Books to Read on a Washington Snow Day

Here in mild Washington, snow days are called on account of rain, even cloudiness. Snow itself is just a forecaster's fantasy. So instead of seeding the clouds or moving to New England, create your own winter
wonderland: turn the heat down very low, wrap yourself in a plush blanket and open one of these frigidly good books. And then let me know what you read to bring your own temperature down.

1. Snow, by Orhan Pamuk (2004). I could hardly pass up a novel named Snow, could I? Especially one written by a Nobel Prize winner? An exiled Turk returns to his country for his mother's funeral, only to get stranded by endlessly falling snow in an isolated city riven by religious violence.

2. The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1940). In this, the sixth of the Little House books, Laura and her family are snowbound in a tiny South Dakota town. I haven't read this in ages, but I remember so clearly how shocked I was as a kid that houses could be completely buried by snow.

3. The People's Act of Love, by James Meek (2005). Snow plus the Russian Revolution plus an unnerving celibate cult! Naturally, excitement, murder and ill-advised coupling ensue.

4. The Voyage of the Narwhal, by Andrea Barrett (1998). What happens on the ice, stays in the ice. Until it doesn't. A trip to the Arctic to find Sir John Franklin's lost expedition itself founders in freezing waters and overweening ambition.

5. The Terror, by Dan Simmons (2007). Simmons has taken Franklin's hapless and horrifying expedition -- two ships stuck in the ice for over a year-- and added a monster. I'm just reading it right now so don't tell me what happens!

-- Rachel Hartigan Shea

By Christian Pelusi |  February 7, 2008; 10:08 AM ET Rachel Hartigan Shea
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Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun.

Posted by: M Street | February 7, 2008 11:00 AM

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg

Posted by: CJB | February 7, 2008 11:44 AM

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The snow itself is a character for the first half of the book. "It's always winter, but never Christmas."

Posted by: KLeewrite | February 8, 2008 9:47 AM

holy cow! the world's gone mad! anybody hear about the zadie smith prize that wasn't awarded?

Posted by: trufe | February 9, 2008 11:41 AM

Golden Age mysteries exude coziness. The most appropriate for a snowy day is, of course, Murder on the Orient Express.

Posted by: SC | February 10, 2008 9:08 PM

The Snow Queen by Joan Vinge.

Posted by: DK | February 11, 2008 9:13 AM

I can't believe I didn't think of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Of course, now that it's actually frigid in Washington, I'm wondering what to read to warm me up!

Posted by: Rachel Shea | February 11, 2008 11:31 AM

I'll second "Smilla's Sense" and add "Snow Falling on Cedars" by David Guterson.

Posted by: Leslie | February 12, 2008 10:23 PM

Let me interject some poetry here, since one of my nostalgic favorites is John Greenleaf Whittier's long narrative poem "Snow-Bound," subtitled "A Winter Idyl." When I first heard this read -- sometime in junior high school, I think, I loved the rhythm of this lovely depiction of what he calls a "lull of life." I've always loved snow days, which force us to slow down. So I encourage you, snow or no snow, to look this one up and take the time to read it. Here are some teaser lines from the poem, focusing on books:
"So days went on: a week had passed
Since the great world was heard from last.
The Almanac we studied o'er,
Read and reread our little store
Of books and pamphlets, scarce a score;
One harmless novel, mostly hid
From younger eyes, a book forbid,
And poetry (or good or bad,
A single book was all we had)..."

Sit with me by the homestead hearth
And stretch the hands of memory forth
To warm them at the wood-fire's blaze!

Posted by: Ev Small | February 13, 2008 11:08 AM

How perfect that is, especially on a Washington snow day that is actually cold and miserable. I'm almost done with Simmons's "Terror." I've been staying up way too late each night reading about frostbite, temperatures of 100 below and cannibalism (natch). Makes today seem downright balmy.

Posted by: Rachel Shea | February 13, 2008 11:25 AM

I'd suggest the quite extraordinary "The Left Hand of Darkness," by Ursula K. Le Guin, a novel I've just read (having been given that recommendation by many readers!). It's set on the forbidding planet of Winter, where gender is indeterminate and the inhabitants can be male or female depending on the intensity of desire or the abiding impulse of the season. It's an ice-bound world, but our hero soon finds warmth and even love there. Le Guin's central question, which fits in perfectly with the Rachel's, is: in worlds that transform themselves so radically from winter to spring, is it so surprising to think that much else is possible?

Posted by: Marie Arana | February 13, 2008 11:00 PM

Though it's not a novel, James Joyce's great short story "The Dead" must be considered among the greatest snow-centered pieces of literature of all time, with its wonderfully alliterative last line: "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end upon all the living and the dead."

As for novels, how about Dr. Zhivago?

Posted by: B. Woodlawn | February 14, 2008 11:27 AM

Beautiful poem and so is the quote from "The Dead." I was going to suggest Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and see that it has already been suggested. In the movie adaptation, it's hard to forget those scenes in the cottage where Omar Shariff and Julie Christie are shivering from the cold.

Posted by: Rhoda | February 15, 2008 4:54 AM

"Into Thin Air", a first person account by Jon Krakauer, concerns an ill-fated Mt. Everest climb. It's a gripping read, and some of the scenes and characters still haunt me years later.

Posted by: SML | February 19, 2008 8:30 AM

Try Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing on a cold and snowy day. It will make you appreciate the fireplace.

Posted by: Shirley S | February 25, 2008 6:32 PM

The first page of Philip Larkin's A Girl in Winter is the most moving after-a-snowfall writing I have come across. Larkin of course is known as a poet, but Girl is one of the two novels he wrote when he was insanely young.

Posted by: Mark Tarallo | February 29, 2008 11:58 PM

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