Thursday, October 11, 2012

Best books to curl up with in front of a fire

On October 1st, it hit 103 degrees where we live in California. Ridiculous, I know.

But things have gotten a little more reasonable since then. Today, the high is only supposed to reach 70 degrees, which suits me much better. I actually put on two layers this morning.

I don't have a fireplace at the moment, and frankly it would be ridiculous to have one in a place that never drops below 50 degrees . . . but with the change in the weather, I've been sort of day-dreaming about cold weather and the kinds of books that are best read lounging near the hearth.

Now, any good book is suitable to be read at just about any time, but I'd offer that books incline towards the seasonal. I'd suggest that beach vacations are ideal for something fast-paced, light, or consistently and immediately gripping. Reading in front of the fire, by contrast, is particularly great for books that you'd have a hard time getting through at other times. It's a time for plunging deep into a book, savoring it, and even enjoying the languid or desultory qualities that make it harder to fit in during the normal pace of life. I'm thinking that poetry probably fits best here, too.

To start with, here are the books I've reviewed so far that I think might be especially suited for cold-weather, hunker-down sorts of reading. You'll note that I'm not discriminating based on their recommendation score (Except for Wizard's First Rule and Eragon; I just. couldn't. do it.):

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks. 
The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien
A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

You'll note that these are heavily weighted towards epic fantasy novels; there's just something about magic and castles and dragons that fits when you've got a fire blazing in front of you and snow blowing past the windows outside. 

Never Let Me Go is hardly a hefty tome, but there's just something about it that evokes something chilly, whether it's the subject matter or the English setting. And while Twilight is not one of my favorite novels, I'd say it also benefits from reasonably descriptive prose regarding the cold, rainy Washington weather.

I almost suggested Red Mars and 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson for the list, since they're such beasts to get through, but ultimately decided that they aren't actually all that suited (in my opinion) for multi-hundred page reading chunks. They're fascinating and intelligent, but I don't think they require the sort of immersive, forget-about-the-world quality that these others have.

I'd also suggest A. S. Byatt's Possession, Milton's Paradise Lost, Beowulf, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence, Asimov's Foundation series, Richard Adam's Watership Down or Shardik, and Frank Herbert's Dune. Dune might seem a funny choice, but it certainly takes some effort to get through, and I think there can be something interesting about trying the contrast of a desert world with cold-weather reading.

Do you think there are books best suited for certain seasons? Which ones would you choose to fit the dropping temperature?


  1. Oh no, don't tell me the weather blogging is taking over the book blog too?!

  2. Nah, I don't really have a seasonal feel for any books. I'm wary of some of your suggestions, though. I could never recommend Shannara or WoT to anyone.

    1. I don't think I'd ever choose to read them again, nor would I recommend them. But if I was forced to read them, I'd rather do it in front of a blazing fire (which means they could also be tossed in whenever you reach your breaking point).

      Obviously, something like A Game of Thrones or The Once and Future King would be far preferable.

    2. Also, you're not more inclined to read a spooky book in October?

    3. I can't actually get behind Game of Thrones, either, although I haven't read it. But, see, that's why I haven't read it.

      I'm more inclined to write spooky in October or to read it aloud to an audience but not to read it for myself.

  3. I find that I have a strong desire to reread the Harry Potter books in the Fall-Winter period. Could have something to do with the magic or the vivid wintry scenes within it. Fall is definitely a good time to read the Tolkien books as well.

    1. I'm looking forward to reading The Hobbit before it comes out this December in theaters.

  4. From experience of reading in front of a fire/under a really hot lamp: Love Story, The Good Earth, Pale Fire (currently reading, The Pillars of the Earth...others I can't think of at the moment.

    Every year I tell myself that close to Halloween I'll read Dracula and every year I don't. This year is no exception.

    It's weird--in the summer I don't think I do "light" reading, but I definitely tend to do more "serious" reading in the Fall/Winter. For example, I've been eyeing The Last of the Mohicans, Winter by Auster, Middlesex, and the Bell Jar for the upcoming months. I don't know how serious those actually are compared to other books, but they're not Twilight. So already a win.

    1. Things just seem more weighty in the winter, I think, more significant, and slower.

      I'd like to get through both Dracula and Frankenstein this season.

  5. As much as I read, I'm actually a really slow reader so I'm not sure I need an occasion to take even longer. Still I understand the seasonality aspect. I'm looking at my bookshelf now and one thing I'm realizing is that for me, winter is the time for re-reads. I guess because of all the holiday's and vacation time I have more time to read in general so I tend to pick up a couple then. Also, I really love reading Youth in Revolt by C.D. Payne in spring. There's just so much energy.

    I'm intrigued by some of your suggestions. I tried to read The Once and Future King a long time ago and even though I loved it, I think I was bogged down by school work or something and never finished.

  6. The Once and Future King is really great, but it's definitely not fast-paced. But you should totally give it another try. If it'd been written while the Hugos were around, it would definitely have won.

    1. I really want to get back to it! I loved what I did get through. I still have hilarious memories of when he was learning to fly as an owl or something.

  7. There must be something comforting about reading King Arthur stories in the winter months. The Once and Future King was the most appealing to me from your list, and I find I always pull The Mists of Avalon out to curl up with when the weather gets cold.

    Love your blog. (:
    -an English major from S.D.