There seems to be a fairly clear consensus about just what makes a book the perfect “Summer Read” or “Beach Read.” Fall reading, however, means different things to different readers. Is fall for spooky books or cozy books? Fast-paced novels that you can finish in a single fireside session? Or long expansive novels that slowly unfold. My fall reading tends to fall into particular moods: reflective, introspective, expansive. Bonus points for books that are a little eerie and anything that takes place on a campus. Some of these books hit all of these buttons while others really scratch a particular itch, but each of these texts is the kind of book I want to stumble upon in my fall reading. I hope you’ll find something that will fit into your fall reading niche!
Ishiguro’s writing is rich and languid as he follows the butler Stevens on his road trip to visit an old friend. As the aging Stevens ventures across the English countryside, he reflects back on his decisions and his continued support of an employer who may have been more sinister than he realized. I love stories about unrealized feelings, and this one is just perfect.
I read this years ago and while the plot has faded from my memory, I will never forget the way I felt upon finishing this novel. This story features Tony Webster, a man whose life is pleasantly mundane until a figure from his past reemerges and Tony is forced to reconsider memories he’s ignored for decades. This novel of misperception will punch you in the gut and works for fans of Ishiguro and James Salter.
Fall is for slowing down so even if a book is short, I want the prose to slow my pace and make me pause. Even Woodson’s novels are steeped in poetry, and this one is no exception. What I love most about this book is the reflective quality to August’s narration and the way the novel meditates on grief and loss. You could easily finish this in one sitting under your favorite cozy blanket.
Possession is one of my favorite books of all time and I find myself rereading it every other year or so. This one starts as a campus novel with a literature graduate student working on his dissertation on Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash. When he finds a letter that seems to suggest a link between his Ash and the obscure female poet Christabel LaMotte, he teams up with LaMotte expert Maud Bailey to pursue this line of inquiry. Byatt writes the story in alternating timelines and includes the poetry of both fictitious poets to create a beautiful and multilayered literary mystery.
This is a multi-generational family saga that follows the Orchires family - a line of women who practice magic. The story starts in Brittany in the late-19th century and moves all the way through WWII with each section following an Orchires woman discovering her gifts and navigating if and how to use them in the world around them. Morgan’s writing is atmospheric and she excels at presenting each distinct time period she explores. This is perfect for fans of Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman or Kate Morton readers looking for something a little darker.
I adore everything Jesmyn Ward writes and this story blew me away. Ward says she always knew she wanted to write a road trip saga and here she follows Leonie and her son Jojo as they make their way to visit Jojo’s father in Parchman Prison. Writing in the tradition of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Ward uses ghosts to poetically explore the ways in which our pasts haunt us while offering a note of hope and redemption. Sing, Unburied, Sing is one of my favorite releases of the last few years and I’m certain it will become a classic.
If you haven’t read any Sarah Waters, now is the perfect time to explore her work. Waters writes queer and feminist reimagings of gothic tradition filled with eerie houses and mind-blowing twists. The protagonist of this twisty saga is Sue Trinder who was coddled as a child though raised in the Victorian slums. When Sue takes a job in a large manor house to help carry out a con on the wealthy yet frail Maud Lilly, a surprising and intimate bond forms between the two girls. This book will keep you on your toes and is perfect for anyone looking for a slow burn thriller in the lines of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
While I don’t read a ton of mysteries, Gaudy Night crossed my path when I set out to read books set at Oxford before a trip. Gaudy Night is part of a larger series (the Lord Peter Wimsey series) but can definitely be read as a stand-along. In this book, mystery writer and Wimsey’s paramour Harriet Vane returns for a reunion at Oxford to discover that someone is terrorizing the college’s professors. I enjoyed the mystery here, but what I loved most was explore 1930s Oxford and all the customs and politics that entailed. This would make a great fall read for anglophiles and any Agatha Christie lovers.
The Historian may just be the perfect fall read. It’s slow, sprawling, and reflective, and it explores the mythology of Dracula. Kostova said she didn’t want to retell the story of Dracula, but to explore Dracula as a symbol for human-perpetuated evil and readers’ ongoing fascination with this particular lore. The narrator of this story is a young woman who stumbles upon an artifact with links to both the myth of Dracula and her own family’s past. As she follows this line of inquiry, she travels across Eastern Europe in search of answers to both mysteries. This would be a wonderful novel for fans of The Secret History and Possession.