Wintry Reads 

Sometimes I like to read seasonally, maybe especially in winter. When there’s snow outside and snow falling in my book, I feel that much more immersed in the season. Here are a few snowy reads if you want to go all in for winter. 

Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod, by Gary Paulsen 

I can’t even begin to imagine wanting to experience the kind of discomfort and danger Gary Paulsen describes in this book about racing across Alaska with his dogs. Frostbite, dog fights, hallucinations—no thanks! But sometimes it’s fun to read about someone else’s crazy idea of a good time. And if it’s not your favorite thing to get into a cold car these winter mornings, maybe you’ll feel that much better reading about what it’s like to emerge from a sleeping bag and start your chores (outside of course) when it’s fifty below. Amid the near-death experiences, some charmed moments: like when a chickadee perches for half a day on the hood of Paulsen’s parka.  

The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann 

Sometimes in winter you want a long book. Something substantial waiting patiently on your bedside table. Something you can live alongside for a while. The Magic Mountain is an especially good candidate in winter because it’s got what has to be one of the most terrifying blizzard scenes in all literature. It’s also a good novel for reading at a leisurely pace, all the better for witnessing the slow transformation of the main character, who goes to visit his cousin at a Swiss sanitorium for tubercular patients and ends up staying there himself for seven years. Time warps at the sanitorium, and the lines between sanity and madness, and health and illness waver. Nothing about any of this sounds funny, yet somehow this is a most amusing book. I laughed out loud twice. 

The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen 

“In the clearness of this Himalayan air, mountains draw near, and in such splendor, tears come quietly to my eyes and cool on my sunburned cheeks … My head has cleared in these weeks free of intrusions—mail, telephones, people and their needs—and I respond to things spontaneously, without defensive or self-conscious screens.” Peter Matthiessen wrote this in October 1973—how much more do our heads need clearing of intrusions now. Reading this book, and following Matthiessen’s gaze as he treks across Nepal with a biologist friend who studies Himalayan blue sheep, clears my head a little. Matthiessen’s gaze takes in so very much, and when it isn’t trained on his path through the mountains, on every variety of wind and effect of the sun, it’s trained inward. A student of Zen Buddhism, he goes along with his friend in search of the elusive, rarely seen snow leopard that hunts the blue sheep, and also in search of enlightenment. Spoiler alert: There’s plenty of snow in this book but maybe no snow leopard. And maybe it’s better that way. 



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