Fall is officially here when pumpkin-spiced everything hits the stores, and those early mornings on the way to work begin to feel chilly. After this year’s dry winter, hazy spring and parched summer, we’re ready for the chance to cuddle under some blankets and consume some new and interesting media.

In our annual fall guide, we like to highlight books, games, movies and more to keep you engaged and stimulated throughout the autumn months.

Books by Casey O’Lear

As the weather begins to turn toward the fall, the outdoorsy summer activities make way for more of my favorite kind of exercise—sitting snugly indoors and reading a new book. This fall, several big-name authors and some choice up-and-comers will release a range of great reads for those rainy fall nights that lie ahead for us in Reno.

The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown & Company): One of the most highly-anticipated new novels of the year comes from J.K. Rowling, the inexhaustible creator of the Harry Potter universe. The Casual Vacancy will be Rowling’s first foray into adult-aimed literature, as well as her first novel to stray from the fantasy world so many have been enthralled with since the first installment of the series was released in the late 1990s.

The Casual Vacancy follows the story of Barry Fairbrother, a member of the parish council in a town called Pagford, whose sudden death leaves his council seat available and sets in motion a terrible town-wide war that reveals the town to be far less than the idealistic English village it appears to be on the surface.

The novel will be Rowling’s chance to transition into a different market and test her fiction-writing skills in a world without Lord Voldemort. Though the verdict is still out as to whether Rowling will be able to capture an adult audience The Casual Vacancy in the same way she has captured them before, this novel is certainly one to check out this fall.

NW by Zadie Smith (Penguin Group):

Zadie Smith recently released her first novel in seven years, since 2005’s On Beauty. In the meantime, Smith focused her efforts on nonfiction writing, but she returns to fiction with NW, a tragicomedy that follows four Londoners who are all attempting to forge adult lives outside of their childhood hometown. The setting of the novel plays an integral role in the lives of the characters, who are in their mid-30s and struggling to lead fulfilling lives in the working class area of northwest London. The plotlines of all four characters intertwine, creating a mesmerizing story arc for readers to follow through their lives and their interactions with one another, both through personal history and by chance.

Smith gained critical acclaim for her 2000 debut novel, White Teeth, which told the story of two wartime friends—one Bangladeshi and one English—who also lived in London with their families. Smith’s writing chops are obvious, and the gloomy tone of the novel and its setting in the dreary Caldwell area will perfectly complement this season’s impending Reno weather of surprise thunderstorms and sudden blizzards that leave you trapped inside with your books.

Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories by Sherman Alexie (Grove Press): Famed Native American author Sherman Alexie combines 15 new stories with 15 classics in his latest collection, Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, creating the perfect assortment of work for readers who are not familiar with his expansive 20-book career, as well as those readers who hang on his every word. Some of his most famous short stories—“This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” and “The Toughest Indian in the World,” to name a few—are included in this anthology and will be reintroduced to readers after their first round of publication.

Additionally, Alexie brings some new work to the table, delving into topics ranging from life and marriage on a Native American reservation to wind turbines and donkey basketball leagues.

Alexie, as a well-established author, will likely deliver another impressive collection of writing with Blasphemy, and his short story format will make this a perfect quick read to keep you company this fall.

Life After Death by Damien Echols (Blue Rider Press): Damien Echols is one of three friends who have been dubbed the West Memphis Three—teenagers convicted in 1994 for three murders they did not commit. Echols was sentenced to death while his two friends were sentenced to life in prison, but they were released last year following a decision from the Arkansas Supreme Court that admitted new DNA evidence into the case. During the trial, the three friends were targeted for the music they listened to and their rebellion against traditional Bible Belt values, and were accused of killing three young boys as part of a Satanic ritual.

During his time in prison, Echols collaborated with artists such as Pearl Jam and Michale Graves of the Misfits, and he published poetry and non-fiction writing in local literary journals. Since the release of the West Memphis Three, Echols has penned a memoir—Life After Death—chronicling his journey through the process, detailing his experiences in prison and his feelings about his imprisonment.

Life After Death has been recommended as a must-read for anyone who has been following the case of the West Memphis Three throughout the years, as well as anyone with an interest in the U.S. justice system. Echols’ story is compelling, shocking and thought-provoking, which is sure to make “Life After Death” a captivating read for this fall.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (Nan A. Talese): Ian McEwan, the author of Atonement, delivers another period piece with a healthy dose of both romance and espionage in Sweet Tooth. The book is also McEwan’s first to feature a female protagonist since Atonement. It follows a bookish Cambridge student named Serena Frome during the height of the Cold War. An operation codenamed “Sweet Tooth” aims to manipulate the tone of society by giving funding to writers whose work aligns with the thinking of the British government. Serena is enlisted to infiltrate the literary community, but begins to fall in love with a promising young writer she is sent to spy on, thus compromising her undercover identity.

The classic quality of a good spy-themed romance novel—about writing, no less—is undeniable. Sweet Tooth will doubtlessly provide ample entertainment for this fall’s reading.

Video Games by Ashley Hennefer

2011 was a hot year for new game releases, but all hope is not lost for 2012’s fall games. From massive multiplayer online games (MMOs), to epic first-person shooters, there’s some new gameplay to suit every kind of gamer. And this year, genre games reign supreme.

Guild Wars 2 (Aug. 28, PC): This game has been out for a couple of weeks but it’s worth adding to your fall gaming queue. GW2’s beautiful graphics and unique gameplay are a step up from the original Guild Wars, which was a good game in its own right. Rather than featuring one story line, the game builds the story around the character traits selected by the player, allowing for a controlled and open world experience within a heavily populated MMO. The character creation is gorgeous and can easily rival that of the Elder Scrolls franchise, although often the options feel like they were designed based on the fantasies of 14-year-old boys. I mean, if you’re not a ranger, you should at least have some armor or clothing protecting the rest of your body, am I right? But once you get past the ridiculously skimpy costumes, you’ll be taken through an awesome cinematic opening sequence and plopped straight into a battle. This a game best played while it’s raining outside, just because it feels more epic that way. But beware—it’s a guaranteed time sink.

Borderlands 2 (Sept. 18, Xbox, PS3, PC): The first game in this franchise was generally well-received for being a fun multiplayer experience, and this game promises to have a more lively world with an abundance of nonplayer characers (NPCs) and four new classes to choose from. The comic book style graphics work well with the space western setting of the game, and the motley crue of characters evoke the quirkiness of other co-op games like Team Fortress 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Dishonored (Oct. 9, Xbox, PS3, PC): Dishonored, created by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda, got a lot of hype at this year’s gaming conventions, and the first-person game is sure to be the most anticipated release this fall, given that it’s a brand new game with no established franchise. The steampunk-inspired aesthetics and top notch voice actors—including Susan Sarandon, Chloe Grace Moretz and Brad Dourif, to name a few—make this a promising title. The fact that it’s single player is also a welcome change from the abundance of multiplayer and co-op games, and the gamemakers have noted that it’s possible to play the game without having to kill any character, which means that the player will have a lot of freedom in choosing how to navigate stealthily through the game’s mysteries.

Assassin’s Creed III (Oct. 30, Xbox and PS3; Nov. 20, PC; Liberation, PS Vita): The third game in Ubisoft’s successful Assassin’s Creed franchise is set during the American Revolution, a significant change from the past games’ stories in Europe and the Middle East, and is a sequel to AC: Revelations, released in 2010. The game has a new engine, intended to make battles more epic, such as having around 2,000 NPCs instead of 100. The game’s weather will also have an effect on gameplay—for instance, snow will make characters stumble and walk slower, adding more challenges in the game.

Also coming out on the same day is Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, made for the PlayStation Vita handheld device. This game has been the buzz of the internet because of its black female protagonist. Liberation takes place in New Orleans during the French and Indian war. It’s nice to see new titles for the Vita being released since the potential for the device seems often overlooked.

Halo 4 (Nov. 6, Xbox): This is the eighth game in the Halo franchise and the footage released looks promising, although the story has lost some of its appeal since there are many more epic space games now then there were when Halo was new. Word is that Conan O’Brien is one of its voice actors, which is … interesting. Nonetheless, the first person shooter has a dedicated fanbase, and the graphics look mighty clean. Halo 4 also happens to come out on Election Day, so we’ll see how this impacts the future of our country.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Nov. 13): The next installment of the ultimate bro game is out in November. Black Ops II is the first game of the franchise to take place in the future using futuristic weaponry. The game’s story will change based on of player choices, also a first for the series and a break from the traditional CoD gameplay. Last year’s Modern Warfare 3 release was the biggest entertainment launch ever, so it’s safe to assume that Black Ops II will come in a bit short, but CoD fans will likely be excited about this installment.

Music by Brad Bynum

The presence of four distinct, unique seasons is something locals often cite as the best thing about Reno. And, if you live in this town long enough, those seasons get in your blood. I find it interesting how much my tastes change depending on the seasons. For beers, I crave stouts in the winter, Hefeweizens in the spring, Pilsners in the summer, and IPAs in the fall. Likewise, my music habits change from season to season, and over the first few weeks of September, I’ve already noticed a personal shift away from the hip-hop and upbeat rock of the summer to darker, more introverted material.

Daniel Craig in the next Bond installment, <i>Skyfall</i>.

Cue Bob Dylan, whose latest record, Tempest—his 115th album—came out on Sept. 11. It’s mostly old timey music at the crossroads of blues, country, folk and rock. The first song’s about a train, if that tells you anything. The backing musicians crank out a competent, professional and tasteful if somewhat anonymous and occasionally clichéd musical backdrop, over which the most important singer of the last 60 years croaks his tales and wheezes his refrains. (And it probably goes without saying by now that if you don’t appreciate a good croak or wheeze, then Bob Dylan is not for you. Have fun listening to Enya or whatever the fuck you people listen to.)

What makes Tempest such a perfectly autumnal record is that the now 70-something Dylan spends much of the running time in a deadlocked staring contest with death. The title track, for example, is a 14-minute meditation on the sinking of the Titanic. The tune is apparently based partly on a old folk song about the same subject, and Dylan rolls out details that are by turns funny, surreal and tragic, building up to the devastating quatrain: “They waited at the landing/And they tried to understand/But there is no understanding/On the judgment of God’s hand.”

The final track, “Roll on John”—the comma after the preposition is presumably implied—is a memorial tribute to John Lennon. The best chorus belongs to “Pay in Blood”: “I pay in blood, but not my own.” But my favorite track, at least in the first week of listening, is “Tin Angel,” an atmospheric murder ballad. It remains to be seen if Tempest will stand alongside other late-period Dylan masterpieces, like Time Out of Mind and Modern Times, but it’ll definitely be in my regular rotation as 2012 moves toward its end.

Fall is the season of October, the month of Halloween, and Halloween is that rare annual occasion in which modern Americans wholeheartedly embrace an animalistic emotion they spend much of their lives denying: fear. And I doubt that a more frightening album will be released in 2012 than The Seer, the new two-hour opus by Swans. The band has been around in various incarnations since the early ’80s, minus a stretch around the ’00s when bandleader Michael Gira focused on his more acoustic-oriented project Angels of Light.

Much of the music on The Seer is huge, powerful and physically exhausting. The title track stretches on for 30 minutes, best described as unrelenting. (Gira, in recent interviews, compares making music to tantric sex.) The music, often superficially hideous and dissonant, connects to the listener’s brain-melted animal emotions: in addition to fear, there’s hunger, lust and violence. (And if you try to tell me that violence isn’t an emotion, I’d direct you to once again listen to that title track.)

For all the brutality of the record, it’s also radiated with moments of pristine beauty, like “Song for a Warrior,” a lovely, country-like song written by Gira and sung by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

After my first listen, The Seer shot straight to the top of my “Best of 2012” list, a position from which it is unlikely to be dislodged.

Among my musical disappointments this year is Animal Collective’s latest, Centipede Hz. As a genuinely experimental band, it stands to reason that Animal Collective, like, say, Sonic Youth, would occasional have an experiment fail. Such is the case here, which I guess isn’t a surprise. The band’s last proper full-length, Merriweather Post Pavilion, is gorgeous, as were their most recent couple of EPs, so they were kind of due for a stinker. (Not to mention the fact that, due to a recent movie series about coprophagia, the word “centipede” makes me uncomfortable.) But their last bad album, Strawberry Jam, has buried deep in its midst “Fireworks,” arguably the band’s best ever song. So I’ve been scouring this thing for hidden moments of brilliance among its constant bubbling cauldron of cutesy digital sounds.

I haven’t found much, though “Today’s Supernatural” is a decent rock song. However, I’ve enjoyed each listen more than the last, so maybe it’s a grower.

Movies by Bob Grimm

Tim Burton’s latest project, <i>Frankenweenie</i>.

This is but a sampling of the movies that will be making their way to cinemas this fall. I must say, this looks like very exciting times for moviegoers.

The Master (Sept. 21): Of all the movies coming out in the next few months, this is the one I am most excited about. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is pure genius, and he’s never made a film I didn’t like. I doubt he ever will. This film, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a man supposedly based on Scientology master L. Ron Hubbard, got a bunch of awards at the Venice Film Festival, and marks the return of Joaquin Phoenix. I want this in my face now!

Dredd 3D (Sept. 21): This one is out this week, I will see it, and I will do so with a smile on my face. Karl Urban taking over the title role of the nastiest judge ever from Sylvester Stallone sounds good to me, and early buzz is very encouraging.

Trouble with the Curve (Sept. 21): Clint Eastwood drags his craggy ass out of the house to do some acting as a baseball scout hanging around with his daughter, played by the ever reliable Amy Adams. I already hate this movie because Eastwood plays a scout for the Atlanta Braves.

Looper (Sept. 28): Yes, I believe September, usually a suck month for movies, is going to kick some mortal ass this year, culminating with this sci-fi trip starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a time traveling assassin who faces off against a very strange, and familiar, opponent in Bruce Willis.

Pitch Perfect (Sept. 28): This sing-off movie chaps my nads whenever I see the trailer. It looks like it is part Glee and part Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

Taken 2 (Oct. 5): Reader … listen up, reader … I need you to be calm … now that cup of coffee you are drinking … the one right off to the side of this paper as you read it … IT’S GOING TO BE TAKEN!

Frankenweenie (Oct. 5): Tim Burton directs a black-and-white stop-motion animation film based on a live-action short he did years ago. This looks amazing.

Argo (Oct. 12): Ben Affleck sports Zac Efron hair for his latest directorial effort, an Iran Hostage Crisis movie where he can lose the Boston accent.

Seven Psychopaths (Oct. 12): If you’re a faithful reader of this paper, you might remember that I went nuts for Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges a few years ago. The warped writer-director is back, doing a dark comedy about dognapping with Colin Farrell once again in tow. Throw in Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken and Woody Harrelson, and you have the makings of one to remember.

Swans, <i>The Seer</i>

Killing Them Softly (Oct. 19): Director Andrew Dominik reteams with his The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford star Brad Pitt.

Paranormal Activity 4 (Oct. 19): As with the Saw films, it seems as if these poorly produced horror films for mouthbreathers will never stop.

Cloud Atlas (Oct. 26): I like the looks of this one. The Wachowskis, makers of The Matrix, return and co-direct with Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). The likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry and Hugh Grant play a series of different roles in different times, with their characters having some sort of “connection.” This could be one of the year’s biggest surprises.

Flight (Nov. 2): Denzel Washington makes an Oscar bid as a pilot who performs an amazing act but then gets himself into lots of trouble. Robert Zemeckis directs.

Skyfall (Nov. 9): Apparently you can’t say “skyfall” to Daniel Craig’s 007. He’ll just get up out of his chair in the interrogation room, give a death stare through the two-way mirror, and step out for coffee and pie.

Lincoln (Nov. 16): Steven Spielberg directs and Daniel Day Lewis stars as the title character, a really swell car that gets terrible gas mileage but truly does deliver when it comes to luxury. Oh, wait …

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2 (Nov. 16): And Satan awoke after a night drinking the blood of kittens mixed with boxed wine, pleased with himself, for he knew that as long as this franchise continued, his presence would most surely be felt amongst moviegoers.

Alas, nobody told him that the franchise would reach its end in 2012 and, even worse, that Kristen Stewart screwed around on Robert Pattinson. That was the work of Satan’s mischievous nephew, Oliver (that little shit from The Brady Bunch).

And then, Jesus called Satan, and this was their conversation.

Jesus: “Good morning, Satan. Hate you.”

Satan: “Waddup, Jesus. Hate you too. Didn’t I ask you not to call me here?”

Jesus: “Hey Satan, no more Twilight after November this year. Sucks to be you!”

Satan: “Noooooooooooooo!”

Satan dropped his iPhone 23—they are many models ahead in Hell—hunched over, and vomited gallons of kitten blood/boxed wine all over a napping Richard Harris. About to admit defeat and retire from being bad altogether, he suddenly remembered something, and raised the phone to his triumphant, bloody face.

Satan: “Suck it, Jesus! I still have Hunger Games and Avatar sequels in the funnel!”

Jesus wept.

Life of Pi (Nov. 21): Ang Lee directs a crazy looking movie about a dude getting stuck on a raft with a tiger in the middle of the ocean. Better a tiger than Jodie Foster. I just think she would be too intense and gloomy for a long boat trip.

Hyde Park on Hudson (Dec. 7): Bill Murray won’t do another Ghostbusters move. He’d rather slum around in this movie as Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14): Peter Jackson returns to his wheelhouse with a projected trilogy of Hobbit films. Am I the only one who thinks the trailers for this look kind of blah? Let’s just hope the guy who edited the trailer took a lot of painkillers that day and failed to include the truly engaging stuff. As it is, it just looks like a bunch of dwarves singing songs and smoking pipes. Fuck that shit.

Les Misérables (Dec. 14): The footage of Anne Hathaway singing live on a soundstage for this movie is unbelievable. If the rest of the movie is half as good as that moment, well, we are looking at possibly one of the greatest movie musicals ever made, right? Right?

Zero Dark Thirty (Dec. 19): Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker, makes a film about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. I think a lot of gun-toting conservative types will ejaculate when the old bastard finally takes one in the head.

This Is 40 (Dec. 21): Judd Apatow makes a “sort of” sequel to Knocked Up starring the characters played by Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann.

Jack Reacher (Dec. 21) Tom Cruise’s latest “Oh, come on … I’m not that crazy!” comeback has him starring as a guy who drives fast and punches hard. And he can also sing Def Leppard like nobody’s business and has rock hard abs. Seriously, let’s not forget how good he was in Rock of Ages.

The Impossible (dec. 21): Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star in a disaster film about the Southeast Asia tsunami. This has to be an Oscar contender.

Django Unchained (Dec. 25): So, if hobbits, Christopher Walken, James Bond and Joaquin Phoenix haven’t kicked your ass by year’s end, here comes the latest Quentin Tarantino movie … STARRING LEONARDO DICAPRIO! Oh … my … God.

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