The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Dark academia titles, ‘transitional’ pieces, scary stories and more: Fall book recommendations

As the seasons change, so does our taste in literature.
Graphic depicting a cup of tea on top of some books. (Hustler Multimedia/Sofia El-Shammaa)

As a certified book lover and avid reader (I have 500+ books shelved on Goodreads), I love making reading lists for my friends tailored to their individual interests. I’m also a student journalist, so what better way to merge two of my favorite things than to create a fall reading list for Hustler readers? 

I’ve tried to cover some of the most “fall feeling” genres, and whether you’re looking for a transitional piece or a mindless YA novel, I think there’s something in this list for everyone.


Dark Academia 

The “Dark Academia” genre has been on the rise for the past few years (thanks to TikTok) and is the blueprint for what a fall book should be. The genre is largely characterized by its aesthetic: “high-brow” liberal arts topics, alluring boarding schools and archetypical bands of misfits. I’ve recommended two of my personal favorites. 


“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt 

This is my favorite novel of all time – I’ve read it every October for the past three years. Tartt’s novel follows a group of Classics students at the fictional Hampden College as they discover new ways of thinking and living that are incredibly different from their peers. As a “how” dunit rather than a “who” dunit, “The Secret History” explores the boundaries of reality and morality.


“If We Were Villains” by M.L. Rio

A more “diet” version of “The Secret History,” Rio’s novel consists of a similar premise but with theatre students instead of ancient Greek ones. 

After serving 10 years in jail for a murder he may or may not have committed, Oliver Marks is finally free; however, retiring Detective Colborne wants to know what truly happened between Oliver and his friends all of those years ago.


Literary Fiction

Literary Fiction, also known as “Lit Fic,” is a term that can be used to describe any novel that is primarily character-driven. Any circumstance within the story greatly impacts the main character or characters, making all of their choices central to the novel’s substance. Not all Lit Fic novels have “fall vibes,” but I’ve picked two that I’ve loved and are great to read as the leaves turn.


“Sirens & Muses” by Antonia Angress

Louisa, Karina and Preston, three students at the elite Wrynn College of Arts in New York City, have their fates upended as they’re all thrown into the cutthroat art scene as mere college students. They must struggle to find new identities in their art, in society and within their personal relationships. Through these trials and tribulations, the three must discover what it means for them to live authentically in a world that prioritizes what’s on the canvas.

My fifth grade Spanish teacher is also the author of this book, and I think she’s better off for it.


“The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold

Susie Salmon has been wrongfully murdered. The novel focuses on Susie adjusting to her new life in heaven as she simultaneously watches her family’s life unfold back on earth. “The Lovely Bones” is one of the best books I’ve read as well as one of the best films I’ve seen. It’s incredibly touching and depicts love, loss and growing up in such a unique way.


“Transitional” Pieces

As our wardrobe slowly transitions from summer apparel to fall sweaters, I think it’s only fitting that some of the books that we choose to read can do the same. Both selected titles feature events that either happen at the end of the summer and have an eerie feel about them (“The Guest”) or take place in the summer but feel like the opposite of a beach read (”Writers & Lovers”). 


“The Guest” by Emma Cline

After a social misstep at a dinner party, Simon, the older man Alex has been staying with, dismisses her with a ride to the train station and a ticket back to the city. Convinced that their argument will blow over by Labor Day, Alex stays on Long Island and drifts through the lives of various wealthy figures to pass the days. Exposed to a world that was once foreign to her, Alex learns that the upper echelons of New York’s Hamptons elite aren’t as impenetrable as she once thought.


Writers & Lovers” by Lily King

Casey Peabody arrives in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. She watches her life slip past her while waitressing and working on her novel (as she has been for the past six years). When she falls for two very different men at the same time, Casey’s life scatters even more. Throughout the novel, she battles to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of artistic life.


Spooky and a Little Disturbing

With fall comes Halloween, so who wouldn’t love to read something a little stomach-churning or eerie? While both of these titles fit under this category, I would say that “Sinkhole” is more for “Gone Girl” lovers while “My Dark Vanessa” is more for those intrigued by Nabokov’s “Lolita.


“My Dark Vanessa” by Kate Elizabeth Russell

“My Dark Vanessa” explores the psychological dynamics of the relationship between precocious yet naïve teenager Vanessa Wye and her charismatic yet manipulative English teacher, Jacob Strane. 

The novel bounces between past and present day as an adult Vanessa grapples with what truly happened to her all those years ago at her boarding school. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student who reaches out to Vanessa, but Vanessa doesn’t want to reckon with the past.

While an inevitable hard read at times, “My Dark Vanessa” juxtaposes memory and trauma in a tasteful and careful way, creating a story that will linger with readers long after they close the book’s pages.


“Sinkhole” by Davida G. Breier

After 15 years in self-exile, Michelle Miller returns to her tiny hometown of Lorida, Florida. With her mother in the hospital, she’s forced to reckon with the broken relationships she left behind. 

As a teenager, Michelle’s world felt dull until she met Sissy, a lively, boisterous and wealthy classmate. Their sudden and intense friendship was all-consuming, until another classmate, Morrison, later joins their clique. They are the perfect high school friends until one of them ends up dead. Michelle’s return home forces her to confront the death of her best friend and the rebirth of the ghosts of her Florida past. 


Young Adult/Fantasy

No book recommendation list would be complete without a Young Adult/Fantasy section. Both of these titles are some of my favorite works in the YA canon. I almost like “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” more than its family series, “The Hunger Games,” and with the film adaptation coming out in November, now is the perfect time to read it if you haven’t yet. “The Infernal Devices” trilogy is also a prequel to the “Mortal Instruments” series and the rest of Cassandra Clare’s “Shadowhunter” universe. It’s perfect for fall with its steampunk and gothic Victorian aesthetic, and bonus points for the fact that it has the best love triangle in all of YA fantasy/fiction.


“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”  by Suzanne Collins

“The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” serves as a prequel to the beloved “Hunger Games” series. The novel focuses on the upbringing and villain origin story of the one and only President Coriolanus Snow. 

The Snow family name is losing its sheen in the Capitol, meaning young Snow has been given the assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, the “lowest of the low.” The story explores Snow’s intertwined fate with this girl from District 12 — his successes depend upon her. Snow starts to feel for his doomed tribute and must weigh his need to follow the rules against his desire to survive.


Infernal Devices” by Cassandra Clare (trilogy)

In 1878, Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark, supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon learns that her only allies in this strange land are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters, most notably the mysterious Will Herondale and alluring Jem Carstairs. The trio finds themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks and humans. The crooked Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them throughout this fantastic trilogy and precursor to the beloved “Mortal Instruments” series.

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About the Contributor
Blythe Bouza
Blythe Bouza, Deputy Life Editor
Blythe Bouza (‘25) is from New Orleans, La., and is double majoring in communication of science and technology and English with a minor in theater. When not writing and editing for The Hustler, you can find her waiting in line for coffee, making niche Spotify playlists or talking about Bret Easton Ellis. You can reach her at [email protected].
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George Albu
9 months ago

I absolutely love this so much. It is just such a vibe! 🙂

9 months ago

Loveeee this!!! Will def be referring to it throughout Fall!!