8 Great Books to Curl Up With This Winter

Some of these picks are from writers you know and others may not be

By Julie Pfitzinger

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If dreary winter days or the dullness of the daily routine are getting you down, perhaps the best remedy is to escape into an enlightening, inspiring or entertaining read.

While it could be argued that every season of the year is the right time to discover a new book, the slower pace of midwinter lends itself to slipping into a comfortable chair, setting a hot beverage next to the reading lamp and diving into a good story or collection of stories.

In a recent column in The Chicago Tribune,  writer Paul Sassone made the case very effectively,  saying, “It seems to me winter is the reading season. What else is there to do for recreation?”

Here (in the accompanying slideshow) are eight of our favorites from recent months:

No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin

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“No matter if the knowledge is intellectual or practical or emotional, if it concerns alpine ecosystems or the Buddha nature or how to reassure a frightened child: when you meet an old person with that kind of knowledge, if you have the sense of a bean sprout you know you’re in a rare and irreproducible presence.” (The Diminished Thing, May 2013)

This is the final collection of essays by Le Guin, author of science fiction classics including The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series, who died on January 23 at age 88. The majority of pieces are taken from a blog she launched in 2010. Subjects include aging, her life as a writer and a few reflections devoted to the antics of her spry cat, Pard.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

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“My starting point for this book was not Leonardo’s art masterpieces but his notebooks. His mind, I think, is best revealed in the more than 7,200 pages of his notes and scribbles that, miraculously survive to this day. Paper turns out to be a superb information-storage technology, still readable after five hundred years, which our own tweets likely won’t be.”

Walter Isaacson, author of bestsellers about Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, draws the reader into the world of Da Vinci’s creative imagination, curiosity and talent. Not only does he delve into the key places and central figures that populated the artist’s life, but Isaacson also fixes a close eye on many of Da Vinci’s masterpieces, offering detail and perspective in accessible ways.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

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“Come on in,” Moody said, and she stepped inside. Later it would seem to Pearl that the Richardsons must have arranged themselves into a tableau for her enjoyment, for surely they could not always exist in this state of domestic perfection.”

In the town of Shaker Heights, Ohio, the seemingly idyllic existence of the Richardson family — which includes teenagers Trip, Lexie, Moody and Izzy — is upset by the arrival of an artist named Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl, new tenants to a home owned by the Richardsons. In this novel by the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, relationships are created and other relationships are challenged as the secrets of Mia’s background are unraveled.

Winter by Karl Ove Knausgaard

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So winter decided to snow. Not a little, not hesitantly, not carefully since it knows that snow is all it has to show for itself, and now wants to show the world who it is.”  (The First Snow)

Now halfway through his four collections of essays offering meditations on the seasons (spring and summer are yet to come), Knausgaard continues to examine both minute and infinite details of life in these pieces that were written in anticipation of the birth of his fourth child, a daughter. The short essays center on topics including conversation, winter sounds, habits and owls.

The Norwegian writer is perhaps best known for his autobiographical series of novels, all titled My Struggle. The sixth book in the series is scheduled to be released in the United States this year.

Never Coming Back by Alison McGhee

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“It happened too fast and it was too big  — way too big — and too much was unsaid and wrong between my mother and me before she started to disappear. Too much had been left untold and now there was too much to tell, the words locked tightly within us both, tangled up with the don’t-tell-anyone and the your-mother’s-never-coming-back.”

This poignant novel explores the complicated relationship between Clara Winter, 32, a writer who has somewhat reluctantly returned to her hometown in the Adirondacks, and her mother Tamar, who, in her early 50s, has received a devastating diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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“Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.”

A Pulitzer Prize finalist, this is a thoughtful and inspiring book by a 36-year old neurosurgeon struck down in his prime by Stage IV lung cancer. Kalanithi writes openly and honestly about his work as a doctor, his diagnosis and treatment, and offers meditations on living and dying. In 2015, Kalanithi died, leaving behind a wife and baby daughter. This book was published after his death.

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

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“Kenny didn’t know how to type like a grown-up — like Miss Abbott or his mom — so he used just one finger, finding the letters he wanted but sometimes hitting ones he didn’t … By going very slowly and being very careful, he finally typed his name correctly – kenny stahl – and rolled that page out of the IBM. He put the date stamp next to his name along with INVOICE.”  (A Special Weekend)

Academy Award winning actor and first-time author Tom Hanks incorporates his fondness for old-fashioned typewriters (his personal collection numbers more than 250) into these vignettes celebrating ordinary life. Whether he’s focusing on a young boy who spends a memorable weekend with his estranged mother and her new boyfriend (a pilot) or a group of friends who are wildly encouraging of one in their group who draws attention for his string of perfect bowling scores, Hanks tells stories which are at once funny, often moving and entertaining. And in each of the 18 stories, a typewriter is featured in a major or minor way.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

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“Everything they said made my head numb, a drum full of echoes, coming back to me slow and vinegared. Through the other side of the wall, someone, a man, said, 'And this here is where I suspect the last blow landed…'”

The chilling story of mysterious ax murderer Lizzie Borden is a familiar tale. In this novel told in alternating voices by Lizzie’s older sister Emma, the housekeeper Bridget, a stranger named Benjamin and Lizzie herself, tension builds in the days before and after the murders of Andrew Borden, Lizzie’s father, and her stepmother Abby in their Massachusetts home.



Julie Pfitzinger, editor of Next Avenue, wearing a light blue shirt in front of a mauve background.
By Julie Pfitzinger
Julie Pfitzinger is the editor for Next Avenue’s lifestyle coverage across the Living and Technology channels. Her journalism career has included feature writing for the Star-Tribune, as well as several local parenting and lifestyle publications, all in the Twin Cities area. Julie also served as managing editor for nine local community lifestyle magazines. She joined Next Avenue in October 2017. Reach her by email her at [email protected].

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