Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Six Books Set in Winter

 I'm taking advantage of the cold weather to peruse books set in winter.  It warms me up, because I realize winter is colder in Nebraska or Antarctica.

Here are five favorite wintry books and one perennial TBR possibility. 


1   A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather.  Cather’s descriptions of winter are grand:  they make you feel the cold of the terrible Nebraska winters.  The charming Marian Forrester tolerates Nebraska as long as she and Captain Forrester can winter in Denver.  But when the gallant captain, an investor in a  bank that fails, gives away their money to cover the customers' losses, the Forresters are suddenly poor.  Marian, stuck in Nebraska, is not admirable, but we do feel empathy.  This is one of Cather's best. 

Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher.  Known for her best-selling romance novels with pink covers, Pilcher was a beloved and prolific writer - not to my taste, though.  Then I discovered  Winter Solstice, a delicious middlebrow novel about five people who gather in Scotland, not to celebrate Christmas, but because they are grieving or recovering from some loss.  The setting is the part I remember best.


3.  The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare.  Gorgeous language, fascinating plot, witty dialogue - and I love the following stage direction.

Exit, pursued by a bear.
(Stage direction, Act 3 Scene 3)

Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin. Magic realism is my kind of thing, so I have long meant to read this book set in a wintry New York City.  But 748 pages is long.  Is it worth reading?  Or should it stay on the perennial TBR?


5.  Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem.  Set in an alternate New York City where it is always winter,  this comic masterpiece bubbles over with originality, and is one of my favorite books of the twenty-first century.  It revolves around an unlikely friendship between  Chase Insteadman, a former child star who lives off residuals from his sitcom and does voiceovers,  and brilliant, paranoid Perkus Tooth,  a washed-up pop culture critic who seldom leaves his apartment and has strong opinions on Marlon Brando.

Here's a quote that will win you over:

If anything epitomized Perkus’s curious disadvantages, his failure to find traction in the effective world, it was the state of his computing. Perkus was the type to be Web-delving on some sleekly effective Mac, I’d have thought. Instead his lumpy Dell looked ten years old, Cro-Magnon in computer years. He connected by his phone line, which he transferred by hand from his living-room Slimline, and which bumped him offline if anyone rang, but also, it seemed, intermittently and at random. Watching that Dell painstakingly assemble a page view, images smoothed pixel by pixel, was agony. Perkus was enchanted - he’d just discovered eBay...

6.  The Birthday Boys, by Beryl Bainbridge.  My favorite book by Bainbridge, a historical novel about the Antarctic expedition led by Captain Scott in 1912.  Scott narrates one section,  four team members narrate the others.  I love this book, and it's time for a reread.



All right, people, confide!  What are your favorite books to read in winter?  Perhaps you're reading Nancy Campbell's Fifty Words for Snow? Or perhaps you're reading books set in summer.

 Recommendations welcome!


  1. There's always Jenni Diski's Skating to Antartica.

  2. A very entertaining list, most of which are unread (by me at least but they're on my TBR list). I thought I'd read the Willa Cather, but when I checked realized my mistake -- it was My Mortal Enemy that I'd read instead. The Lost Lady sounds great & I've been meaning to read more Cather . . .
    Like you, I loved The Birthday Boys, which I think is one of Bainbridge's best. I'd definitely vote for re-read!

    1. I'm glad you're a Willa Cather fan! It's hard to go wrong with Cather, but I do love A Lost Lady.

      I do want to reread The Birthday Boys! Antarctica is hard to beat for chill.

  3. Only a passage from Francis Kilvert's diaries (but there's a lot more writing about winter):

    As I lay awake praying in the early morning I thought I heard a sound of distant bells. It was an intense frost. I sat down in my bath upon a sheet of thick ice which broke in the middle into large pieces whilst sharp points and jagged edges stuck all round the sides of the tub like chevaux de frise, not particularly comforting to the naked thighs and loins, for the keen ice cut like broken glass. The ice water stung and scorched like fire. I had to collect the floating pieces of ice and pile them on a chair before I could use the sponge and then I had to thaw the sponge in my hands for it was a mass of ice. The morning was most brilliant. Walked to the Sunday School with Gibbins and the road sparkled with millions of rainbows, the seven colours gleaming in every glittering point of hoar frost. The Church was very cold in spite of two roaring stove fires. Mr. V. preached and went to Bettws.
    Christmas Day 1870.

    Add Vaughan Williams's Sinfonia Antartica (developed from the music for a film on Scott of the Antarctic) as background music to The Birthday Boys.

    1. Breaking ice in the bath destroys all romanticism about the past. I did buy a used copy of this book, possibly on your recommendation.

      The music sounds perfect for everything just now.

  4. Cather's Shadows on the Rock is quite good about winter too, 17th century Quebec winter. No home heating as we know it!

  5. This is one of my few unread Cathers. Winter must have been always in her mind - why else 17th-century Russia? Will have to put this on the coffee table where I can see it.