10 Non-Christmas Winter Reads
December is here, and that means the season of cozy reading has begun. Don't get me wrong, Fall reading can get pretty cozy: few things are better than holing up in a coffee shop with a novel and several scarves. But winter reading reaches that next level of comfort. Long nights, hot chocolate, fuzzy socks — it's a cozy reader's paradise.
December also means a solid month of ramping up to the holidays. Just a couple of weeks ago, we were all eating turkey, but now every major shopping center in America is decked out in green and red and blasting The Jackson 5's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" on repeat. And that's fun — but not everyone celebrates Christmas. Or maybe you do celebrate Christmas, and you still need a break from 24/7 tinsel and pine needles.
There's no wrong way to do the holidays, but sometimes you want a solid winter read that doesn't focus on flying reindeer. Or a winter book list that doesn't include A Christmas Carol. Maybe you're looking to celebrate Hanukkah with some top-notch literature. Whatever your December celebrations look like, these books will give you that cozy winter feeling without buying into Christmas mania. Take a look for some wintry reading material.
1. Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
New York City has been plunged into a dark and windswept winter. And Peter Lake, a mechanically-minded thief on the run, has decided to rob a mansion. Instead, he ends up falling madly in love with a beautiful but sickly woman. From there, Winter's Tale takes us across the country and through a century, spinning a strange, many-layered story about fate, flying horses, and love in the bitter cold. It's a fantasy and a romance, but it's also a love-letter to cities in the winter.
2. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
What says "winter" like the Ice Age? A clan of neanderthals stumble upon a strange little girl, left orphaned by a natural disaster. She is one of the Others (or as we would call them, homo sapiens), but she is raised by the Clan of the Cave Bear, a proud people surviving in a harsh Ice Age landscape. Little Ayla grows up to be a fierce huntress for her adopted tribe, but the new Clan Leader is not pleased by her non-traditional ways. Jean M. Auel does pre-historic coming-of-age like no other.
3. The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Lisa Brown
Yes, it has Christmas in the title and yes, it is a picture book, but The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming is still brimming with Lemony Snicket's signature wit. And even though it claims to be a Christmas story, Snicket and his Latke are here to teach everyone a good old-fashioned Hanukkah lesson (and the Latke screams just as much as advertised). If the holidays make you, too, feel like screaming, or if you just enjoy talking, potato-based holiday foods, this is the book for you.
4. Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
What's the one thing that the holiday season is missing? Vampires. Swedish vampires, to be exact. If your favorite part of winter is the cold and the dark and the lurking feeling of despair, try reading Let the Right One In. A sad, rage-filled little boy and a bloodsucking little girl strike up a friendship while everything around them becomes a cold and gruesome nightmare. It's creepy, disturbing, and wonderfully well-written.
5. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Sammy Clay is a young writer in Brooklyn, looking for someone to bring his comic book dreams to life. Joe Kavalier, his cousin, is a Jewish artist who has just escaped from the Nazis in Prague and made it all the way to New York City. Together, they're going to create a hero, one who will hopefully help them escape their own troubles. It's not strictly a winter-time book, but it's a beautifully-executed escape from the cold. A perfect read for anyone with big dreams (or anyone who likes coming up with punny names for comic book villains).
6. Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
This is the third book in a series, but it also stands alone as a coming-of-age story about a trainee witch and how she becomes entangled with the ancient romance between Summer and Winter. 13-year-old Tiffany Aching has drawn the attention of the Wintersmith, who wants to make her his icy queen. It's a fantasy alive with humor (Terry Pratchett always delivers on that front), and full of take-charge women trying to put the seasons back where they belong.
7. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
If you enjoy meta-fiction, or meta-meta-fiction, or books with 10 first chapters, then you must read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler at once. It's a romantic comedy about two readers finding each other in the search of the ending of a book. It's a solitary tragedy about the nature of reading and the quest for closure. It really does have 10 first chapters — each of them either hilarious, disturbing, mysterious, or adventurous. Because every time the Reader tries to read If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, it seems to be a new book entirely.
8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
There's something about the winter that lends itself well to short stories. And if you're fond of short stories, you can't do much better than Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies (she did win a Pulitzer, after all). Her stories are contemplative, and for the most part, bittersweet. She covers everything from unhappy marriages to civil war. Many of the stories deal with the immigrant experience, and her characters are specific, but her insights are universal.
9. White Fang by Jack London
Freezing weather! Savage fighting! Puppies! A half-wolf, half-dog pup is the only survivor of his litter in the bitter cold of Northwest Canada (try not to burst into tears before reading the book). Things takes a turn for the worse when he is bought by a horrid man who intends to use our furry hero for dog fighting. Be warned, reading this book might cause you to donate all your savings to the ASPCA. It's a Jack London classic, about doggies and the harsh realities of life in the far north, and (spoiler alert) about salvation and the power of being kind to animals.
10. Blankets by Craig Thompson
A graphic novel that deals with Christianity and struggles of faith, but still a far cry from a Christmas book. Instead, Blankets is a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel about young love in the snowy world of a Wisconsin winter (best enjoyed while under a blanket yourself). Anyone who's ever experienced the hormonal rush of a young romance will identify with the characters as they stumble into adulthood. The writing is full of humor and heartbreak, and the drawings capture the beauty of winter.
Images: Ondrej Supitar/Unsplash