Autumn’s Pivotal Book Picks

Kenny Brechner -- September 6th, 2018

MadonnaPietradegliScrovigniAs red leaves begin to appear beside their green neighbors, and cool nights draw the warmth from area lakes, it was clearly time to make my annual visit to Autumn in the hopes of getting some insight into which books published this Fall will be most worthy of our attention.

Kenny: Thank you for setting aside some time for us, Autumn.

Autumn: Certainly.

Kenny: Well, straight to it then. Perhaps you can share your top picks of the Fall season?

Autumn: Why are you speaking in generalities? Are you not aware that this is a pivotal Autumn?

Kenny: I am not. Pivotal in what way?

Autumn: I am speaking of those critical points at which we choose one path over another.

Kenny: The whole Robert Frost thing of two paths meeting in the wood and all that?

Autumn: In a sense. The pivotal aspect of things is in the air. It is no coincidence, for example, that recent science fiction has concerned itself with divergent points being the fulcrum of alternate dimensions. Think clearly of the points in our lives where a choice of direction alters all future events in a substantive way. Now learn that these pivotal points grow in power over a 20-year cycle. We are coming to the end of a cycle now. It will come to full bloom this Autumn before fading away again.

Kenny: Hearing you speak I must admit that the feeling of gravity attending big decisions in my life has been inexplicably growing of late.

AutumnI’m glad to hear you are not wholly wanting in sensitivity.

Kenny: Hmmn. And how does this pertain to books?

Autumn:  I am only putting forward those books which are both excellent in themselves and which exemplify the pivotal.

Kenny: I see. Can you disclose them to us now without spoiling their effect.

Autumn: That is a danger. it depends whether you can immerse yourself in the experience even with the foreknowledge of its character.

Kenny: I’ll take the hazard.

Autumn: Very well then. If ever a book exemplifies the nature and high stakes of decisions made at a fork in the road it is Laura Weymouth’s The Light Between Worlds. Two sisters have two very different responses to being transported to an adjacent world and then returned. For one it was instructive while for the other it represents a necessary lodestone painfully removed.The key role that adherence to a sense of belonging plays in signal personal decisions is at the heart of this bold, immersive, and challenging Narnia re-imagining. Though the book will take individual readers to very different internal destinations no reader will be unmoved. Small Spaces by Katharine Arden is another stellar book which places its protagonist astride two dimensions, and calls upon strength of character to navigate the maze between them, a maze populated by animated scarecrows who were once her schoolmates. It is a creepy and wonderful middle grade tale of terror with a big dollop of character way finding.

Kenny: Those are pivotal picks indeed! Do you have other kids’ titles to share?

Autumn:  Speechless by Adam Schmidt features a boy asked to deliver a eulogy for a companion in his life who everyone thought he was far closer to than was really the case. The book builds inexorably to a pivotal choice he makes, and delivers a powerful conclusion. Great stuff. Another book to look for is The Train To Impossible Places by P.G. Bell. It too features the choice to move to another dimension. It is a fun, inventive and lighthearted early middle grade romp but what I really liked was that Suzy, the young lead character, was on her own during the adventure. The pivotal nature of her experience was not diluted with incipient romance or friendship issues. Finally, since every second book in a series is pivotal in some way, and given the exalted nature of Nevermoor, you’ll want to be mindful of Jessica Townsend’s Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow.

Kenny: I will! Any adult picks for us, maybe just one fiction and one nonfiction?

Autumn: What if I want to give two fiction and one nonfiction?

Kenny: Right ho then.

AutumnCarlos Zafon’s Labyrinth of the Spirits is a must here. It is a Labyrinth in every sense, and one which it is incredibly satisfying to traverse. Consider that even the order in which you are reading it in relation to the three prior volumes is itself a pivotal choice. Another book which is pivotal to the core is Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore. It contains an underworld haunted by double metaphors. Need I say more? This is a pivotal year and it is no coincidence Murakami’s release is timed to be at its apex.

Before getting to nonfiction it is my duty to put forward a crossover book, since they literally represent a fork in the road. My pick is Kill the Queen, a paperback original adult release, which represents a change in direction, a new genre for its established author Jennifer Estep. An epic fantasy whose cover makes it look like also ran young adult fodder, the book actually reads like a rich and entertaining young adult fantasy with a few more expletives than usual. What sets it apart is its sneakily engrossing characters headlined by the appealing voice of Evie, its first person narrator. Gender is totally secondary to this balanced world of gladiators, magic wielders and political intrigue. Its evil is gloriously unrepentant and its good delightfully conflicted. Try it!

For nonfiction my pick is On Dangerous Ground, Hampton Sides’ brilliant account of a crucial battle, The Chosin Reservoir, during the Korean War. Its depiction of pivotal choices taken for good and ill,  along with the book’s resonance regarding the present moment, make this a great choice.

Kenny: Many thanks, Autumn.

Autumn: By all means, Kenny.

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