A Winter Reading List for the Snowbound and Snowed-In

winter reading list

Winter lends itself to reading like no other season.

Cold temperatures drive us inside, and the short hours of daylight curtail our ability to work or partake in many hobbies. All those hours spent holed up in the home can easily be filled with scrimshaw, stamp collecting, or by staring vacantly at a phone with half-parted lips and glazed eyes, but the best activity by far when it comes to whiling away the winter is the reading of great books. (OK maybe sex and cocktails, but you’ll need a break from all the debauched lechery at some point, and that’s when it’s book time.)

Now that you’re unflappably convinced that winter reading is a great idea, let’s talk about some great books to read during those dark, cold months. For not just any book makes a perfect winter read. Like the Twilight books, for example? Yeah, those are no good. Don’t read those.

First, let’s discuss two books perfect for wintertime reading for, indeed, the winter itself plays such a major role in terms of plot, setting, and theme.

– by Count Leo Tolstoy

Anyone who has followed my writing over the past few years has likely noticed that I talk about Tolstoy a lot. The only reason I do that is because the man was arguably the greatest goddamn novelist of all time. Anna Karenina, being set in Russia, is filled with scenes set against a backdrop of snow and frost. It’s also populated both by characters with ice water in their veins and by some of the warmest, most tangible fictional people you will ever read. I’ll stop talking about this book once you have read it. And hey, here it is winter time…

– by Stephen King

Everyone thinks they know King’s writing, but many ostensibly well-read people have never actually bothered to read his books. You know the story of The Shining well, you think, because you saw the movie three or four times during high school. In fact there is more to the story, the characters, and the mysterious Overlook Hotel than you might have imagined. Also, despite being at times unfairly dismissed, the actual prose King creates is taught, swift, and gripping. And also scary. Are you scared to read it? Huh? Scared? Are ya? Yeah, sure.

For a book where the winter serves as a backdrop for much of the action and colors the mood, you should really try…

A FAREWELL TO ARMS – by Ernest Hemingway

You’ve read The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls already, right? But yet you’ve overlooked this gem? For shame. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off, dear reader, with this easy-to-read, but nonetheless profound book which starts with the gunfire and blood of World War I, segues into timeless romance, and ends in frigid, wintery mountains that just might serve as a metaphor for the cold, oft empty lives so many of us live. Oh, it will cheer you right up and out of those wintertime doldrums, champ!

Now of course ideal books for winter reading don’t necessarily have to be set against a backdrop of cold weather. In fact, you might yearn for the exact opposite of that, instead seeking a fine read filled with sunshine and warmth that will get your mind off of the gloom and frostbite and such. If that’s the case, then I suggest…

 – by Frank Herbert

If you love science fiction but have still not read Dune, then you’re totally nuts. If you’re not sure whether you like sci-fi or not, then this book is a great test case. Set largely on the arid desert planet of Arrakis (FKA Dune), this book will banish thoughts of the cold and frost lurking just outside your door. In fact, it will banish pretty much all thoughts of anything not pertaining to the perils faced by young Duke Paul Atreides (or Muad’Dib, depending on your sensibilities — just read the book). Dune is a great winter read not only because it takes place on a world that is anything but wintery, but because it is genuinely engaging and rather long (around 500 pages) and thus passes plenty of time. 

Now, if you want a good nonfiction book that is perfect winter material, I humbly recommend this work:

ENDURANCE – by Alfred Lansing

Properly titled Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, this nonfiction work reads like a novel and tells the hard-to-believe tale of the ill-fated (but ultimately not tragic) Antarctic journey of the The Endurance and its crew, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. The book tells of the planned trans-Antarctic expedition that instead became a three-year long odyssey of survival (the expedition lasted from 1914 to 1917). During years spent trapped near the south pole, Shackleton and his crew saw their ship stuck fast for months in polar ice only to sink with the spring thaw. They camped for months on floes of ice, dined on seals and penguins, and sailed across hundreds of miles of the open Southern Ocean. And, amazingly, they all lived through the ordeal.