I usually feel it somewhere around mid-August, always in early morning: the slight chill that pricks at bare arm and tells me autumn’s on the way.
While most people are stretching out the holiday season and making the most of those pink-streaked sunsets, by late summer I’m normally done with the whole affair. You can shove your heatwaves and sweaty backs into the scratchy beachbag from whence it came and chuck me a cardie: autumn is summer’s sophisticated sister, and I love it. The time for leaf-crunching, sofa-cosying and book-devouring is upon us: the best season for reading is here.
Fierce debate exists as to whether seasons begin on the first day of their according months, as per the meteorological calendar, or on the equinoxes and solstices, as per the astrological one. I was born on the autumn equinox, so you can probably guess which I plump for. In any case: the three months between September and December are the time when the temperature plummets, the nights vastly outlast the days and – in the UK at least – we experience drizzle at least once a week.
But I see it as a time of renewal. While I'm now far too old to justify the purchase of a new pencil-case, the sense of a new school year is a hard one to shift. September brings with it the opportunity to try something new, to get on with those unfinished tasks and mainline the to-read pile before the mania of Christmas sets in. I tend to think of it as the thinking person’s January; rather than attempting to resolve anything in the pall of a grim festive hangover, there’s plenty of low evening night to tackle new endeavors.
And by that, of course, I really mean books. Summer may be the season for those who can stay cool in a heatwave, but autumn is the nerd’s party. It’s a stretch of time where being indoors, wearing scarves, and wearing scarves indoors is legitimised. It’s a time where we call a Thursday of the month “Super Thursday”, purely because hundreds of books are being released on the same day. It’s a time for bookshop browsing, and then, ideally, reading them by a fire in an accommodating pub. It’s a time when, if you’re particularly dedicated, you can take stock of the talked-about reads of the year so far, and make sure you carve time for them before New Year’s Eve.
Reading can, of course, be undertaken during the other three, vastly inferior seasons. Once the fug of Christmas and New Year’s Eve has passed, I tend to find myself munching through books with a concentrated fervour in winter. But once the weather starts to warm up, distraction wanes. For all of the delight in choosing beach books, summer reading can be a brutal thing – sand in spines; a good reading session interrupted by the joy of other sunbathers; sticky, greasy, suncreamy pages.
No – give me autumn, with its atmospheric morning mist and shimmering light. A season that provides hours where, quite frankly, there’s not much else to do but read. And this might be why so many good books seem to have an inbuilt autumnal appeal. From Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte to On Beauty by Zadie Smith and Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk, there are countless books that feel somehow amplified by autumn.
And that’s before we get into the objectively chilling stories that simply feel wasted if they’re not read as Halloween approaches. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier! The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson! The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo! The Turn of the Screw by Henry James! Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein! Far spookier than any film, if read by candlelight on a blustery night.
Some will make a routine return to The Secret History by Donna Tartt, a book that tracks an academic year with inching precision, or revel in the private school enclaves of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. Other campuses can be found in the pages of AS Byatt’s Possession or Teju Cole’s Open City.
Whatever you read this autumn, grab your jumper, plump your book nook cushions and relish the season that is tailor-made for reading. It's what true bookworms do best.
Image: Stuart Simpson / Penguin.
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