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There's nothing better than curling up with a good book in autumn. As the leaves change, and the air gets cooler, it's the perfect season for a cozy murder mystery, a fantasy read, or just a really great novel set in September, October, or November. (If you're looking for best new books of fall 2023, click here.)
An autumn read is distinct from a beach read, and these stories are fantastic for when the weather gets colder. "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," author Elizabeth Strout blogged years ago. "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."
As Anne narrated in Anne of Green Gables, "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers." We are, too—and we're so glad to read novels set in Octobers. Here, 25 of our favorite classic fall books to read this season:
No autumn is complete without a rewatch of the cult classic film Practical Magic starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as witchy sisters—but have you read Alice Hoffman's novel the film is based on? It's a classic for a reason. Plus, she wrote three other books in the Practical Magic series, so there's plenty to keep you occupied.
Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics)
Jane Eyre begins on a dreary November day—"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day..."—setting the tone for the gothic novel. Autumn remains a key backdrop throughout the novel, including when she travels to Thronfield Hall for the first time (her first morning there was "a fine autumn morning"). A definitive autumn classic. (Any Brontë novel, honestly, makes great fall reading.)
The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern's part fantasy part romance follows the star-crossed magicians Celia and Marco, who set up exhibits at a mysterious circus that appears only at night. Though it's not set at any particular moment in time, The Night Circus is definitely an autumn read. As Morgenstern writes, "The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of the cold..." It's best read under a cozy blanket with a candle lit.
Breakfast at Tiffany's and Three Stories
The first time Captoe's unnamed narrator meets Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," it is a rainy Tuesday in October. Though the novella isn't entirely set in the season, this alone makes it enough of an autumn classic for us—plus, any excuse to revisit this work.
The October Country: Stories
If you're looking for a spooky read in October, Ray Bradbury's short stories have to be at the top of your list. These nineteen sci-fi stories are weird gothic horror—and just scary enough.
In the intro, he describes the setting of October Country: "That country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and midnights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain..."
Autumn: A Novel (Seasonal Quartet)
A book called Autumn has to make the cut, right? The first novel in Ali Smith's seasonal quartet follows friends Daniel and Elisabeth in the "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness."
The Dutch House
In Ann Patchett's The Dutch House, Danny and Maeve bond after their mother leaves when they are just children. They're raised in the Dutch House by their father, Cyril, and stepmother, Andrea. As Stephen King wrote, it's "an absorbing "family" novel (brother and sister, actually) that's like a perfect Thanksgiving dinner: many courses, each perfectly prepared. At first you turn the pages; then you slip into that world."
Daphne Du Maurier's gothic novel, Rebecca, was published in 1938 and remains a classic to this day. (The book has never gone out of print!) Following an unnamed young woman who marries a wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter, and returns to his estate, Manderley, it's an atmospheric page-turner–perfect as the days get shorter.
To Kill a Mockingbird
While To Kill a Mockingbird begins during summer (and the trial takes place the following summer), much of Harper Lee's famous novel is set during fall, including the book's final chapters.
Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells
In Autumn Light, writer Pico Iyer returns to Japan following the death of his father-in-law, and reflects on death and aging. As the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote, it is not Iyer's typical travel writing, but rather seasonal writing: "Rather than a story, Iyer has written an ode to autumn — not for its blazing maples, but because it is the inward-looking season 'when everything falls away.'"
Anne of Green Gables
While this story is meant for children, all ages can still enjoy L.M. Montgomery's classic about Anne. As Yaa Gyasi said when she re-read it, "What I noticed this time around that I hadn’t noticed when I was a young girl is how much careful attention Montgomery pays to the seasons — descriptions of the weather, the way the plants in Lovers Lane change. My favorite season in the book is fall, when school has begun for the children of Avonlea, and Anne, fierce, independent, brilliant Anne, breaks her slate over Gilbert’s head. It’s an iconic moment in a wonderful book."
Olive, Again: A Novel
For starts, the sequel to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge features falling leaves on the cover, making it an immediate yes for us when we're discussing autumn reads. Olive, Again is a collection of thirteen interconnected stories (you don't need to read Olive Kitteridge first) set in coastal Maine.
The Overstory: A Novel
The Overstory is a superb, Pulitzer Prize-winning book about trees. As Ann Patchett noted, "Autumn makes me think of leaves, which makes me think of trees, which makes me think of ‘The Overstory,’ the best novel ever written about trees, and really, just one of the best novels, period."
Attachments: A Novel
This romance novel by Rainbow Rowell, about e-mails being monitored, is making the list for this incredible autumn quote found in its pages: "October, baptize me with leaves! Swaddle me in corduroy and nurse me with split pea soup. October, tuck tiny candy bars in my pockets and carve my smile into a thousand pumpkins. O autumn!"
This aptly titled novel, Mexican Gothic, is set in the 1950s and follows Noémi as she travels to the Mexican countryside to help her cousin, Catalina, who claims her husband in poisoning her. When she arrives at the mansion, nothing is as it seems. As Rachel Syme wrote in the New Yorker, "In the fall, I cracked open Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 'Mexican Gothic' in the bath and found myself reading until the water turned cold."
The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman is a master of fantasy and science fiction (he's authored Good Omens, Stardust, American Gods, to name a few), but his best autumnal book is The Graveyard Book, a young adult novel about a boy named Nobody who is raised by occupants of a graveyard.
Book of Goose
One of the newer books on this list, Yiyun Li's novel won the 2023 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. It follows two young girls, Fabienne and Agnès, who grow up in the French countryside during World War II—and Agnès gets out of their rural world through a plan orchestrated by Fabienne.
Any Agatha Christie book makes for a good fall read (murder mysteries are best read in colder weather, no?), but we recommend this on theme Hallowe'en Party, set during a—you guessed it!—Halloween party. Bonus: It was just adapted for the big screen as A Haunting in Venice.
Nine Liars (Truly Devious)
Maureen Johnson's Truly Devious series is a cozy mystery series that follows teen detective Stevie, and the fourth book in the series—which can be read as a standalone—brings Stevie and her gang abroad to London, where she's immediately pulled into a cold case of what happened when nine Cambridge University students played a deadly game of hide-and-seek.
Nora Ephron's films are the undisputed go-to classic fall movies, but have you ever read her books? Start with Heartburn, an autobiographical novel based on Ephron's marriage to and divorce from Carl Bernstein. Not exactly autumnal, but Nora Ephron is the queen of the fall.
The Fortnight in September: A Novel
This cover looks summer-y, we know, but The Fortnight in September, published in 1931, is an autumn classic based on its setting alone, as it follows a lower-middle-class family on their annual vacation to a seaside resort.
The Witches of Eastwick
In a Rhode Island town, divorcées Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie suddenly find themselves with magical powers. They're disrupted by the arrival of Darryl, and soon seek their revenge. It's a perfect spooky read for fall. It was adapted into a beloved film starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer, but the film is quite different from the book.
Louise Penny's hit Inspector Armand Gamache series begins in autumn with Still Life, when he travels to investigate a suspicious death in a rural village outside Montreal. As one reviewer wrote on Goodreads, "You get the usual good twists, turns and red herrings of a proper mystery, and along the way you get to know the inhabitants of the town so well you will be tempted to find the place, check into the B&B, and spend a few days enjoying the apple cider, licorice pipes, and fall colors."
Something Wicked This Way Comes: A Novel
Another Ray Bradbury for your autumnal reading list is this 1962 dark fantasy novel about Jim and William, two 13-year-old best friends who have a terrible experience when a traveling carnival comes to their home on October 24. It is very spooky and scary!
The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classics)
No list of classic autumn books is complete without Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, widely regarded as one of the best ghost stories ever written. It's definitely more scary than cozy, but it's absolutely worth a read during the fall.
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