11 Wintry Books That Aren’t Christmas-Specific
Winter is a great season for reading. It's the time of year when everyone comes together to eat and celebrate, sure, but it's also a prime time to cancel plans and snuggle under blankets by the radiator with a good book and a mug of the hot liquid of your choosing. But many (if not most) wintry books tend to also be heavy on the holly-jolly vibes. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love Christmas and most of its associated nonsense, like all those books and Hallmark movies where a curmudgeon learns the true meaning of the holiday by way of falling for a sexy baker/visitation by three spirits.
Maybe you don't love Christmas, though. Or maybe you just don't celebrate it. Or maybe you're more than a little sick of having Christmas shoved down your throat every time you walk into a drug store/supermarket/office/lobby/website/etc. Don't worry: you can still feel festive and have your wintry reading without the reindeer and the indoor pine trees. There are plenty of winter-related books out there that don't include Christmas at all, or that relegate the holiday to a fairly minor background event. Here are a few great winter reads that aren't Christmas-specific:
'The Golden Compass' by Philip Pullman
Christianity definitely exists in the world of His Dark Materials, but the books don't exactly advocate for mushy Christmas sentiments. Instead, The Golden Compass is a brilliant, holiday-free, snowy adventure through the frozen north of an alternate world. Young Lyra and her daemon Pan navigate witches and talking polar bears on their quest to save their best friend from an unspeakable fate in this modern fantasy classic.
'The Winter People' by Jennifer McMahon
Nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives with her mother and her sister in an old farmhouse that's completely "off the grid." It's her mother's idea of a more authentic life... but this backfires when Ruthie awakes one morning to find her mother has vanished into the Vermont winter. The only clue Ruthie can cling to is a strange old diary hidden beneath a floorboard... a diary that suggests her mother's disappearance just might be part of a larger mystery.
'The Bear and the Nightingale' by Katherine Arden
Vasilisa lives in a land of snowdrifts, where the Russian winter lasts most of the year. She likes huddling close on dark, chilly nights, and hearing her nurse's fairy tales. She especially loves the stories about Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon who hunts for human souls. But Vasilisa's new stepmother does not approve of such old fashioned nonsense. She insists that Vasilisa forget about these stories and stop honoring the household spirits... even as dangerous creatures begin to creep out of the woods.
'In the Midst of Winter' by Isabel Allende
A snowstorm is raging across Brooklyn, and human rights scholar Richard Bowmaster has just hit the car of Evelyn Ortega — an undocumented young woman from Guatemala who could use some help. Unsure how to handle this desperate case, Richard turns to his tenant, Lucia Maraz, and so begins a sweeping love story spanning decades and continents. It's a moving tale of humanity, romance, and the fight for justice in even the bleakest of winters.
'Blankets' by Craig Thompson
Craig Thompson spins magic out of a dreary Wisconsin winter in this beautifully illustrated romance. Blankets follows a young couple as they discover love for the first time, question their faith, and spend a lot of time looking all starry-eyed at each other in the snow. Like all the best high school love stories, it's awkward and utterly gorgeous from beginning to end.
'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey
Jack and Mabel live in the frigid land of Alaska, 1920. Childless and lonely, their marriage is starting to falter. Jack is struggling to keep the farm running and Mabel is drowning in despair. But when the two build a "snow child" during the season's first snowfall, they somehow stumble into a fairy tale reality where wishes come true... at a surprising cost.
'The Sisters of the Winter Wood' by Rena Rossner
Liba and Laya lead a peaceful life in their little village, sheltered from the anti-Jewish violence that is starting to spread from town to town. But when their parents leave the girls behind for a trip, Liba discovers an impossible family secret, and Laya falls under the spell of a troupe of alluring strangers, and both sisters soon find themselves plunged into a new life of danger and magic.
'The Five Daughters of the Moon' by Leena Likitalo
What if the Romanov sisters... but in a world of technology-fueled evil magic? This historical re-imagining follows five royal sisters in an empire teetering on the edge of revolution. It's hard to focus on revolution, though, when you're an 11 year old who just wants to hang with your dogs, or a 15 year old in love for the very first time... or a 22 year old who feels strangely drawn to the darkest kind of power.
'Pym' by Mat Johnson
Recently fired professor Chris Jaynes has long been obsessed with Poe's relatively unknown and unloved novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. But the discovery of a new manuscript suggests that this bizarre novel might actually be somehow true, and that there might be one last untouched African utopia way down by the South Pole. Pym is a hilarious, thrilling adventure to the icy Antarctic, featuring lots of monsters, goofs, and a scathing critique of racism in classic American literature.
'The Left Hand of Darkness' by Ursula K. Le Guin
Of course, if you're looking for a classic, wintry novel that avoids holiday cliches and broadens your own personal view of gender, then The Left Hand of Darkness is the only way to go. Science fiction queen Ursula K. Le Guin takes us to a planet known as Winter, where gender is not quite what we're used to, and where one human ambassador must learn the ways of an entirely new world.
'The Blizzard' by Vladimir Sorokin
Garin is a doctor, desperately trying to reach the village of Dolgoye with a precious vaccine to prevent the spread of a zombie plague. To get there, though, he must battle his way through a blizzard of epic proportions, an impenetrable snowstorm that defies reality and brings Garin face to face with all manner of strange, frozen adventures.