By Karen DeGroot Carter • October 01, 2020
While many love autumn for pumpkin spice treats, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and comfy sweaters, avid readers and movie fans also celebrate the season by getting lost in reads and films set in the fall. Prepare to spend the longer evenings of autumn curled up in your favorite spot with a warm throw, your preferred hot beverage, and a fall classic of your choice.
You may know both these movies have actress Meg Ryan in common, but you may not know they were written or cowritten by late screenwriter, director, and author Nora Ephron. Ephron seemed to know autumn in New York City was the perfect setting for romance, and in these two movies she put that seasonal setting to very good use.
The 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally starring Billy Crystal in addition to Meg Ryan was written by Ephron—who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Screenplay for this effort—and directed by Rob Reiner. While most immediately think of the famous Katz's Deli scene when this movie is mentioned, those with a long view of the film industry actually credit When Harry Met Sally with bringing fun romance back to the big screen.
You've Got Mail, which Ephron cowrote with her sister Delia Ephron and directed, takes place primarily in the Upper West Side of New York and stars Tom Hanks with Meg Ryan. Released in 1998, it tells the story of the owner of a small, quaint bookstore and an owner of a mega bookstore chain who "meet" initially via a chat room and continue their conversation by trading their nondescript email addresses. When their first real-life meetings result in accusations of deceit and spying, their story takes a tricky turn. But as they continue to meet, the two ultimately conclude they have much more in common than either thought.
Released in 1989, the drama Dead Poets Society stars Robin Williams as an innovative, inspiring poetry professor at a New England boys' prep school. Based on a true story experienced by screenwriter Tom Schulman, the film begins with the start of school in the fall of 1959, when tweed jackets were definitely still in style. It follows a group of students who are dramatically impacted not only by their own actions that semester but by their poetry professor's enthusiastic challenge to them to live their lives to the fullest. Now considered a classic, Dead Poets Society was nominated for a number of Academy Awards and won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.
Also set on a beautiful New England campus, the 2003 drama Mona Lisa Smile stars Julia Roberts as a fledgling art history professor at an upscale women's school. Set in the early 1950s, it showcases a young cast that includes Kirsten Dunst and Maggie Gyllenhaal. While this film came up short in the acting and screenplay awards, its soundtrack is full of performances by talent as varied as Seal, Elton John, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, and Macy Gray. The period costumes, including the stylish hats featured in the movie's promotional materials, help paint the picture of an idyllic time.
If you'd rather read than watch a story set in the fall on a New England campus, consider author Donna Tartt's bestselling 1992 debut novel, The Secret History. A literary reverse murder mystery of sorts, The Secret History involves a group of college students majoring in the classics—and the tragedy that befalls one of them at the beginning of the book.
A perfect fall read for book lovers is Diane Setterfield's award-winning and bestselling debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. Published in 2006, this gothic story of suspense set in England features a young woman who works in her father's antiquarian book shop—and is summoned by a famous novelist to write the older woman's biography. Multiple story lines and no shortage of family secrets make this fall read hard to put down.
If you like to mix up your warm-and-fuzzy fall reading with a bit of the macabre, consider The October Country, a collection of stories by the late Ray Bradbury, author of the classic Fahrenheit 451 and many other books. Originally published in 1955, The October Country contains stories penned over many years, and later editions change up the cover artwork. The latest edition, published in 1996, includes a foreward by Bradbury. Featuring everything from a mansion and a skeleton to a carnival and a cemetery, these tales are sure to get you in the mood for the spookier side of the fall season.
About the Author: Karen DeGroot Carter (karendegrootcarter.com) of Denver is the author of the novel ONE SISTER'S SONG. Her short fiction has been recognized in national competitions, and she's had fiction, poetry, and articles published in various print and online outlets.