There is snow on the ground for the second time in the Hudson Valley. Winter is definitely upon us.
Every winter, I spend my free time inside an impermeable blanket fortress with hot tea and as many books as I can get my hands on.
If you’re a winter burrower and you’re looking for perfect chilly, snowy reads, here is my definitive list:
Literary conflict generally falls into three categories: protagonist versus antagonist, protagonist versus the elements, and protagonist versus self. The conflict in Dreamcatcher is multifaceted and slippery. A group of childhood friends reunite for a hunting trip that mostly means drinking in a cabin surrounded by snowy northern forests. There’s an unknown monster in the snow, the snow poses its own deadly threat, and there are monsters of all kinds lurking within and around them. King wrote this story almost entirely by hand while recovering from the hit-and-run accident that nearly killed him. The claustrophobia of a snowy landscape is a common theme in his work: the Dreamcatcher cabin, the snowed-in Overlook Hotel in The Shining, and the mountaintop farm seen from Paul Sheldon’s window in Misery.
“Jonesy is in his third-floor John Jay College office, looking out at his little slice of Boston and thinking how wrong T. S. Eliot had been to call April the cruelest month just because an itinerant carpenter from Nazareth supposedly got himself crucified then for fomenting rebellion. Anyone who lives in Boston knows that it’s March that’s the cruelest, holding out a few days of false hope and then gleefully hitting you with the shit.”
I’ve read this more times than I can count– it’s probably my favorite book, if it were possible to choose just one. I read it the first time on my father’s recommendation after losing a story I had written on an old computer. I was very distressed, but soon learned that there are far worse ways to lose a book. This was the book that got me hooked on Stephen King– and I’ve been an avid fan ever since. This is one of the best books about the art of writing and the mentality of storytelling. The story begins with Paul Sheldon, a writer who is rescued from a car accident on a snowy mountain. As he begins to recover from the accident and take in his snowbound surroundings, he meets his rescuer, Annie Wilkes, a retired nurse whose bedside manner and fervent fan-love redefine “kill ’em with kindness.” In a literary premonition of King’s own misfortune, Misery chronicles a writer recovering from an automobile accident and penning a book by hand while the snow slowly melts.
“His eyes drifted left. There was a calendar on the wall. It showed a boy riding a sled down a hill. It was February according to the calendar, but if his calculations were right it was already early March. Annie Wilkes had just forgotten to turn the page. How long before the melting snows revealed his Camaro with the New York plates and its registration in the glove compartment proclaiming the owner to be Paul Sheldon? How long before that trooper called on her, or until she read it in the paper? How long until the spring melt? Six weeks? Five? That could be the length of my life, Paul thought, and began shuddering.”
When I discovered John Bellairs’ work, starting with The House with the Clock in Its Walls, I went through every single one of his numerous books, including the work that had been finished by Brad Strickland. Bellairs died tragically young, with many books unfinished. To Strickland’s enormous credit, his completions are utterly seamless– he completed a true labor of love and went on to write many books in the universes created by Bellairs. This is a middle-grades book but it scared the crap out of me as a child, even holding up to a recent re-reading. You don’t have to have read previous books in the series (the Lewis Barnevelt books), but it doesn’t hurt. Rose Rita (a badass young protagonist) and her best friend, an elderly, purple-obsessed, good witch named Florence Zimmerman, are on a summer road trip in 1951 when they accidentally go back in time to the winter of 1828. They have no way of returning and Mrs. Zimmerman has been hit with some sort of curse that has affected her memory and her magic. The feeling of helplessness, surrounded by snow, vulnerable, and unable to escape, is masterfully conveyed. Bonus: If you’re a spooky art nerd, many Bellairs’ books (including The Ghost in the Mirror) feature wraparound dust-jackets with cover art by Edward Gorey.
“She wanted to run, but the grave markers were so thick, they threatened to trip her. She tried to walk between them. She stepped on a low mound, a snow-covered grave, and to her shock she heard a muffled voice below her feet: ‘Who is that up there? I want company!'[…]The black mongrel dog came running behind her, snarling, its eyes glowing a fiery red. Liquid fire drooled from its black lips. Rose Rita tripped over a stone and stumbled. She landed sprawling facedown, her nose crunching into the stinging snow. Instantly cold, icy, skeletal fingers closed over her arms and legs, and the awful smell of decay filled her nose. A gritty, dirt-clogged, cackling laugh burst from the skeletons. The dog wailed and howled close by. The skeletons picked her up, her glasses fell off, and Rose Rita felt herself being tossed through the air. She saw that she was being thrown into a gaping fresh grave. Moonlight touched the marker at its head. The words ‘HERE LIES A SPY’ were carved into it.”
Seeking relief from the snowy vortex of horror? Calvin and Hobbes is eternally wonderful and comforting. If you’re looking to recapture your joy, laughter, and a little wry cynicism this winter, any volume of Calvin and Hobbes will do. Some of the best conversations in Watterson’s work take place on a speeding sled careening towards certain doom, while Calvin shares his thoughts on fate and the universe and Hobbes holds on for dear life.
As a child, I read this at least a dozen times– until the front and back cover fell off, despite all my meticulous care. As an adult, I re-read The Secret Garden for a Children’s Literature class and even wrote a halfway decent paper on it, “The Male Interior and the Female Landscape” (no one’s interested, but I had fun writing it and it even helped me get a few jobs). I can’t overstate how valuable it is to have books for children that feature “unlikeable” protagonists, especially bossy girls, though Mary is a total shit in the first half of the book. If you’re longing for spring, this book will nourish your soul.
“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
Spring will come someday, even if it feels like forever. Until then, keep warm, read books, and stay tuned for the second installment of “Books for Winter Hibernation.” Please feel free to share your favorite winter reads with me in the comments below– especially if they’re also spooky.