Back to School Reads

Sunday, September 29, 2019

While the academic year is back in full swing now, the beginning of fall always feels like a month-long back to school period. Every year during this time, I find myself missing being a student. I loved the start of the school year and settling into classes and reading lists...

But since one of the glories of working life is reading whatever you want rather than for a syllabus, I couldn't resist putting together a list of fiction  apropos for that back to school feeling. These books either take place in a school setting or touch on learning in some cozy, atmospheric way. All of these are perfect for curling up with. 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets | J. K. Rowling
The Harry Potter books and films forever feel intrinsically tied to fall--this is one of my September reads sitting on my desk as I type! Chamber of Secrets is the second installment in the series, and the first time Harry returns to Hogwarts. It truly feels like going back to school as he settles in, comfortable and confident in his role as student and Seeker, only for the school year to go horribly awry when a Basilisk begins slithering through corridors and attacking students. 

Cat Among the Pigeons | Agatha Christie
Set at an all-girls boarding school, this mystery intertwines an international jewel heist with various suspicious teachers. Noises during the night, school politics, and a clever Belgium detective with glimmering green eyes make this a fun, slightly-sinister-at-times read.

Chasing Vermeer | Blue Balliet
This children's chapter book was a new discovery, but I greatly enjoyed the story of two classmates who live in the same neighborhood and are drawn together when a famous Vermeer painting is stolen. Half magical-realism, half mystery, it's a whimsical story about the power of imagination. Perfect for a cozy weeknight read. Similar to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. 

Jane Eyre | Charlotte Bronte
Forever one of my top favorite books, Jane Eyre holds a special place in my heart. I re-read it almost every year and love reading this in the fall with all of its moody, Gothic atmosphere. The story of a young governess living in a mysterious household owned by a brooding Mr. Rochester, it's a classic for a reason. 

What a Year: A 26 Fairmount Avenue Book | Tomie de Paola
Tomi dePaola's books were such a staple of my childhood: Strega NonaBill and Pete, etc. It was such a delight to discover his 26 Fairmount Avenue series a few years back which recount his childhood in chapter book form, complete with delightful illustrations. This one detailing Tomi's year--from starting school to dressing up for Halloween is my favorite. Perfect childhood magic in book form. 

Surprised by Oxford | Carolyn Weber
A spiritual memoir detailing the author's journey to Christianity during her time at Oxford. While I found it slightly underwhelming and the dialogue at times difficult to believe (paragraphs and paragraphs of conversations perfectly remembered, which I personally don't find realistic), I loved the book's Oxford atmosphere. You can really picture her life there...perfect if you miss academic days, theology discussions, and love all things England. 

Where the Crawdads Sing | Delia Owens
Such a haunting, beautiful story. Haunting and terrible in its examination of abandonment, our own selfishness, and the beauty of free, wild things. Read as little of the synopsis as you can--all you need to know is it follows a young girl through the years as she survives on her own in a marsh and learns love, loss, and fear without the vocabulary for such things. I found it so moving and deeply profound to watch a person hunger for knowledge and education. Keep tissues close by.  Similar to The Yearling and Educated

Big Little Lies | Liane Moriarty
Recently adapted into a TV mini-series (produced by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman), BLL is just as gripping in book-form. Liane Moriarty's writing is tight and her characters highly compelling in this tale about three women (and their families) all involved with the same school. While the plot revolves around events that unfold at a children's elementary school, it's the women's friendship (and secrets) that take center stage. The narration style is both clever and concise--it's one of those stay-up-late-to-finish-it reads! Perfect for airplanes and road trips.

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