The arrival of fall always puts us in the mood to read (sort of like the Nordic tradition of Easter crime, a new season makes us want to curl up with a book). But what’s the best book to crack open when the calendar officially marks the start of autumn? In this edition of Recommended Reads, we share our personal list of some of the best novels and nonfiction books to read right now that are set in the autumn season, or have an autumnal theme, making these the perfect way to feel the fall vibe.
what are some the best books to read to feel a fall vibe?
Something about the arrival of the fall makes us yearn for some quiet time with a great book. As the weather starts to cool down, nothing feels better than curling up on the sofa with a mug full of hot cider, and escaping into the embrace of a riveting story – whether fiction or fact.
Whether you’re packing for a fall vacation, or just taking a break from your fall movie marathon, bringing along a book set in the autumn will amplify all those great fall feels. And while there are some fantastic new books coming this fall, you may be more in the mood for a Throwback.
To help you make the absolute most out of the season, we have compiled a list of twelve books that are sure to get you ready for sweater weather.
Of course, fall is not a monolith. September, October and November each have their own pace, mood and color palette, and we’ve also curated specific reading lists for each of those months. However, if a general autumn vibe is your goal, this list of novels, poetry and essay collections, memoirs and other nonfiction should see you all the way through to Thanksgiving, dear reader.
And for maximum enjoyment, perhaps order a gourmet autumn sweet treat to accompany your next great read.
Here are our picks for the best novels and nonfiction books to read right now with an autumn season theme, or that are set in the fall, which is a perfect way to start feeling the fall vibes.
12 best books to curl up with to get into the fall season vibe
1. Autumn by Ali Smith.
Among the first wave of novels addressing post-Brexit Britain, and short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Autumn is the first in a cycle of four luminous works of fiction – one for each season – all set in the present-day UK. This installment is the story of a friendship between Daniel – who is 101 years old – and Elisabeth, a 32-year-old art lecturer. He was her next-door-neighbor and surrogate father during her adolescence, and his influence on her looms large throughout her life.
In flashbacks, their cerebral conversations cover a wide range of topics: art, books, how to live, the meaning of borders, identity and fame. The images that Smith employs are piercingly beautiful. This is a deeply human novel, and a wonderful blend of light and dark. It’s a rare writer who can meet the moment, and also spin a story that feels timeless. Ali Smith can. And the Seasonal Quartet is a gift for the ages.
2. The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz.
In the atmospheric literary thriller The Gone Dead, thirty-something Billie James returns to her childhood home in the Mississippi Delta to claim her meager inheritance: a shack that belonged to her now-deceased father. A renowned black poet, he died unexpectedly when she was only 4 years old.
Thirty years later, she returns for the first time and begins to uncover long-kept secrets about race, justice and memory. The writing is pure and gorgeous. And although this book was published in the summer of 2019, it could not be a more urgent and relevant read right now – when ghosts and heroes of the past seem to live again in the voices and spirits of those fighting for racial justice at great personal risk in the present day.
3. Take What You Need by Idra Novey.
When we think about what we want to read to make us feel all the fall vibes, often one of the essential elements is that the protagonist must be really smart – and caught in a web of complicated, conflicting emotions. There should be regret, anger and hard-won wisdom. This latest novel from one of our favorite authors delivers all of that and more.
Take What You Need is set in rural Appalachia, and told in both the current day and via flashbacks. Jean is a tough, brilliant and solitary woman – and once the stepmother to her beloved Leah, from whom she’s now estranged. Now in her 70’s, Jean has decided to live out her days in a wooden shack in a neighborhood that’s increasingly plagued by opium addition and despair. In the midst of the darkness, she finds her voice as a sculptor. Using abandoned auto and other industrial parts, she welds fanciful “manglements” that recall the work of the great artist Louise Bourgeois. Anyone who has wondered if an artist lives inside them will be deeply moved by her story.
Meanwhile, Leah has made a clean break with her past, and now lives in a large city with her husband and son. When word comes that Jean has died and left all of her possessions to Leah, it forces a reckoning with what Leah has gained and lost by severing ties with her childhood home – and the marvelous, stubborn spirit that was Jean.
4. The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker.
Autumn is the season when entertaining friends and family at home kicks into high gear. So the start of fall seems like a good moment to pause and ask: why are we doing this? The Art of Gathering is a fascinating examination of this very basic question.
The host of the New York Times podcast “Together Apart” argues that too many of the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive – and they don’t have to be. She takes us inside events of all kinds to show what works, what doesn’t, and why. This socially-distant moment is the perfect time to hit the “reset” button on how you host your future gatherings – and also how you show up the next time you attend one.
5. Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer.
Autumn Light is the perfect book to feel the fall: a poignant memoir written by an acclaimed travel author. He returns to his longtime home in Japan after his father-in-law’s sudden death, and finds that Japanese culture provides him deep solace. ” In a country whose calendar is marked with occasions honoring the dead,” Iyer finds a steadying rhythm in the daily rites and annual commemorations that take place in autumn in Japan. As the maple leaves begin to change into fiery colors, this turns out to be the right place for him to bid his loved one farewell.
6. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World by Peter Wohlleben, translated by Jane Billinghurst.
Trees occupy an outsized space in our minds during the autumn, as blazing leaves in gorgeous colors send us into the countryside to see them in all their splendor. So what better time to learn the latest science about the life of a tree? It turns out to be much more complicated and interesting than you might think. The author of The Hidden Life of Trees “makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers.” You may never take a walk in the woods in quite the same way ever again after reading this marvelous book.
7. The Idiot by Elif Batuman.
The Idiot is one of our favorite books set in the fall. It’s a sincere, frank and deeply-felt tale of a Harvard freshman having a bewildering flirtation with a senior classmate. And her misadventures trying to win his heart and to understand her own. This is the perfect back-to-school read that will remind you – perhaps all too well – what it felt like to be 18 and facing the world on your own for the very first time.
8. Either/Or by Elif Batuman.
If you want to keep the fall vibe going with a follow up novel with the same setting, you’re in luck! As Either/Or begins, Selin – the protagonist of The Idiot – is back on campus at Harvard for her sophomore year. She’s surrounded by an eclectic group of friends and roommates – but she can’t stop thinking about Ivan, her freshman year crush. What follows is a year of confusing interactions, frustrations, depression and renewed resolve. Plus sex, alcohol and a couple of cute outfits. By the time the summer after her sophomore year ends, though, Selin emerges stronger and more confident. It’s a tender and genuine portrait of a brilliant young woman learning how to make her way in the world. And yes, it made us cry.
9. Still We Rise: A Love Letter to the Southern Biscuit by Erika Council.
Autumn is baking season, and there’s nothing like reading a great cookbook to prime yourself for afternoons in the kitchen, whipping up something delicious (and probably involving apples, maple, pumpkin, caramel or all of the above). But don’t forget about the joys of a hearty breakfast at the start of a fall weekend. And if you ask us, that should include fresh-baked biscuits. Before the hike, football game, apple-picking excursion or visit to the pumpkin patch, it’s vital to fortify yourself and your loved ones.
Still We Rise is a cookbook filled with sweet and savory versions of the classic Southern biscuit. It’s a glorious “tribute to the glories of flour, butter, and buttermilk baked tall, tender, and flaky. . . written by the founder and head baker of the renowned Bomb Biscuit Company in Atlanta, Georgia.” Say no more – we are so here for it.
11. What You Are Looking For Is in the Library by Michiko Aoyama.
Autumn and back to school season inevitably mean more time spent in the library for many of us. And the charming novel What You Are Looking For is in the Library is the perfect read to bring you back inside your favorite library, even if it exists only in your dreams. “Tokyo’s most enigmatic librarian, Sayuri Komachi, is able to sense exactly what each visitor to her library is searching for and provide just the book recommendation to help them find it.”
12. Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.
We close our recommended reading list of novels and nonfiction books with an autumn theme perfect to read to get a fall vibe going with a brilliant work of fiction. Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow is set in the world of video game development. Two childhood friends reunite in Cambridge, Mass when they’re college students at Harvard and MIT, and set out to create a new game. Their project succeeds beyond their wildest expectations. But as their fame and influence grow, their friendship is frayed to the breaking point.
Halloween is all about imagining ourselves and the world as we would like it to be, rather than as it truly is. And about spirits rising to have another chance to have an impact on the world they’ve left behind. So this an apt addition to a fall season reading list. A fanciful novel about made-up worlds and unlimited second chances, balanced by the heavy weight of grief and loss. Whether or not you’re a gamer, you’ll see something of yourself and your life in this tale, in which everyone at one point or another fervently wishes that the real world was more like a video game.
best books to read right now to feel a fall season vibe
That’s it! Our picks for the best novels and nonfiction books to read right now with an autumn season theme, or that are set in the fall, guaranteed to bring on a fall vibe. Some spooky, some serious and some sweet. Happy reading! What other books would you add to this list?