victorian-era Maine, in the fall of 1896. Reid’s work always feels meticously researched, and the language matches the novels of that time so well that at times you wonder if the manuscript was merely discovered and published a century after it was written. Reminicent of Dickens’s stories, Mollie Peer hosts a marvellous cast of characters brimming with life. The bright and brash Mollie (an aspiring journalist hampered only by her gender) sees a little boy on a wharf one morning and begins to follow him, out of curiosity as much as concern. Her simple action sets a chain of events in motion. Soon she meets criminals, local characters, and the gentlemen of the Moosepath League, who join her on her quest.
The story winds through foggy alleys, dark forests, involuted tales-within-tales, and perfect Yankee villages on perfect autumn days and nights. Reid’s style is picaresque and utterly charming. You’ll wish you could invite his characters to tea. And you’ll fall in love with his world (fortunately, Reid has written several titles featuring the Moosepath League, so you won’t be heartbroken at the end).
The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury’s death earlier this year robbed the world of a master fantasist. Though hailed as a science fiction writer, Bradbury really excelled at stories about people. The Halloween Tree is a short tale, almost a fable, and dipping into it will give you chills. A trick or treat excursion turns into a mythic quest when a group of boys encounter a dark force that steals one of them away. A mysterious figure calling himself Mr Carapace Clavicle Moundshroud (!) leads the rest of the boys on the trail. Along the way, they experience some of the strangest, spookiest, and enchanting rituals that humans have created to deal with death.
Does that sound dreary? You forgot that this is Bradbury. There’s a madcap pace to the story; it’s literally a race against time, and the boys never rest in their mission to get their friend back safe. The Halloween Tree is a perfect book for the season…sinister but sweet, and lots of fun to read.
Crow Call by Lois Lowry. This book is the newest on my list, and I fall in love with it every time I open the cover, because it’s like getting the essence of November in five minutes flat. Crow Call is one of those tricky books to categorize. Is it a picture book? It is for kids? Is it for adult? Is it nostalgic? Sad? Happy? Hopeful? The answer to all those questions is an impassioned yes. Lowry’s tale is deceptively simple: a little girl and her father go for breakfast, and then a walk in the woods. But that is, of course, only the tip of what’s going on. I don’t want to spoil the story, which is so quiet and rich and rewarding to read (alone or with a child). Bagram Ibatoulline’s subdued illustrations enhance the words perfectly, and the sense of a cold November morning practically rolls off the pages.
Dead Poets Society. Ok, you got me. This isn’t a book. But this movie had such a big impact on me (it came out during my formative years), and it fits the theme! It’s a coming-of-age story, and also a school story, and a story about the allure of books and forbidden knowledge and the danger of belief. Add in some gorgeous New England fall scenery, the geek-chic glamour of prep school, and cute boys talking poetry…what’s not to love? I still watch this once a year, and never regret it.
What books get you excited for the season? What stories are so magical that they can take you away from a hot summer day and plunge you into a dark, chilly night? Are there authors who can make you wish for a slice of apple pie? Oh, wait, I always want a slice of apple pie. Share your favorites in the comments!
You know what goes great with fall reading? A warm beverage. Here’s how I brew up a cauldron…
1 gallon apple cider (not juice! Are you insane?)
5 cinnamon sticks
15 whole cloves
15 whole peppercorns
1 orange, sliced with the peel still on
about 1/2 cup brown sugar OR maple syrup, to taste
Put all the ingredients in an electric crockpot or a large pot on the stove. Keep the heat on low, and heat until warm and steamy, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Watch to make sure the cider doesn’t boil. Ladle into mugs and serve to people you like. (Some folks like to *ahem* garnish their cider with a splash of brandy or whiskey. I leave that up to you.)
About the author: Jocelyn Koehler grew up in the wilds of Wisconsin, but now lives in a tiny house in Philadelphia that is filled with books, tea things, and places to read, sleep and write. She has worked as a librarian, bookseller, editor, archivist, cubicle drone, popcorn popper, and music store clerk. Yes, of course she has a cat.