Winter reads to take you through the holidays and beyond
Updated: Dec 18, 2021
I officially started my holiday break from work today and I’m looking forward to knocking a few more books off my TBR and making some major writing progress on my current manuscript (about 75% done at the moment!).
I’ve mentioned in a previous literary letter that historical fiction feels like autumn to me and light-hearted romance feels like summer. Over the years, I’ve found I am firmly a mood reader, which means the right book at the right time is crucial for my enjoyment and for keeping reading momentum. Part of the mood equation is decidedly connected to the season and the weather. For example, it would feel wrong to read a Gothic tale on a bright, summery August day. Those books are for rainy weather, particularly when the leaves are changing colors!
If you’re also a reader who likes to choose books seasonally, I’ve put together a list of my favorite reads that feel like winter to me. These picks will take you through the holidays and into the dark, but ever-lightening days of the early new year. Head to the library, your favorite bookstore, or use the links in this post to pick up your next read.
Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Tinkers tells the story of elderly George Washington Crosby as he passes from this world to the next, remembers key moments of his life and the lives of his father and grandfather, and is visited by his family members. It’s often non-linear, slipping between time periods and life moments fluidly as George’s mind loses its grip on reality. The actual writing is lyrical, almost poetic, and it feels like it should be read while you’re curled up on the couch on a snowy day.
For those who live in the North of Boston area, you’ll be interested to know that Harding is a Hamilton native and the book is set partly in a fictionalized version of Wenham, bearing Wenham’s historical name of Enon. You’ll get a picture of Maine winters, the ice of Wenham lake, and what it means to be a New Englander in wintertime. If you enjoy this book, pick up Enon as well.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
A classic! And another that brings you into the heart of New England’s winter. While this book certainly has scenes that are set during spring and summer, it feels like the Christmas season to me (thanks in no small part to the 1994 and 2019 movie adaptations I’m sure). For those who aren’t familiar with this classic, it follows the four March sisters as they get into childhood antics, grapple with life’s challenges during the Civil War era, and grow into adults. It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking. If you haven’t read it or it’s been a while, pick it up.
I also highly recommend adding both the 1994 and 2019 movie adaptations to your holiday movie queue. While the 1994 version feels more nostalgically Christmasy to me, the 2019 edition is so moving and beautiful it can’t be missed. Have tissues at the ready when you watch both.
The All of It by Jeannette Haien
I picked up this tiny 160-page book at Parnassus Books in Nashville in November 2019 and read it over the course of a single afternoon when I got home. The story is narrated by Father Declan de Loughry as he recalls the recent deathbed confession from the sweet Edna about the true nature of her relationship with her husband Kevin. Because of the confession, Father de Loughry is forced to reckon with the lengths of mercy and compassion. It’s a beautiful, movingly told story about love, grief, strength, and self-preservation. As with many stories centered on death, this book has the intimate closeness of sitting next to a fire listening to stories.
Though they have many differences, I think a great book flight would be to pair The All of It with Our Souls At Night by Kent Haruf because they have a similar feel and spare writing style.
While this book is not set in winter specifically, its focus on moving through grief feels perfect for colder, darker days, similar to The All of It. When the narrator loses her best friend and mentor unexpectedly, she finds herself the appointed caretaker of his Great Dane, Apollo. As the narrator grieves her own loss, Apollo goes through his own grieving process, confused as to where his owner went so unexpectedly. Their shared sorrow draws them together and, as will surprise no one who’s had a dog, helps to heal the wounds left by their mutual friend’s death.
This book is sad, funny, and a little claustrophobic (it primarily takes place within the narrator’s small apartment). It would be a great pick for the depths of winter. It will likely make you cry.
The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking
This non-fiction book will help you create a cozy, welcoming environment. “Hygge” is a Danish concept without a direct English translation, encompassing comfort, coziness, togetherness, and well-being. Though they have some of the longest, darkest winter days, Danish people routinely report the highest levels of happiness when surveyed. According to happiness researcher Wiking, this is due in large part to the philosophy of hygge. In this little book, he walks readers through the key components of embracing hygge in their own lives and it is well worth incorporating his suggestions into your holiday and winter routines. Plus, who doesn’t need more excuses to eat pastries and burn candles constantly?
While the hardcover is lovely (and it’d make a great gift!), I also highly suggest the audio version, which is narrated by Wiking himself. There’s something very comforting about having a Danish person read to you on a snowy day.
The Chief Inspector Gamache Series by Louise Penny: Cozy mysteries set in a small town in Quebec. Several are set in winter, but they all feel like cold weather reads.
Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: Wonderful new short story collection perfect for chilly afternoons. You can read my review over on Instagram.
Do you read seasonally? What books feel like the holidays or like winter to you?