There’s a particular pleasure to reading when it’s cold outside–or better yet, when there’s a storm blustering. The reader’s own warmth translates the reading experience into a sort of harmless schadenfreude, in which we can revel in the stormy or serene attributes of the raging winds and frosty flakes.
So while it’s raging out there, pick up one of these snowy, chilly novels and read it, in comfort, by the fire.
It feels like an obvious choice, but David Guterson’s 1994 first-novel-turned-instant classic, isn’t merely a good recommendation for its majestic opening in which accused killer Kabuo Miyamoto stares out the window at the “furious, wind-whipped flakes,” although that scene alone will draw you directly into this literary whodunit. Guterson’s prose also brings to mind the state we enter when we too gaze out at falling snow: calm, contemplative, and in awe.
Charles Frazier’s historical novel about a pair of parted lovers, Ada Monroe and W.P. Inman, trying to make it through the hardships of the Civil War in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, contains some of the most earthy, rooted language of any recently written book. Cold Mountain it nearly a character itself, beset by snow and other barriers, as Inman struggles to make it home to his beloved.
Perhaps the most existential of all the Scandinavian detective series, Henning Mankell’s series of 12 novels follow the adventures of Detective Kurt Wallander, a small town Swedish cop often charged with solving incredibly gruesome crimes. But the real power in the novels lies in Mankell’s insistence on studying the humanity inside Wallander, and the ugliness that lies beneath the pristine beauty of Sweden’s snowy landscapes.
Per Petterson’s first-person tale of a Norwegian man who plunges himself into remote isolation in an attempt to cure his loneliness is embroidered with nearly tactile descriptions of quotidian life. As he putters around his cabin and engages with the fury of Scandinavia’s winter and the relief of its summers, he also discovers some shocking truths about those he loves.
Describing this masterful novel as a “a book about the second Chechen war” does it absolutely no justice. It’s a tale of the brutal, merciless tactics used by the Russians against Chechnya’s citizens as they struggle to merely live through one of the most horrific invasions in recent history. Anthony Marra’s prose, as he describes life in a pit in the midst of a Chechen winter, will leave you grateful for your own relative warmth and comfort.
Marilynne Robinson is a world renowned prose stylist, and her second novel in particular, as it sketches out the life of a preacher in early twentieth century rural Iowa, is as quiet and composed as the many wintry, snow-covered scenes in it.
If you haven’t read this unlikely Edith Wharton novella yet (no ball gowns and recalcitrant suitors here), get started now. It will only take you the afternoon, but it’s shocking snowy ending will leave you pondering it for days.