Autumn is a time of great beauty but also melancholy and foreboding. The passage of time and the fragility of life are never more palpable, if you peer up from your fruit device. It is a season to look outward by being in nature, and to look inward by reflecting on your place in the scheme of things. The look within is most safely done with a gimlet eye on the grace and humor that leavens the transience of everything tangible. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions as to how you might use your indoor time this season.
Reading: Fall is a natural time to confront the less savory side of your soul. On a range from dark black to deep gray, David Vann's "Caribou Island," the astonishing "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel and "Open City" by Teju Cole each explore the depths of human motivation in moving and disturbing ways. Finish this fictional journey with the redemptive work of Reynolds Price, an underappreciated American novelist who died this year. "The Promise of Rest" and "Kate Vaiden" are, in their own ways, as unflinching about humanity's capacity for evil as the prior works, but more forgiving and redemptive.
To keep with the theme of autumnal introspection, brew the morning coffee powerful and tuck into Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins' new translation of Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics." Then move on to Garry Wills' books, "What Jesus Meant" and "What Paul Meant," which are of relevance in contemplating the difference between the divine and the profane, in a world overbrimming with those who are certain that they know the divine's campaign platform but have starkly competing concepts of what that is. You don't need to be an Athenian or a Christian to find these works of value.
Sounds of the season: For those of you who think JT is Justin Timberlake or heard him when you were at an age when your palate wasn't ready for adult drinks like martinis, autumn is a great time to find out why artists as diverse as Miles Davis, Paul McCartney, Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss have all recognized the brilliance of James Taylor, who channels the diverse traditions of American music into a style uniquely his own and incapable of duplication. Autumn is a good time to dig deep into the canon, and there's no better place to start than the song and album "Walking Man," and move from there to the more recent "Hourglass." If you are in the solid center of your middle years and nothing resonates in "Hourglass," feel blessed that the struggles common to most of us have not come your way. But if you are in that period of life when you are dealing with loss, accepting what you are and will never be, and searching for meaning in a busy, troubled world, this witty, self-described album of "spirituals for agnostics" will lift your spirits.
For a younger rocker who will also rouse your spirits, check out Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers and their album "The Bear," and the new release, "Gift Horse." If you became a deal lawyer or banker because white Jewish kids can't make it as soul artists, do not listen to Mayer Hawthorne's song "The Walk," as it will obliterate your rationalization. If the local high school football coach creeps you out or you just want to hear an awesome piece of rock music that evokes both Dylan and Beck, listen to Ike Reilly's "Good Work" on the album "Hard Luck Stories." And last of all, too much rain and the coming of winter will have you feeling pent-up at some point, so figure out now where Grace Potter is playing. You will leave with plenty of ya-ya's worked out, and wondering why the Nocturnals aren't bigger stars.
Stupid fun (i.e., television!): When all this high-minded introspective stuff and bleak weather threatens your mental health, depression-lifting laughs may be had. What New York was in the 1970s, Oklahoma has now become. Check out "Hillbilly Handfishin' " to see people stick body parts into blind holes with the hope that something on the other side will latch on, in this case, catfish. Don't confuse the country cornpone of the guides for lack of guile; they are fluent in the French art of the double-entendre.
The current cast of "Saturday Night Live," and the shows "30 Rock," "Bitchin Kitchen,' "Modern Family," "Chelsea Lately," "Parks and Recreation" and "Whitney" evidence our nation's appreciation for and abundance of female comedic writing and acting talent, if not manufacturing jobs. In times like this, a laugh has real value, and these shows deliver.