Fall is easily my favorite time to read. For some reason, I have always been the type of person who reads more when I’m busy, so I have always read more once school starts. Being back in school also makes me more eager to read because I’m much more eager to learn. This hunger for knowledge often finds its way into the books I’m reading as a lot of my favorite books are set somewhere in academia and many fall under the popular sub-genre of dark academia. If you don’t know, dark academia is a popular subculture or aesthetic that focuses on higher education and the pursuit of knowledge, usually surrounding ancient art and classic literature. Stories that fall under dark academia, also sometimes referred to as campus novels, tend to fit this aesthetic while also having a sinister or dark twist underneath (think Dead Poets Society). While not all of the books on this list are set at a university, I would say the majority of them fall under the dark academia umbrella and are perfect reads for fall!
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I have to get this one out of the way because I have already recommended it countless times and it is often deemed the dark academia bible. The Secret History by Donna Tartt follows a young man named Richard who moves across the country to attend a prestigious liberal arts college on the East Coast. There he becomes wrapped up into the dangerous and intoxicating world of five Classics students and their dedicated professor. In the first sentence of the prologue, we learn that Richard and the others murder another member of their little group, but we do not know why. The first half of the novel leads up to the murder, with the second half unraveling the sinister aftermath. It is incredibly clever and beautifully written and is actually one I plan to re-read this fall as it is easily one of my favorite books of all time.
“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” – Donna Tartt, The Secret History
- Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas
Catherine House is truly a book that is indescribable, but I will try my best. Located deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, Catherine House is a peculiar and unusual school of higher learning. Upon acceptance, a student agrees to dedicating the next three years of their life to Catherine, living within their gates and not being allowed to leave until graduation. Tuition is free, room and board are free, all they ask for is your mind in exchange for a powerful and prestigious future. Ines is a first-year student at Catherine with a troubled past she is ready to move on from. Unfortunately, Ines soon discovers that the world she has entered might not be any safer than the one she left behind. Fair warning, Catherine House is weird, really weird. It is definitely not for everyone, but it is one of those novels that feels better described as an experience.
- The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
Mariana is an intelligent but troubled group therapist still mourning her husband and adjusting to life as a young widow when her niece, Zoe, calls in distress saying her best friend and roommate at Cambridge was found dead. Mariana travels to Cambridge, her alma mater, and finds herself in the midst of what appears to be the work of a serial killer. One by one, young, female Cambridge students are being murdered. Their one connection? They are all part of a secret society of female students, known as The Maidens, led by the handsome and charming Greek Tragedy professor Edward Fosca. In order to protect Zoe and the rest of the surviving girls, Mariana has to prove that Fosca is a murderer or she will die trying. The Maidens was such a fast and intense read that I finished the entire book in two hours. If you are looking for a book that is just pure entertainment from start to finish, this is the one for you.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” – Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
The opening lines to The Night Circus are as mysterious and beautiful as the remainder of the novel. Known as Le Cirque des Rêves, the circus is only open at night and, unbeknownst to its audience, is the home to a fierce dual between two young magicians—Celia and Marco—who have been training against each other since childhood. The circus is their stage while the identity of their opponent remains unknown to them. Despite their circumstances, Celia and Marco fall in love, while the fates of everyone involved in the circus lies on their shoulders. The Night Circus is easily one of the most magical books I have ever read, and it is incredibly difficult to articulate the complexities of its plot. Morgenstern’s writing feels like a fairytale and I encourage everyone who needs a little magic to pick up this book.
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Barcelona, 1945: Daniel and his antiquarian book seller father come across a mysterious book called The Shadow of the Wind by a man named Julian Carax. After obsessing over his new favorite story, Daniel seeks out other works by Carax. Mysteriously, Daniel discovers that his copy of The Shadow of the Wind might be the last Carax book in existence, as someone has been systematically burning every copy of every book Carax has ever written. Daniel’s search places himself into a secret much larger than he could ever imagine, “—an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.” This is truly one of the most beautiful books I have ever read and if you have every loved a book, I cannot recommend it enough. Zafón’s writing is a gift and I cannot wait to read every single book he has written.
“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
I also thought I’d include my reading plans for fall. Besides re-reading The Secret History, there are at the very least five more books that I hope to pick up in the next two months. Since I have not read these yet, I cannot write a synopsis, so I will just include a sentence or two of what I already know about them.
- Maurice by E.M. Forster
Forster requested for this book to be published only after his death, since he knew this story of two young men falling in love would have ended his career if he published it upon completion in 1914. Fifty-seven years later, in 1971, Maurice was published and has been well loved ever since. I cannot wait to read this book and finally watch the 1987 adaptation staring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.
- Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Schwab is one of my favorite writers, but I have still not read arguably her most famous work. Vicious follows old college roommates Victor and Eli, former friends now foes, 10 years following a supernatural senior thesis when Victor breaks out of prison, determined to reunite with Eli. I’ve heard this is a superhero book where the villains are the main characters and I cannot way to experience it.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
“He is more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” – Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
I am a very big classics reader, but Wuthering Heights is one I just have never gotten around to. Due to the Gothic style, I think it will be perfect to read during the colder weather and I’m so excited to finally follow Catherine and Heathcliff through the Yorkshire moors.
- Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
This collection of short stories was on my fall list due to its horror elements, but I actually just finished it last night! These stories feel like a mix between speculative, horror, and science fiction and are inarguably unique. I feel like I cannot do this collection justice with my explanation, so I will just include a line from the Goodreads page that I think sums it up perfectly. “In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genres to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.”
“I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.” -Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
- Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Hamnet follows the lives of those Shakespeare left behind once he moved to London to become the famous playwright we know today, including his young son Hamnet. While the book is named for his son, I have heard this novel focuses much on Agnes (or Anne), Shakespeare’s wife, as she deals with the loss of her son and the abandonment of her husband.