Is it technically still summer? Yes. Did we only recently come out of a brutal heatwave? Also yes. But these minor inconveniences won’t stand in the way of coffee shops purveying us autumn enjoyers with their fall-flavoured staples. It’s fall in our hearts, and that’s what matters. And what better way to enjoy a seasonal drink than to sip it alongside an excellent read? Below is a list of coffee shop staples paired with a matching book. Of course, my scientific metric for this is purely vibes, but as a connoisseur of café items this makes sense to me. If you need some fall reading inspo, find your favourite beverage below!
Pumpkin Spice Latte
Let’s start with the ever-iconic pumpkin spice latte (PSL), undefeated queen of the fall menu items (which other drink gets its own acronym?). Sweet, unchallenging, and universally appealing, I like to think of the PSL as the romantic comedy of the fall beverage lineup. It’s the drink you pickup on the way to an orchard for a wholesome (maybe even romantic?) day of apple picking, or to do a Caitlin Covington-esque autumn photoshoot. With that in mind, PSL lovers will want to check out You, Again by Kate Goldbeck. Luring in fans of both autumn and autumn-flavoured rom-coms a la Meg Ryan’s 90s oeuvre, they slapped a When Harry Met Sally inspired cover on the book and said come get your food! And if that’s not enough, it seems the plot is also a riff on the beloved movie: two people who initially didn’t get along accidentally reconnect years later, spawning a friendship that just might develop into something more.
Not technically a seasonal item, but it has the right spirit. Smooth, minimalist and dark (but not bitter), the flat white is the dark academia of beverages. It’s the drink to carry as you step onto campus–preferably a neo-Gothic one like the University of Toronto–amid the blowing leaves. It will also match perfectly with your neutral-toned plaids and sweater vests. And the perfect book to be reading while tucked into an aesthetic reading nook, sipping on a flat white, is Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, a novel I would also describe as smooth, minimalist, and dark. Like the architect after which it’s named, Piranesi features a labyrinthine “house” with endless rooms, statues, and flooding corridors. The protagonist Piranesi is the house’s caretaker and sole occupant–except when The Other visits. Told in epistolary format, Piranesi is a weird one for sure. But if you stick with it, you’ll unravel a compelling and haunting mystery.
At the end of summer, I like to do a rewatch of one of my comfort films, The Jane Austen Book Club. I pick this time of year because the setting is crisp Northern California, seemingly perpetually at sunset. It’s a perfect transition into fall. It’s also a great example of what makes book clubs so appealing. In the film (and the book upon which it’s based), the Jane Austen Book Club is formed as a salve for a friend group going through various crises.
As the characters delve into the novels, they start recognizing themselves in Austen’s stories. They bring their own unique experiences and struggles to their understanding of Austen’s themes, leading to thoughtful discussions of characters and events with their own personal spins. Take, for example, the discussions of Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price (“I love Fanny. She puts her family’s needs before her own” “She’d probably be easier to like if she would allow some weakness in others”) or Pride and Prejudice’s Charlotte Lucas (“I kind of admire Charlotte for looking at her situation and deciding to marry Mr. Collins … She knows he’ll never be the love of her life, but that’s okay”).
These kinds of nuanced discussions are the result of a group of disparate readers coming together over a shared book; a single reader might pick up on certain themes, or form certain ideas, but those ideas can be subject to the reader’s prejudice. Sharing them with other readers can open up a whole new world of ideas. One of my favourite aspects of books clubs is simply seeing what worked about a book (or didn’t work) for different readers and getting into why. Whether the group agrees or not isn’t the point—we’re just working those thinking muscles!
Have you bought your tickets for the Barbie movie yet? Perhaps you’re planning on doing a Barbie-Oppenheimer (“Barbenheimer”) double feature, if you’ve got all the time in the world? I’m just as hyped as everyone else! And all this hoopla around Barbie got me thinking of The Power of the Doll in pop culture. Barbie herself has been kicking around since 1959, so she’s clearly got staying power. And over the decades there has been no shortage of thinkpieces on the iconic doll and her role in the lives of young girls.
Dolls, being tied to girls or to the experience of being raised female, have always had a place in media and art as a way to explore that experience under various degrees of sexism. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House critiques the suffocating nature of marriage roles in the 19th century. In Valley of the Dolls, “dolls” refers to sedative drugs but also to its main characters who, while not passing any sort of feminism test, understandably operate under patriarchy in the 1960s. Even Scandinavian pop sensation Aqua’s 1997 banger “Barbie Girl” is really about the perception of women as objects. Serious stuff!
But that all comes from adult artists who, divorced from the simple act of play, see dolls as ripe for metaphor. To kids, Barbie is simply a toy. I remember lots of handwringing about Barbie and her effect on girls’ self-esteem and body image. And recently there’s been some revival of that discourse online. But in practice, I don’t know a single person who had a bad experience with Barbie. The excitement for Barbie the movie just proves the enduring appeal of this particular doll, especially for those of us who grew up playing with her. As one of my favourite tweets on the subject goes, “I simply did not give Barbie this power over me, I controlled HER life.” I can’t speak for everyone’s experiences, but for me, Barbie and all her accoutrements were just toys. Ways to express our weird little imaginations. My Barbies were perpetually getting stuck on rollercoasters or reenacting the sinking of the Titanic. My one Ken doll was a flop whose head kept falling off, so he often had to sit these scenes out. If I coveted anything in real life, it was Barbie’s Dream House and her white Jeep Wrangler. It really was not serious.