By the Pricking of My Thumb — What to Read This Autumn
by Leah Shepard
As the wind begins to swell and the leaves begin to change, sending us indoors, autumn has set in on campus. With it, it brings the ambience of autumn—that spooky mood we all know too well—and for many, it brings the desire to curl up and get lost in a good book. From spooky psychological thrillers, to dark academic mysteries, to tales of magical circuses, here is a list of three very different books that are all perfect for fall.
1—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Not to be confused with the T.V. show of the same name, The Haunting of Hill House is a bone-chilling, gothic tale following the journey of Eleanor Lance, a troubled young woman caring for her disabled and controlling mother, and a group of other dynamic characters who are brought by a paranormal investigator to explore an elusive, and allegedly haunted house. Throughout her stay at Hill House, Eleanor struggles with her own trauma as well as seemingly paranormal experiences while learning about the disturbing history of the house. Released in 1959, Shirley Jackson (who some may remember as the author of the short-story “The Lottery,”) delivers a tour de force in this novel by mixing both the paranormal and psychological to create the eerie atmosphere that gives the work its reputation as the most celebrated horror novel of its time. The Haunting of Hill House is a book that will leave the reader on the edge of their seat, biting their nails, and wondering what will happen next. It introduces themes of not only the fight against one’s own internal demons, but those in the supernatural world as well, with the two often in direct conflict. Through this work, Jackson has written a novel that withstands the test of time and still leaves readers feeling unsettled and terrified nearly seventy years later, as well as leading one to question what is real and what is not.
2—If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
In her debut novel, M. L. Rio paints a rich, beautiful story of love, loss, and sacrifice in this novel set in an isolated arts school in Indiana in the late 1990s. Unlike most other mysteries, If We Were Villains opens years after the crime takes place, and tells the reader right away that the protagonist, Oliver, has been in jail for ten years for committing it. As he recounts what really happened to a detective who never truly believed that he was guilty, Oliver unfolds the story of a group of college students studying Shakespearean drama in the autumn of 1997. Set against the backdrop of Shakespearean theatre and a chilly Indiana autumn, Rio weaves a tangled web of complicated relationships and competitive politics through her unique cast of characters in this book. Since its release in 2017, If We Were Villains has gained popularity as a novel that falls under the category of “dark academia,” and has been compared to the dark academic classic, The Secret History by Donna Tartt. While the two share many similarities, they share just as many differences. For example, the themes of tragedy and betrayal presented in If We Were Villains are much less nihilistic than those presented in Tartt’s novel. Packed with the melodrama of a Shakespearean play, a gut-wrenching love story, and an ending that will leave readers flabbergasted, this book is the perfect autumn read for those with a hankering for gothic literature without themes of the paranormal. Finishing this book will leave one eagerly awaiting Rio’s next masterpiece.
3—The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Whimsical fairytale meets historical fiction in Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, a stunning novel that chronicles a mysterious, magical circus that comes and goes without warning, and a magical competition between two life-long rivals. Once upon a time in Victorian London, two rival magicians agree to a duel in which their two apprentices will compete. From there, The Night Circus follows the lives and training of the two apprentices, and how the two come to interact with the circus. The story spans across decades and is told through the points of view of different characters as the plot slowly unfolds. It’s full of graphic imagery, and short, nonlinear chapters that allow the story to develop an ensemble of unique and eccentric characters. The novel has been likened to both Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and the Harry Potter series due to its mix of magical and dark elements. Full of mystery, magic, suspense, and the ever-popular enemies-to-lovers trope, The Night Circus provides an enchanted love story that fits perfectly into the spooky, supernatural fall atmosphere.