Arts editors exclusive takes on fall reads

“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. Photo courtesy of Amazon.

“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. Photo courtesy of Amazon.

Leyden Streed and Carling McQuinn

We’ve compiled a short list of our favorite reads for the fall season. From magical realism set in a midnight circus to a contemporary commentary about a babysitter’s experience in a toxic household, we chose a wide spectrum of genres and stories. 

“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “All the Light we Cannot See,” and his most recent release, “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” is no disappointment. “Cloud Cuckoo Land” spans centuries and continents as it follows five different characters in their interactions with a fictional ancient Greek text. This text, also called “Cloud Cuckoo Land,” is about a shepherd embarking on a long, eventful journey in search of an idyllic city in the clouds. It crosses paths with a teenage boy who plans to bomb a library on a misguided notion of justice; an orphan girl and village boy in 15th century Constantinople; a girl on her way to another planet sometime in the future; and an 80-year-old elementary school teacher in rural Idaho. Doerr combines history with vibrant imagery and heartwarming — and heartbreaking — characters to create an intertwining web of personalities, hardship and joy. “Cloud Cuckoo Land” is told in Doerr’s poetic, lyric prose and celebrates the different ways stories impact different people. 

“The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern 

Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus like no other. It opens only at midnight and travels the globe with no warning of where it will go next. Celia Owens, the daughter of a famous magician, is the circus’s illusionist, and her shows are only as convincing as they are because her illusions, unbeknownst to the audience, are real. Meanwhile, Marco Alisdair is the assistant to the circus’s owner and is playing a bigger role in Le Cirque des Rêves than anyone knows. 

Both Celia and Marco have been trained their whole lives for a competition, the rules of which are never quite explained. They know the other simply as their competitor. When the circus begins, however, it becomes a sensation, people rushing to its next location as soon as it is known, and inevitably Celia and Marco meet. As they try to discover the details of the competition, they find themselves falling for each other; this, however, has more repercussions than either Celia or Marco could guess. Morgenstern’s writing is charming and whimsical, and “The Night Circus” is so closely related to our world that you nearly forget there is magic involved at all. 

“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid  

For someone looking for a fun page-turning story full of important social commentary, “Such A Fun Age” by Kiley Reid is a must read. Based in Philadelphia, the story follows 25-year-old babysitter Emira Tucker, who finds herself in a surprisingly complicated situation involving her boss Alix Chamberlain’s past. When Emira, a Black woman, is wrongfully accused of kidnapping the white child she babysits during a visit to the grocery store, her relationship with the Chamberlains expands far beyond what she anticipates. The story touches on topics of race and problematic power dynamics through a plot full of twists and turns. It addresses race from a modern day point of view, emphasizing the effects of everyday microaggressions and biases. It points out the problems within modern day “wokeness” and lack of recognition.

One of us is coming out of a summer of nannying and finds this story to be particularly poignant. Emira’s love for two-year-old Briar and their relationship is truly the heart of the story, standing out as one of the few authentic relationships between characters. Despite the numerous problematic behaviors exhibited by the Chamberlains, Emira stays involved with the family for the sake of Briar. There is a lot packed into this story, but it is an especially great read for young people entering adulthood.

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

“The Secret History” has definitely struck a chord with literary fans in recent years, whether that be positively or negatively. A novel by Pulitzer Prize winning author Donna Tartt, this story follows the narrator Richard as he enters the mysterious world of a classics class made up of six students. With the setting being an elite liberal arts college in New England, it feeds into the fantasies of dark academia fans. It also makes for a great fall read, as the seasons play an important role in the progression of the story itself. This story features a murder within the first few pages. However, the story equally focuses on the build up to the murder as well as the aftermath. The novel is full of Greek mythology motifs and references that are integrated in a way that people not familiar with Greek mythology can still follow.

Most of the critiques with “The Secret History” have to do with the unlikability of the characters. They are purposefully very pretentious, but there is a lack of any resolution or redemption for any of the characters. Even the narrator, who was originally portrayed as “different” from the other characters who all came from wealth, ends up being just as sleazy as the rest of them. The book itself is quite long and can feel unnecessarily drawn out. Despite these aspects, we recommend this to those who enjoy commentaries on the pitfalls of toxic academia. 

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