In the Bleak Midwinter

IMG_1473“Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow on snow…”

If you’re like me, this part of winter is not your favorite.  The Christmas lights and decorations are gone, but the bleak gray cold remains.  And though my neck of the woods has been spared the brunt of the Polar Vortex, it’s still bitter enough to make going outside unpleasant.  But instead of becoming bitter, too, I like to use this time of year to layer on blankets and immerse myself in wintery books.

You may think it would be a good idea to read stories set in warmer climes this time of year, but I disagree.  There is an extra degree of coziness when you can sit fireside, roasty-toasty, and read about someone else’s frostbite.

During the New England 2010 Snowmageddon, ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton my book club’s read. What had been a chore as a seventh-grader became a surprise delight to my grown-up self.  The snow banking up against my sliding glass door mimicked the whirling, freezing scenes in the story, and I fell so deep into Ms. Wharton’s brief novel that when it ended, I was compelled to turn right back to page one and start reading again.  

I may not be able to convince you to pick up ETHAN FROME again, but here are two fantastic reads for winter that beg to be read under extra layers:

THE BOOK THIEF By Markus Zusak


This story was published in 2006 and has been recently made into a movie.  From Goodreads:

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.”

Writer Marcus Zusak uses words like an artist uses paint, making you truly feel the cold as the newly formed family and their dangerous guest weather the winter months.  For example, in this passage from page 214:

It was early December and the day had been icy.  The basement became unfriendlier with each concrete step.

“It’s too cold, Papa.”

“That never bothered you before.”

“Yes, but it was never this cold…”

…Slowly then…the emaciated body and face of Max Vandenburg appeared.  In the moist light, he stood with magic discomfort.  He shivered.  

Hans touched his arm, to bring him closer.  

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. You cannot stay down here.  You’ll freeze to death.”

If you missed THE BOOK THIEF when it came out, like I did, I encourage you to put it in your “must read” pile for 2014.


On a much lighter note is another great read for winter, or any season:

HATTIE BIG SKY By Kirby Larson


From Goodreads: “Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle’s homesteading claim.  For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie’s been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends–especially Charlie, fighting in France–through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a “Loyal” American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie’s determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.”

HATTIE BIG SKY is wonderfully written and will appeal to anyone who grew up loving Little House on the Prairie.  Who can forget the Christmas when the snow was so deep that Pa had to go out the second story window to get across to the barn, where the presents were?

Even with their hardscrabble lives, there has always been something romantic about being a pioneer.  This particular book packs the extra punch of being based on a true story. (The author is Hattie’s great-grandaughter).

Here is one of my favorite snuggle-up scenes, from pages 65-66:

The wind, brisk before, had worked istslef up into a temper.  It whirled around my head, threatening to suck the very life out of my lungs. I couldn’t catch my breath.

…Icy snow slashed at my head and shoulders….My chest tightened in panic, but I forced myself forward.  Icicles formed on my eyelashes.  I could not close my eyes.  They felt frozen open.  And yet I could barely see…I placed one foot in front of the other in the snow.  

…My face was raw.  I tasted the salt of blood trickling down my cheeks.  I worked my shawl over my face.  It was a frail barricade, but it did help…I pried off my mittens and felt as if I’d plunged my hands into a glacier-fed stream.  The ache in my joints rocked me back on my heels.

Yes, we are a country in a deep freeze right now, but we’ve got our Gore-tex jackets, heated car seats, electric blankets, and roaring furnaces to help see us through.  What wimps we would seem to Hattie and Liesel!

And now, I’m off to put on another layer and another log, and crack open another book.  I hope you get some time to do the same this winter!

7 thoughts on “In the Bleak Midwinter

  1. Ethan Frome was such a sleeper hit for me! Did you like it? I’d love to know what books your boys are into, Melanie. Let me guess – anything sports related? 😉

  2. I always love book recommendations! And I just read Ethan Frome for the first time a couple of months ago. 🙂

  3. Love your blog post title. I’m sure feeling it. And, I have been reading the Book Thief and have about 100 pages to go. I like it and want to read it before I see the movie. The author’s writing is incredible. Haven’t read Hattie, but I like your synopsis and the period the book is set in.

    I have a stack to read. I recently discovered Jody Hedlund’s books. Loved the Preacher’s Wife and have The Doctor’s Ladie to read next. Also like Kathleen Fuller’s Amish books, both adult and YA. And, I have “I Am Malala” to read. Pile on the quilts.

    Have a great 2014.

  4. Two great recommendations! Thanks for the excerpts too 🙂 Reading by the fire is my favorite thing to do – when I’m not writing 🙂

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