While we’re a few official weeks into fall, I’m writing to you from my very first *actually cozy* day. The temps have dipped below 65, there’s color in the trees, and my craving for hot cider is justified. There’s little I wouldn’t give to experience the autumnal coziness year-round, (when it comes to fall, the “too much of a good thing” adage doesn’t apply). And while some may tell you there’s nothing better than indulging in a summer beach read, my fall reading list has that simple pleasure beat.
Fall exudes coziness—with our desire for all things comfy, wholesome, and warm reaching its peak. It only makes sense that now is the perfect time to plow through your TBR. But with the fall scene set just so, not just any books will do. We want to be scared, soothed, and set in a small town where characters wear turtlenecks and gather for knitting clubs in the local coffee shop. I’m talking about the classics, the horror, and the “no plot, just vibes” novels that make every short, dark day worth the cozy return.
Featured image by Riley Blanks Reed.
What books are best to read in the fall?
Every book is an opportunity to enjoy a little escape from the reality of our daily routines. We read to go places we’ve never been, experience contexts we’ve never known, and dive into the relationships and psyches of people entirely unlike our surrounding circle. But during the fall, in particular, it’s natural to gravitate toward books that echo the crisp weather and align with the season’s vibes. With Halloween on its way, horror, thrillers, and psychological fiction reads are perfect spooky material. The start of the school year falls in step with our love of anything academia. And of course, cuffing season is fast approaching, and there’s no better time than the fall get us in the mood—romantic fiction is a must.
With all of that in mind, I curated a fall reading list that offers something for everyone. Whether you take this season to indulge in Literature with a capital “L,” scratch your Hallmark romance itch, or enjoy a little scare, read on—these 15 reads are right up your alley.
Your Fall Reading List: 15 Books to Devour, Stat
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Genre: Autobiographical novel/Psychological fiction
Fun fact: I went to the same college as Sylvia Plath—and actually lived in her same dorm room. My fascination with the author certainly contributed to my English major, and I consider an annual re-read of The Bell Jar part of my continuing education. If you know anything about Sylvia Plath’s story of mental illness, literary fame, and the ultimate tragedy of her life, you’ll think of this as an autobiographical novel. And even if you don’t become a “Plathie,” you’ll still enjoy the fascinating peek into a woman weighed down by her own beautiful mind—as well as the horrific limitations of mid-century mental healthcare.
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
I devour this book every time I read it—and proceed to encourage everyone to add it to their fall reading list. While the narrative relies on some of the tired tropes of the publishing industry on the cusp of the 2000s, you’ll immediately be mesmerized by the entirely different world Joanna Rakoff stepped into when she took a job as an assistant to the literary agent for J.D. Salinger. It’s a heart-warming and intriguing coming-of-age story in which a young woman discovers her own voice by mimicking that of one of the world’s most famous authors.
Meredith, Alone by Claire Alexander
Genre: Psychological Fiction
If you want to cry, then laugh, then cry and laugh again, pick up Meredith, Alone. It was one of my favorite books of last year, and though I plowed through it in December, it’s a perfect fall read. The premise: Meredith hasn’t left her home in three years, but little by little—through the help of friends old and new—she learns to trust the world again. Claire Alexander does an incredible job of slowly teasing out elements of Meredith’s backstory, making it impossible to put down as you dive deeper into this lovable, complicated character.
Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados
One of my favorite books of all time, Happy Hour perfectly epitomizes the TikTok category of “no plot, just vibes” books. Meaning: while the book doesn’t track a clear progression of events, you dive deep into the mesmerizing, desperate world of two young, twenty-something friends—Isabelle and Gala—as they navigate life in New York City through charm, whit, and an unsettling brilliance.
When asked about her thoughts on this categorization, author Marlowe Granados shared with Elle, “When you put it all together, there’s not this traditional structure of rising and falling action, because I’m not interested in that. All the books I love aren’t traditional in that way, and I’m open to exploring non-linear expressions and narratives.”
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Genre: Literary fiction
To be clear: this is a must-add to your fall reading list as is everything else Ottessa Moshfegh has penned. (Eileen and her latest, Lapvona are two more faves.) Immediately upon reading, you’ll discover an entirely different sort of book, where the constraints of prose and plot are quickly bypassed. Set in New York City in 2000 and 2001, My Year of Rest and Relaxation follows the narrator (unnamed) as she seeks to spend a year asleep—induced by a cocktail of medications—to reset her life. What she discovers is a way forward in a world that’s often difficult to bear.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors
Genre: Literary fiction
If you love anything Sally Rooney, Cleopatra and Frankenstein is a natural progression. Cleo and Frank dive headfirst into a seemingly mismatched pairing. (She, a beautiful, young painter, and he, twenty years her senior, leading a life of excess and wealth.) Their romance impulsively turns to marriage, dissolving quickly into a complex and challenging relationship. As the reader, you want desperately for each to experience some semblance of happiness—and at the end, you discover just how complex true satisfaction in life can be.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
If you love food and are fascinated by the behind-the-scenes hustle of New York City kitchens, Sweetbitter is your go-to fall read. The novel tracks Tess, a twenty-two-year-old as she learns the rules of the road—and life—working at a celebrated New York restaurant. The book is full of glitz and glam but reveals the elite industry’s truths of chaos and grime. But the beyond being an exposé of the restaurant industry itself, Sweetbitter perfectly encapsulates a young woman’s pursuit of place and identity in an oftentimes unforgiving world.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Genre: Horror fiction
Behind (almost) every great Netflix series is the book that inspired it. Many agree that Shirley Jackson is the queen of horror—she’s the author of “The Lottery,” and clearly deserving of the moniker. The Haunting of Hill House takes the reader through a perfectly executed example of the haunted house story, and it even earned Stephen King’s seal of approval. Paranormal activity, psychological suspense—it’s fall horror perfection.
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
Genre: Coming-of-age story
My book club read this in September and it’s one of the few books that’s earned the group’s unanimous appreciation. (Read all the way to the end of this fall reading list, and you’ll know how deep my Ann Patchett obsession runs.) In Tom Lake, her latest release, Patchett’s ability to convey the endurance of love is coupled with meditations on the ties between family members and how these bonds shape the outcomes of our lives.
The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager
Genre: Psychological thriller and mystery
There’s no time better than the cool, crisp nights of fall to cuddle up with a thriller. The House Across the Lake? An all-time best for the season Though I read it when it initially came out last June, I have no shame in plowing through it (again) this fall. Starting with the expected plot of the protagonist quitting the city for the calming (and eerily quiet) woods, this novel offers a compelling departure in its many twists and turns.
Casey Fletcher (said protagonist who settles in Vermont), befriends the glamorous couple across the lake. But when the wife mysteriously disappears, what initially looked like a perfect marriage suddenly becomes the center of a psychologically suspenseful and constantly shifting plot.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Genre: Gothic fiction
Though you may have left this book behind in college, I can’t stress it enough: pick it back up immediately. While it was written nearly 200 years ago and the nuances of life in the landed gentry are no longer common knowledge, the romance and very human emotions put on display are always relevant. If you really want to dive deep into the Gothic romances this fall, follow it up with Jane Eyre.
All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers
Genre: Crime fiction and mystery
Though this was a new release last year, I didn’t get my hands on it until a week ago. And… I finished it in a day. With Ashley Flowers’ extensive experience investigating crimes both solved and cold, she displays an incredible ability to build a suspenseful, shocking narrative—even in her debut novel.
A journalist who’s moved back to her hometown, Margot Davies becomes obsessed with the infamous murder of January Jacobs. She goes to extensive lengths to find the solve the case—and bring the killer to justice. Along the way, she discovers that many of the townspeople she thought she knew are hiding twisted, chilling secrets.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Genre: Literary fiction
There’s no better time than autumn to re-read the classics. Though I’m quick to recommend Fitzgerald’s other novels before The Great Gatsby, nothing encapsulates the season more than the book’s standout line: “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” I’ll admit, every time I turn back to this book, I’m always in awe at its ability to capture the sense of loss and longing that can exist between people who desperately seek happiness in all the wrong places.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Genre: Romance novel
IMO—this is Jane Austen at her best. I don’t need to tell you that she’s the queen of romance and putting women on their rightful pedestal. Persuasion gives readers an opportunity to indulge in a second-chance love. It’s witty (of course) and convoluted in a way that only Austen can make enjoyable. (Who’s married to who, again?) For anyone new to Jane Austen, you can certainly start with Pride & Prejudice, but I’d say Persuasion is the right choice.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Genre: Historical fiction
I listened to this in the car with my mom on a drive across the country, and though I loved Tom Hanks’ narration, it’s even more enjoyable to curl up with on my couch. It’s dark and haunting, but displays the power of a sibling bond to overcome all odds. Forced into the same poverty their parents escaped, Danny and Maeve struggle to leave behind their past even as they experience inklings of hope and success. The Dutch House looks at the complexities that can exist between families, and ultimately asks if love is really what’s most important.
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