Drizzly outside. Not proper rain – drizzle. A few of the dogs out for morning walks are wearing waterproof jackets. Some of the trees are starting to show on their leaves the first flashes of red and brown.
I’m sitting here at my little desk looking out the window of the bedroom. Instead of having the window open, I’ve got the bedroom fire blazing. Instead of Lenny lying on the bed flat on his back, legs in the air, he’s curled up in a tight ball. To my left is a pile of vacuum-packed summer clothes.
The author Michael Smith wrote about the year being just long enough and our memories being just short enough that the changing of the seasons comes as a surprise. That’s how I feel about it.
But, there’s no two ways about it: Autumn’s here.
Another sign autumn’s here is I’m reading loads more books. And there’s plenty good reading around at the minute. I’ve picked five books that are on my to-read pile this autumn, a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, favourite writers and writers I’ve never read before. I’ll also tell you some stories about why I’ve picked them.
Sunday in our house is No Alarm Day. We wake up when we wake up. One of us puts on the moka pot while the other feeds Lenny. Then it’s coffee and pastries in bed with the radio on – Cerys Matthews’s BBC Radio 6 Music show. It’s full of music you’ve never heard before, archive interviews, poetry readings, conversations with authors, and Cerys herself, talking in that lovely sing-song Welsh accent. That’s Sunday morning.
This Sunday afternoon, I’m going to pick a recipe from her new cookbook, Where the Wild Cooks Go. But it’s more than just recipes. It’s full of photos and stories from her travels around the world, the places she found those recipes, the people she learned them from, and playlists of regional music to listen to while you’re in the kitchen cooking them. I’ve got a growing collection of cookbooks, and this one’s going straight to the top of the pile.
I just read Zadie Smith’s Fascinated to Presume: In Defence of Fiction. Whoa! What I like about the essay – and I won’t attempt to summarise it here – is that she doesn’t speak in absolutes. There’s no always. There’s no never. Zadie’s trying to work things out on the page. She’s okay with asking questions and not having answers – or having two conflicting answers in her head at the same time. There’s not enough of that around at the minute…
But, embarrassingly, I haven’t actually read any of her fiction. The essay made me want to put that right. I’m starting with her most recent book, Grand Union, a collection of short stories, mostly set in and around New York, with characters including a disgraced cop, an ageing cabaret artist, and a single mother on holiday with four kids. It looks quite ideasy, but not at the expensive of telling really great, really entertaining stories. Looking forward to being challenged by more questions.
My grandma – my mam’s mam – she left Rhodes in Greece when she was young. She ended up, of all the places in the word, in Newcastle. My dad’s Scottish. After a fair bit of wandering, he ended up in Newcastle. That means I’m one of what must be a relatively small number of people who are Greek-Scottish Geordies. It’s a weird mix, I think. But I believe the Greeks and the Scottish and the Geordies have more things that unite them than things that separate them – same as all cultures.
Suketu Mehta’s book is a defence of exactly that, of global immigration, arguing that the West isn’t being destroyed by immigrants, but by the fear of immigrants. He’s preaching to the converted here. But the next time I get into an argument with some anti-immigration loon, I’m going to be armed with loads of killer facts and counterarguments.
I picked up this book and read the inside of the dust jacket: ‘This is the version of the tale they do not want you to know. After all, what is more powerful than women who know all about the blessed fires inside them that grow.’ Getting me to read a book about Greek mythology is no easy job, but Nikita Gill really grabbed me with that blurb.
The poet and Instagrammer has put together a collection of reimagined stories about goddesses Circe, Athena, Medusa, and loads more. This is a subject I’d normally see as being “not for me” – inaccessible, a bit too scholarly, fusty. But Nikita is somebody who uses Instagram in interesting, intelligent ways, so I’m really looking forward to reading her take on this subject.
You know how you’ve got those big, must-see tourist attractions… Your Taj Mahals. Your Sagrada Familias. That sort of thing. Well, I enjoy visiting those places. But what I enjoy even more is visiting the little four-table backstreet restaurant round the corner from the Taj Mahal, the service-station coffee shop up the motorway from the Sagrada Familia. Alain de Botton agrees. In his book The Art of Travel, he talked about how these nowhere places can be more rewarding than the big, must-see tourist attractions.
I’ve followed Alain’s work ever since. He’s the founder of The School of Life, “an educational company that offers advice on life issues.” If that sounds a bit vague, then this new book, An Emotional Education, does a better job of explaining the school’s aims. It talks about how we can live better, more fulfilled lives. Now. There are loads of books around at the minute claiming to do exactly that. But this one looks different. It speaks about complex philosophical issues, but in plain English, free from the usual bullshit language of the life-coach or the motivational speaker. It focuses on five areas – self, others, relationships, work, culture – and I’ll probably dip into it every now and again, rather than read it in a oner. What Alain does best, I think, is offer reassurances that you are not the only one who thinks those things or who behaves that way or who loves hanging about motorway service stations.
Carolyn at The Slow Traveler is a UK-based photographer and blogger. She writes about photography, books, and the inner-workings of social media (especially Instagram).