Reading lists

The best books to bunker down with this autumn

From chilling literary horror stories to thought-provoking memoir, these are the books to usher in the season.

It’s getting colder outside, have you noticed? Whether you’re the type who spends summer grumbling about being sticky, or someone who dreads the moment the clocks go back, the longer nights and cooler days offer a perfect opportunity to bunker down with a book. And while the rain is beating against the windows, or leaves are piling up outside, why not find something suitably seasonal between the covers? Here we present our favourite autumn reads.

Japanese author Mizuki Tsujimura’s coming-of-age story was a blockbuster in its native country, winning the Japan Booksellers’ Award and inspiring an anime film adaptation. When it was published in the UK in 2021, English readers got the opportunity to be entranced by Tsujimura’s strange and beautiful novel for the first time. Part social commentary, part magical realism, part quest narrative, Lonely Castle in the Mirror unveils itself slowly, making it an ideal book to sink into. 

Okay, it’s a classic, but if you’ve read it you’ll know how good an autumn read Louisa May Alcott’s story of four sisters in Civil War-era America is. But if you’ve not, then now’s the perfect time. While Little Women works as a consuming read – the rounded characterisation has captured readers' enthusiasm for decades, the drumbeats of grief, joy and determination mark a steady rhythm throughout; it’s more than the twee family saga it has sometimes been painted as. From feminist allegory to biting comment on war, Little Women’s hidden complexities mean it remains a favourite more than 150 years after publication.

The poet and MacArthur Fellow’s debut novel could arguably double up as a summer read: its stories of long, yearning summers and adolescent listlessness and decay evoke something of heat and late sundowns. However, the beauty and poignancy of Ocean Vuong’s writing reward a more sombre reading situation. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which explores the challenge of growing up as a queer first-generation immigrant and navigating both the world you’ve moved to (Vuong moved to America from Vietnam as a toddler) and that you’ve left behind, will stay with you long into the winter months.

A little-known classic ready to return to our shelves is Lolly Willowes, the first novel by early feminist author Sylvia Townsend. Now published as part of the Little Clothbound Classics series, Lolly Willowes blends satire with witchcraft for an entertainingly acerbic look at how women are overlooked and underestimated in society. It’s short, it’s funny, and it’s got a pleasingly autumnal level of eeriness. 

Weather by Jenny Offill (2020)

For all of the positivity of autumn’s first days – that gorgeous relief from relentless heat, the sparkling low light, the change in the air – by the time autumn rolls around to winter it’s easy to feel we’re in the dregs of the year; there’s a certain sense of doom that accompanies switching the heating on. Strange comfort, though, can be found in books that reflect our times and how we’re feeling about them – and Jenny Offill’s critically acclaimed and searingly perceptive novella on social media, climate crisis and the overwhelmingness of modern life offers a wry take.

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)

Sweet, comforting and published all over the world, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s tale of her red-haired heroine remains a cosy favourite more than a century after its publication. Simple enough for a young audience to enjoy, Montgomery’s story nevertheless contains enough warmth and depth to warrant a read (or, indeed, a re-read) as sofa season sets in. When you’re done, there are dozens of film adaptations to choose from to keep Anne in mind.

Autumn can be a reflective time, as the year winds down before the sparkle and fuss of Christmas can become a distraction. Jane Austen is well-known for her clear-eyed analysis of society, witty writing and gently paced romances, but Persuasion is slightly different: a novel inspired by lost and long-term love. Inherently melancholy, undeniably beautiful, Persuasion is particularly well-suited to autumn. As Colm Tóibín put in the introduction to the 2011, it is “a novel filled with shadows and silences”. What better way to capture the season?

Autumn is, after all, home to the creepier side of things. Whether you’re a full-blown Halloween devotee or simply open to a little spine tingling, it’s difficult to ignore the celebrations of ghosts and ghouls come the end of October. Shirley Jackson is a great starter for scary-ish reading: she writes with chilling scarcity (her short story The Lottery, now published as a Little Clothbound Classic) and even the mounting doom can’t give away an ending that will leave you agog. Once you’re finished, and recovered, you can progress to The Haunting of Hill House

This being an autumn list, it was very tempting to fill the whole thing with Dark Academia – that is, novels set in and around university and museum campuses – but we figured we'd focus on the one that started it all: Donna Tartt's dark and addictive story of one aspirational social group and the tumbling consequences of their friend's murder. It will make you wistful for misty mornings and tweed blazers; it will also make you glad the worst thing you did at university was a few inadvisable nights out.

When the team behind the Little Clothbound Classics were readying themselves for the series' release, the one that kept coming up in conversation was Hell Screen. In the words of commissioning editor Ka Bradley: "His exquisite knife-blade handling of horror makes him one of the towering masters of the form". Absurd, devastating and ultimately chilling, these short stories are among the most literary – and terrifying – you could read in scary season.

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