Winter is coming: some seasonal reads

Evergreen trees, dead tree branches and orange Gambrel Oak in the Santa Fe National Forest
Late Autumn in the Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico, USA

I am not a winter person. I was born in a tropical environment, and although I didn’t live there long enough to remember it, I think maybe it got into my bones. The dark, the cold, the sleeping plants, the swirling dead leaves…they bring me down. Even though winter is (usually) relatively short where I live, it always feels like it will never end.

This year, the cold has arrived early in central New Mexico. Our frosts began early in October; at Samhain it is predicted to dip into the teens. The garden is fully dead; we’ve had to move the potted plants into the house; and the furnace is not yet on.

I am cold, inside and out.

I have two strategies for adjusting to the cold season. One is to get outside and exercise until I warm up. The other is the opposite: to curl up under a warm blanket with a cup of tea, and read. In honor of the latter, I’d like to share a few of my favorite autumn/winter seasonal books – books that warm me when I am cold, books that help me see the beauty of winter, books that reassure me that warmth does exist out there and will come again. Some are explicitly seasonal, some are explicitly cozy, some are both, some are neither. They are all flawed. But I find them comforting as the cold and dark advance.

In no particular order:

  • A is for Alibi – What better, on a cold night, than to immerse oneself in Grafton’s 1980s California? The earlier books in her alphabet series work better for me than the later ones this time of year.
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling – This is the first of J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith mysteries. It’s got all sorts of flaws and things that bug me, but I also find it super-compelling.
  • Ha’penny – Set in an alternate-history London, this mystery is set in July but feels cold to me. It’s by Jo Walton.
  • The Pillars of Hercules – I find travel books a wonderful escape when the weather is cold, even when they are describing cold places. Theroux’s depiction of winters in Spain reminds me of my times living in southwest Europe.
  • A Perfect Spy – I only discovered this classic recently. I read it over the summer but it’s more a winter read for me.
  • Waiting for Winter – this picture book is sadly out of print, but I love it.
  • The Shortest Day – This new presentation of Susan Cooper’s poem has truly fantastic illustrations. And what better than a solstice book for coming to terms with winter?
  • Bitterblue – I love Kristin Cashore’s writing in general; Bitterblue is my Cashore comfort read for autumn.
  • Sunshine and Beauty – I discovered both these books by Robin McKinley in the autumn, many years ago. They have become inextricably linked to late October for me, and I re-read them every year.
  • Tam Lin – the story takes place over four years at college, and therefore includes the full seasonal round of those four years. But it has a very autumnal feeling for me, and I don’t think I’m misleading by calling it a Samhain book.
  • Coyote Tales – among many Indigenous peoples, Coyote tales can only be told in the winter, from the first frost through the first lightning. I spent enough time living on reservations that I picked up this prohibition. Now, I find reading Coyote tales to be one of the joys of the season. There are lots of different published versions of different Coyote Tales from different Indigenous groups out there; the link above is to one of many.
  • Georgie – I loved this picture book as a child; I rediscovered it during one of its periodic reprintings. It’s out of print again now, but it’s widely available in libraries and can also be found used.
  • The Snowman – a classic and another childhood favorite.
  • The Feast Nearby – a memoir about seasonal eating. Though much of it takes place in spring and summer, the author’s focus during those seasons is largely preparing for winter.
  • Six Seasons – Seasonal cookbooks have become rather trendy in the past few years; this one, in my opinion, is one of the best. The six seasons it uses as an organizing principle aren’t the same as seasons in New Mexico, but I still love it.
  • The Wood Wife – This book is set in Tucson, where I lived briefly, and captures fall in the Sonoran Desert beautifully.
  • The Zen of Gardening in the High and Arid West – Gardening catalogs, some of the best cozy reads, start coming in December, usually. Before they arrive I rely on gardening books. This one is one of my favorites.
  • Classic German Baking – My go-to source for traditional German seasonal cookies (it’s got four different recipes for Lebkuchen). It’s great for other seasons too, but winter solstice in northern Europe is something special.

What I’ve been reading, long-delayed edition

In no particular order. There are some notable exceptions on this list, but mostly I’ve been feeling meh about what I’ve been reading lately…another reading slump maybe?

And with my 4-year-old niece: