Nov 19, 2013

Books for Winter

Trees covered in snow by a frozen lake

Ah, winter. I have a complicated relationship with this season: on the one hand, I love Christmas and cosy pajamas and hot drinks and long evenings spent indoors with a good book or TV series. On the other hand, now that I live somewhere where it gets dark really early and proper cold for months on end, I finally understand what it’s like to long for spring.

My ambiguity towards winter doesn’t mean its spell has no hold on me, though. What usually happens is this: I’m caught up in the romance on the season from mid-November to the end of the Christmas holidays, and by the second week of January I’m ready for the whole thing to be over. That means that the next month and a half is my narrow window of opportunity to immerse myself in books that allow me to dwell on winter before I get sick of the cold and darkness. And I intend to make the very most of it, because I love books of this kind — books that explore the mythical resonance of the season, like The Dark is Rising, or books that deal with winter as an idea, like Cold or (in a very different way) His Dark Materials.

I had a lot of fun putting together a winter reading list two years ago; and so, due in part to my resolution to embrace participating in bookish culture through unrealistic reading plans and lists, I decided to try my hand at it again this year. So behold — here are some of the books I hope to read this winter (or daydream about reading, at least, which is fun in its own right):

  • Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick: I’ve been meaning to try Sedgwick for ages, and this Carnegie shortlisted title sounds like it could be a great place to start. All I know about it is that it’s a story with tinges of horror that moves backwards in time, but somehow I suspect that it nails the whole mythical resonance of the season thing I was discussing above.

  • The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick: If I enjoy Sedgwick as much as I suspect I will, I might as well go on a reading binge, right? The plot synopsis for this title tells us: “The days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are dead days, when spirits roam and magic shifts restlessly just beneath the surface of our lives. A magician called Valerian must save his own life within those few days or pay the price for the pact he made with evil so many years ago.” Give it to me now, please and thank you.

  • The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean: A Printz Award winner set in the Antarctic and about a girl obsessed with the Scott expedition. What else is there to say?

  • Ice by Sarah Beth Durst: “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is my absolute favourite fairy tale, and although I had fun with Edith Pattou’s East a couple of years ago I have yet to find a retelling that really satisfies me or explores the aspects of the tale I find the most interesting. Fingers crossed that Ice will turn out to be that book.

  • Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin: I’ve been meaning to read this even since I heard someone compare it to Little, Big by John Crowley, which I adore. It sounds like a perfect novel to lose yourself in during the long December evenings.
  • Dark Matter by Michelle Paver: Can’t have a winter reading list without an Arctic-set ghost story. I’ve seen some mixed reviews of this one, but overall it sounds like something I’d enjoy reading.

  • Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip: I completely failed out of reading this with a group of blogging friends this summer, which was a great shame. But maybe winter is a better season for it — it does have the word in the title, after all. In case you’re wondering what it’s about, it’s a retelling of Tam Lin, and my reading history so far tells me it’s hard to go wrong with those.

  • Winter by Adam Gopnik: I’m so excited to read this, you guys. I’m currently number one on the holds queue at the library and I can’t wait for it to come in for me. According to this Guardian review, Gopnik’s book is “a study of the historical and cultural influences of winter on the world's temperate climates”. Yes, please. I feel like this will be familiar territory for me, because even having grown up somewhere with comparatively mild winters the idea of winter has always loomed very large on my imagination.

  • I May Be Some Time by Francis Spufford: The subtitle of this book is “Ice and the English Imagination”, which probably tells you everything you need to know. I actually started reading it last winter, but Spufford’s prose is on the dense side and the timing wasn’t right for me. I really look forward to giving it another try, though.

  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman: Last but not least, the crown jewel of my winter reading plans for this year. Ever since visiting Lyra and Will’s bench in Oxford last month I’ve been determined to reread this trilogy over the Christmas holidays (my other plan is a marathon of all the Harry Potter films with cats for company. Good times ahead). I plan to read the lovely Everyman Library edition that Pullman signed for me last year — I just can’t wait.
How about you? What do you enjoy reading around this time of year? And what are some of the books that you think capture the essence of winter?


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  1. I'm not a fan of winter. I always picture long days of reading but it never happens. I hope you get to spend many cozy evenings reading by a warm fire.

  2. I think I honestly hate winter. Christmas I love, winter not so much. I do tend to read Christmas-flavored books in December.

  3. it is hard for me to offer an opinion. I used to live where it got cold and snowy, my hands and lips cracked, and had to wear ten layers everywhere I went. Now it is 75 on Christmas and we have to crank up the air conditioning so we can light a fire and pretend! To me, one of the best books that chilled me no matter the weather was Smilla's Sense of Snow. I loved that book. I need to re-read it!

  4. I do feel the same about the winter season. I so love it from late November untile the beginning of Janray and then I'd like it to leave.
    Thanks a lot for this lovely lost. You added some interesting books to my wish list.
    I read Dark Matter earlier this year and found it very creepy and thought provoking in some ways.

  5. My feelings on winter are much the same as yours. On the one hand, I love the promise of somewhere warm and cozy to curl up and consume beloved media. I also get ridiculously excited about holiday lights, and to the way the night time sky glows when the ambient light reflects off the clouds and the snow.

    Once we're into January, though, the snow is generally dirty and cold and altogether unappealing, and I'd be just as glad to skip it. Sigh.

    So I try to take avantage of the short span when everything's peachy to read good fiction and enjoy all the fun atmospheric stuff that goes on outside my window. I love your idea of making a winter-themed reading list, and I'll look forward to your thoughts on WINTER'S TALE. I'd never heard of it until just the other day, but it sounds intriguing.

  6. I like winter as long as it isn't raining non stop, although I'm less excited now I might have to walk up a hill in the snow. Coinckydink but I just bought a winter book (historical non-fic about a man trying to explore the North Pole by baloon). And I have no shortage of winter reads thanks to you excellent present last year. I also want to read the first Mosntrumologist book which seems perfect for dark nights. You're also really tempting me into trying a re-read of TDIR and then getting all Arthurian.

  7. I'm another one who doesn't like winter. I agree that it's kind of sweet and cozy around the holidays, and since I'm off teaching for a couple of weeks, the nasty weather's not a big deal. But once we're well into January and there's no let-up, I find it very dreary. (I grew up somewhere that winter is mostly rain and mostly over by early February.) I get morbidly stressed out by driving in ice and snow, too, so every time I need to go anywhere my first thought is "What's the weather going to be?!" Dreadful. But you remind me that 'Winter's Tale' has been on my TBR list for ages: maybe if I focus on it as a winter treat, I won't feel quite so grim as I look ahead.

  8. Dark Matter is an excellent read! I read it for RIP in 2012 and it was definitely one of my favourite books for the challenge.

  9. I like winter in a go-big-or-go-home way. Like, I want huge snowdrifts and ski trips and hot chocolate. But if it's just going to be grey and slushy then I'll pass.

    I often re-read The Dark is Rising around Christmastime.

  10. I love love love love LOOOOOVE winter!!! You might have already known that about me. ;) I already told you that I want to reread The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife and *finally* read The Amber Spyglass this winter. No book feels so quintessentially winter to me like The Golden Compass does. And Rich and I started reading The Shining together--definitely another winter book though not in a pleasant way. :P And I just started Comet in Moominland, which no, isn't winter-ish, but since I feel the need to read in order (even though I'm guessing it's not necessary) I have to read it and three others before I get to Moominland Midwinter. I'd really like to read both East and Cold too, but let's face it I've probably got way more on my plate than I'll ever get to as it is. Anyway, I hope you enjoy ever single winter read you pick up, my dear!!!

  11. Oh man. I am *this close* to posting my review of Gopnik's Winter -- how weird is that?! It should be up tonight. But I am going to request that you don't read it until you're done the book yourself. I want to see what you think. While it's hard to spoil a nonfic book, I do think that there is something I talk about that might cause you to read the book differently, and I'm pretty sure it's not fair to either you or the book.(I almost entirely loved it, is the short version of my review.)

    Incidentally, I love winter. I love looking at it, I love snowshoeing, I love cross-country skiing. I love the winter holiday season, I love hot cider, I love lights, I love the way the world sounds different after a good snow. (I am not wild about the shoulders of the season, with the grey slushiness, but one can't have everything.)

    Also, back to books: I am very interested to see what you think of Ice. Very very interested.

  12. As all seasons, the winter has its good and bad points. I love the atmosphere when it's snowing and the first morning after, when everything is clean-white.. But, when it's starting to melt, when it's raining and everything is wet and dirty.. :/ "The Winter's Tale" is also on my reading list for this winter. As well as "A Christmas Carol".. We'll see about the others.. Maybe I will have time to read something from your list - Gopnik's "Winter" sounds very appealing..
    Have you read "Smilla's Sense of Snow", or Taarjei's "Ice Palace"? Beautiful.

    Warm greetings,

  13. I know this is weird but my roommate swears by it so I am telling you anyway: My roommate Snapple Alex has a light box thing, that I guess simulates outdoor lighting? He says that it makes all the difference in the world to him when the winter months roll around and it starts getting dark early. I report this without endorsement as I have never tried it myself.

    I don't think I'm a very seasonal reader, myself -- I mean I haven't got any list of wintery books on the docket for myself to read. It's mainly the act of curling up with a book that I enjoy more in winter than at other times.

  14. Always read ghost stories sometime around the shortest day, and any/all of John Masefield's The box of delights, Susan Cooper's The dark is rising, Dickens' Christmas books, and anything else that has a festive theme. None of my fave Russian authors though, I find them far too gloomy this time of the year.

  15. I've never thought of making a winter reading list. Always make a summer one. In fact, I'm still reading the books on my summer list. Perhaps I need a shorter list.

    I've always wanted to read Winter's Tale and I am a fan of Adam Gopnik. Best start a new list for myself.

  16. Beautiful post, Ana! Loved your list! I loved your thought - "my resolution to embrace participating in bookish culture through unrealistic reading plans and lists" :) I was thinking of suggesting Adam Gopnik's 'Winter' to you and then I was so happy when I saw it on your list :) I read about it first in Heather's (from Letters and Sodas) review. In case you are interested, you can find the review here. It is a book I hope to read too. I am thinking of reading Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell' this winter. I don't know whether it is a winter book, but it has been there with me for a long time and I think it is time now to read it.

    Happy reading this winter!

  17. I will sometimes read Dickens or a Russian novel to enjoy the feel of winter. I started the Helprin book last spring and have left it on my bedside table for a while. Maybe I'll pick it up again as winter intensifies.

  18. I love "theme" reading lists and you've put together a diverse one here.

    I read Adam Gopnik's book last January and rated it 4.5 stars. I hope you enjoy it, too!

  19. aw, well you could read A Winter's Tale before the movie! I stalled out on in it a few years ago when I tried to read it for a readalong, but I think you might get along better with it than I did!

  20. I've been meaning to re-read His Dark Materials for a while.

    White Darkness is really good, but it did take me 70 or so pages to truly warm up to it. (har har, accidental pun.)

  21. Oh, I *love* The White Darkness! Such a wonderful book with amazing characters. The audiobook is excellent as well--Richard Morant as the voice of Titus is...I'm running out of superlatives...glorious!

  22. I really never follow lists, but they are fun to make!

  23. I'm thinking of finally taking Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin off the TBR, now that the movie is coming out.

  24. Okay, so, as the anomaly that loves both winter (all of winter) and seasonal-based reading, I have to say that I'm ABSOLUTELY IN LOVE with this list! I immediately put the Sedgwick titles on my library hold list, and I cam't wait to crack them open :)


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