I’ve heard it said that Russian novels are so long because Russian winters are so cold! What better way to spend time inside than reading a book?
In Iceland I hear there’s a tradition of gifting family and friends with books and chocolate so they may take to their beds cozy and satisfied for a long winter’s read on Christmas Eve. Sounds nice.
Here in California, winter won’t be as long or as cold as our neighbors to the north, but I still feel there’s no better holiday gift than a book. Particularly this year, when many of us have returned to sheltering-in-place, and our usual holiday gatherings have been downsized or postponed. Instead of indulging in too much eggnog or Christmas cookies or Hallmark movies, read a book! Here are a few of my favorites. Some are recent releases, some have been on my shelf for a while, all but one are pretty long, because winter’s the time for big books.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Let me just confess right off the bat that I am in awe of Margaret Atwood; she is a goddess to me. At this point she is best known for The Handmaid’s Tale, and perhaps too for the MaddAddam trilogy, but I think this book is my favorite. It’s a thriller and a romance, and even has an intriguing sci fi novel within the novel. It begins with a mysterious death, and I think that’s all I’ll tell you. Even the first page is stunning, it draws you in, hints at the complexity to come. I love this book. If you haven’t read it, you are in for a treat. If you’ve never heard of it—jeez, why not? Let’s promote this book! But please, no movie or TV series, it’s perfect on its own.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
A lovely book by another of my favorite writers. It is the story of the heat and abundance of summer, of lovers and rivals, predators and prey, a family and its community over one season in Appalachia. Kingsolver explores questions of the land—who owns it, how we can live upon it lightly, in harmony with the wildness we need to sustain ourselves. This is a beautiful book, and Kingsolver sneaks in a little environmental science to educate us. It’s not painful at all; you’ll be grateful.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This book is not a historical novel or biography of Lincoln! I hardly thought I would need to say this, but judging from a few Amazon reviews, some folks were misinformed. This book tells the poignant story of the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son Willie while they were living in the White House—well, no, that’s not right. It’s actually the wild tale of the inhabitants of the grave yard who welcome Willie on his first night among the departed. The stunning, historically documented event at the heart of the novel is when the President himself shows up to pay one last visit to his deceased son, to hold his lifeless body in his arms one more time. This sends shock waves among the dead, and initiates a deep personal revelation for Lincoln himself. Sad, humorous, a little scary, and deeply affecting. Here’s my review on Goodreads.
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula LeGuin
One of my favorite science fiction stories, the shortest book on my list, this novel tells the story of a planet exploited by colonizers from Earth. As you may have noticed, our planet’s name means land or dirt. But LeGuin’s fictional planet is inhabited by a seemingly primitive, arboreal people who love and revere their trees. When the conquering lumberjacks show up from Earth, you can bet that life changes. In the hands of a lesser writer, this story might have been a simple allegorical tale, but LeGuin creates a civilization whose complexity relies on a complete trust in their dreams. I must have read this for the first time nearly 35 years ago, and it still haunts me.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
If you’re going to read (or give) the memoir of Michelle Obama’s husband this season, be sure to include hers as well. It’s an inspiring read. Here’s my review on Goodreads.
I would prove myself a poor marketer if I didn’t at least mention that my own novels continue to be available on Amazon. I hope you’ll take a look.
Please let me know what books you’d put on this list! What are your favorite long winter reads?
Next week, I’ll tell you about my favorite children’s picture books.
Photo by Drew Coffman.