Getting comfortably literary on a chilly day must be one of life’s great pleasures. Here is one librarian’s handpicked recommendations for snow day reads with an emphasis on heavy page counts and books that bring forth that melancholy feeling which seems to accompany the year’s shortest days. Put the kettle on and get a sweater. For the full immersion experience, also checkout the accompanying Snow Day Reading playlist on Spotify. It's heavy on the brittle, the cold, the ambient, the dour, and the precious. Oh boy!
Snow Day Reading Favorites for Winter
Winter’s Tale – OK, full disclosure, this entire list is just an excuse to recommend my favorite book (again). Winter’s Tale is the deeply imaginative story of an old New York that never was. Buffeted by artic winds and white light, Peter Lake, chases love through generations on a magic horse (bear with me). This novel strikes a fine balance between South American magical realism and very traditional North American writing – impossibly reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and F. Scott Fitzgerald simultaneously. It provides a deeply imaginative escape experience, a love story, a history, and an adventure (and a gang of New York street toughs called the Short Tales, lots of snow, and roasted oysters, oh so many roasted oysters). Also, there’s a movie adaptation coming out later this year that could well ruin this book for everyone, so hurry up and read it now.
The End of the Affair – It’s not Graham Green’s best book, but the love story that unfolds during the long dark of the London Blitz and the spiritual awakening that ends it is a sure bet for winter nights.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – Of all the books on this list, this one may offer the most promising setting (England, 1806), the most evocative topic (magic), and just the right page count (782) for a mid-winter escape.
Franny and Zooey – Catcher In the Rye always ends up on these winter reading lists. Sure, it’s a classic and it takes place in New York City during Christmas break, but Franny and Zooey really is the one (or maybe Nine Stories, is the one? It’s an insane debate really). Want to know where Wes Anderson cribbed his ideas for the Royal Tenenbaums (a movie that also evokes winter for no apparent reason)? Just imagine that Margot is Franny and Richie is Zooey. You’ll be amazed.
The Lord of the Rings – There is no need to add to what’s already been written about Tolkien’s masterwork, except that it’s better than the movies, awfully long, and powerful enough to transport you from even the coldest Philadelphia winter.
The Trial – One of Franz Kafka’s major works, The Trial chronicles the story of a Joseph K. a modest bank functionary who is unexpectedly arrested on his thirtieth birthday. Never informed of his crime and left free pending trial, for which no date has been set, K. must navigate a vast bureaucracy which he can neither understand or escape from. Which, if you think about it, is a lot like winter.
The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe – Set in a land where it’s “always winter, but never Christmas,” Lewis’ classic has Turkish delight, Aslan the lion, and a lamppost in the woods. What more could you want?
Plainsong – Set on the Colorado plains in the recent past, the story of Tom Guthrie, a high school history teacher, his sons, his students, and his neighbors tentatively holding their lives together is warm and moving. Great for fans of Empire Falls and Gilead.
A Farewell to Arms – It’s so bleak! Brrrrrrr.
The Tunnel: Selected Poems – Russell Edson’s prose poetry follows its own logic, so check yours at the door. “There was a man who didn’t know how to sleep; nodding off every night into a drab, unprofessional sleep. Sleep he’d grown so tired of sleeping.”
The Restraint of Beasts – This book has nothing to do with winter really, but Magnus Mills is a bit of genius and it is recommended.
Titus Groan – This first installment of the Gormenghast series begins in a vast crumbling castle shortly after the birth of Titus, heir to Lord Sepulchrave, and the entry of Steerpike, the ruthlessly ambitious kitchen boy. Imagine a literary interpretation of early Siouxsie and the Banshees albums and you’re on the right track.
The Left Hand of Darkness – One of Ursla Le Guin’s finest novels and a landmark of feminist science fiction, Left Hand of Darkness takes place on an planet called Winter whose inhabitants are ambisexual, shifting from male to female at different points in their lifecycle. Neat!
The Snow Leopard – Winner of the 1979 National Book Award for Contemporary Thought, The Snow Leopard is a travelogue that recounts Matthiessen’s spiritual evolution during a two-month search for the elusive snow leopard in the Himalayas with naturalist, George Schaller. It's got beauty and warmth at the top of the world.