Temperatures are dropping and 'tis the season... no, wait! Not that yet! Bad brain! Gahh! I am not ready for that kind of cold yet, brrr humbug, although we definitely do seem to have Christmas on the brain around here already. My 5-year-old is a mini-Lorelai, obsessed with snow & kitsch, while temperate fall might be my new favorite season. I love curling up indoors (because I want to, not because I have to) either on my couch with a cup of tea and a book or lying on the faux-fur rug in my office-closet, pretending to organize/ list things to my Poshmark closet, while really I'm listening to hilarious or informative or scary podcasts. (Or to My Dad Wrote a Porno, which somehow manages to be its own unique decoction of all three adjectives.)
So here's what's keeping me & my cozy cup of tea company this fall. What would you add to this list? Be sure to comment and let me know!
1. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
'Tis definitely the season for Practical Magic, so the list must start here! Hallowe'en is almost here, and soooo many of my girlfriends & fellow bloggers have been posting about their favorite movie. I can't believe I only recently saw it!! (I think I had to rent it on Amazon Prime. It was available to stream on Netflix for a while but no longer is. At first I hated how they change up their availability so frequently, but now I love a leaving-Netflix list just as much as seasonal book lists! On that note: must see Big Eyes before October 25, gah!)
Anyway, I'd never seen this movie somehow, even though I've always had a thing for blue-eyed Irishmen. (It's little wonder I married one!) Aidan Quinn is adorable in the movie, as is the whole spectacular cast featuring a who's who of great actresses: Dianne Weist, Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Evan Rachel Wood, Stockard Channing, Camilla Belle, and, one of my all-time favorite character actresses, Margo Martindale. So yes, the movie is definitely movie magic, but guess what? The book is even magicker! Well, it's just slightly different enough that I'm not going to actually compare them. The book has the kind of warm, wise, gorgeous prose that you almost feel you could dip into your tea like a crumpet and let it melt in your mouth. That's all to say: if you love the movie, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK!! (Let me know if you do so and agree!)
2. UnF*ck Your Brain
This summer I had a couple odd interactions that left me discombobulated, which led me to believe, despite my official grownup card as a mommy of two, that there was room for personal growth and boundary-setting in my life. (Especially true for me now that I'm living in a huge apartment complex where my neighbors number in the thousands, and I'm having to become a pro at small talk. Never one of my strengths.) Seeking guidance, I stumbled onto "Drama & Toxic People", my first UnF*ck Your Brain episode by the inimitable Kara, who might be gorgeously unique but whom I will still compare to Cheryl Strayed, because I love their advice equally-- albeit for different reasons.
They both exude warmth and wisdom, but I think Cheryl's podcast Dear Sugar is more about exploring relationships with others, while Kara's podcast is a primer on how to have a more constructive, positive, and powerful relationship with yourself. (Oh, and how to set boundaries like a boss! Feeling so much more empowered since I started listening!) Each episode is more life-changing than the last. Also, both Cheryl and Kara (much like the queen Oprah herself) effortlessly exude that magical aura of best friendship. Both are perfect, comforting listening whether in my car or "organizing" my office-- aka hiding from my little ones at night when I'm off the clock and my husband's home and my babies still haven't gotten the memo that it's Daddy's turn to play ponies. Still working on that boundary-setting... it's harder to do with people you love to pieces, but I feel 100% more empowered in every other aspect of my life!
3. Life By the Cup by Zhena Muzyka
I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I picked this up at the library both for the cover photo-- tea! Flowers! Happy-looking hands!-- as for the blurbs on the back. Gloria Steinem says of Life by the Cup, "[It's] a true story that stretches from single motherhood and hard times through unique personal success. Pour a cup of tea, open to the first page, and find a friend who will teach you: Your hopes are a form of planning." It's due back at the library soon, and I can't wait to start it just as soon as I finish up my current read (or rec #9 further down this list)!
4. My Favorite Murder with Karen Kilgaraff and Georgia Hardstark
Or maybe I should make rec #4 Dear Sugar with Cheryl Strayed for the more faint of heart, which I might be myself? I haven't decided. Although... on the other hand, that kind of neurotic, funny, self-aware banter and feminist-friendly inner debate is exactly what makes My Favorite Murder compulsive listening. Although, on the third hand, (is there a third hand???), I'm streaming American Horror Story, and that might be all the horrified sensations I can endure for a while. If you're into funny horror, and it is almost Hallowe'en after all, then go for it! If you're a little squeamish or find shows like American Horror Story as stomach-churning to watch as I do, you've been warned! This pod is the aural equivalent of that show. These witty LA dames paint a grisly, vivid, but still somehow fun (or maybe the word is campy?) picture!
I5. Climate Justice by Mary Robinson & The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh (together)
Early this fall, I had what I guess I'd call a stroke of life-changing luck. I happened to pick up Climate Justice and The Art of Living from the library at roughly the same time & had the brainwave of reading both...together! So I, like many, find that climate change as a topic gives me hives. However, I do also agree with former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, who pointed out recently in a Guardian piece that "feeling this is too big for me" is just plain "not useful".
It didn't change how anxious the topic can make me feel, until I hit on this solution: if you're as freaked out as I am by climate change, you might want to try what I did. A chapter of Mary's, followed by a soothing, meditative chapter by Hanh (see below). Not only do they both write in similarly warm and friendly styles, dripping with wisdom and experience-- and I do seem to like my information to be tendered to me by best friends, see rec #2-- but Buddhist monk Hanh is just as passionate about sustainability and about caring for the Earth and all the humans on it as Robinson is. In fact, both short books, when read together in this way, felt almost like a dialogue about the ways in which inner care mimics caring for others and the Earth itself. I'd like to write a separate post about this experience, so I'll stop here. But suffice it to say: this tandem read was life-changing, eye-opening, and in general a perfect, heartening (vs. frightening) match!
“Aimlessness does not mean doing nothing. It means not putting something in front of you to chase after. When we remove the objects of our craving and desires, we discover that happiness and freedom are available to us right here in the present moment.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now
6. My Dad Wrote a Porno
It feels a bit perverse to follow the wise words of a Buddhist monk with this rec, but that also squares with the cock-eyed universe this British pod inhabits. Really, what can I say about My Dad Wrote a Porno, that isn't better said by Jamie, James, and Alice, a trio of insanely funny best friends, who have made sexual innuendo an art and who come together once a week... (oh God, now I'm doing it! Forgive my choice of words.) They... er... gather together once a week to read a chapter of Jamie's father's would-be erotic, but actually hilarious and anatomically-inaccurate, book. The trio have such powerful group charisma, the kind only true, old friends possess, that you feel like you're in on the greatest in-joke ever. One of the extra "footnotes" episodes, which features famous fans like Daisy Ridley, had Ridley of Star Wars fame wistfully wishing the trio could be her friends, too! Something about the title turns off American audiences, but it's honestly much more innocent than erotic in its completely (and truly hilariously) inaccurate portrayal of what human sexuality is. Comedians Rachel Bloom and Thomas Middleditch number among the pod's biggest fans, too!
7. The Witch Elm by Tana French
There's a new Tana French book in time for Hallowe'en! There's a new Tana French book in time for Hallowe'en! I think that's about all I need to say about that. To the uninitiated in the realm of creepy, page-turning Tana French's brilliant mind, start with Edgar-award winning In the Woods. That is, if you're in the market for a creepy, brilliant, unputdownable page-turner, and who isn't this time of year?
Very cozy: each episode of Criminal is the listening equivalent of a blockbuster film. Very creepy (to say the least): before even the #MeToo movement revealed how indifferent our culture has been about sexual assault and harassment, Criminal introduced me to the fact that rape kits are back-logged by the thousands. However, it also introduced me to housewife-turned-P.I. Sheila Wysocki, who decided to become a private detective twenty years after her college roommate was raped and murdered and the crimes remained unsolved...until Sheila came along!!! For as many awful people that there are out there, Criminal also tells stories about true life heroes and heroines as well. It's not all grim, either. I really enjoyed a recent episode about how prevalent airplane highjackings were back in the day. It was like listening to a Scorsese movie in thirty minutes. In fact, each 30-minute episode feels as cinematic, thrilling, informative, and interesting as is whole seasons of S-Town or Serial. I just love it. Also, if you're interested in the topic of housewives who become private detectives, This American Life also did an episode on the phenomenon.
9. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
I haven't read another Hardy book since Tess of the D'Urbervilles took my heart from its chest, filleted it neatly, and left all the bits that were nostalgic for the old days in little pieces on the ground. (If things are bad now, it sounds beyond horrible to have been a woman back then.) Later, I avoided Hardy, because I loved and laughed at him throughout the comic genius novel that is Cold, Comfort Farm far too much. (BTW Cold Comfort Farm, a send-up of Hardy's late Victorian long-winded prose style and über-melancholy, pastoral heroines, could make any cozy, fall list. It's the definition of home-making coziness with its solid, sensible, adorable heroine and a makeover of a cozy, English cottage to boot.) However, despite all that, I'm giving Hardy another crack, because the movie showed me Hardy's range extends beyond the unbearably tragic and the ridiculously dramatic. Bathsheba Everdene, ridiculous name notwithstanding-- although she completely acknowledges how ridiculous her name is. I think Hardy does have a sense of humor!!-- is a tough, smart, feminist heroine. The love story is satisfying, even if, because this is Hardy, there has to be a tragic side plot. I watched the movie first, but there's so much there about human nature that I had to read the book, too. So far, it does not disappoint! And after all, fall is the perfect time to grapple with love and feminism in the English countryside.
FYI speaking of Aidan Quinn (see my first rec!), the crown has passed to my next screen crush, Mattias Schoenarts, who stars in Far From the Madding Crowd (see above), and is being called the Belgian Brando. You have to see this movie in addition to reading the book! I'm keeping my streaming suggestions for another list, but I couldn't resist this one... you won't even need a cup of tea. Matthias brings the heat is what I'm saying. (Joking.) (Kind of.)
10. Jam Session on Channel 33
One of my friends, hearing that I liked pop culture podcasts, recently recommended The Read to me. I started listening to it and realized it reminded me of Jam Session but with many more mentions of people of color. I had heard of some but not all the celebrities they were mentioning, and it opened my eyes to how white-centric my consumption of pop culture has become. I think that could be its own post, but if you enjoy smart, chatty podcasts about pop culture either Jam Session or The Read are excellent. Jam Session has also introduced me to fantastic pop culture I was unaware of-- I started reading Liane Moriarty's books on Amanda Dobbins' rec! Moriarty's books are much more clever and meatier than their pastel covers suggest and ALL of them could make this list. I've now read/ devoured most of them barring her newest release Nine Perfect Strangers about a health resort that is potentially less idyllic than it seems. It's available now for pre-order. I can't wait!
If you love these kind of book lists as much as I do, here are a few more for you to peruse at Pop Sugar, at HuffPo, at Elle, at Bookish, at Vulture, and at Vogue. What's on your fall reading/ listening list?
There are books that wash over your hands like sunlight and beg to be read on a hot summer's day and maybe even soak into your soul all the better beside a large, lapping body of water to boot.
Here are 5 of my all-time great summertime, sunlight, ocean, and water picks! What books remind you of summertime?
1. The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
Considering that this book begins with the bliss of summertime and all it's herb-filled, rose-colored joy, this book practically begs to be read in the summertime, whether or not you find yourself lucky enough to dabble your toes in water while doing so. It's the prequel to Practical Magic, once made into a pretty good film, starring Sandra Bullock I believe, but it's an even better book about the Owens sister. This tale concerns their mysterious aunts' coming-of-age in the summertime, and it's just liquid gold sunshine and cool, blissful shadows. Read both if you haven't read either! Particularly salutary for the soul in this cynical day and age of Internet trolls. It's truly bottled up, or I guess paged -up, old-fashioned magic. Your summertime soul will thank you!
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
If you haven't read this classic yet, you're in luck! A. Because it's an immensely readable novel, not a stuffy "classic" at all. And B. because Lydia Davis's translation is as close to the original as to be indistinguishable from the French text, except, of course that it's in English. (I'm French-American, and I've read the book in both, most memorably one summer in my grandparent's sleepy, dull village of St. Aubin de Locquenay. A town in the Sarthe region with more cows than people. It spiced up a dull summer for a teen, although I was way too young to understand any of the sex stuff. In fact, I think I'm the only extremely plain adolescent on the planet who could empathize with Madame Bovary as I did. As for the English translation, I agree with everyone: this is a beautiful translation.) So much of Madame Bovary has to do with summertime lovin' gone wrong. It's a great summer read about the original, realest, baddest housewife of them all.
3. We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
Best for rainy days. This collection of essays might be best read indoors on days too hot even for dabbling toes in cool bodies of water, because it will have you humphing and hawing with unrepressable laughter, so much so that your neighbors might start giving you funny looks of their own.
4. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
"The desire to freeze reality is about avoiding reality."
I've heard so much about Cixin Liu's Hugo-award-winning phenomenon "The Three Body Problem", but for some reason the book feels too hardcore sci-fi or winter-timeish at least for me to crack it in the summertime. Instead, I stumbled upon a book of short stories by the writer who translated Liu's popular series. Ken Liu's short stories run the gamut from tales of relationships to steampunk to folklore-- or rather a mix of all and more. Most of them are Hugo, Neubula, and Theodore-Sturgeon award-winning tales. These are melancholy, poetic tales, perfect for a quiet night in. I'm so excited to sink my teeth into more of them!
4. The Witch Doesn't Burn In This One by Amanda Lovelace
The Princess Saves Herself In This One won Amanda Lovelace the 2016 Goodread's Choice Award, and the beloved poet is back with another gem in her "Women Are Magic" series. This next book is dedicated to "all the princesses, all the damsels, and all the queens" who "have rescued themselves so many times now...." Enough said. Read this after a particularly low moment of hanging out in your bikini by the pool and rediscover your power!
6. Diana: Her True Story-- In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton
I was never particularly invested in the Royal Family. In fact, do you capitalize Royal Family? Well, the fact that I do in my head says it all. Like it or not, they've entered the collective imagination in a major way, following the marriage of an American commoner to one of their handsome princes. The excitement surrounding the wedding made me wonder about the hysteria surrounding an earlier wedding. I had no idea, though, how much I'd be moved and inspired by Diana's humanitarian work and her beautiful soul. Plus, she was only 36 when she died! Megan Markle's age when she married Prince Harry. She accomplished so much through sheer intuition, kindness, and courage. Yes, she was as beautiful and fashionable as the day is long, but she had a uniquely feminine, maternal perspective of world events, and her whole story is very much worth knowing, especially if you've ever admired her photographs! Andrew Morton creates a really interesting work with his unique combination of Diana's own words alongside his incisive explanations of British politics, history, and, most of all, the tangle of family politics. She also definitely spent a good portion of her life on some glamorous escapes, making this a great summer read!
7. The Power by Naomi Alderman
This book sizzles with all the drama and terror of being caught outside in an electric storm in July. I mean, just check out this list of accolades! It definitely stands up to the hype! It's both gorgeously written and a thrilling read!
One of the New York Times's Ten Best Books of 2017
A Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2017
One of the Washington Post's Ten Best Books of 2017
An NPR Best Book of 2017
One of Entertainment Weekly's Ten Best Books of 2017
A Bustle Best Book of 2017
A Paste Magazine Best Novel of 2017
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2017
8. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
I actually haven't read this one yet, but it seems incomplete to have a list of beach reads without a thriller counted amongst them! It got amazing reviews, sounds like the Gone Girl of the summer. If you also thought the latter was a fun, gritty read, you'll probably enjoy this, too. Stephen King calls it, "Unputdownable."
Check my TBR list below for more ideas! What's on yours? Have you read any of the above? What did you think? Any books of you own that you believe should only be read in the summertime?
P.S. Also SO many of my favorite fun writers have books coming out??!! Tana French. Ian Rankin. Alexander McCall Smith. Alan Bradley. It's going to be a great summer/ fall!