This is a guest post from Sarah Davis. Sarah is a library science graduate student, reading group leader, and freelance writer and editor. Currently located in the Philadelphia area, Sarah blogs about all things reading at her blog, Broke By Books. Follow her on Twitter @Sarahdavidov.
Fall seems to materialize seemingly overnight in August. In 2014, Starbucks unofficially declared fall early by offering the pumpkin spice latte on August 25th instead of the traditional September 1st. Target swaps sunglasses and sunscreen for scarves and sweaters. I gaze longingly at my knitting needles thinking this is really the year I’m going to finish that scarf (it isn’t). Autumnal equinox be damned, long about now we are programmed to start going into fall mode, and that means reading novels that embody autumn. These four novels hone in on the two pillars of early fall—the start to the school year and the Halloween holiday—and might even encourage you to break out that cardigan a few weeks early.
Undeniably one of the hallmarks of the fall is the start of the academic calendar. I automatically think of late August as when each year really begins. In the ultimate redemption, school offers you a chance to reinvent yourself against the backdrop of the traditional and reliable school structure: classes, homework, holidays, and intellectual discovery.
With roots in the English boarding school novels, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series epitomized the school experience we all wish we had. Rowling’s series captured how even magical enchantments and supernatural protections can infiltrate the insular world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. For Harry and his friends, the innocence and safety we are promised as children proved to be fragile and limited. Although all of the novels deal with school in some way, I always think of the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as the one I identify the most with fall. Rainy Quidditch games, Harry’s first trip to Hogsmeade, and the introduction of disheveled and endearing Remus Lupin all occurred in the fall semester.
A far darker novel, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, also always reminds me of fall. Taking place at the fictional Hampden College in Vermont, (a stand-in for Tartt’s alma mater, Bennington College) The Secret History is narrated by the quintessential everyman outsider, Richard Papen. Richard transfers to Hampden partly because of his self-confessed fatal flaw of “a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs” which led him to romanticize the college from photographs in the college’s brochure. Richard is drawn to an exclusive group of students who worship their brilliant and alarmingly influential Classics professor, Julian Morrow. However, beneath the idyllic fall afternoons and weekends Richard shares with his new best friends runs an undercurrent of moral transgression that leads inevitably to chaos and murder.
Creepy Tales, Chilly Nights
Midway through that fall semester comes Halloween and for some a longing to be read horror. The novel that always ushers in Halloween season for me is Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, a story marketed for younger readers but is not above creeping out adults. In Bradbury’s novel two best friends witness bizarre and unsettling events when a traveling carnival comes to their town in late October. This atmospheric novel, like all great scary stories, is able to toy out universal fears we have as children and pair them with a child’s understanding of the year as it is marked by school and holidays like Halloween.
If you only read one haunted house novel, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is a good one to choose. In the novel, a professor recruits two female assistants to study supernatural phenomena in the supposedly haunted Hill House. The novel is so terrifying because of the excellent writing, in which crucial details about the ghosts or phenomena are omitted, leaving the reader to fill in the details. By making descriptions vague, Jackson allows the story to become truly terrifying as your mind is asked to connect the dots. In this way you begin to see your own fears materialized. The Haunting of Hill House is a brilliantly effective novel of psychological suspense and horror. It is an ideal read for the Halloween season. Just don’t read it at night.
Fall is a great time for nostalgic reading experiences with novels you have read over and over, or alternately freshening up your fiction reading list with new titles. Each of these selections should ramp up anticipation for the autumn by honing in on childhood and adulthood in all their joys and horrors.