November 20, 2013

Staff Picks Shelf: Fall 2013

Remember last year when I posted my first "Staff Picks" selection? The idea was to curate a miniature collection of book, film, and music recommendations based on a theme, such as the season/my mood (they're often connected). At the time, I was relishing a perfect fall day of leaves and sweaters and overcast skies—in other words, so many things I love about this bless'd earth. I love the idea of curating: of assembling things you love, things that have influenced you or even made you who you are somehow, things that are simply beautiful, and gathering them up into a little patchwork. There is something so joyous in that. So satisfying. I could probably sustain this entire blog with lists of art and songs and poetry, photographs and recipes and snippets that color my world every day. But for now, another autumn collection as we drift into the last remnants of the season.

The snow has already come to Vindeln. I lit some holiday candles earlier and they are emanating a warm, sweet glow in my bedroom. The Swedes don't have Thanksgiving to signal to them an appropriate time to start celebrating Christmas. On this November day, though, my heart is still trailing behind in an autumn breeze.

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Just take my word on this one; it's got autumn sensibilities laced all throughout. Need I say more than this: boys at boarding school playing football, except our young hero, who is more inclined to the thrill of poetry. "There was a cold night smell in the chapel. But it was a holy smell. It was not like the smell of the old peasants who knelt at the back of the chapel at Sunday mass. That was a smell of air and rain and turf and corduroy. But they were very holy peasants. They breathed behind him on his neck and sighed as they prayed. They lived in Clane, a fellow said: there were little cottages there and he had seen a woman standing at the half-door of a cottage with a child in her arms as the cars had come past from Sallins. It would be lovely to sleep for one night in that cottage before the fire of smoking turf, in the dark lit by the fire, in the warm dark, breathing the smell of the peasants, air and rain and turf and corduroy."

2. New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver

In case you missed the memo, I have been obsessed with Mary Oliver for the past year or so. There is pretty much no season, no occasion, no mood that isn't doesn't pair well with this rich poetry. Oliver believes deeply in paying attention to grace and beauty and tragedy and tenderness. Her poem "In Blackwater Woods" is particularly autumnal and happens to be one of my first and forever favorites from her collection. "Look, the trees / are turning / their own bodies / into pillars / of light, / are giving off the rich / fragrance of cinnamon / and fullfillment,"

3. Frankenstein

I read this for the first time a couple months ago, albeit in simplified Swedish. But the Gothic sensibilities and the obvious ties to Halloween make this much more fun to read in October than any other time of the year, I'm wagering. Also, did you know this novel is officially subtitled "or, The Modern Prometheus"? That's kind of cool. Basic message: this novel is more awesome than all the lame ways we've appropriated Frankenstein in pop culture. Plus, I was delighted to see that it's written as a frame narrative in epistolary form. (What can I say? I'm a sucker for letters.)

4. Dan in Real Life (2007)

I'm pretty sure this film-still tells the whole story. Thanksgiving-esque weekend family reunion in Rhode Island, the trees are changing color, everyone is donned in cozy sweaters playing American football and being about as charming as your heart will be able to stand. I really do adore the vibe of this movie. And it doesn't hurt that most of the soundtrack is Sondre Lerche music.

5. Liberal Arts (2012)

It was my dear friend Jamie who recommended I watch this movie last year, bless her heart. Once I finally did, I realized it was so much my-life-in-a-nutshell at that point. First of all, we should probably put my crush on Josh Radnor out on the table. He just seems like a really genuine guy trying to pursue really genuine projects in his career. Radnor wrote, direct, and starred in this film in true Woody Allen style, and almost with as much wit. Most of the action takes place on a college campus (how much more "fall" can you get? I mean, look at those leaves on the DVD cover!), aside from when the protagonists are writing letters to each other (which is always an insta-win with me). It's a film about nostalgia, about growing up, about "moving on," whatever that means. And it's a nice shout-out to people majoring in the humanities (#represent). Sooo... what's not to like? 

Oh, and Zac Efron has a minor role in the cast as this kind of Zen, tree-hugging little philosopher. You'll get a kick out of that.

6. The Cider House Rules (1999)

Confession: I haven't seen the entire movie. But I started watching it a couple nights ago when I was having trouble sleeping and drifted into an autumnal slumber. It has just that fall feeling. Apple orchards. Orphans. A place called St. Cloud's, Maine. The charm of those kind of ambiguously mid-20th century costumes. Not to mention, the theme song of the film was later re-appropriated by the Pure Michigan campaign for its commercials and... all I have to say is, tears.

7. "Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England" (8tracks mix)

“Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England” from ellejolene on 8tracks Radio.

Speaking of all those gorgeous autumnal films, I made a playlist of instrumental soundtrack music from some of my favorites, including the aforementioned Cider House Rules/Pure Michigan tune that is sure to send you spiraling into nostalgia. You're welcome.

8. Moonrise Kingdom, soundtrack

The movie, which made my list of 2012 favorites, is more summery. But the soundtrack, featuring a variety of musical styles (including Benjamin Britten, Alexandre Desplat, Hank Williams, and Francoise Hardy), is surprisingly coherent and perfectly suited to your November afternoons of quiet reflection.

9. My One and Only Thrill, Melody Gardot

This is one of my go-to albums when I want that smoky, film noir aesthetic (which is more often than you'd think). Melody's jazz vocals and tasteful arrangements are also especially exquisite on a rainy day, especially the miniature set she has near the end of the album on tracks 8-10: "The Rain," "My One and Only Thrill," and "Deep Within the Corners of My Mind." I promise your next drizzly walk/drive/bus ride/afternoon of languishing on your bed will be transformed by these songs.

10. Blue, Joni Mitchell

To be honest, it's taken me a while to get on the Joni Mitchell bandwagon. But the day has come. Her signature blend of folky music and heartache is undeniably "autumn." Highlights on this album: "Little Green" (listened to it on a train ride through northern Sweden at sunset in September and there was no better song for that moment), "Blue," "River" (which is kind of a standard Christmas song now, and all for the better), "A Case of You" (umm, obviously), and "The Last Time I Saw Richard."

Even if it's already snowing where you are, most of these make nice transitions into early winter. Have a cozy morning/afternoon/evening, where'er you may be. And while you're thinking about it, make a Staff Picks list of your own! It's pretty much really fun. Feel free to leave a comment if you have an autumnal (or otherwise) literature, film, or music recommendation. 


  1. I'd really like to see a couple of these movies--maybe while you are home we can squeeze them in between Christmas movies! A little Autumn/Christmas mix will do my heart good. -Moo

  2. You know I'm smiling at the Frankenstein recommendation. I'm going to have to give 'Portrait' another chance one of these years--I think my 10th grade self must have missed something special when I read it the first time.