For many – myself included – fall is the best of all the seasons. The heat and sunshine of summer may be over for another year, but there is plenty of magic in the air.
Just thinking about those falling leaves, warm colors, cozy layers, and cool nights by the fire… well, it’s enough to have me picking out a new cardigan and wishing the dog days of summer away.
Whenever I’m looking to get myself in the mood for autumn, it isn’t a sweet coffee I reach for – it’s a novel. Books have the power to transport us to different places and times, and they are the perfect way to welcome a new season. Whether you are lucky enough to live in New England or Colorado, where fall is at it’s most spectacular, or you’re worried you won’t feel those fall vibes when it’s still 100F outside – have no fear! There are books ready to transport you to a place where it’s always autumn.
So sit back, relax, and grab yourself a cup of your favorite fall beverage. I’ve put together the ultimate fall reading list, stuffed full of classic novels, contemporary stories, and spooky tales… it’s sure to keep you busy all season long.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Published in 1960, this coming-of-age novel became an instant classic of American modern literature. To Kill a Mockingbird is told from the perspective of Scout Finch, a six year old tomboy growing up in the Deep South with her brother Jem, and lawyer father, Atticus Finch.
Though it deals with serious issues like rape and racial inequality, Harper Lee’s novel is renowned for its warmth and humor. She addresses issues of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in a compelling, heartfelt, and beautiful way. While Atticus Finch is arguably the hero of the novel, the way Scout tells the story is really what takes it over the top. Childhood sibling rivalry exists alongside the complexity of a legal trial; while haunted houses, mad dogs, and little girls in starched dresses demonstrate the way that some level of normality is constant – even when extraordinary, life-changing things are happening.
To Kill a Mockingbird may take place across three years (1933–35) of the Great Depression, but the climax of the story happens during the fall. Though it might not be full of falling leaves, the children’s ongoing fascination with the creepy Radley house – and Scout’s iconic halloween costume – make this a must-read novel for fall.
2. Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers” is on every list of Fall Quotes imaginable, and it’s taken from this classic story. And I’m in complete agreement, Anne Shirley, because October is my my favorite month too!
Anne of Green Gables was written in 1908 by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, and though it’s seen as a children’s literature classic, it was actually written for all ages. Set in the late 19th century, the novel follows the adventures of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan who is mistakenly sent to live with a brother and sister in their 50s and 60s.
Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert had originally decided to adopt a boy from the orphanage with the intention that he would help Matthew run their farm at Green Gables. When the orphanage makes a mistake and sends Anne instead, she actually ends up bringing joy and enthusiasm to the farm and the lives of the two siblings.
Set in the fictional town of Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island, the novel is all about Anne settling in to the first home she has ever known. Her descriptions of the farm, the town, and her school days are full of the joys of fall. It’s the perfect read for welcoming those crisp golden days of autumn, when all you want to do is sit with on a hay bale with a warm apple cider in hand.
3. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Originally a serialized story, The Catcher in the Rye was finally published as a novel in 1951. Almost a million copies of J.D. Salinger’s book are still sold each year, and it is widely considered to be one of the finest novels of the 20th century.
Drawing on the themes of angst and alienation, this book has always appealed to adults and adolescents alike. It follows the fortunes of sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield, who lives close to Hollywood in Southern California. He has been expelled from the exclusive boarding school he was attending, and takes his festering feelings of resentment and anger with him to a cold and windy New York. Caulfield’s experiences there are often touted as a critique on the superficiality in society, but at its heart this is a novel that deals with complex issues like innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection.
Much of Holden Caulfield’s wanderings occur during the autumn and winter seasons, and the book culminates with the coming of another school year. The themes of The Catcher in the Rye are perfect for the fall; full of the questions about the future, shifting moods, and angst that many of us feel as the seasons change.
4. Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
Many of the works of Jane Austen are suitable for reading in the fall, but the brooding atmosphere of Northanger Abbey makes it one of the best. Written in 1803, it wasn’t published until after Austen’s death in 1817, and was famously sold to London bookseller Crosby & Co. for just £10.
Northanger Abbey is actually a satire of the kind of Gothic novels that were extremely popular at the turn of the 19th century. Like so many of these classic fall novels, Austen’s is a coming-of-age story that revolves around a young and naive heroine named Catherine Morland. One of ten children, her father is a country clergyman, and – as with all of Jane Austen’s stories – the characters appear obsessively concerned about who is vying with who for the affections of single, wealthy young men.
Catherine is invited by her wealthy neighbors to Northanger Abbey, and what follows is a battle between her literature-fuelled expectations (a spooky, exotic, and frightening Gothic abbey) and the reality (a normal, nice family home that surely must have a darker side). The story indulges our heroine’s overactive imagination, making the most of the beautiful English countryside in the Autumn/Winter season as it goes. A perfect romantic read that will have you guessing “will she/won’t she” over a pumpkin spiced latte until the very end.
5. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
Fall days were made for Gothic novels, and Wuthering Heights is the perfect novel to reach for when you want a quiet weekend cozy by the fire. The only novel written by Emily Brontë, it received extremely mixed reviews when it was first published in 1847. Controversially, it provided an extremely stark depiction of mental and physical cruelty, and challenged the strict Victorian ideals that surrounded issues like religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes, and gender inequality.
Like Salinger’s novel, it is packed with resentment and angst – as well as suspense – which to me, is the perfect recipe for a fall novel. It closely follows the story of Heathcliff, who is adopted as a young boy by the owner of a remote moorland farmhouse named Wuthering Heights. It is there that Heathcliff grows up, living with Mr. Earnshaw, his son Hindley, and daughter Catherine.
When Earnshaw dies and his son becomes the landowner, Heathcliff is mistreated and separated from Catherine, whom he has grown to love. This is a true Gothic tragedy, packed with unrequited love, lost love, separation, death, and everything in between. The beautiful, desolate Yorkshire Moors is the perfect setting for this Gothic novel. Let Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights transport you to a world of old diaries, creaking windows, ghostly apparitions, and rugged landscapes this fall.
6. The Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling
“Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.”
The Harry Potter novels, revolving around the start of the Hogwarts school year on 1st September, are always a treat during the fall. Dive into a magical world of spells, potions, talking portraits, and elaborate feasts; and follow the school year from the early days of autumn, through Halloween, to Christmas, and beyond. Everyone loves curling up with a good book, and fall is the perfect season to embark on reading a new series. Whether you’ve never read the Harry Potter novels before, or you’re keen to revisit them after more than a decade, this is the time to do it! This season, why not set the challenge of reading aloud together as a family? Reading aloud to children helps build motivation, curiosity and memory; enlarges and enhances their world and their vocabulary; and helps them during times of stress or change (for example, the beginning of a new school year, or the transition between different schools).
Share the fall season with Harry, Ron, and Hermione – they’ll accompany you to a magical world among the windswept forests and lochs of Scotland faster than you can say “platform nine-and-three-quarters.”
7. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
However long it’s been since you were on campus – whether a couple of months, or several decades – there’s something about reading books about college life that pairs oh-so-well with the coming of the new season. Add to that the quintessential New England location, and you’ve pretty much got the perfect novel to read in the fall.
Donna Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History was published in 1992. It follows a closely knit group of six classics students at Hampden College, a small and extremely elite college in Vermont. Though Hampden doesn’t exist, it is based upon Bennington College, a private liberal arts college where Tartt was a student between 1982 and 1986.
The story is narrated by a student, Richard Papen, and takes the form of an inverted detective story. A murder is confessed to at the very beginning, with Papen reflecting years later on the situation that led to it; and on the sequence of events as they occurred. The novel also explores the circumstances and lasting effects of Bunny’s death on the group of Classics students, who are academically and socially isolated from the other students on campus.
Tartt’s work is beautifully descriptive and evocative of the beauty the season. The Secret History is an intimate, compelling novel you really won’t want to put down until you’ve finished.
8. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall,” Nick Carraway tells us. And isn’t that just the truth?
The Great Gatsby offers up a delicious contrast between the oppressive heat of summer and the golden days of fall, as Fitzgerald uses the symbolism of the seasons to define the experience of his characters. See the charming, generous – and occasionally ridiculous – millionaire Jay Gatsby through the eyes of his next door neighbor, Nick. Exploring the themes of decadence, love, idealism, and excess, this novel offers an eccentric portrait of the Roaring Twenties, Prohibition, and the true cost of the American Dream.
Published in April 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald transports us to the fictional towns of West Egg and East Egg on New York’s Long Island. But the first readers of The Great Gatsby really weren’t impressed: the reviews were mixed and the book sold poorly; just 20,000 copies in its first year. When Fitzgerald died in 1940, he firmly believed that he was a failure and all his work would be forgotten. However, the novel experienced a revival during World War II, and is now known as one of the Great American Novels.
My recommendation? Start reading in the late days of summer. The Great Gatsby is the perfect novel to lead you into the fall season – even if the idea of drinking any kind of coffee that isn’t iced is beyond you.
9. Autumn, Ali Smith
Probably the most recently published book on this list of fall reads, Autumn isn’t just on here because of its title. Published in October 2016 by Scottish author Ali Smith, Autumn was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and named one of the New York Times 10 best books of 2017.
The story centers around the close bond between 101-year-old Daniel Gluck and his friend, 32-year-old Elisabeth Demand. They became friends when Elisabeth, then a very young child, moved into the house next door to Gluck. Though her mother had disapproved of their early friendship, believing that Daniel was gay, Elisabeth developed a close friendship with him and was inspired by his descriptions of works of art. Under his influence and guidance, Elisabeth studied for a PhD and became an arts lecturer at a London university.
Now in a coma, Daniel’s life seems to be drawing to a close. Autumn takes the form of nostalgic reflections, with Elisabeth taking readers back to past conversations she shared with Daniel about life and art. Smith’s book has been widely regarded as the first ‘post-Brexit’ novel, but politics aside, this is a beautifully told and incredibly moving story of love, friendship, and finding joy in difficult times.
Fall is the perfect time for reflection, and this is the perfect novel to reflect on.
10. Dracula, Bram Stoker
Halloween is definitely one of the high points of the Fall season, and there’s a whole genre of literature geared to getting you into the spirit. Without doubt, Dracula is one of the finest examples of the Gothic horror genre, and is a must-read for any Halloween lover.
Written by Irish author Bram Stoker, Dracula was published in 1897 and introduced the world to one of the most recognizable characters in any genre. Told through a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, and ships’ log entries, the story of Count Dracula’s attempts to move from Transylvania to England and spread the curse of the undead unfolds. We are accompanied on the journey by solicitor Jonathan Harker, his fiancée (later wife) Mina Murray, Mina’s friend Lucy Westenra, Lucy’s various love interests, and vampire hunter Dr. Abraham van Helsing.
Dracula is set, predominantly, in the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby – a place Stoker himself spent many of his summers. Nonetheless, the brooding atmosphere and series of chilling discoveries make this the perfect novel to curl up with on the dark nights ahead.
I hope you’re feeling inspired to pick up one – or several – of the titles included in this post this season. Please share your fall novel recommendations with me in the comments! We’re always looking for new and interesting books to read.