Thoughtful. Heartening. Reflective.
Inspirational. Fortifying. Delightful.
Amazing. Gentle. Magical.
Enthralling. Transformative. Relaxing.
These are only some of the words I have already used in conversations, both in person and virtual, to describe Melissa Harrison’s superb (there’s another…) Autumn: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons. Edited by Harrison and published by Elliott & Thompson with support from The Wildlife Trusts, Autumn is the third – Spring and Summer preceding it – in a projected four volume series of anthologies collecting writings both old and new that take up the respective seasons as their themes. Autumn is the first to have made its way to my desk for review but based upon my reading – and indeed re-reading – of it, it is most certainly not the last of the series I intend to read.
As a reviewer, I read dozens upon dozens of books each year. And as would be expected, some I find more interesting (informative, well-written, enjoyable…) than others. Most leave me better informed for having read them, and on occasion also leave me with something more as well. However in all my years of reading books for review, I have never before taken one up that has made such a profoundly deep impression upon me as Autumn has.
I read Autumn at my home in Oregon. It came with me on a week-end family vacation. I took it along on business trips to California, Washington, and Germany. In its pages I found reminders of beloved traditions, peace during long airplane flights, middle-of-the-night relief from jet-lag, comfort while missing my family, and grounding during moments of workplace conflict. Each essay and poem in it has been read at least twice and some many more times than that. As of this writing it still occupies a place between my journal and my “current read” in my shoulder bag whenever I leave the house, easily accessible during a longer-than-expect queue or for a few stolen moments over an afternoon “cuppa.”
From the good Reverend Gilbert White’s seasonal notes and John Clare’s “November” to Jane Adams‘ experiences with woodmice and Jo Cartmell’s keen observations about bank voles, each of Harrison’s selections conveys one of the many things about Autumn that have become synonymous with the season, as well as dearly beloved to those of us who find the time of “mists and mellow fruitiness” most to our liking.
Harrison’s taste in selecting the works to be included is exquisite. Look for no clichés or saccharine tributes here (nor look for Keats’ “To Autumn” for that matter; simply a bit too well known, I suppose…). Old works are admittedly slightly less common but are always interesting (I had only known Reverend White’s writing through his The Natural History of Selborne; now I’m in search of a copy of his The Naturalist’s Journal following my reading of selections from it in Autumn) and many of the new essays are from emerging writers with perspectives that are as crisp and clear as an October country morning. Indeed, it is particularly for this latter group that all lovers of good writing should offer up to Harrison words of sincere gratitude.
And as long as I’m on the subject of giving thanks to those to whom it is due, a word must be said about the support by The Wildlife Trusts for the entire quartet of seasonal anthologies of which Autumn is a member. It is because of their work in partnership with publisher Elliott & Thompson that the series was made possible. For this, and for all that they do to help bring so many people closer to nature, they deserve the gratitude and support of all who find restoration, enjoyment, and solace in the natural world, both in person and in print.
Therefore if you enjoy a well-wrought poem, personal essay, or even a particularly jaunty report from the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club recounting the events of their 1887 fungus foray (I would like to go on record now that I would dearly love to participate in such an event!), all replete with the rich colors, cool mornings, and beloved traditions of autumn, I cannot strongly enough recommend Melissa Harrison’s thoroughly enchanting Autumn to you. But get to reading it soon, because (and you just knew I couldn’t pass this chance by…) Winter is coming.
Editor: Melissa Harrison
Publisher: Elliott & Thompson
Pages: 208 pp.
Published: 25 August 2016
In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.