Fall is great for cooler weather, candy corn, acorn squash, and big, long, epic novels to read out your year from the comfort of a cozy reading nook and comfy sweater. And tea. Lots of tea.
It’s hard to believe it, but we’re wrapping up the reading year now, and in the final sprint to meet your yearly reading resolutions, challenges, or goals, it’s nice to have a book or two on the back burner to take you across several months. There’s something about following a saga over a few months that makes you live with the characters as if you were watching a TV series or they were fully realized.
With that in mind, here are my favorite doorstopper novels, ones you can start and pace yourself with for the rest of fall and into the plunges of polar winter wrapped up in the unparalleled literary experience.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin – 5,216 pages (first novel is 864 pages)
Okay, what does this series not have? George R. R. Martin’s beloved fantasy saga has since been adapted to an Emmy Award-winning HBO drama series. Steel yourself: I don’t think George R. R. Martin is actually going to finish this series. I think he’ll either die or give up first, given how long it has taken him to finish the sixth book, The Winds of Winter. Regardless, A Song of Ice and Fire comprises five very long novels blending adventure, romance, religion, fantasy, and dynastic politics. I recommend these books to just about everyone, and if you’re feeling like you’re in a reading rut, they are especially good to pick up because each chapter switches to a new POV. GRRM has a real gift for writing brilliant self-contained chapters. These novels would be great for a fall and winter cold month binge read.
It by Stephen King – 1,168 pages
My fellow Book Riot colleagues have been plugging It as a showstopping, thrilling horror novel so entertaining that you don’t even realize it’s 1,000+ pages long: “the fastest 1,000 pages you’ll ever read” and “I binge read it in three days.” If you’re feeling like it’s the fall and you want a jump start on your reading, maybe get you out of a funk or dare I say it, a slump, and slam over a thousand pages on your “Pages Read by Year” stats on Goodreads, pick up It and clear your schedule. This novel follows a group of friends trying to eradicate an evil in their town reunited after several years. As you’d expect from any Stephen King novel, this story pairs complex character development with a chilling blend of horror, fear, and trauma.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – 773 pages
In the mood for an expansive bildungsroman (or coming of age story) with a riveting look into the art world? Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch fits the bill perfectly. This is one of my all-time favorite books. It achieves what some of the greatest and most moving novels do: examine huge, wide themes through the lens of just a small cast of characters, and what memorable characters they are. The novel follows Theo Decker from the moments he steals a famous painting from the scene of a terrorist attack at a museum in New York. His mother having died in the attack, Theo wanders as a near-orphan, first in the elite, upper-class world of his classmate’s family and later halfway across the country in the forgotten streets of Las Vegas. The novel traces the lingering trauma from the terrorist attack and loss of Theo’s mother through the immense guilt he feels at her death, the creeping sense of paralyzing anxiety and foreboding having kept the painting, and his close, intense friendship with a fellow student, Boris, perhaps one of the greatest literary creations since Shakespeare’s Falstaff. As with Tartt’s cult-classic debut novel, The Secret History, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a character study above all else, relying on major twists in the plot you don’t see coming. Following Theo from adolescence into adulthood, traversing continents in search of closure is a moving and unforgettable trip. Buy a ticket and enjoy.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – 562 pages
I am pretty much a Franzen die hard. I’ll read whatever he writes. But it took me several years to get around to reading Freedom, one of this so-called Great American Novelists wide, expansive panoramic novels that depicts a changing America in the dawn of the twenty-first century through the lens of a family drama. This novel took me one delicious month to read as I lingered over the dense-yet-highly-readable prose portrait of an All-American liberal family from the Midwest adrift during the Bush years. Growing up and now living in a liberal town, I recognized some of my neighbors in Patty and Walter Berglund and their children, perfect Jessica and cocky Joey. Franzen excels at a harsh, bitter satire that encapsulates some of the hypocrisies, greed, excess, and problematic feelings of white America. I especially enjoyed the family dynamics and the complicated love story at the center it all, “nice” Walter and “nice” Patty and the underlying shades of complexity beneath that simultaneously maddeningly vague and crystalizingly descriptive “nice.”
White Teeth by Zadie Smith – 464 pages
Winner of the Guardian First Book Award, as well as appearing on several best-of-the-decade lists, like the BBC’s 21st Century’s 12 Greatest Novels, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth is a truly monumental work of the millennium to date—and beyond. Pairing nicely with Franzen’s Freedom, this novel is also rooted in family, specifically the Bengladeshi Iqbal family and the English Jones family in London. This novel examines immigration, identity, and love through inventive storytelling. This novel is a perfect pick for the colder months because it is a true character study you can, pardon the pun, sink your teeth into and savor.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – 896 pages
Sacrilege, I know, but I have only read the first novel in Diana Gabaldon’s multi-volume Outlander series. I own the second, third, and fourth, and I know I’ll break them out one cold day, but even reading the first titular novel, Outlander, was enough for me. In my reader’s advisory class in library school, Outlander is known as a genrebending tale, one that would appeal to many people. You can legitimately characterize it as science fiction, romance, and historical fiction all in one. It is the definition of an adventure novel. Now, I binge read this time travel story about a nurse from mid-twentieth century England who is transported back to eighteenth century Scotland in under a week. But you might have more restraint than me not to race through this adventure story and let it linger over a few days of your fall or winter. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the Starz adaptation, which truly does make the setting come alive. If you love this novel, you’ll be in good company, and you can pick up the other seven-plus novels in the series.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara – 720 pages
This Man Booker finalist, Kirkus Prize winner, and literary darling of 2015 captured the friendship among four young men coming of age in New York City. These friends created an intimate, tangled knot of mutual support—the kind of “urban family” that Bridget Jones talked about—especially around Jude, a young man whose suffering teaches them profound lessons about the duality between resilience and trauma. With its weighty subject matter and lush prose, A Little Life will take you through a few weeks or even months of colder days.
So, are you super excited for colder weather reading? What’s on the top of your list? What long books have you read during the fall and winter?