About the Author: Jeremy Anderberg is Dappered’s books correspondent who also writes a bookish newsletter over at ReadMoreBooks.co. During the day, he’s Managing Editor for Self-Publishing School. When not doing either of those, he’s a busy dad with three young kids who relishes his cup of morning coffee.
Brooding mysteries, back-to-school campus novels, nostalgic stories, and, of course, tales of the macabre come October . . . just as summer reading carries a distinct feel (the “beach” read), fall is a unique reading season of its own—or at least it should be. Kick back in your hoodie, grab a pumpkin beer or soda, and lose yourself in one of these books.
Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Yes, this particular entry is actually seven books, but you’ll be so entranced you won’t even care that I somewhat led you astray right here at the start.
If you want a back-to-school vibe that has some literal magic thrown in, look no further than the Harry Potter series. I’m on my eighth reading of the books and am more impressed with Rowling’s writing and world-building than ever. Every book centers on a school year, so you’re always getting some great autumn scenes in the first half, including the gang’s delightful trips to the enchanting town of Hogsmeade, which is described like any small English hamlet might be.
The atmosphere Rowling creates for Hogwarts as a school and the wizarding world as a whole is equal parts fun/whimsical and dark/foreboding. And that’s undoubtedly what autumn is, isn’t it? The leaves are falling and crunching under your feet on chilly morning walks; but soon enough the darkness comes in and the world turns a bit gray before winter fully arrives.
If you’ve never read Harry Potter, fall is a great season to give it a go, and it is absolutely appropriate for kids (aged 6 or 7 at the youngest) and adults alike. If I’m any indication, it’s also really fun to re-read if you’ve already gone through it once—or seven times.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Let’s stay in the back-to-school theme for just a minute and throw in some of that brooding suspense too.
There’s nothing like autumn on a college campus. There’s camaraderie, there’s intellectualism in the air, there’s a nearly indescribable beauty in the changing colors of oak-lined walkways with brick facades in the background. That autumnal image comes to mind so readily, and makes for a delightfully nostalgic setting.
In 1992, Donna Tartt published what has become the quintessential gloomy and eerie campus novel. A group of misfit students at a hoity-toity New England college come under the spell of their charismatic classics professor.
In a classroom which focuses so heavily on morality, they’ll all come to understand the real life complexities of that age-old line between black and white.
Equal parts How to Get Away With Murder and Greek, with some superb literary attributes thrown in.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
If a nostalgic, small-town mystery is what you’re looking for, Ordinary Grace is your go-to novel this fall. Though the setting is mostly the summer of 1961, it just feels like autumn when you read it. There’s baseball, there’s a boy who rides his bike all around town, and there’s a family tragedy that changes just about everything for just about everyone in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota.
Krueger is best known as a mystery writer, but this standalone story has uncommon writing quality for its genre. I was born in the ‘80s, but transported right back to the ‘60s on such a level that I felt like I was remembering it. Thus is the power of Krueger’s writing.
Regardless of the types of books you like to read, this one is a winner. I have yet to meet someone who hasn’t loved it.
Misery by Stephen King
Stephen King is required reading come October, as far as I’m concerned. Among my top few favorites of his impressive catalogue is Misery.
You likely know the gist of the plot: Crazed Annie Wilkes—the perfect villain and “number one fan”—has taken renowned writer Paul Sheldon hostage after she rescues him from a car crash. Paul is confused, at first, but quickly realizes he’s not getting out of his bedroom anytime soon. Annie insists, in the only torturous way she knows how, that her hostage writes a novel that’s to her liking.
Eventually, her dark past comes to light and Paul gets even more desperate to escape her grasp.
King also weaves in several sneaky insights on the writing life. Paul wants to write “real” literature—he knows it won’t sell as well as his bestselling historical fiction series, but he doesn’t care. He’s a real writer, dammit! But his life depends on it, so he cranks out his finest bestseller material yet.
Annie may haunt your dreams, but you won’t regret reading Misery this fall.
Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams
I’m guessing you haven’t heard of this classic Western novel, which is a damn shame.
Considered one of the first of the genre to de-romanticize life on the frontier, the story is set in the 1870s and follows young Will Andrews, who has ditched Harvard to head to the hills of Colorado for an end-of-season buffalo hunt.
Andrews and the party he tacks on to deal with everything the Old West has to offer: extreme dehydration, stubborn animals (both domestic and wild), and heavy snows that come far too early in the season.
Really, though, it’s a coming-of-age story. Andrews learns some hard truths, not only about the land, but about his own make up. What he finds out will change the course of his life thereafter.
Don’t blame me if it makes you want to get outta dodge yourself this autumn.