We’ve officially crossed over into Deep Fall – when half the trees are bare and the wind is cold rather than crisp. Sara is still in a huff because it dropped to 19 degrees in Atlanta a few nights ago. (“What is this? OHIO?” she screams into the void.) Meanwhile, Brittany is arraying herself in sweaters and scarfs in Virginia and hoping it snows soon. (Sara’s feelings about snow are… unprintable.)
As the days get shorter and darker, one thing we can both agree on is that this is the perfect time of year to curl up with a good book. Last week, Brittany shared her reflections on Erin Morgenstern’s new novel, The Starless Sea. Something she didn’t mention was that, at the reading she attended, Morgenstern said she felt that The Starless Sea is a Winter Book (The Night Circus, for those who are wondering, is a Fall Book for her!)
It absolutely is – it is all snow and hot drinks and hidden forest cottages and secrets – and this got us thinking about our own favorite wintery reads – the books that are perfect to read by a roaring fire while nursing a cup of tea, the books we devour in cocoons of blankets while wearing our toastiest, most absurdly patterned socks.
So, with this in mind, we’ve written up a list of what we think are the best winter reads, a mix of novels and short stories and even poetry that will enchant and ensorcel you. Here are some of our favorites!
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern – Well of course! To hear more about this gorgeous novel, check out Brittany’s previous post.
Winter Rose by Patricia McKillip – We have both loved Patricia McKillip’s work since we were teenagers. She creates beautiful fairy tales and fantasies that feel like perfect crystal worlds inside of snow globes. Winter Rose is one of our favorites and one of the most wintry.
“The Witch of Duva” by Leigh Bardugo – This chilling story is a companion tale to Bardugo’s first novel, but it can be read independently too. This tale freezes you down to your bones as it offers a meditation on hunger, witches, and trust. You can read it here, on Tor.com.
“England Under the White Witch” and “A Country Called Winter” by Theodora Goss – Our friend Theodora Goss is a BOSS. You already know this if you’ve read her delightfully (and meticulously researched) Athena Club trilogy. She also writes gorgeous, sometimes melancholy, always though-provoking fairy tales. She achieves Peak Winter in “England Under the White Witch” and “A Country Called Winter”, both of which can be read online for free.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost – Hang with us while we go old-school for a moment. If you don’t have the time to dive into a novel or short story, but you still want a taste of magic winter, Frost delivers in these two classic poems. Read them on your phone while waiting for the bus or read them dramatically out loud at your family’s Thanksgiving dinner (if you do the latter, we absolutely want to know about it), and revel in the snow and ice.
Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor – This is one of our favorite books. Ever. It was written as a tie-in to Laini Taylor’s sweeping fantasy trilogy Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and, while we love the trilogy, this stand-alone story totally stole our hearts. If you want a quirky, wildly creative and enchanting winter love story, HERE YOU GO. Be sure to read the illustrated version, which ups the charm by at least 100%.
“The Dead” by James Joyce – This might be the most unexpected pick on our list. James Joyce is not exactly a staple for fantastic literature. But there is something about this short story that we both find profoundly haunting, and we think the last sentence is one of the most beautiful in English literature: “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.” You can read this one online too.
“The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell – Gaskell was a prolific and very famous writer in Victorian England. She wrote some interesting novels like North and South and Ruth, but we think she shines brightest in her ghost stories. The major climactic scene in “The Old Nurse’s Story” is set just before Christmas, and the intrusive, even sinister threat of snow and cold sets the tale’s tone. Read this one online here!
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – This list would not be complete without The Golden Compass (also published under the title The Northern Lights). Actually, we love the entire trilogy, His Dark Materials. Like, to the extent that Sara included a reading from it in her wedding ceremony. But The Golden Compass features polar bears, a quest to the aurora borealis, and a desperate rescue mission through snow and darkness.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – In many ways, Angela Carter is the fairy godmother of the contemporary feminist fairy tale. Her short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, is a tour de force through reimagined worlds where sleeping beauties are tarot-reading vampires and beasts remain beasts. Many of the tales in this collection unfold in wintery landscapes, but perhaps the most seasonal of all is her “Erl-King.”
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – If what you’re looking for is more in the vein of WINTER MURDER, look no further than this Agatha Christie classic. Featuring a train stopped by a snowbank and a murderer on the loose within the narrow corridors, this claustrophobic tale provides a puzzle perfect for a cold night.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Let’s face it, you can’t really write a winter-fantasy themed reading list without including the magical world cursed to remain “always winter, never Christmas.” Unrivaled for cozy reading by the fireplace, this is a winter classic for the ages.
Here are a few more titles on our radar that we haven’t yet read but are on our list for this year:
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
The Midwinter Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
What are your favorite wintery reads? Let us know in the comments!
Finally, we have a bit of Carterhaugh history for you!The very first piece of writing we ever collaborated on, to be exact. More than eight years ago, we were sitting by a swimming pool on a blisteringly hot summer day, so we decided to see what would happen if we tried to write a poem about the Snow Queen together. The result was “The Second Law of Thermodynamics,” and it was published in Nightblade Magazine and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Snag a free copy of this poem based on the Andersen fairy tale for your winter reading binge! Click here to get your free (and pretty!) printable copy!
P.S. We have also just opened up registration for our winter-themed mini-course, “Kindling a Light in the Darkness: Winter Folklore and Fairy Tales,” which we must admit goes PERFECTLY with this post, AND a self-guided “Introduction to Fairy Tales” course!! Check them both out here!