13 books you should read this autumn

13 October 2014

The first thing I think of when I hear 'autumn' is the sound and feeling of walking through golden leaves and it's for that reason, I think, that a lot of these books are set in the natural world – or else they have a get-cosy-by-the-fire feel! Some are brand new, and some are very old, with one of them celebrating its 75th birthday last year. All of them, though, are brilliant stories, so pick one and find yourself a bench like this one to start reading.

1. The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

A book with a cat and writers. What’s not to like? Especially when I tell you that these two writers have run out things to talk about until this cat brings new life to their quiet days. But then something else happens that changes everything again.

The Guest Cat

2. The Thing in the Gap Stone Stile by Alice Oswald

Alice Oswald is one of my all-time favourite poets and this collection is no exception. She looks at the world harder than you would have thought possible and sees its soul and its halo both at once. The first poem, ‘Pruning in Frost’, begins:

'Last night, without a sound,
a ghost of a world lay down on a world,'

The Thing in the Gap Stone Stile

3. The Border Trilogy by Cormac McCarthy

Three Cormac McCarthy books in one, yes please. The best thing that can happen when you discover a story that you love is that there are more books that follow the same characters. All the Pretty HorsesThe Crossing, and Cities of the Plain tell the stories of two old school cowboys who, for their own reasons, cross the border into Mexico. Years later, they meet, and a tale of friendship and passion unfolds.

The Border Trilogy

4. Plainsong by Kent Haruf

It’s hard to pick favourites – they always change and the list is always growing. But there has to be an exception, a book or an author that always stays top of that list, and it’s Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. The first book in a loose trilogy (books two and three are Eventide and Benediction), it tells the story of school girl Victoria Roubideaux, thrown out by her mother when she falls pregnant, and the McPheron brothers, the gentle farmers who take her in. It’s the kind of book that reminds you that human kindness does exist, and it moves you to tears.

Plainsong

5. Harvest by Jim Crace

It’s Harvest Festival season, and what better way to recall harvests of old where scythes were in hand, in the face of twenty foot wide combines, than with this masterful, Booker shortlisted novel. 

Harvest

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Something about the decay of the portrait in this book always reminds me of this time of year, when the later varieties of apples are rotting past their prime. My copy is one of the Penguin ’draw your own cover’ ones, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to draw anything, for fear of it taking on a life of its own…

7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again... I came upon it suddenly; the approach masked by the unnatural growth of a vast shrub that spread in all directions... There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the gray stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.” Enough said!

Rebecca

8. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The title says it all, but in case you need further reason: Ishiguro’s narrator, Stevens, is brilliantly complex and the experience of reading his story could not be more accurately described than by this quote from the book: “Indeed — why should I not admit it? — in that moment, my heart was breaking.”

Remains of the Day

9. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Everyone else might be reading Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch, at the moment, but here's why you should read this one instead:

1. It captures the excitement of learning like no other book I’ve read.
2. The characters are terrifyingly calculated but completely fascinating. Lest you ever meet people like them, reading the novel will teach you to spot them and then stay far away!

The Secret History

10. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild tells the true story of one Chris McCandless, who, after graduating, renamed himself Alexander Supertramp and took himself off into the Alaskan wilderness. An SOS note was found with his body some four months after he died. Krakauer's own experiences of solo climbing in Alaska make him the perfect person to tell this story with the sympathy and splendour it demands.

11. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

Loneliness often creeps in as the summer fades and long days in the sun become shorter ones huddled inside. But never fear! Barbara Pym’s 1977 Booker shortlisted novel takes a long look at four lonely people and makes us smile knowingly for the oh-so-true way they erect facades to protect them from the outside world. It’s not all sad – there’s more than a glimmer of hope at the end!

12. Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

This isn’t, strictly speaking, an autumnal book, but the sense of living with the land is overwhelming. A memoir of growing up in 1970s Rhodesia, this book will have you laughing a lot, crying a bit, and longing to explore a country that no longer exists.

Don't Let's Go To The Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

13. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

A review of David Mitchell’s latest book said, “Mitchell is also doing what all ambitious writers do: writing the same novel over and over again, improving it every time.” This is why you should read all his books and, as it’s autumn, this one is clearly the best place to start. It’s 1799 when Jacob arrives on Dejima, a small Japanese island that serves as a trading post for the Dutch East India Company. He becomes intrigued by a midwife – it was a rare thing for a woman to work in those times – and then follows trust and betrayal, love and lust, murder… What are you waiting for?

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Main photograph: 'Autumn Herbst' © Taus P. / flickr.com