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The best books to read this autumn

As well as listing all of the books we publish here at Slightly Foxed, the quarterly Readers’ Catalogue includes our pick of the best books to read this autumn. From classic literature to children’s book gift sets and the best books to read in autumn 2021, our small but perfectly-formed selection of book recommendations provides a wide range of good reading to keep you company as the evenings draw in.

This autumn, our list of recommended reading outside the mainstream focuses on newly published and recently reissued good books to read for adults.

Autumn reading list

Murray Bail, Eucalyptus

On a property in New South Wales, a man named Holland lives with his daughter, Ellen. When Ellen turns nineteen, her father announces his decision: she will marry the first man who can name all the eucalypts, down to the last tree. As suitors struggle to meet the challenge, Ellen encounters a strange young man among her father’s trees – a storyteller with enchanting tales of faraway lands. This modern fable has been reissued by Vintage this year.

Will Burns, The Paper Lantern

Set in a shuttered pub – The Paper Lantern – in a village adjacent to the Chequers estate, the narrator embarks on a series of walks in the Chiltern Hills, which become the landscape for evocations of a past scarred by trauma and a present lacking compass. From local raves in secret valleys and the history of landmarks such as Halton House to the lockdown period, climate change and capitalism, The Paper Lantern creates a lived-in yet complicated portrait of a place.

Barbara Comyns, A Touch of Mistletoe

First published in 1967, A Touch of Mistletoe is a coming-of-age story that shows Comyns’s inimitable voice at its best. Sisters Victoria and Blanche live a secluded life in their grandfather’s house. When he dies, their mother, a war widow with a thirst for port, replaces drink with housework and the girls plan their escape. Blanche heads off to train as a model in London. Vicky wants to study art but answers an advert leading her to Holland, where she tends a pack of bull terriers. This is just the beginning of the sisters’ adventures which take them from poverty to a wider bohemian world as they encounter love and fluctuating fortunes.

Jim Crumley, Lakeland Wild

Jim Crumley strives to find ‘a new way of seeing and writing about this most seen and written about of landscapes’. With the eye of a naturalist and the instinct of a poet, through backwaters and backwoods, he traces the Lake District’s place in the evolution of global conservation and makes the case for a far-reaching reappraisal of Lakeland’s wildness.

Sebastian Faulks, Snow Country

Snow Country tells the story of Lena, a girl born with nothing but her own strength of character to an alcoholic mother in a small town in Austria in 1906, and Anton, the restless son of a bourgeois family who sets out to make his fortune in pre-First World War Vienna. Their lives become fatally entwined at the Schloss Seeblick, the setting of one of Faulks’s most loved novels, Human Traces. Although we glimpse one or two characters from the past, Snow Country is a new world.

Georgette Heyer, The Black Moth

Jack Carstares, the Earl of Wyncham, sacrificed his honour for his brother and went into exile. Returning to England seven years later, Jack pretends to be a gentleman named Sir Anthony Ferndale, making his living as a highwayman and a gambler. When Jack encounters his nemesis, the Duke of Andover, in the midst of kidnapping Diana Beauleigh, the two old enemies come to blows. Georgette Heyer wrote The Black Moth, her first novel, at the age of seventeen to amuse her convalescent brother.

Antoine Lauraine, The Readers’ Room

When the manuscript of a crime novel arrives at a Parisian publishing house, everyone in the readers’ room is convinced it’s something special. The committee for France’s highest literary honour, the Prix Goncourt, agrees. But when the shortlist is announced, there’s a problem for editor Violaine Lepage: she has no idea of the author’s identity. When the police begin to investigate a series of murders reminiscent of those in the book, Voilaine, suffering memory blanks following an aeroplane accident, starts to wonder what role she might play in the story.

John Lewis-Stempel, Woodston: The Biography of an English Farm

From the Paleozoic volcanoes that stained its soil, to the Saxons who occupied it, to the Tudors who traded its wool, to the Land Girls of wartime, John Lewis-Stempel charts a sweeping, lyrical history of Woodston, the quintessential English farm. He digs deep into written records, the memories of relatives and the landscape itself to celebrate the farmland his family have been bound to for hundreds of years. We feel the joyful arrival of oxen ploughing; see pigs rootling in the medieval apple orchard; and take in the sharp, drowsy fragrance of hops on the air.

Bernard MacLaverty, Blank Pages and Other Stories

Bernard MacLaverty is a writer whose work – like that of William Trevor, Edna O’Brien or Colm Tóibín – is deceptively simple on the surface but carries a turbulent undertow. ‘Blackthorns’ tells of a poor out-of-work Catholic man who falls gravely ill in the sectarian Northern Ireland of 1942 but is brought back from the brink by an unlikely saviour while ‘The End of Days’ imagines the last moments in the life of painter Egon Schiele. This collection of short stories – on family, love, the making of art, Catholicism, the Troubles and ageing – are marked by dark currents of violence, persecution and regret.

Patrick Mackie, Mozart in Motion

Mozart holds an unwavering place in our culture but how much do we really understand about the music that is played, and what can it reveal to us of the great composer? Mozart in Motion is a biography of his music, a journey through the pieces of his canon which leads us to the pleasures of the works, as well as into the major and lesser-known moments of his life. One reason Mozart’s works have remained so ubiquitous, Mackie argues, is that he was composing at precisely the moment when our modern world was forming.

A. Milne, Happy Half-Hours

At the age of twenty-three, A. A. Milne was appointed the Assistant Editor of Punch. He had a talent for turning out a thousand whimsical words on lost hats and umbrellas, tennis, dogs, faulty geysers, the English obsession with rank and titles, cheap cigars and more. But there was another, more serious side to Milne; his experiences serving in the First World War made him a committed and vocal pacifist. This selection of Milne’s articles, written between 1910 to 1952, demonstrates his trademark wit, little-known political views and nostalgia for a lost era.

Ruth Padel, Daughters of the Labyrinth

Ri is a successful international artist who has worked in London all her life. When her English husband dies she turns to her Greek roots on Crete, island of mass tourism and ancient myth. There she discovers not only proud memories of resisting foreign occupation in the 1940s but a secret, darker history. Unearthing her parents’ stories transforms Ri’s understanding of her family and her country, her identity and her art.

Tim Pears, Chemistry and Other Stories

In these short stories, Tim Pears illuminates a series of blazing moments in quiet lives. A wife compulsively digs in her garden. Two brothers, long estranged, reunite for a terse, heady summer. A woman flies to Krakow to see her adult son. At dusk, a girl pushes her dying mother out into the sea. A small boy sits on his own in the cinema, entranced by the cowboys who light up the screen. At the heart of this collection lies ‘Chemistry’, a compelling portrait of family and migration.

Leila Slimani, The Country of Others

Following the Liberation in 1944, Mathilde leaves France to join her husband in Morocco. But her life is now that of a farmer’s wife, with all the sacrifices and vexations this brings. Suffocated by the heat, by her loneliness and by the mistrust she inspires as a foreigner, Mathilde grows increasingly restless. As Morocco’s struggle for independence intensifies, Mathilde and her husband find themselves caught in the crossfire.

Isobel Wohl, Cold New Climate

Lydia is unsettled in her New York life. She takes herself away to Greece, secure in the belief that her much older partner Tom will be there on her return. However, when she comes back, she discovers he’s fallen in love with someone else. When she reconnects with Tom’s teenage son Caleb, all three lives are recast in shocking and devastating ways. Meanwhile there are greater changes happening in the world at large, changes over which they have even less control. Isobel Wohl’s precise, observant prose lays bare the ever-shifting rules by which we try to conduct our lives.

You can browse and buy our round-up of the best books to read this autumn in the Reader’s Catalogue section of our online shop.

Book recommendations in Slightly Foxed magazine Autumn 2021

The Autumn issue of Slightly Foxed magazine contains the usual eclectic mix of good book recommendations to take your reading off the beaten track.

George Clare, Last Waltz in Vienna

In February 1938, the grand Konzerthaus in Vienna was in full, glorious swing; bands were playing, there was dancing and singing and plenty of beer. It was the first ball ever attended by the 17-year-old Georg Klaar, and he stayed until the very last waltz. But on 11 March, lorries began thundering into the streets, filled with uniformed men waving swastikas and shouting ‘Death to Jews’. Austria was now betrayed and had been annexed by the German Third Reich. Barely four years later, Georg Klaar had become George Clare and was serving in the British army, and his parents had been rounded up and taken to Auschwitz. Only with hindsight can George discern the complex reasons for his family’s destruction, and for the whole appalling waste of war. This is a profoundly moving, honest and compassionate memoir, remarkably devoid of self-pity, though not of anger.

William Golding, The Spire

Dean Jocelin has a vision: that God has chosen him to erect a spire on his cathedral. His mason advises against it, for the old cathedral was built without foundations. Nevertheless, the spire rises octagon upon octagon, pinnacle by pinnacle, until the stone pillars shriek and the ground beneath it swims. Its shadow falls ever darker on the world below, and on Dean Jocelin in particular.

The novels of Mary Wesley

The Camomile LawnHarnessing Peacocks Not That Sort of GirlA Dubious Legacy

‘Wesley’s writing strikes me as the exact opposite of reassuring or tasteful, and it is explicitly critical of the nostalgic, the romantic or the well-bred. The sex is fun but rarely romantic, and her books are packed with domestic violence, murder, suicide and incest. What I – and I suspect many others – admire is that despite all this, the darkness doesn’t dominate. Wesley’s books are leavened with a sparkling wit, and their pace speaks of a woman who has found her voice late in life, and who has a whole host of books inside her.’ Olivia Potts, Slightly Foxed, Issue 71

Buy with Patrick Marnham’s Wild Mary: A Life of Mary Wesley

Josephine Tey’s Inspector Grant novels

The Man in the QueueA Shilling for Candles The Franchise AffairTo Love and Be Wise •  The Daughter of TimeThe Singing Sands

‘My 10p book was The Man in the Queue (1929), the first to feature Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard. A recurrent sleuth has always been a favoured device for thriller-writers: Agatha Christie had her Hercule Poirot, Dorothy L. Sayers her Lord Peter Wimsey. However, in my opinion no one has ever invented a detective to equal the style and charm of Inspector Alan Grant.’ Clarissa Burden, Slightly Foxed, Issue 71

Brian Masters, Killing for Company

Dennis Nilsen, who died in May 2018, admitted to killing at least fifteen people before his arrest in 1983. His victims, mostly young gay men at a time when society cared little for them, had never been missed. Brian Masters’ study of these killings was written with Nilsen’s full co-operation, resulting in a fascinating – and horrifying – portrait of a murderer’s mind. Winner of The Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for non-fiction.

Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac

After embarrassing herself and her friends, the romantic novelist Edith Hope has been exiled to the rarefied atmosphere of the Hotel du Lac. She has refused to sacrifice her ideals and remains stubbornly single. But among the pampered women and minor nobility at the hotel Edith finds Mr Neville, and her chance to escape from a life of humiliating loneliness is renewed.

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home. One day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon. This special edition of The Hobbit bears a facsimile of Tolkien’s original cover design and includes colour plates of his paintings, colour versions of maps and reproductions of all his drawings.

Mary Soames (ed.), Speaking for Themselves

The correspondence between Sir Winston and Lady Clementine Churchill extends from their early days of courtship in 1908 to Winston’s death in 1965. The letters serve not only as a chronicle of their personal achievements and tragedies over the years, but also as a political and social history. In their own words, Winston and Clementine recount some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century: the sinking of the Titanic, the abdication of King Edward VIII, the downfall of governments, the Depression and two world wars.

The following books are also featured in this issue of Slightly Foxed but are currently out-of-print (correct autumn 2021) and only available in second-hand editions. For help searching for second-hand books, please contact the Slightly Foxed office.

Richard Altick, The Scholar Adventurers
Hugh Falkus, The Stolen Years
Doris Lessing, The Four-Gated City
Rita Monaldi & Francesco Sorti, Imprimatur
Charles Ritchie, The Siren Years
John Squire (ed.), Cheddar Gorge
Somerville and Ross, Some Experiences of an Irish RM

The full bibliography of recommended reading from Slightly Foxed: The Real Readers’ Quarterly magazine Issue 71 can be found on the contents page of the printed issue and on its listing here on our website, together with links to the online articles. For many more recommendations for good reading, why not browse back issues of Slightly Foxed magazine?

Autumn book gift sets for children

For children, our book gift set of Rosemary Sutcliff’s popular series of Roman and post-Roman historical adventure novels is now complete, with the publication of Sword Song and The Shield Ring this quarter. Other book recommendations for children include Ronald Welch’s series of historical novels following the fortunes of a family from The Crusades to the Second World War, BB’s pair of classic nature novels, The Little Grey Men and Down the Bright Stream and his well-loved adventure tale of three brothers who spend a summer living in the forest, Brendon Chase.

Rosemary Sutcliff, Sword Song

Sixteen-year-old Bjarni Sigurdson, a young Norwegian living in the Viking settlement of Rafnglas, is exiled for five years by the chief, Rafn Cedricson, for the hot-tempered murder of a priest, so breaking an oath Cedricson had sworn to his foster-brother to protect Christians within his lands. Bjarni joins a merchant ship sailing for Dublin from where, robbed of his possessions but with a new companion, a stray hound he calls Hugin, he embarks on a career as a mercenary in the wars between the clan chiefs in Ireland, Wales and the Scottish Isles. On Mull, he falls under the influence of the chief’s devoutly Christian mother Lady Aud, and after a chance meeting on a journey with her to the monastery on Iona, he is able to return and receive absolution from Rafn Cedricson for the breaking of his vow.

Rosemary Sutcliff, The Shield Ring

England is now under Norman rule, but hidden high among the Cumbrian fells is one last Viking stronghold. Into it comes the five-year-old Saxon girl Frytha, saved by her father’s shepherd Grim after her family farm has been torched and her family murdered by the Normans. Here she meets another orphan, Bjorn, and over the years the two become inseparable. When William the Conqueror’s son William II marches north through Lakeland to confront the Scots, the Norsemen send a peace envoy, who is cruelly tortured and murdered by the Normans. It’s clear William is determined to take this final tactical outpost, but Bjorn, disguised as a travelling harper and secretly accompanied by Frytha, enters the enemy camp and after a terrifying ordeal brings back vital information which gives the advantage to the Norsemen.

A Christmas Comfort Read

Brendon Chase was selected by Patrick Barkham in the Guardian as one of the best books to choose as a Christmas comfort read.

‘BB’s novel of young runaway boys turning feral in the countryside is filled with sensual detail, and a love for the natural world – while never forgetting it’s an adventure story too . . .

All children (and adults) fantasise about slipping the shackles of boring authority. As an 11-year-old, I aspired to living like these “outlaws”, in a hollow oak tree, with rabbit furs for clothes. But, as BB relates, reality quickly hits home: how, exactly, can the boys really live in a forest? Gradually, they teach themselves how to survive. It isn’t pretty – they fish, they steal a rifle and shoot a wild pig and rustle songbird’s eggs to eat. Robin even climbs an enormous tree to rob an egg belonging to a honey buzzard (the bird is down to a few dozen pairs in Britain, probably because of boys like Robin) – but the book is full of realistic ingenuity and a joyous embrace of the wild world . . . Like comfort eating, a comfort read must be a constant sensory delight and it is here that Brendon Chase really excels. Almost every page has a treat for the senses – wood smoke, the discovery of an iridescent purple emperor butterfly, or wild swimming. And through the inadvertent, ecstatic discoveries of the grownups chasing the boys, BB shows how adults can rediscover these pleasures too . . .’

You can read Patrick Barkham’s article recommending BB’s Brendon Chase as the perfect Christmas comfort read in the full article ‘Brendon Chase: the thrill of escaping into the wild’ on the Guardian website.

If you have any suggestions for recommended reading or would like to tell us your pick of the best books to read this autumn, why not let us know in the comments below?


Comments & Reviews

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  1. Mrs. Ainee C. Beland says:

    Some good reads but for now I must try and stick to those books I obtained from my town (Uxbridge) library book sale. I am slow at reading and it will be a long while, if at all, that I post of them; the mind can’t always muster reading … juxtaposing of self into fiction or what have you. Continue to be well and keeping us readers entertained. Thank you for what all of you do at Slightly Foxed.

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