11 Wintry Books To Read Under Your Warmest Blanket

Getting snowed in with these books wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.
Getting snowed in with these books wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. / Milan_Jovic, E+ Collection, Getty Images
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It’s that time of year again, where instead of layering on roughly half of all the clothes you own to brave the mounds of snow outside, you’d probably rather make hot tea and dive under a blanket to hibernate. While you’re bundled up, what better way to spend the time than to plunge into a good read?

For some, books are a great way to alleviate the loneliness that comes with winter. Here are 11 tomes that could be good to dive into this season, plus some that may serve as reminders that other people have survived far worse cold than you’re experiencing right now (we hope).

1. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami; From $13

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "A Wild Sheep Chase" by Haruki Murakami.
"A Wild Sheep Chase" by Haruki Murakami / Kodansha International Publishing / Amazon

As the third entry in Murakami’s “Trilogy of the Rat” series (which also includes Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973, as well as Dance Dance Dance), this early work reads like a classic noir by way of Alfred Hitchcock, but as seen through the lens of Jean-Luc Godard. In it, an advertising exec receives a postcard depicting a sheep with a star-shaped birthmark. By the end, we’re in the snowy mountains of northern Japan. Shorter and faster-paced than his later works, A Wild Sheep Chase comes with that wonderful thrill of reading a great, exciting writer before they become firmly established. And like the other titles considered part of the “Trilogy of the Rat” series, this book—which was first published in 1982—includes a mention of November 25, 1970, a significant date in Japanese history, wherein acclaimed novelist, poet, and activist Yukio Mishima died by seppuku in the aftermath of a failed coup at a military headquarters near downtown Tokyo.

Buy it: Amazon

2. White Teeth by Zadie Smith; $13

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "White Teeth" by Zadie Smith.
"White Teeth" by Zadie Smith / Vintage Books / Amazon

While it might not seem like a prototypical winter book, Zadie Smith’s debut novel does begin and end with New Year’s events (although calling them celebrations would be a bit of a stretch). It’s New Year’s Day 1975 when Archie, a middle-aged Englishman (and one of our many narrators), decides he doesn’t want to die by suicide. The novel grows around the life Archie decides to live, plus the lives of his best friend, Samad Iqbal, and his family. Eventually, everything collides on New Year’s Eve 1992. If that’s not wintry enough, you may also enjoy that most of the action takes place in England, a place legendary for weather that no one wants any part of. New Year’s isn’t quite the whole theme of the book, but it is an examination of the aftereffects of resolutions—both the healthy kind (wanting to live) and the unhinged kind (kidnapping your own children). And if you really love the book after you’ve read it, you may want to check out this television adaptation, which originally aired in 2002 on Channel 4, a public broadcast network in the UK.

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3. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; From $5

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley
"Frankenstein" by Mary Shelley / Signature Classics / Amazon

Frankenstein’s monster makes it easy to forget that this classic novel isn’t just a tale of horror—it’s actually framed by an Arctic voyage. The story begins with a captain and crew stuck in ice on a foolhardy voyage to the North Pole, which serves as an apt comparison to Victor Frankenstein’s own scientific overreach. The melancholy horrors on the ship by the end feel like a fitting conclusion to such a heightened, gothic tale—not to mention the cold isolation of Victor’s laboratory nights, which mirror the loneliness of winter.

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4. If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho by Sappho (translated by Anne Carson); $17

One of the best books to read in winter, "If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho" by Sappho (translated by Anne Carson).
"If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho" by Sappho (translated by Anne Carson) / Vintage Books / Amazon

With its sparse lines and white cover, this book just looks like winter, right from the jump. What was left of Sappho’s original work was written on not-exactly-durable papyrus, meaning huge chunks are missing. Carson notes the destroyed pieces and illegible words with brackets, though not every imperfection can be marked, as that would make “the page a blizzard of marks.” The end result is that many of these pages appear almost written on, with fragments smaller than most haikus. 

If you’re not used to fragmented work, this book might be an adjustment. Carson explains that the collection of lyrics featured here are meant to be sung with Mixolydian musical accompaniment, which she describes as “an emotional mode also used by tragic poets.” But Carson—a poet/ancient Greek translator who previously turned fragments of Stesichorus’s “Geryoneis” poems into a contemporary novel—ensures the sparse ink that makes it to the page reads like poetry. It’s fascinating to simply meditate on just how ancient these surviving lines are.

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5. Light Boxes by Shane Jones; From $6

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "Light Boxes" by Shane Jones.
"Light Boxes" by Shane Jones / Penguin Books / Amazon

In this debut novel from author Shane Jones, the month of February has taken over an entire town, a climate nightmare if ever there was one. Actually, the villain is a god-like spirit named February, who is punishing the town for flying, and the result is endless February weather. It’s enough to make some of the town’s residents sink into paralyzing depression, while others opt to wage war on February. While some critics of the book contend there are close similarities to Salvador Plascencia’s novel, The People of Paper, Plascencia confirmed in a 2010 interview that all plagiarism charges had been cleared, and said “a lot of it is petty—a playground tiff by adults.” Either way, you might want to give both of these surrealist works a read this winter and decide for yourself.

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6. Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx; From $15

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "Close Range: Wyoming Stories" by Annie Proulx.
"Close Range: Wyoming Stories" by Annie Proulx / Scribner / Amazon

This is the short story collection that gave the world Brokeback Mountain, not to mention other unforgettable tales like “Job History” and “The Half-Skinned Steer.” Shortlisted for the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, Close Range: Wyoming Stories is filled with hardscrabble characters that are as tough (and often brutal) as the chilly Wyoming settings they inhabit: They’re ranchers, rodeo bull riders, and women who read the lonely hearts ads out loud. The interplay of humans on the margins and the harshness of the land itself, which refuses to be tamed, unfolds through Proulx’s masterful descriptions.

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7. Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson; From $10

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "Snowblind" by Ragnar Jónasson
"Snowblind" by Ragnar Jónasson / Minotaur Books / Amazon

If The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo craze of the early 2010s didn’t inspire you to check out more Scandinavian noir, allow us to remind you that it’s well worth it. This atmospheric mystery focuses on rookie cop Ari Thór Arason and a woman found murdered in the snow, set against a backdrop of a fishing village in northern Iceland.

If cold-weather murder mysteries are your cup of tea, this is also book one in the “Dark Iceland” series, which includes six novels in total, all centered around Ari Thór and various confounding Icelandic crimes. There’s some discrepancy between the publication dates and the chronological timeline of the series, so be sure to check out this explainer from Book Series In Order to keep it all straight. 

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8. Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg by Aase Berg (translated by Johannes Göransson); $7

One of the best books for winter: "Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg" by Aase Berg (translated by Johannes Göransson).
"Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg" by Aase Berg (translated by Johannes Göransson) / Action Books / Amazon

We can’t mention Scandinavian noir without also including radical Swedish surrealism (those are the rules). Aase Berg writes reality-distorting, hallucinatory poems conjuring up every kind of horror Mother Nature could muster and some she hasn’t even thought of yet (“The hare is also a constellation / in the listless, frigid hydrosphere / Same cosmic fatstiff freezefearflood”). Berg is a poet’s poet, shattering conventional boundaries of what language on a page can do. Wintry hallmarks like darkness, wool-sweater lint, and whale blubber dot the imagery of her poems. The strange nature of Berg’s vision makes that blizzard your own local meteorologist is predicting for tomorrow seem not so bad, after all. 

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9. The Seas by Samantha Hunt; From $10

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "The Seas" by Samantha Hunt.
"The Seas" by Samantha Hunt / Tin House Books / Amazon

“The highway only goes south from here. That’s how far north we live.” So opens this novel about a nameless young woman trying to navigate life in an alcoholic-filled coastal town after her father was seemingly lost at sea 11 years earlier—an event that might have contributed to her thinking she’s a mermaid. Some tales set in a remote town by the sea make you feel warm and alive with possibility, whereas others are a reminder that the ocean is a cold and unforgiving beast, whose love can only ever be unrequited. The Seas is the latter. 

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10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe; $13

One of the best books to read in winter is pictured, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" by Edgar Allan Poe.
"The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket" by Edgar Allan Poe / Penguin Classics / Amazon

The goth dude who provided the source material for that one “Treehouse of Horror” episode on The Simpsons also completed only one actual novel during his lifetime. It tells the tale of Arthur Pym, whose first foray into sailing is a drunken whim that nearly gets him and his best friend drowned before being rescued by a whaling ship; from there, Arthur only wants more sea.

If thinking about sailing in the crisp Nantucket air doesn’t make you shiver enough, the characters end up careening towards a massive cataract of fog while sailing for Antarctica. In between, there’s some voluntary stowing away aboard a whaling vessel, delirium, and drawing straws for cannibalistic purposes (the character Richard Parker ends up drawing the short straw and is subsequently killed and eaten by the remaining crew).

This classic novel, published in 1838 and predating the works of both Herman Melville and Jules Verne, would lay the foundations and plot conventions for many mind-bending nautical stories to come. And nearly 50 years after this book's publication, real-life would end up mimicking one aspect of the tale in a particularly gruesome way, when a real-life Richard Parker ended up being killed and eaten by his fellow shipmates after their yacht, the Mignonette, sank in a storm.

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11. Fjords Vol. 1 by Zachary Schomburg; $15

One of the best books to read in winter, "Fjords Vol. 1" by Zachary Schomburg.
"Fjords Vol. 1" by Zachary Schomburg / Black Ocean / Amazon

This frequently funny and often heartbreaking collection of poetry builds a surrealist world riddled with large refrigerators, unkind swans, stars lined up like teeth, and various observances of absurd deaths. Things thaw out of steep cliff walls, and even plane crashes are subsumed by terrifying silences. The speaker navigates an icy landscape of oddities, haunted all the while by the knowledge of the first poem, “What Would Kill Me,” an ominous and shadowy work which includes the line: “... And then, just like I knew it would, it came late one night, booming with slowness, from the fjords.”

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