Islands of the Mind: Volume 1

islands of the mind marisha pessl fall
“Enjoy your fall. Accept that your hair is going get blown by wind into your lip-gloss and don’t forget your scarf. Keep reading.”

I recently launched a newsletter, entitled “Islands of the Mind.” It’s a curated selection of books, writers, films, and random ideas (plus the odd unsolved mystery or two). The things that are inspiring me / keeping me up at night / leading me to question existence. My hope is they’ll do the same for you. You can read the first installment below – sign up here to be the first to see next month’s issue.

Fall is in full swing. It’s my favorite season, a time of tweed blazers and newly minted syllabi, leaf-strewn sidewalks, pumpkins, and finishing up novels (more on this soon). In celebration of the season—and as a much-needed balm for the aftermath of the presidential election—here are a few autumnal cornerstones, all of which conjure the roiling moods of fall, that crisp, quixotic season when, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “life starts all over again.”

marisha pessl islands of the mind fall

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Every good fall needs a grand old tome, something to set the ambiance like an oboe playing “A” before the symphony begins. I recently reread Monte Cristo and got sucked into the epic of a wronged man enacting his revenge Sun Tzu-style. It has all necessary ingredients for a banquet. Love. Loss. Courage. Redemption. Considered pulpy when it was first published back in 1845—in the ultimate illustration of changing seasons—it’s now considered the classic tale of high adventure.

Chelsea Gallery Walk

Fall means the contemporary galleries are pulling out the big stops with big openings. So, yes. Art. Yes, you might not get why that framed pencil scribble is priced in the mid-six figures. Yes, it might be something your cousin Vinnie could do on a bar napkin. Emperor’s new clothes, sure, we’ve heard all that. It’s not the point. It’s about the experience. There’s something so calming about wandering those giant, white-walled garage-spaces and squinting at the little plaques with the neat black words, eyeing all of those chic interns behind the front desk hunched over their laptops as if negotiating a peace treaty in Gaza.

Here is a little walk I suggest for a cool Friday afternoon armed with Starbucks and a good girlfriend.

marisha pessl islands of the mind fall

Gene Hackman

Gene Hackman is not a summer man or a winter man. (And he’s definitely not spring.) He’s a fall. So are his movies. Your own private film festival of Gene Hackman is in order. Yes, there is The French Connection and Royal Tennenbaums, but there is also, Unforgiven, Mississippi Burning, The Poseidon Adventure. Best enjoyed on an early Sunday evening with roast chicken, rosemary potatoes, and a musky burgundy.

Fall Artist Crush

marisha pessl islands of the mind fall

If you fell in love with Sharon’s writing as I did, in her hit Amazon show Catastrophe in which she also stars—the line about mothers staring at their babies resembling Gollum looking at The Ring (My Precioussssss…) still kills me—she’s proves she can go all J.J.Abrams on us, this fall making her debut as the creator/writer/exec-producer behind HBO’s new show, Divorce. (Her Twitter also rocks. And she’s apparently associated with a company called Merman. So there.)

marisha pessl islands of the mind fall

Taschen’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

The man who made !!!!! cool has reissued his seminal sixties rabbit-hole-road-trip in partnership with Taschen, causing minimalist coffee tables to rejoice throughout the Western world.


Fall is a time of learning and new perspectives, so it’s always good to consider a new concept. Wabi-Sabi. I discovered the term traveling through Japan last year. The exact definition eludes translation, though roughly it means: finding the beauty in that which is flawed, incomplete, and fleeting. The concept comes from Zen Buddhism and it’s closely tied to the Japanese tea ceremony. Bowls and cups were crafted to look old and imperfect, thereby reflecting wabi-sabi.

It’s the hole in the elbow of a favorite sweater. The grace of a sloping wood floor in an old grand ballroom. A banister smudged with three generations of fingerprints. It’s a celebration of the beauty in the present moment with the understanding that it’s almost gone. Wabi-sabi can’t be taught. It must be felt.

For more on the concept check out Leonard Koren’s Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers.

So that’s it. Enjoy your fall. Accept that your hair is going get blown by wind into your lip-gloss and don’t forget your scarf. Keep reading.

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