Winter lends itself to reading like no other season.
Cold temperatures drive us inside, and the short hours of daylight curtail our ability to partake in many hobbies. All those hours spent holed up at home can easily be filled with scrimshaw, stamp collecting, or by staring out the window. However, the best activity for whiling away the winter is the reading of great books. OK, maybe sex and cocktails, but you’ll need occasional breaks from the booze and romance, 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 dive into during those dark, cold months, for not just any book makes a perfect winter read.
First, let’s start with a book that’s simply a damn good read, even if not necessarily wintry. If you have yet to read Andy Weir’s breakout hit sic-fi novel The Martian, you owe it to yourself to enjoy that treat of a novel. And yes, you should also see the hit feature film of the same name starring Matt Damon, but the book is a uniquely written work that deserves your eyes on its pages. And so does Artemis, Weir’s follow up. This book isn’t set on Mars, but on Earth’s moon. Which is pretty cold, so hey, there’s the winter thing. This novel is a solid, sometimes amusing, often nerve-wracking story featuring thieves, killers, crooked cops, and a plucky heroine trying to get ahead if she can only stay alive. All that is set against the backdrop of a lunar colony. One of the things I find most compelling about this book is that Weir freely admits he wrote it only after abandoning another novel of which he had penned tens of thousands of words before realizing it just wasn’t working. He doesn’t release a book unless he is satisfied that content is worth your time.
Wilderness Essays is for the outdoorsman who feels trapped without a good dose of nature, yet can’t get out into the hills due to the frigid temperatures (and/or the fact that he has a job to do). My wife got me this book for Christmas, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed picking at it in the subsequent weeks. I read Muir’s The Mountains of California a while back, and while I thoroughly enjoyed most of it — such as his accounts of watching a lightning storm from a treetop because he was nuts — at times my eyelids drooped as he spent multiple pages discussing the needles specific to a lodgepole pine. In Wilderness Essays, Muir benefits from some editing, and the essays selected for this book are enjoyable and easily digested. Much of the prose reads like a friend telling you about his awesome backpacking trip, while some is more akin to a naturalist sharing his findings in laymen’s terms. And there’s plenty of classic Muir madness, such as when he talks about heading out to explore an area of Alaska new to him despite near constant storms, because “I was familiar with storms, and enjoyed them, knowing well that in right relations with them they are ever kindly.” And this before Gore-Tex and OutDry and whatnot.
Next, a book perfect for wintertime reading, for winter itself plays such a major role in terms of plot, setting, and theme. 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. King’s words are 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 The Jungle. This classic tale of the workingman’s struggle is a case of everything old is new again in the current political climate. The struggles of Sinclair’s less-than-heroic protagonist Jurgis Rudkus will ring all too true for many people struggling to eke out a decent existence against a system often favoring the rich and powerful. Hopefully your struggles aren’t quite so extreme as his, though. The frigid Chicago winter is such an active part of this harrowing book that the snow and cold almost become characters unto themselves — cruel, even murderous characters at that. Even 110 years after its publication, this book will still move you. Just FYI, the last 15 or 20 pages get a bit preachy on the merits of socialism, so watch out for that.
If you want a good nonfiction book that is perfect winter material, I humbly recommend this moving story. 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 open ocean. And (spoiler alert) they amazingly lived through the ordeal.
Alright, yes, if you were paying close enough attention to realize that I reviewed this book a few months back. Well done. But it just seemed improper to leave a book filled with moving, often amusing essays and images about life in the extreme cold off of a winter reading list. You could spend a few hours reading the book cover to cover, or pick at a few essays and stare deeply into a few pictures now and then. Doing so will either make you want don your thermal layers and parka and head for the snow, or else curl up all the more snugly and be glad for home.
When you’ve made your way through this list, check out the classic books that every man should read (or re-read) in 2018.
Article originally published on January 12, 2017. Last updated January 25, 2018.