Here's to the early days of autumn. Is there anything better than feeling that first chill in the air, pulling on an oversized jumper and curling up with an absorbing read? Below is a list of the books I plan to read this season, pages of magic and poetry, ghosts and uncanny quiet. I hope that you will find these tales as enticing as I do...
Beloved – Toni Morrison
I’m cheating a little with this one, as at the time of writing this list I’d just finished Beloved. But as we enter the spooky months I thought it apt to include a book that has haunted me since I put it down. Beloved is a hard read, and the images that stay with me are not the supernatural parts but those scenes grounded in reality – the dehumanising truth of slavery. I can’t stop thinking about it, but because I can’t hope to come close to articulating the pain contained within its pages here are Morrison’s own words:
“In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you!”
The Quarry Wood – Nan Shepherd
Earlier this year I read Nan Shepherd’s ode to the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain and was completely captivated. No one writes about nature like Nan Shepherd, and I was left desperate for more of her poetic prose. Lucky for me she wrote a novel, three in fact. Famously, Nan claims to have only written a book when she had something important to say, so I’m going to savour every word of The Quarry Wood. At the time of writing I’m two chapters in and am already taken by the language which is peppered with Doric phrases such as fit, far and foo (what, where and how), phrases my Forfar granny sometimes used!
The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber
Another book that has been on my to-read list for over ten years. Set in the underbelly of murky, Victorian England this is a warts and all portrayal of 19-year-old prostitute Sugar’s climb up the social ladder. I watched the BBC mini series many years ago and was utterly beguiled. I hope the book is just as captivating.
Vicious - V.E. Schwab
I’ve been following V.E. Schwab for a while on Instagram, where she candidly shares the ups and downs of life as a fulltime author. I’ve derived immense insight and comfort from the things she shares – from first draft woes to release day excitement.
However, I’ve yet to read one of her books. This season I intend to cure my curiosity and, in a small way, lend my support to a talented author who does so much to foster community around readers and fledgling writers. I love a good anti-hero so I think I’ll try Vicious first?
Ehrengard – Isak Dinesen
I have a deep love for Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales and Winter’s Tales. For many years I have wanted to read her only novel, Ehrengard, but it seems mysteriously difficult to get a hold of (as befits the otherworldly atmosphere of her stories).
This is the autumn I vow to track down a copy. Isak Dinesen has an almost supernatural gift for story-telling, and during the eeriness of October I intend to fully submit to her spell.
Literature of the Gaelic Landscape – John Murray
Last year I read John Murray’s excellent Leughadh Aghaidh Na Tire – Reading the Gaelic Landscape, a field guide for walkers looking to understand the deep-rooted sense of place in the Gaelic names of the Scottish Highlands. It was a unique blend of language study, history, ecology and poetry. The parts I enjoyed most were the close readings of poems and folksongs, and this new book focuses exclusively on the literary treatment of Scotland’s landscape. As a Gaelic learner and lover of folklore, I cannot think of a more perfect book to accompany autumn wanders into the burnished and misty hills.
I’m in the middle of editing a weird little tale of my own at the moment, so Uncanny has been a welcome dose of inspiration, and a reminder that there is an audience for imaginative and experimental fantasy that doesn’t quite fit anywhere else.
If you like what you read you can subscribe to the magazine to help them continue beyond year two on Kickstarter. This is not an advert, I’m just genuinely enthused that such publications exist.
As always, trying to keep my list on the short side to leave room possibility. If you fancy, you can keep up with my reading habits on Goodreads.