Can you feel it? There’s a crispness in the air, beckoning you to curl up on the couch with a mug of hot apple cider, or maybe a PSL. Hot Girl Summer is officially behind us, and now it’s time for Cozy Girl (or Boy, or Person) Autumn. Hygge nights, the sweet scent of rotting leaves, Halloween candy at every turn…..if anyone tries to tell you fall isn’t the best season, they’re lying. In between reading spooky stories, planning my Halloween costume, and buying far too many decorative gourds, I picked up a copy of Pumpkinheads by the prolific Rainbow Rowell (her latest book, Wayward Son, came out just few weeks ago), and if you for some reason still need some autumn inspo to really get into the season, this young adult graphic novel should hit the spot.
Set in the span of a single night, Pumpkinheads is a short and sweet story about two high school seniors Deja and Josiah, who reunite every fall at the local pumpkin patch where they’ve worked for the past four years. This pumpkin patch, enthusiastically named DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch and Autumn Jamboree, claims to be “the best pumpkin patch in the whole wide world”—a bold claim and, if the artwork is anything to judge by, an accurate one. This night (Halloween) is Deja and Josiah’s last night at the pumpkin patch ever; they’ll be off to college next year. So, determined to live their final day to the fullest, Deja decides it’s time for Josiah to do what he’s been putting off for four years: confess his massive crush to the mysterious “Fudge Girl” girl who works at the Fudge Shoppe across the way. This sudden urge sparks a series of misadventures as, unable to find Fudge Girl, Deja drags the shy Josiah all through the pumpkin patch, past the smores pit and candy apple stand, through the corn maze and the hay ride.
Ireland’s writer-to-overall population ratio has always been impressive. The little isle known for shamrocks and Guinness has been home to some of the most influential writers of the past couple of centuries. In poetry, there was William Butler Yeats. In drama, Samuel Beckett confused generations of English students with Waiting for Godot. Edna O’Brien brought women’s emotional and sexual politics to the fore. Bram Stoker introduced the world to Dracula! And of course there’s one of my all time favourites: the inimitable, infinitely quotable Oscar Wilde.
Twenty-first century Irish writers have some big shoes to fill, and so far they’ve been easily meeting the challenge. One of the most buzzworthy books this season is Normal People by Sally Rooney, which has catapulted the 28-year-old writer into the general literary consciousness. Less intensely millennial than her previous work Conversations with Friends (but only by a little), Normal People is the type of book you burn through in one sitting—a book The Guardian called “a future classic”. Rooney’s writing is difficult to explain; there’s nothing flashy or unearned in her prose, and yet with a few simple, well-constructed sentences she can take down everything from author readings (please see: “It was culture as class performance, literature fetishised for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys, so that they might afterwards feel superior to the uneducated people whose emotional journeys they liked to read about.”) to capitalism. Maybe this quality is what makes The Atlantic compare her (in a weirdly spot-on way) to Jane Austen; she is simultaneously participating in and sending up the conventions she is clearly skeptical of. In Austen’s case, it was the role of women, love, and class under the rigid rules of Regency society. In Rooney’s case, it’s the existence of art, love, and class under capitalism. So even though reading Rooney is very much like listening to your cool 20-something artsy friend talk about her life, her work feels like a natural progression of radical writers before her.
As someone who reads any book about cats that she comes across, whether fiction or non-fiction, for children or for adults, there are some that are extra special and Princess Puffybottom – And Darryl by Susin Nielsen is one of them. The story is about a cat who is Princess of her domain but is dismayed by the addition of a puppy to her kingdom. The puppy is messy and uncouth but worst of all he takes attention away from the Princess. Princess Puffybottom knows that this intruder needs to be banished somewhere far faraway. She tries everything to do that including hypnosis, trickery and sabotage but nothing works – it looks like Darryl is there to stay. Princess Puffybottom is sad but no one even notices – except Darryl. Slowly the Princess learns that Darryl has some redeeming features. He worships her, puts her on a pedestal (literally!) and even helps her get extra food. Princess Puffybottom comes to understand that there is room for both a Princess and a companion in her kingdom and life is good again. But what is that, that her human subjects are bringing home on the last page?