Autumn Reading by Elizabeth Strout

Not long ago I awoke in the middle of the night and realized immediately that it had arrived. The air, when I had gone to bed, was still faintly sultry, the air of evening that comes after a day of golden, soft sunshine. But when I woke in the dark I felt how the temperature had dropped, and the air smelled of autumn. It was like learning a secret, the rest of the city asleep around me, while I felt that I was the first to learn: autumn had come swiftly, quietly, to town. The moment was brief and delicious, and resonant with sudden memories and sensations that pulled me back into the comfort of sleep, and when I woke it was still there, the edge of the chill, but even more – the faint smell of this change in the seasons.

It made me want to read.

There is much said about the "Summer Read," which suggests beaches and lounging and porches and hammocks. But this autumn, for the first time, it came to me that I seem to prefer to read in darkened, cozy places. I don't like to read on a beach. I like to read in messy coffee shops, or on subways (which, believe it or not, can sometimes feel quite cozy), I like to read at night in strange hotels when it is raining outside, or in my own kitchen, late, as I eat peanut butter crackers. And now that it really is autumn and getting dark earlier, it seems the joy of reading has come to me as it came to me when I was a child: that sweet tugging on the senses, come here, come here. It is surprising. I would have thought -- I have always thought -- I am a person who likes to read, and the where and the when didn't matter.

Who knew?

Maybe it is because I am at a stage in life where my schedule is not as regulated by domestic needs as it was when I was raising a family, and all reading was done hungrily anywhere I got the time. Now – even while I still feel there is never enough time, never – I will pop onto the couch with a quilt, and tell myself, Oh, just fifteen minutes and I will get back to work, and then pick up one of the many open books lying around. The loveliness of this! The glory of it, as I snuggle down. Through the window, I see the low clouds of autumn that seem to keep me blanketed inside and safe, while I read the stories of people who have felt this, lived through that, and I do not mind that winter will unfold its own carpet one of these days.

Elizabeth Strout is the author of Abide with Me, a national bestseller and Book Sense pick; Amy and Isabelle, which won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. In 2009 she was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of connected short stories about a woman and her immediate family and friends on the coast of Maine. She can be found online at

I agree....I love reading all cozied up when it is cold and rainy (or snowy if you live farther north than I do) and even when I am sick in bed!.....actually that is the best because no one expects you to get up and fix them meals or clean up the kitchen!

PS...."Abide with me" is one of my favorite books.....such a beautiful story!
# Posted By Judi | 10/29/09 1:31 PM
Judi's absolutely right - nothing beats being just sick enough to spend the day in bed enjoying a good book!
# Posted By Davina | 10/29/09 1:45 PM
HI happy you won for Olive Kittredge. It was recommended by another favorite author Eliz. Berg who I have the pleasure of seeing every spring when she comes thru CT on her book tour. I loved your book so much! I am an obsessive reader and love talking about and reading about books. Keep writing!!!
# Posted By Linda Sheehan | 10/30/09 8:52 AM
I was reading your book while the snow fell and the fireplace was on - it can't get much better than that. I feel we all have a little of Olive in us. Thanks - a great book.
# Posted By Blanche | 11/6/09 7:38 PM
The best writing is what one is passionate about...and Elizabeth Strout *is* passionate about reading! I do enjoy her novels and have read most of them over the years. Elizabeth has the understanding that there is that rushed, 'read-it-as-fast-as-you-can' and 'gobble-it-up' reading we did when we stole moments for ourselves when our children were small; there is lazy summer beach or hammock reading where you may doze off between or in the middle of a chapter; then, there is the lying around the house wrapped-in-an-afghan autumn or winter reading, or wake up in the morning treat-myself reading in bed morning. Like her, I keep several books lying openly inviting me in around the house. Reading is a "mood" thing and as my mood changes, so does my choice of reading environments.
# Posted By Linda | 11/12/09 10:02 AM
Loved Olive Kitteridge, but a bit disturbed by two things. Why was Suzanne Jewish? Why was a summer visitor who made an unflattering comment described as "a New York Jew". Why endorse these unattractive stereotypes?
# Posted By Penelope | 11/15/09 3:58 PM
Those "Jewish" descriptions made me a bit uneasy, too. Was she trying to show that Olive is a tiny bit anti-Semitic? But the "New York Jew" comment came from the narrator, didn't it? Otherwise, I loved the book. The insights were genius.
# Posted By sue | 11/26/09 8:41 PM
I agree with these concerns about the Jew comments.
Suzanne is materialistic, hard to please, demanding, sends food back and
seemingly obnoxious.
What is Strout tryig to say here?
# Posted By J Simon | 11/30/09 6:50 PM
Olive K. is a remarkable book.
# Posted By Sandy | 12/8/09 3:31 PM
Elizabeth, you are a national treasure! You were able to convey in your essay the passion I feel for reading but can't express. Your words touch me and I won't forget them.
# Posted By Toni | 12/9/09 10:55 AM
Our book group, comprised of both Jews and Christians, spent a long time trying to analyze the Jewish character of Suzanne and later on in the book, a very anti-semitic comment by a Crosby resident. We were puzzled by this and had some theories: the comments reflected the bias of the towns people, the bias reflected Stout's point of view and/or, perhaps, the strong anti-New York feelings of Olive and others in the book. I would really love to know what Stout's feelings about this might be. (According to one of our members, Stout, when asked at the book interview at "Symphony Space" about the subject in New York, got very defensive, "I am not an anti-semite", but did not explain her point of view). By the way, we all liked the book, but were curious about this issue.
# Posted By Sara | 12/25/09 12:19 PM
I'm surprised by the lack of insight the readers are showing regarding the anti Semite issue. Or non issue. Strout is articulating the narrow ideas and vision of characters, not herself. I'm not surprised that she hasn't responded to this line. Why try to explain to those who are so lacking in understanding?
# Posted By Pam Pomar | 1/23/10 8:14 AM
I would buy the argument that Strout is simply showing the characters' biases, except that a character utters something negative about Jews in each of her novels (and not about any other ethnic group, that I could find.) That, to me, points to some kind of unconsious prejudice from the author herself. And the fact that she won't explain why she chooses to create so many anti-Semitic characters is equally troubling.
# Posted By suekush | 2/5/10 5:16 AM
Having been raised by two New Englanders and having lived, for awhile, in the little NH town my father (and his ancestors) was born in, I can say that the author captures some of the 'small town' mentality found in many towns, including suspicion of New York 'city folks' which might include Jews...or anyone different for that matter. (Old Vermonters refer to those who come from areas farther south such as NY as "lowlanders.")
# Posted By judy | 3/22/10 10:04 PM
From my reading of Olive Kitteridge, Olive, all other characters, and the narrator say alot of things about alot of people (and things). Many of these things are based in predjudice and biases reflecting, as far as I'm concerned, our shortcomings as human beings. Why pick just one area, Judism, to suddenly be offended? I found myself hurt and upset by a lot of what I read. As uncomfortable as it may be to hear and tolerate, Olive Kitteridge is 'real world.' Sometimes we need to see it to change it. Kudos to Elizabeth Strout for helping me 'see.'
# Posted By Lyric | 3/24/10 8:06 AM
I too, loved the book, Olive Kitteridge. Found this Blog when, puzzled by the Jewish references, I did a search. Is the author pointing out the anti-semitism of others, or does she harbor those feelings herself? Hard to say. Would have to look at Strout's other books again.
# Posted By DebraG | 4/24/10 10:09 AM
Elizabeth....I am President of our Book Club in a very active community in Florida...and last evening our "Lady's Club" had a wonderful program. Three women acted out an adaptation of your "Olive Kitteridge". I was so blown away that, as I write this, I am having it placed on my Kindle. An opportunity to meet you and have you speek to our Book Club, would be a dream of mine.
I can't wait to get my hands on your book.
PS If you find yourself dreaming of warm me.....
# Posted By Anita | 4/6/11 12:14 PM
The conversation between yourself and Olive Kitteridge at the end of the book is probably the most creative piece of writing I have ever read, very inspiring.

As for the negative comments by minor characters in your novels, I was not offended, and I am Jewish. I assumed these characters reflect the mindset
of many real people in small towns anywhere, people who have never known
and possibly never even met a Jewish person. I think it is ludicrous and insulting for any reader who attributes such ignorance and prejudiced stereotyping to you reflects their own poor judgment and it is not worth dignifying their comments with a defensive reply.
# Posted By Penny C. | 9/8/11 11:01 AM
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