As I write this, it’s about 30 degrees outside my window. I know, I know. Not exactly the frozen tundra, but it’s still cold. The fireplace is kicking out heat and pretty soon I’ll bundle up to take my dog for a walk. She loves the cold–in fact, she’ll lie down on the chilly ground outback and just survey her kingdom for hours.
Today’s weather has me thinking about books set in the wintertime. This weather is perfect for curling up on the sofa and reading. My list isn’t limited to novels; there are books for grown-ups, books for children, and books that combine the best of both worlds.
So without further ado, I present you (in no particular order) with my list for the top 10 books to read during the winter:
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may remember that I read this book last year. It was haunting. In the several months that have passed since I finished the novel, I’ve come to regard it even more highly. It’s the story of a couple who are blessed with a magical child in early twentieth-century Alaska. You can read my review here.
Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah
I read this quite some time ago, but it has stayed with me. It’s a beautiful story told, in part, almost like a fairy tale (albeit a very dark fairy tale). It spans decades and has its roots in the starvation of Leningrad. It’s fascinating and spellbinding, and you’ll remember it long after you read it.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
There’s a reason this book has been read by millions, made into a movie, and spawned countless imitations: it’s really that good. Set in a magical kingdom of eternal winter, it’s the ultimate tale of good versus evil. Younger readers appreciate the action and the family drama that unfolds; adults can appreciate the more subtle messages and dark humor in the story.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
You know the story: the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future visit the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on the night before Christmas, prompting Mr. Scrooge to learn a valuable lesson about kindness and generosity. If you’ve never read the original by Dickens himself, do yourself a favor and read it. The language is flowery, much more so than modern novels, but there’s something about reading the words Dickens wrote that makes the story even better.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Set in Russia, the coldest of cold places, this book examines the life of Anna, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage who refuses to let that be her destiny. As she attempts to build a life with her lover, she faces scorn, ridicule, and social norms that force her to make a devastating choice. Spoiler alert: as with much of Russian literature, this book does not have a happy ending.
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Full disclosure: The Long Winter and the rest of the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been among my favorites since I was old enough to read them. This one is especially exciting because it tells the story of one particularly bad winter in the Dakota Territory, when one blizzard after another culminates in a shortage of food, fodder for the animals, and even firewood. It’s thrilling to read about how the people of the territory managed to survive.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
This was one of my favorite books to read to my kids when they were little, but you don’t have to be little to enjoy it. A young girl and her father go owling, hoping to see one of the magnificent creatures swoop by in the moonlit darkness. The illustrations are exquisite and the story is timeless.
Stranger in the Woods by Carl R. Sams and Jean Stoick
This book, comprised of gorgeous photographs and simple words, is a love story to nature. There’s a stranger in the woods and the animals need to determine whether the stranger means them harm. Spoiler alert: the stranger brings only good.
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
David Sedaris has been called “one of the funniest writers alive” by Economist (because who knows humor better than economists??) and this collection of essays/short stories is an entertaining introduction to Sedaris if you’re not already familiar with his writing. Ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a Macy’s elf? Check it out.
And last, but not least, there is a tie between
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
and Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M. C. Beaton
You knew there was going to be an Agatha on this list, didn’t you? It was a toss-up between Dame Agatha Christie and another Agatha (Agatha Raisin, nosy and forthright brainchild of M. C. Beaton), so I chose to include both.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie is classic Hercule Poirot, with the great detective trying to figure out whodunit in the murder of a millionaire businessman. The murdered man is surrounded by enemies on the Orient Express, a luxurious sleeper train that has become stuck in a huge snowdrift, so Poirot has his work cut out for him.
Kissing Christmas Goodbye follows the antics of fireball Agatha Raisin, Cotswolds detective and middle-aged divorcee, as she attempts to curate the perfect Christmas while trying to find the murderer of an elderly widow. M. C. Beaton, who passed away only three weeks ago, is a master at writing cozy mysteries.
What wintertime books do you recommend?
Until next time,
18 thoughts on “The Top 10 (or so) Books to Read in Winter”
I loved Anna Karenina. Also the two Agathas. I read Doctor Zhivago years ago and that was at least partly set in winter.
I loved it, too. And I also enjoyed Doctor Zhivago. My husband has a minor in Russian literature, so we have a lot of the Russian classics in the house. It takes real commitment to read them, since they can be confusing. But they’re great stories.
You chose a good mix – old and newer. All sound great. Some I’ve read. Thank you. It’s freezing in Nashville too. Very big cold front covering a huge area of the country.
Thirty-degrees sounds plenty cold to me. I’ve become soft in middle age as I used to love playing in the snow, growing up in the Dakotas. Thanks for the suggestions, Amy. I’m always looking for good children’s books, and I’m not familiar with a couple of these.
I’ll go the other way and suggest a book to warm you up on a wintry day. I recently read and enjoyed Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center. It’s a love story featuring a female firefighter, and not only shows what it’s like to be a woman working in a primarily male profession, but beautifully handles the issues of broken relationships and the healing power of forgiveness.
P.S. Touches of humor are added in, which is always a bonus for me!
Excellent choices. I really need to read A Christmas Carol, since I love the movie adaptions so much. I’ve read other works by Dickens, but never that one.
For cold winter reading, I also recommend The Ringed Castle, an old book by Dorothy Dunnett. Given it’s book #5 of the Lymond Chronicles, I’m not sure how it would read without an understanding of what came before, but sometimes I will reread it as a stand alone. It’s set in Russia at the time of Ivan the Terrible. You can practically feel the cold seeping from the pages. One of those books that stays with you for decades.
Why is it that Russian literature often makes one feel cold? Summer in Russia sounds pleasant, but the best books are set during the Russian winters. I’m going to take a look at Dorothy Dunnett’s series–thanks for the recommendation!
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My pleasure! If you enjoy historical novels, the series is a masterpiece!
I’m going to pick up a couple of these! Thanks for the recommendations.
Glad to hear it! Hope all is well with you. Thanks for visiting!
Great books, Amy, especially the classics. I am listening to Evil under the Sun by Agatha Christie at the moment. It is excellent.
I think everything that woman ever wrote was great. It would be fun to listen to one of her books–I’ll have to give that a try.
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I finished that book yesterday, Amy. I like her books in audio as the voices are so good. It makes them a splendid listen. I am not listening to The Red Badge of Courage as part of the classic reads challenge I have signed up for.
I remember reading The Red Badge of Courage about a thousand years ago. As I recall, I liked it. I think a classic reads challenge would be great, and probably something I should think about doing at some point.
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Good list of books. I’ve read a few ‘cold’ books and they really put me there. I’d shiver as I read. As I did with Anna Karenina, though I read it in Russian. That is an experience!
You read it in Russian?! That’s amazing. One I just finished is called The Winters, which was perfect for winter reading. It gave me the shivers. But I had other books I wanted to write about, so The Winters didn’t make the list. Maybe next year! Thanks for stopping by.
Great choices. On my list is The Winter Pony by Iain Lawrence. I just love this story. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10473134-the-winter-pony
I just looked up the book. It sounds delightful! And the cover is so pretty. Thanks for dropping in, Darlene. 🙂