10 Must-Read Classics for Fall
“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Have you heard the news? Autumn beckons! In other words, it's that time of year when my to-be-read pile grows to unmanageable proportions—a list which seems to grow more ambitious every year. I'm a seasonal reader, and particularly in fall I like to read books that feel decidedly as though they could never be comfortably read in any other season. To the aid of all seasonal readers, I've compiled here a list of the top ten must-read classics for autumn reading.
1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
This one is always number-one on my autumn reading list. Beginning on the first day of fall itself, September 22nd marks Frodo and Bilbo Baggins' birthday, and so unfolds one of the greatest epics ever written. Tolkien's world is ethereal, poignant, and driven by breathtaking created landscapes, immersive world-building, three-dimensional characters, and the brave deeds which simple courage may sow. This first installment of the 3-part story is decidedly centered in Autumn, and perfectly begun this month!
2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This fall, all the readers are raving about Rebecca ahead of the Netflix film release on October 21, starring Lily James as Daphne du Maurier's unnamed heroine and Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter. This suspenseful gothic thriller is full of romance, edge-of-your-set tension, immersive storytelling, and twists galore. When a young woman marries a wealthy widower, she is emotionally haunted by the memory of his late wife, Rebecca. The mysterious house of Manderley holds more secrets in its depths than the new Mrs. de Winter bargains for.
3. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park has sparked wide debate and keen opinions for readers for two centuries, but it was Jane Austen's own particular favorite of her works, and is incidentally one of mine, too. Fanny Price is ill-treated and overlooked by her uncle and his family, and her quiet meekness is mistaken for weakness. Fanny, however, is one of Austen's strongest heroines in my own opinion, who wins her happiness by her own good, gentle, faithful spirit. A markedly fall read, I have fond November memories of reading through Mansfield Park during a wild, wet week of autumn rain, and I can't recommend the prospect enough.
4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Ah, the classic, beloved Jane Eyre—the best introduction to the Brontës! I have a little confession for you—as of today, I haven't read it yet. And by all means I intend to rectify that by reading it this October! You may be sure to see a review here within the next few weeks. ;) But let it be known, I do have it on good authority that Jane Eyre is the quintessential autumn read, with a spooky mansion, a moody master, and a house full of secrets besides. I am thrilled to be reading it this fall!
5. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
The March family saga continues in the sequel to Little Women, and Little Men is decidedly a fall book, ending with a beautiful, memorable Thanksgiving episode that will warm the heart on the chill autumn evenings. Jo March, now Mrs. Bhaer, has with her husband opened up a school for boys called Plumfield Academy. Together they raise up their trouble-making, lovable flock of boys into young men, with the tender, timeless wisdom reminiscent of the beloved Marmee, now shining out so brightly in the once-impetuous daughter Jo. I adore this book, which is sadly much less widely read than its predecessor. I wrote up a full review of Little Men here on the blog--you can read it here!
6. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Is any list of classics complete without a nod to Thomas Hardy? Far From the Madding Crowd is a story of frustration, morality, and heartbreak, following the independent Bathsheba Everdene who runs her aunt's farm in Dorset. Gabriel Oak falls in love with her, but after she declines his proposal of marriage, their lives are thrown into a tale of grief, hardship, and regret. A superbly-cast film adaptation of the book was made in 2015, which at once feels autumn-y and warm-hued and perfect for a rainy October period-drama watch.
7. Howards End by E.M. Forster
E.M. Forster's Howards End is an engaging, exquisitely crafted story of three families and the social barrier that divides them and eventually brings them together. Following the independent Schlegel sisters, their enigmatic, wealthy friends the Wilcoxes, and the chance-met, poor and hard-working Leonard Bast—the three will face the timeless obstables of societal tension, the barrier between classes, and the attitude which the idle wealthy man may take on the diligent poor. This is such a rainy fall book, cozy, poignant, and heart-wrenching. Read Howards End if you're prepared to question your own familiar ideas of philosophy and the socio-economic class divide.
8. Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
The fourth book of L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables saga, this installment finds Anne Shirley a teacher at a girls' high school in Summerside, PEI. Largely epistolic, this book contains numerous letters from Anne to her betrothed Gilbert Blythe, as well as a hilarious cast of characters, from Rebecca Dew to the high-and-mighty Pringle clan. Known in Europe as Anne of Windy Willows, this book feels the most autumnal of all the Anne's, documenting much of the fall seasons through Anne's three years of teaching.
9. Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
You may or may not be familiar with the BBC / PBS Masterpiece series, Poldark, which ran for five seasons from 2015-2019 and starred Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson. The series is based on a 12-book saga written by Winston Graham, centered in Cornwall from the late 18th Century onwards. Expertly written with characters that feel at once raw, familiar and real, this first book of the saga follows Ross Poldark as he returns home from the Revolutionary War to find his father dead, his estate in ruins, and the love of his life engaged to his cousin after supposing him long-dead. Moody, engaging and romantic, Book One is the perfect autumn read. (You can read my in-depth reviews of the Poldark books here on the blog, known as The Poldark Perusal.)
10. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
The perfect spooky gothic romance as we get closer to Halloween, The Phantom of the Opera is a tragic love story of the facially-disfigured Erik, who lives in the sewers of the Parisian Opera House, and is popularly supposed to haunt the place. Erik falls in love with the young and beautiful Christine, but his disfigurement is the real barrier between he and his happiness. This Beauty and the Beast-reminiscent story is deep, poignant, and full of suspense and thrills—all of which inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-running and much-beloved musical of the same name.
Those are my top ten must-read recommendations for fall! If you spotted any here that are your own firm fall favorites, or that you are hoping to add to your reading list this season, do leave a comment below! You can come chat with me on Instagram if you like—I'd love to hear from you!
Until next time,