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Cabin fever? Stories for the cold and snowbound

You think this is cold? Courtesy of the editors of Book World, here are suggestions for great books to curl up with:

1. Kim Stanley Robinson, "Fifty Degrees Below" (2005).
In the second installment of Robinson's trilogy of environmental doom, we learn that Al Gore was right, but it's too late! Global warming has stalled the Gulf Stream, first causing massive floods and then plunging the world into a brutal winter that just might finish off mankind. Washington is in a deep freeze, but some diligent scientists think they have a last-ditch solution.

2. Wayne Johnston, "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams" (1999).
This epic novel describes the life of Newfoundland's first premier, Joe Smallwood, from humble beginnings through near-death adventures to the halls of power. Hilarious snippets from the fictional "Condensed History of Newfoundland" add humor to this icebound story. I've been dying to visit ever since I read it.

3. Annie Proulx, "The Shipping News" (1993).
Early in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, a misfit loses his sick parents, his dull job and his humiliating wife. Distraught and aimless, he moves to Newfoundland and, against all odds, manages to cobble together the loving family he never had. Still the best book Proulx has written.

4. Per Petterson, "Out Stealing Horses" (2007).
In this quiet, brooding novel, an old widower moves into a remote cabin in snowy Norway. He expects to be spend his time alone in the cold, but he meets a neighbor who reminds him of a traumatic day, many decades ago, when they decided to steal some horses.

5. Claire Davis, "Winter Range" (2000).
When the Montana winter gets so fierce that it starts killing off a poor rancher's cattle, the sheriff
steps in to put the animals out of their misery. But the well-meaning lawman doesn't realize he's stirred up a long-seething resentment that puts his wife in grave danger.

--Ron Charles

I recommended these books this two years ago, while mocking Washington's pathetic snow days. No longer!

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

--Rachel Shea

And if your furnace isn't working, and you are desperate to say good-bye to winter, try these recommendations from an earlier post extolling summer reading:

1. Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury.
The most quintessentially summer book I know. For 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding in the summer of 1928 in Green Town, Ill. (for which you can substitute Anytown, USA, or at least you could some decades ago when I first read this classic), it's a magical season. To borrow Douglas's own labels, his summer is full of "Rites and Ceremonies" and "Discoveries and Revelations" and includes the luxuries of wild strawberries, front-porch swings, early evening games of kick-the-can and Mason jars of fireflies. Reading this book will slow you down. Bradbury chronicles a whole season of "June dawns, July noons, August evenings."

2. Summer, by Edith Wharton.
Among the lesser known of Wharton's books, but one Joseph Conrad called his favorite, Summer tells of a summer in the life of Charity Royall, set in a "sunburnt village." This is a deceptively simple story that raises complex questions and deals with complicated emotions -- the effects of pride, the implications of sexuality, the results of circumscribed possibilities, the power of traditions and the limits of responsibilities. A lot for one season.

3. The Greengage Summer, by Rumer Godden.
A dream-like story of the five thoroughly English, middle-class Grey children (ages ranging roughly from 7 to 16), whose mother decides to teach them unselfishness by taking them to visit World War I battlefields in France. Mother, however, falls ill, is hospitalized, and the children are left alone to deal with the foreign French and, at times, the even more foreign adults. Like the slow, hot summer, the book heats up, with the children observing and being influenced by the less-inhibited French. For the Greys, the greengage summer is a time to simultaneously take pleasure in and feel the pain of maturing -- physically and emotionally.

4. The Boys of Summer, by Roger Kahn, and The Summer Game, by Roger Angell (and you could throw in David Halberstam's Summer of '49).
My father was Commissioner of Baseball in my hometown, and he taught me to love the game (as well as teaching me how to throw, catch and keep score), so I have always loved baseball books. Angell's is a collection of his writings on baseball from the New Yorker in the 1960s; Kahn's is narrower, dealing with the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s. Halberstam focused especially on Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, at a time when baseball was truly the dominant sport in America. Going to a baseball game, preferably with my glove in my backpack and a scorecard for following the finer points, is always one of the highlights of my summers.

5. "Once More to the Lake," an essay by E.B. White.
Although this doesn't qualify as a book, I include it here in the hope that reading it might lead you to Essays of E.B. White (published in 1977), where it was reprinted after first appearing in 1941 in Harper's magazine. You can't go wrong with White. Everything he wrote speaks volumes, but here, in this depiction of one summer when White took his son to a lake where his own family had gone in his childhood years from 1904 on, is the essence of one man's memories of summer long gone: "Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweet fern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end."

--Ev Small

By Marc Fisher  | February 8, 2010; 1:22 PM ET
Categories:  More on the story, Story Picks  
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Some great choices here, and some new books for me. Thanks!

Posted by: gmm1 | February 8, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

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