Sean’s Fall Favorites – A Multi-Genre Reading List

At the start of each new season I take stock of all the books I’ve read over the past few months and all those I plan on reading next. I like to keep a good mix of genres and time periods going whenever I build up a list. In the past I’ve endeavored to read the complete works of Joyce or Hemingway in one season, or stick with one period or genre (i.e. Victorian novels) but I inevitably wind up burnt out and aching for some variety. These books have little or nothing to do with one another, but if you’re looking to read some fantastic poetry or fiction you won’t find on the New York Times Bestseller List this fall, start here.

Nine Stories [classic short stories] – J.D. Salinger.

This is one of the most cohesive short story collections I’ve ever read. Two of Salinger’s greatest and most famous short stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esmé, With Love and Squalor” are anthologized in this collection published in 1953. My tenth grade English teacher assigned these stories to my class and every fall I am reminded whenever I’m home in Western Massachusetts. While substitute teaching at my old high school last fall I found a copy of Nine Stories stashed in the corner of a dusty bookshelf. Between Memories of the Second World War haunt the minds of these characters, along with a spiritutal disillusionment which each tries unsuccessfully to bury with a superficial materialism. Children observant and wise beyond their years play pivotal roles in many of these stories and serve to provide an emotional counterpoint to the adult protagonists who struggle to find any meaningful connection.

Wild Punch [contemporary short stories] – Creston Lea. http://www.crestonlea.com/

Though better known for his wildly popular custom-built Burlington, Vermont-based guitar company, Creston Electric, Creston Lea’s first passion has always been writing. He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop and published Wild Punch his first collection of short stories, in the spring of 2010. Most of the stories are set in the woods and small towns of Vermont and New Hampshire. Lea’s New England is not the bucolic, picturesque countryside you would expect, rather, it is a place filled with dark secrets and a wild range of characters careening towards inescapable fates. Lea’s characters live the lives that vacationers and tourists do not see. His protagonists are ice-fishers, immigrant farm workers, drunks, invalids, most down on their luck and getting by day by day however they can. Check out Creston’s beautiful handcrafted guitars at www.crestonguitars.com.

Mountain Interval [classic poetry] – Robert Frost. 

Whether you love him or, well, you merely like him, no New Englander’s fall reading list would be complete without a little Frost. I find myself returning to Frost just about every time the seasons change. Mountain Interval was first published back in 1916 and opens with “The Road Not Taken”, one of Frost’s best and considered by many to be among the greatest poems ever written in the English Language. Other classics include “A Patch of Old Snow”, “Out, Out-” “Birches”. My personal favorite is “Meeting and Passing”:

As I went down the hill along the wall
There was a gate I had leaned at for the view
And had just turned from when I first saw you
As you came up the hill. We met. But all
We did that day was mingle great and small
Footprints in summer dust as if we drew
The figure of our being less than two
But more than one as yet. Your parasol

Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust.
And all the time we talked you seemed to see
Something down there to smile at in the dust.
(Oh, it was without prejudice to me!)
Afterward I went past what you had passed
Before we met and you what I had passed.

The Many Woods of Grief [contemporary poetry] – Lucas Farrell. http://www.umass.edu/umpress/title/many-woods-grief 

The debut book of poetry from another Vermonter, Lucas Farrell, won the Massachusetts Press’s Juniper Prize for Poetry. Farrell and his wife, visual artist Louisa Conrad, own and operate a small dairy farm in Townshend called Big Picture Farm. Keep up with their blog and buy their products online at http://www.bigpicturefarm.com. An excerpt from “We Are All of Us Nearly Home”:

For the stars we’ve issued arrest warrants.

The blackness between them

has been shaped into badges.

The nosy offenders surrender

like snow geese. All birds

are authentic at night. We are

all of us nearly home,

explains the beggar.

Explains the tiny calendar.

Not now.

I’m trying to describe to you the weather.

Sometimes a Great Notion – Ken Kesey. 

This is my favorite novel of all time, and is Kesey’s magnum opus. The novel focuses on the Stamper family, a stubborn clan of loggers who betray the striking union workers and continue selling lumber to a local mill. Set in the fictional Pacific Northwest town of Wakonda, Oregon, the novel opens with a vivid description of a human arm hanging from a rope, the hand adjusted to form a middle finger aimed at the union members. Rugged, cunning and masculine Hank Stamper squares off with his younger half-brother Leland, who is a weak-bodied scholar hellbent on avenging the Stamper clan for his tormented childhood. As opposed to Kesey’s more commercially successful One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, this novel is more grounded in realism. It has drawn comparisons to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, another novel that contains characters that monomaniacally pursue their half-crazed ambitions. The narration in Sometimes a Great Notion switches constantly between characters without warning. At one point, even the family dog gets a voice. The language is gorgeous and the inertia of the plot builds to a final climactic scene that borders on the realm of American folk tale. Give yourself some time for this one, as it runs longer than 600 pages. I have yet to watch the film of the novel featuring Paul Newman and Henry Fonda.

I hope this list gives you some ideas and starting points for your future reading adventures. What’s on your list for this fall?

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