Autumn Books and Songs
While summer is a time that feels actionable and light, winter feels like a time for hunkering down. The opposite sensibilities of summer and winter leave autumn, which officially started Sept. 23 this year, to be the in-between time. As summer's curtain lifts for fall, it sets the scene for settling. And, in correlation, the romanticism of summer tapering to a slower pulse feels like longing. To go hand in hand with that idea, here are some books paired with songs that reach toward that same sentiment, and the summer season’s slow fade.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Bluets moves through reflections on the color blue while Nelson explores heartache and ideas of suffering using its different facets. Told in little essays, this paradigm of autofiction, is slim, a short read, and could be a companion piece to the heartfelt and lyrical pining in Leonard Cohen's song, Take this Longing. Both feel like perfect companions for early autumn drives.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Ishiguro's novel also feels autumnal, possibly (for me) because of its British setting and characters. The main character Stevens, a butler, is reflecting on his choices and his lack of action when it comes to propriety and his love for someone above his station. Similarly, Regina Spektor's song Samson is a reminiscence on love and how we remember and are remembered. At the core of both is a sense of being "out-of-time" as well as a tenderness and the taking of chances (or not) for love.
A Free Life by Ha Jin
A Free Life is bright and vibrant while being simultaneously a little detached as it follows the Wu family, a family of immigrants who leave China after the Tiananmen Square Massacre and have to resettle themselves (despite feeling disoriented and out of place). The whole of the book has them like fish out of water. Like them, Dev Hynes, who is the creative force behind the band Blood Orange, is an immigrant to the United States. And, particularly like the father, Nan, he speculates frequently on the nature of freedom, and what being a free person means. His song Chance most acutely depicts the longing for freedom and the ways we always find the idea of it out of reach, and -- no matter how far we travel -- not quite enough.
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Solaris plays nicely with the idea of longing that goes so well with how autumn feels. Stanislaw Lem's book takes a sci-fi premise and imbues it with idiosyncrasies of the human heart -- focused largely on islands of memory and what preoccupies us about the people we love and the actions we regret. The plot would be hard to describe and jumps around the way people find it easy to slip out of the present and into the past. The singer Elliott Smith also honed in on memory and regret. His song Angel in the Snow feels melancholy in exactly the right way, ephemeral as the changing of seasons.
Harold and Maude
Not quite a read, but this film was adapted into a novel and a play after it's release, and it's apt, as it's more than a little focused on the idea of death, which -- bluntly -- is what autumn is more or less leading to as it marches toward winter. Despite its heady involvement with the subject of death, the two characters embark on a life affirming romance and an embrace of what life really offers us in the moment. The older Maude counsels and loves the younger Harold as he grapples with his family and struggles to find meaning outside of the imagining of his own death. A similarly playful, sneakily dark theme can be found in the narrative of the Belle and Sebastian song You’re Just a Baby which enchantingly sings about two people caring for one another as they navigate their lives; however, if it were tied to Harold and Maude, Maude would be singing it to Harold as he learned about what it is to really love someone.
Hopefully one or more of these books or songs resonates this fall!