On the Winter Reading List


Though the weather in these parts hasn’t necessitated a ‘hunker down and read a good book’ mindset just yet, the dark by 5 o’clock evenings have. Every year around September I make plans to read Russian novels and Alaskan adventures through the winter months and usually end up obsessed with seed catalogues and the memoirs of gardeners. This year, I’ve gotten off on the right foot with Indian Creek Chronicles by Pete Fromm. Fromm spent seven, primarily winter, months in the 70s in the remote mountains of Idaho as caretaker of a stream containing salmon eggs. He lived in a tent with his dog Boone, his sole official job being to break ice out of the stream where the eggs were wintering. Fromm was young, inexperienced and ill-prepared, but as a lover of mountain man adventure stories, teaches himself what he needs to know along the way. Part of the mountain man ethos involves hunting, large and small game. So, fair warning if you’re squeamish; this one contains blood, intestines, brains, etc. I’m partway through the book and it’s a little testosterone-saturated for my liking, but the story is interesting and told in enough detail to put the reader in Fromm’s snowshoes, in minus 40 temps with wild animals crashing through the brush into clearings.

Now, here’s the list of what I haven’t read yet, may read before winter is through, may not, depending on what other books catch my eye. No poetry on this list, I’ll pick that up on a whim.

51PtYrpL1sL._AA160_.jpgThe End of Night by Paul Bogard

Bogard travels the globe to find the night, blending personal narrative, natural history, health, science, and folklore to shed light on darkness. Showing exactly what we’ve lost, what we have left, and what we might hope to regain, he attempts nothing less than a restoration of how we see the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky.

51EQ1HgDVFL._AA160_.jpgMrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies—boredom and the Grim Reaper.

Elizabeth Taylor is a master at creating character. Detailed, idiosyncratic, completely human, Taylor’s characters drive her novels.

41Y1mqYJ58L._AA160_.jpgDoctor Glas by Hjalmar Soderberg

Stark, brooding, and enormously controversial when first published in 1905, this astonishing novel juxtaposes impressions of fin-de-siècle Stockholm against the psychological landscape of a man besieged by obsession. Lonely and introspective, Doctor Glas has long felt an instinctive hostility toward the odious local minister. So when the minister’s beautiful wife complains of her husband’s oppressive sexual attentions, Doctor Glas finds himself contemplating murder.

61g41F1sksL._AA160_.jpgThe Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous

Fascinating compendium of facts, folklore, superstitions, myths, and anecdotes about trees and the forest. Describes forest customs, temples and sacred groves, mythical forest creatures, famous trees, unusual trees, tree worship, fossil trees, Yule logs, and much more. A perfect winter read!

51l8ys5mMtL._AA160_.jpgA God in the House: Poets Talk About Faith, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler

Now, you know poets won’t be talking about faith lightly. I imagine this will be a fairly deep read, philosophical even. The book is comprised of conversations with nineteen of America’s leading poets, reflecting upon their diverse experiences with spirituality and the craft of writing. Bringing together poets who are Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Native American, Wiccan, agnostic, and otherwise, this book offers frank and thoughtful consideration of themes too often polarized and politicized in our society. Participants include Li-Young Lee, Jane Hirshfield, Carolyn Forché, Gerald Stern, Christian Wiman, Joy Harjo, and Gregory Orr, and others, all wrestling with difficult questions of human existence and the sources of art.


412ddsr23ML._AA160_.jpgChristmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Perhaps best known for her first novel Cold Comfort Farm, Gibbons was seriously prolific. She wrote 22 novels in her lifetime. I’ve read about 5 and find them more complex and interesting than her first. Gibbons has a flair for the melodramatic and tends to overuse one clever image or description in each novel, but she’s still worth the read and her books are fun. Fans of Barbara Pym will appreciate Gibbons, that’s how I came to her work.

515SF60718L._AA160_.jpgClimbing Brandon: Science and Faith on Ireland’s Holy Mountain by Chet Raymo

Mount Brandon is one of several holy mountains in Ireland that attract scores of believers and secular trekkers from around the world. For thirty-two years, Chet Raymo has lived part of each year on the Dingle Peninsula, near the foot of the mountain, and he has climbed it perhaps a hundred times, exploring paths that have been used for centuries by pilgrims in search of spiritual enlightenment. But the history and geography of Mount Brandon are what drew Raymo to it and offered him a lens through which to view the modern conflicts between science and religion. Mountains, spirituality, mysticism, Ireland! Sounds good to me.


51PPzWNDwDL._AA160_.jpgHidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad by Jacqueline Tobin and Raymond Dobard

As a quilter and crafter, I have an abiding interest in historical handcrafts, the meaning imbued in the pieces, as well as the way women used handcrafts as creative outlet and means of communication.

In Hidden in Plain View, historian Jacqueline Tobin and scholar Raymond Dobard offer the first proof that certain quilt patterns, including a prominent one called the Charleston Code, were, in fact, essential tools for escape along the Underground Railroad. In 1993, historian Jacqueline Tobin met African American quilter Ozella Williams amid piles of beautiful handmade quilts in the Old Market Building of Charleston, South Carolina. With the admonition to “write this down,” Williams began to describe how slaves made coded quilts and used them to navigate their escape on the Underground Railroad. But just as quickly as she started, Williams stopped, informing Tobin that she would learn the rest when she was “ready.” During the three years it took for Williams’s narrative to unfold–and as the friendship and trust between the two women grew–Tobin enlisted Raymond Dobard, Ph.D., an art history professor and well-known African American quilter, to help unravel the mystery.

51Bh6fROgrL._AA160_.jpgAnzac Girls by Peter Rees

I watched the BBC series of the same name about the experiences of WWI nurses from Australia and New Zealand. Loved it! Would highly recommend the series. Then I stumbled across the book the series was based on. Reviewers say the book is even better. Of Course. These nurses are stationed on hospital ships, in Egypt, the island of Lemnos and France.  The horrors that the young men serving in WWI endured for four years, hand to hand combat really, astounds me. These nurses, many stationed very near to the front lines, experienced the fighting first hand in some cases.

51Fax6LaD4L._AA160_.jpgThe Far Traveller: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown

Five hundred years before Columbus, a Viking woman named Gudrid sailed off the edge of the known world. She landed in the New World and lived there for three years, giving birth to a baby before sailing home. Or so the Icelandic sagas say. Even after archaeologists found a Viking longhouse in Newfoundland, no one believed that the details of Gudrid’s story were true. Then, in 2001, a team of scientists discovered what may have been this pioneering woman’s last house, buried under a hay field in Iceland, just where the sagas suggested it could be.

Joining scientists experimenting with cutting-edge technology and the latest archaeological techniques, and tracing Gudrid’s steps on land and in the sagas, Nancy Marie Brown reconstructs a life that spanned—and expanded—the bounds of the then-known world.

51BT3GyT5fL._AA160_.jpgThe Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity of Self by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Who hasn’t experienced that eerie coincidence, that sudden, baffling insight, that occasional flash of extrasensory perception that astonishes? Can these events be dismissed as mere chance, or do they have some deeper significance for us? The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of this classic explores the inter-relationship between these meaningful coincidences and our intuitive sense that we are part of some deep oneness with the universe — a oneness called Tao in Eastern philosophy and synchronicity in Jungian psychology. By relating the concepts of Tao and synchronicity, Dr. Bolen reveals important links between psychology and mysticism, right brain and left, the individual and the external world. The Tao of Psychology provides the key for each individual to interpret the synchronistic events in his or her life and gives fresh insight into the relationships, dreams, and flashes of perception that transform our existence.

I  may or may not get through this list. It’s a bit short on fiction. I’m currently reading Under the Net by Iris Murdoch. A former classmate from Ireland convinced me to give Murdoch another go. I had tried to begin the Murdoch cannon with The Sea, The Sea, which was a mistake. This time around I began with The Bell, the perfect entree into Murdoch. Now I’m thinking Under the Net might be a good first Murdoch read. It’s funny! Murdoch’s dry sense of humor comes through in all her novels, but this one is actually a comedy of circumstances and much lighter, thus far, than her others. So many books, so little time. I need to add some poetry, will undoubtedly foray into the gardening genre, can’t rule out sudden, unexpected obsessions, and may throw in a Russian novel. Not two.

4 thoughts on “On the Winter Reading List

  1. Great list….I just read Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm, I love Stella Gibbons. The women in my Book Club all read a different Christmas themed book in December, your choice. We all discuss at our Christmas party, well sort of, we mostly just eat and drink wine, but we all exchange our Christmas books, fun.
    There are lots of good suggestions on this list for happy reading in the new year

    • Great idea for a book club. A creatives’ book club: let’s all just read what we want, convene and drink wine! I have a few other Christmas books on my shelf. I’ll let you know if any turn out to be club material.

  2. Thanks Sarah, I must confess we aren’t a very artsy book club, we only discuss the book for about 20 minutes until the wine starts flowing.

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