Following on from our list of 10 Books to Read in The Fall, I thought I’d share with you my top literary picks for the winter season.
As the days get shorter, the weather gets colder, and all of nature seems to go into hibernation, there’s really nothing quite like curling up with a good book.
Whether you’ll be spending winter cozy at home, visiting family and friends over the holidays, or on a relaxing retreat, it makes no difference. This is the perfect time of year to treat yourself to a handful of new titles and enjoy the process of steadily working your way through them. When it’s cold outside, reading is really one of the best forms of self-care!
Now, sit back, pour yourself a cup of steaming hot cocoa, light a few candles, and grab the cuddliest blanket you can find… these books are all about finding inner warmth in the darkest, coldest months of the year.
1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
The first of the seven Chronicles of Narnia novels to be published, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is arguably C.S. Lewis’ best known work. In fact, it’s one of the books mostly commonly found on the shelves of libraries all over the world. Written as a fantasy novel for children, the Narnia stories are incredibly multi-faceted and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
Published in 1950 by Geoffrey Bles, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe contains all of the magic you’d hope for in the winter season. The story follows siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie as they are evacuated out of London during the Blitz, and sent to live in the countryside with an old professor named Digory Kirke.
When Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie children, explores the old professor’s house, she finds a magic wardrobe that functions as a portal between their world and the land of Narnia. There, the children find adventure, magical creatures, danger, and an incredible destiny.
The snowy landscapes of Narnia, coupled with the camaraderie of the siblings, and the magical creatures they meet behind the wardrobe, make this the perfect wintertime adventure.
2. 2 A.M at The Cat’s Pajamas, Marie-Helene Bertino
If you live for the winter, you’re probably a huge fan of Christmas – just like me! And if that’s the case, this next book is the perfect December read for you. Published in 2014, 2 A.M at The Cat’s Pajamas follows the story of 9-year-old Madeleine Altimari, an aspiring jazz singer who has recently lost her mother.
Told through a series of vignettes across a single Christmas Eve, this heartwarming story follows Madeleine through the snowy streets of Philadelphia as she attempts to make her her public singing debut at a floundering jazz club called The Cat’s Pajamas. Madeleine’s fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene and failing club owner Lorca complete the trio of three lost souls who are searching for love, music and hope at Christmas.
This isn’t a heavy read, but it’s full of realistic details, a good dash of hope, and plenty of joy – making it exactly the kind of feel-good novel we could all use as the year draws to a close.
3. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino
If you’re looking for a more complex read, then this one is for you. Published in Italian in 1979, and English in 1981, this is a post-modernist masterpiece by author Italo Calvino.
What makes this work so compelling is its use of a technique called ‘frame story.’ Opening with a discussion about art and the nature of reading, the chapters that follow are split into two distinct sections: the first, about you, the reader, and your attempt to read a book named If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller; the second part, the book itself. Yes, it’s complicated, but Calvino’s narrative is an interesting read that explores deep themes like the subjectivity of meaning, the relationship between life and fiction, what makes an ideal reader and author, and what makes written work original.
Calvino’s work has been lauded by many as one of the 100 books you should read in a lifetime. With its unusual narrative style, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller will take you on a quest to find both a true story and what it means to really love reading. It’s the perfect novel to curl up with by the fire on a winter’s night – no travelling required.
4. The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
If there was ever a time of year when a 700+ page novel appeals to me most, it’s winter! Those of you who read my list of fall books will remember that Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, appeared there. For me, she really is the undisputed queen of setting the scene for the season.
Published in 2013, The Goldfinch follows the story of Theodore “Theo” Decker, a 13-year-old who survives a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When his mother is killed instantly, Theo staggers through the debris and takes with him a small Dutch Golden Age painting called The Goldfinch. The painting becomes an important source of hope for him as he learns to cope with the loss of his mother, moves away from New York, and eventually descends into a world of crime.
Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize For Fiction, this coming-of-age novel is told from Theo’s perspective. It’s a complex but rewarding story of art theft, loss, love, friendship, and secrets; with a myriad of different characters who arrive and depart along the way.
It’s really the perfect novel for the season because it plays out the winter between the quintessentially festive but unbearably cold New York City, and a scorching hot Las Vegas. Whatever the weather is like where you are in winter, The Goldfinch will transport you elsewhere.
5. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
Dickensian fiction is pretty much made for the winter time – but nothing says winter quite like A Christmas Carol. If you’ve never read the book, but love one of the many movie adaptations, now is the time to get back to where it all started.
First published in London by Chapman & Hall in 1843 and illustrated by famed caricaturist John Leech, A Christmas Carol emerged at a time when the British were exploring and re-evaluating both new and existing Christmas traditions (including carols and Christmas trees). Released on 19 December, the first edition had already sold out by Christmas Eve. By the end of 1844 another thirteen editions had been printed, making it an instant success. It has never been out of print since.
A Christmas Carol follows the story of a miserly gentleman named Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley, and the spirits of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. Through Scrooge, Dickens explores issues of selfishness, charity, the treatment of the poor, and the importance of redemption. It deals with life’s big questions while capturing a sense of the mid-Victorian revival of the Christmas holiday; focusing on family gatherings, seasonal food and drink, and festive generosity.
Be transported to the bone-chillingly snowy streets of Victorian London as you follow Scrooge on his quest to find the warmth that lies within the winter season.
6. Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
Written over the course of ten years by teacher David Guterson (now a full-time author), Snow Falling on Cedars is a heartbreakingly beautiful debut novel. Published in 1994, it quickly won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, which is granted to the authors of the year’s best works of fiction by living American citizens.
Set in an isolated, snow-covered fictional island on the Washington State coast, it follows the story of a Japanese man who is standing trial for murdering a local white fisherman. Much of the story is told through flashbacks, which are used to explain the interactions that occur between the various characters in the decades leading up to the trial. As snow falls on the courthouse, the trial brings up a whole host of memories that had been locked inside: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, an unrequited love, and the ghosts of racism that continue to haunt the people living on the island of San Piedro in 1954.
This is a beautifully written book that is full of lyrical language, with a story that emerges when peeled back layer by layer. Whether it’s snowing outside your window or not, Snow Falling on Cedars is the perfect book to cozy up with and read over the winter season.
7. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
Probably one of Agatha Christie’s most famous works, Murder on the Orient Express follows Belgian detective Hercule Poirot on the famous luxury train from Istanbul to London. Published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club on 1 January 1934, Christie’s detective story was incredibly well received by audiences. And it isn’t surprising, because the Queen of Crime keeps you on your toes until the very end.
When an avalanche stops the Orient Express in its tracks, a passenger is found murdered in his cabin. With the perpetrator unable to stage a getaway, all 13 potential suspects – each with an apparently airtight alibi – are conveniently trapped in a train car with quirky detective Hercule Poirot.
As the snow swirls outside the train, it’s up to Poirot to solve the murder mystery and find out who killed the elderly American gentleman, Samuel Ratchetts. No movie or TV adaption can compare to Christie’s storytelling on paper, so whether you know the story or not, it’s well worth reading.
Grab a hot coffee and something sweet and prepare to turn the pages of Murder on the Orient Express until the story is finished. It’s the ultimate winter novel.
8. The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivy
The debut novel from Alaskan native Eowyn Ivy, The Snow Child was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Set in the 1920s, it follows the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless older couple who are struggling through life on The Last Frontier.
Their marriage is suffering as they long for a child, and they are drifting apart. After the first snowfall of the year, Jack and Mabel build a child out of snow together. The next morning the snow child is gone, but in its place they catch a glimpse of a young, blonde-haired little girl running through the trees. The girl introduces herself as Faina, and seems – miraculously – to be able to survive alone in the Alaskan wilderness. Hunting with a red fox at her side, the couple struggle to understand her – even though they begin to love her as their own daughter right away.
The Snow Child combines the reality of living in such a harsh environment with the magic of a traditional fairy tale. Full of beautiful description and mysterious secrets, it’ll take you on a journey as the couple begin to learn the truth about Faina and where she is from. The perfect winter read, it’ll transport you to the wilds of Alaska as you sip hot cocoa by the fire.
9. Winter, Ali Smith
Our list of fall books introduced you to the first of Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, and now it’s the turn of Winter. Published in early 2018, this was a highly-anticipated novel because it followed on from the enormous success of Autumn.
Scottish writer Ali Smith has an incredible talent for drawing you into her world. In Winter, she continues to explore the contemporary landscape of Britain in the post-Brexit age. Sophia Cleves, now elderly and unhappy, has made a fortune designing coats. Her son, Art, is a blogger; set to come home for Christmas with his girlfriend Charlotte. After she snubs him Art brings Lux, an aspiring academic from Croatia, instead. Along with Iris, Sophia’s sister, the four converge on a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall for Christmas.
Though the characters are completely different, Smith continues to explore many of the themes she laid out so thoughtfully in Autumn: interactions between young and old, the difficulties faced by female academics, the importance of art, and the way that politics can divide us.
There’s a certain coldness in the interactions that take between these four characters, but Smith manages to create a story that is full of warmth, wit, and wisdom. The perfect read for winter, we’re excited to follow the seasons with Ali Smith.
10. The Shining, Stephen King
If you thought we left horror behind at Halloween, think again. Published in 1977, this was Stephen King’s third novel and first bestseller, and firmly established him as the preeminent author of the horror genre. Both the setting in the Colorado Rockies and some of the characters are influenced by King’s own experiences – notably, a visit to The Stanley Hotel in 1974, and his recovery from alcoholism.
The story revolves around Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy, and their five-year-old son Danny, who move into the fictional Overlook Hotel when Jack takes a position as winter caretaker. Jack is an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who hopes that the hotel’s seclusion will help him reconnect with his family; as well as the motivation he needs to work on a script for a play. As the guests depart and the hotel closes for the year, a winter storm leaves the Torrance family alone and at the mercy of supernatural forces.
If you love horror, The Shining is really the most outstanding example of the genre. The spooky, isolated, and snowy atmosphere of the Overlook makes this the perfect winter read.
Whatever you’re interested in, I hope you’ll be inspired to pick up some of these titles this winter. Is your favorite winter novel missing? Share it with us in the comments!