It’s Autumn and there’s lots of fruitfulness going on. Keats and the Romantics pretty much cornered the market on autumnal descriptions, so you will find none here. Autumn also features in so many books as a melancholic background, symbol of fading powers and the progression towards darkness that this blog piece will be decidedly up-beat. At least Keats emphasised the fecundity.
Speaking of fecundity, look what’s in my south London garden. The plums have finished, but we have oranges, olives and figs (and blackberries, though I’ve tried to rid us of brambles). I will be harvesting all of them. For much of the medieval period we called this slice of the year ‘Harvest’ not Autumn at all, though ‘autumn’ was what the ancient Romans called the season.
In Anglo-Saxon September was Gerstmonath, or barley month and it’s still called herbstmonath in Switzerland. It attracts an unusual preponderance of food festivals, including wine (California), chicken, honey, mushroom, potato, rice, grains and cheese (Italy). Personally, I rather like the sound of national hot mulled cider day (US) on 30th September.
There are, of course, numerous Christian and other religious observance days, including Michaelmas, which is one of the traditional quarter days in the financial calendar. The harvest being over, the reeve would tally up the produce ( and set taxes or tithes for the year ). Sounds a bit like the Autumn Statement to me ( wherein the UK government previews the following year’s budget in Parliament ). British universities also name the first academic term of the year Michaelmas Term, as do the Inns of Court.
But it isn’t Autumn yet, I hear you say. Well, that depends on whether you’re using the astronomical calendar, when Autumn begins with the Autumnal equinox on 22nd September, or the meteorological one, which measures Autumn as beginning on 1st September.
This is all northern hemisphere related, of course, ( apologies to Antipodean readers ) and very northern European. In the Mediterranean world there is harvest ( see Vendimia ) but without the cooler temperatures and the autumnal mists. In southern Spain it is still Summer in September and that is where very shortly, I’ll be heading. But what to take to read? Something Autumnal?
Goodreads ‘Best Books to Read in Autumn’ list veers towards rather later in the year than September, with its focus on ghost and horror tales because of Hallowe’en/All Soul’s Day/Samhain on 1st November. And the newspapers and journals are focused on the ‘Back to School’ aspect of September, recommending children’s books.
I am not disheartened, because I always have a mental list of books to read. I just don’t normally have time to read them. So, in no particular order Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, Golden Hill by Frances Spufford and Hagseed by Margaret Atwood. Oh and Things Can Only Get Worse by John O’Farrell ( a Clapham writer ). Then there’s the non-fiction…….
I’ll stop now.