As the season continues to change and the brisk days of autumn get colder and shorter, we thought it was time to take a look at some of our favorite autumnal media – the cozy, melancholy, hopeful things we love to pair with thick sweaters and apple cider. Here are our picks!
1. Sense and Sensibility. I know we’ve mentioned Jane Austen a time or two before on this blog, but Austen’s first published book is my favorite gloomy-yet-hopeful story and a must-read for me each fall. Each character holds so much emotion – internal Elinor, “prone to these dark moods from time to time” Edward, and heart-on-her-sleeve Marianne. Their ways of making do under new and trying circumstances combined with the intense melancholy and the cold but cozy feeling of cottage life make it the ideal book to curl up with in the fall, when things are changing and feel uncertain.
2. Inkheart. Meggie has always loved books, a love she shares with her bookbinder father Mo. When, on a dark and stormy night, a mysterious man named Dustfinger arrives on their doorstep, Meggie is thrust into an adventure that tests her understanding of herself and her family. Filled with magic, delicious names like Silvertongue and Capricorn, and quotes and sketches (done by the author herself!) that bookend each chapter, Cornelia Funke’s book about books is the perfect autumn treat – and just the right thickness – to cozy up with as the leaves change.
3. Sylvia Plath, especially The Bell Jar. With equal parts despair and hope, The Bell Jar has the huge range of emotions that I associate both with school and the fall.
4. The 1994 adaptation of Little Women. I know that this is a very contentious adaptation, but I love it to no end. Although I have tons of personal familial nostalgia wrapped up in my love for the film, I also think it has all the autumn feelings. There’s birth, death, good relationships, bad relationships, and family. There’s the New England locale (bonus: very close to my hometown!), the simultaneous desire for everything to stay the same and everything to change, and the Marmee pep talk I need to hear consistently throughout each school year. There are also glorious costumes, a wonderful cast, and a beautiful Thomas Newman score.
5. When autumn rolls around, I’m always in the mood for folky, melancholic, comfortable songs like Lily & Madeleine’s “Sounds like Somewhere,” Mumford & Sons’s “Winter Winds,” Alexi Murdoch’s “All My Days,” and Joni Mitchell’s “Urge for Going.”
1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. An alternate-history fantasy novel about rival magicians, faerie kingdoms, the Napoleonic Wars, and the mid-nineteenth-century renaissance of practical magic in England, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is just the sort of book I love curling up with on a cold autumn afternoon. It’s spooky and dark, with madness, war, and faerie abductions, but it’s also delightful and comforting, with a series of footnotes which are charmingly pedantic about the “history” of British magic and an utterly wonderful narrator who seems like what might result if history had made it possible for Edgar Allan Poe to have asked Jane Austen to ghost-write his short stories. At 782 pages, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell isn’t a fast read, but it’s a perfect novel to get absorbed in when the days are getting shorter and all you want is a blanket, hot cider, and a good book.
2. December. Okay, I admit that this album contains a lot of Christmas music for a list about autumnal media, but George Winston’s album of solo piano music inspired by the start of the holiday season is calm and meditative and gorgeous. Because we listened to this album a lot when I was growing up, my reaction to December is very much colored by nostalgia and childhood memories of pumpkin bread, family, and togetherness. But Winston’s quiet, beautiful music seems so perfectly in tune with this increasingly cold and dark – but also expectant and hopeful – time of year. Regardless of your personal opinion about the propriety of listening to Christmas music before the month of December actually begins, I very much recommend that you at least check out the opening track, “Thanksgiving.”
3. A Wrinkle in Time. Fall also seems like the perfect time to revisit old favorites, and to that end, I keep coming back to Madeleine L’Engle’s science fiction novel about a smart and awkward teenage girl who comes into her own as she saves her father and brother from a terrifyingly powerful telepathic force. In telling this story about an interplanetary evil, A Wrinkle in Time plays with the balance between darkness and hope that seems central to so many of our autumnal media selections. Although Mallory Ortberg of The Toast has recently – and hilariously – pointed out how truly obnoxious one of the supporting characters is, L’Engle’s book about the power of nonconformity, the strength of familial love, and the awesomeness of geek girls has a special place in my heart.
4. Friends: Season 1, Episode 9. “The One Where Underdog Gets Away.” Of course, as much as autumnal pop culture embraces the gloominess of short, cold November days, this media also focuses on the communal gatherings which keep the cold at bay. Friends always had fun with its Thanksgiving episodes, perhaps because the central conceit of Friends – that twentysomethings turn their friend groups into their own surrogate families – fits so well with the holiday. But the show’s first Thanksgiving foray, “The One Where Underdog Gets Away,” is a particularly delightful episode. Monica decides to host her first Thanksgiving dinner after finding out that her parents are going out of town for the holiday: through a series of sit-com mishaps, the rest of the gang ends up joining her for dinner. Although the dinner itself ends up ruined, the friends all gather in Monica’s apartment to celebrate the holiday together – albeit with grilled cheese. It’s a charming and cozy episode with funny character beats (Phoebe celebrates Thanksgiving on a lunar schedule, while Chandler boycotts all the Pilgrim holidays) and genuine heart.
5. Anne of Green Gables series. Finally, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books (and the 1980s miniseries which dramatized them) are delightfully autumnal in all the best ways. Anne Shirley is an orphan girl who gets adopted by a pair of elderly siblings and goes to live on the gorgeously picturesque Prince Edward Island. There, she grows up while basking in the glorious Romanticism of the world around her and the whimsy of her own imaginings. Anne’s intensely optimistic approach to the world — coupled with her fascination with a certain sort of artistic, dramatic tragedy — just makes me want to go outside and enjoy the brisk fall air and everything it might symbolize. After all, these are books in which Anne announces how glad she is that she lives in a world in which there are Octobers and in which the narrator calls November “the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines.” It’s somehow a lot harder to grumble about how windy it is outside when you’re thinking about Anne’s deep, sad hymns of the sea.
Anyway, we hope you enjoy finding some new recommendations!