The colder and snowier it gets, the cozier a book, a blanket, and a mug of cocoa look. Can’t decide what to read while you hunker down? Here are nine ideas to get you started on your Winter Break reading lists.
Re-Read a Series You Loved as a Kid
Christmas at Hogwarts made every Muggle reader yearn for their own Invisibility Cloak (and a Weasley sweater). And who wouldn’t want to see the Great Hall decorated with, “festoons of holly and mistletoe hung all around the walls, and no less than twelve towering Christmas trees stood around the room, some sparkling with tiny icicles, some glittering with hundreds of candles.” Although the Harry Potter books were released in summer, Rowling always added a pinch of Christmas magic to her books.
For other Christmas magic, pick up The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe for a land where it’s “always winter, but never Christmas” or The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper in which a young boy wishes for snow on his Midwinter birthday and gets more than he bargained for.
For more binge-worthy fantasy, try The Chronicles of Prydain, The Song of the Lioness Quartet, or the more recent Percy Jackson series.
Find a Fresh Perspective
Evicted by Matthew Desmond traces the story of how unsteady housing has become the norm across America, including here in Wisconsin. A family faces eviction just before Christmas. A man with no legs tries to escape debt. Another turns to desperate measures to try to make up her rent. Some will end up in shelters. Others in worse apartments in more dangerous neighborhoods. Hope, loss, poverty and determination all play out in these stories of the search for a home.
Or try a look inside a survivalist family in Tara Westover’s Educated, the story of a young woman who first set foot in a classroom at age 17. Catch a glimpse inside America’s justice system with American Prison by Shane Bauer, a reporter who went undercover as a prison guard, or through the eyes of a lawyer in Just Mercy (or for an inmate’s view, check out San Quentin’s Ear Hustle podcast).
Survive the Cold
Mt. Everest is deadly at any time of year, but Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer documents what was, until recently, the deadliest 24 hours in the mountain’s history. At 29,000 feet, a vicious storm swept into the mountain, pummeling climbers with hurricane force winds: 8 of those climbers died on Everest’s slopes.
For a fictional take on what the human body and spirit can endure, try The Revenant by Michael Punke. For a less grim perspective, try Hatchet and Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen. For a supernatural take, pick up The Terror by Dan Simmons, in which the members of a lost Arctic expedition are stalked across a bleak and frozen landscape or 30 Days of Night, which imagines what happens when vampires have 30 days of polar twilight to besiege a town.
Meet Grandfather Frost
Russian folktales and Slavic mythology are having something of a Moment in publishing. In Vassa in the Night, the infamous witch Baba Yaga now lives in Brooklyn and runs a corner store, her magic – and curses – spreading over the neighborhood. Shoplifters are summarily beheaded and disembodied hands stock the shelves. When Vassa is sent on an errand to the store, she knows that the task is anything but simple – and may even be deadly.
Deathless by Catherynne Valente explores the tale of Koschei the Deathless against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution and both World Wars, including the Siege of Leningrad, in which 1.5 million people died. There are few true heroines or villains in this tale, but many shades of gray.
For more classic takes on brutal fairy tales of frost and death, try Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver, which blends elements of Rumpelstiltskin with Yiddish and Slavic mythology. The daughter of moneylenders sets out to pull her family back from the brink of poverty, but when the wintery fey prince of the forest overhears her claim of being able to turn silver into gold. Or pick up The Bear and the Nightingale, which retells the bitterly cold story of Vasilisa and Grandfather Frost and the small gods of Russia in the time when Russia was still ruled by the Mongol Horde. Best read with a blanket, a mug of cocoa, and the sound of a crackling fire in the background.
Keep It Classic
What better time to pick up that classic that’s been languishing on your bookshelf than during a snowstorm? With nowhere to go and that feeling of having all the time in the world, when else could you wander out on the moors of Wuthering Heights or end up plunged deep into the heart of a strange Antarctic city in the Mountains of Madness?
Pick up Little Women, and re-read the classic story of Amy, Meg, Jo, and Beth in preparation for the movie’s release.
Or for the truly old classic, let a great white hart interrupt your midwinter feast.
If you don’t have time to curl up and be cozy, live vicariously through one of these books instead. Pick up The Little Book of Hygge and learn all about staying warm in the North Sea. For an illustrated version, pick up Signe Johansen’s How to Hygge.
Take a hands-on approach with Scandinavian Comfort Food, Hygge Knits, or The Year of Cozy and make your own cozy spaces.
Or for a post-Hygge-craze look at comfort and contentment, try Cozy: the Art of Arranging Yourself in the World, all about how to find your own sense of being settled in life.