I don’t do summer reading as such. Yes, I read during the summer, but since I choose whatever comes to hand, that’s no different than what I read during the rest of the year. But over the past several years, my autumnal reading has developed distinct characteristics. I have a tendency to read about serious topics such as aging and death in the fall (which why I’m calling this autumnal reading rather than fall reading: it’s not because I’m trying to sound British, but because “autumnal” sounds a bit more funereal to me than “fall” does). Fall inspires this in many people—it’s the fall movies that are Oscar contenders; summer movies are more “just for fun”—but I never expected it to show up in my reading list.
It started innocuously enough in 2007. Having read James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling at the end of that summer, I wanted to read something else of his. Although Hillman has written on many subjects, the next book of his that I happened to find in a used book store was A Terrible Love of War, and I was eager enough to start reading it right away, which meant it became autumnal reading. It was certainly relevant to my developing autumnal reading theme as it is an exploration of why we say we abhor war and want peace, but act as if we believed the opposite.
One book does not a trend make, of course. The following year, I hadn’t made any conscious choice to tackle somber themes in my autumnal reading; again, it just happened. I had bought the anthology For Keeps: Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance as a Christmas present for a friend, and I’d done so absurdly early. So here was this book, just lying there in my apartment. Now, never mind that many books lie around my apartment unread for years on end, the fact that this book was guaranteed to leave in the near future drew my attention to it. And sure, I probably could have borrowed it back from the friend to read it. But no, I decided to read it as gently as possible before passing it on, which meant that I read it during the fall of 2008.
By 2009, having definitely reached midlife, I approached it as I approach all major life changes: I set out to read about it. This meant I filled the fall and early winter with In the Ever After: Fairy Tales and the Second Half of Life and Once Upon a Midlife by Allen B. Chinen, and Navigating Midlife: Using Typology as a Guide by Eleanor S. Corlett. (Perhaps there are more standard books for learning about midlife, but my reading tastes dictate a slightly more offbeat take on the subject.) Even though I had an entire spring and summer to work with, somehow I ended up reading those books during the fall.
Last year? Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life by Megory Anderson, a book I wish had existed back when my parents and aunt died and which I highly recommend to just about anyone having to deal with death. 2010 also brought me The Poetry of War by James Anderson Winn and Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military by Stefani Elizabeth Barner. I also read Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis that year, but in May. Maybe reading it out of season is why I didn’t like it as much as the others!
Although the unseasonably warm weather has meant that autumn really hasn’t felt all that much like autumn this year, my current reading continues the theme: Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals by Thomas Moore. It’ll carry me through the better part of another week, after which I haven’t decided what to read next. Perhaps a quick, shallow book to cleanse the palate, so to speak, and then another book on midlife. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr looks interesting…
At first, it was just coincidental. Now, I find myself saving my “gloom and doom” books for fall. It seems counter-intuitive that reading about death, aging, and/or war as leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping, and days are getting shorter would be a pleasant experience, but it is, somehow. It all fits.