Lost In Winter’s Tales: Books To Satisfy Avid Readers

January 15, 2017

Whether there is a dusting of snow, bare ground, or thigh-high piles of winter precipitation, the chilly days of winter are an opportunity to hunker down with a good book. A comfortable chair and the glow of a lamp set the scene for losing oneself in a well-crafted tale.

Some readers will say it is historical fiction, others a brilliant biography, still others a fantasy that kindles the fire within and makes the hours disappear in a swirl of words and imagination.

Finding the right book to while away the dark days of winter can be a challenge. Friends, colleagues, and family are good sources for beloved books. Readers and writers (and many readers are writers and writers are readers) want others to be as excited about their discoveries, too. So, The Newtown Bee reached out to a few of the readers and writers in town to find out which books they would recommend for a cold winter’s night.

Author Harmony Verna suggested John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, “A beautiful and eternal classic that powerfully portrays the displacement and poverty of so many Americans during the Dust Bowl.” The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho, is Ms Verna’s second pick for winter reading.

“This book is life-changing,” she said of the book she called “a simple, yet profound story of one man’s spiritual journey.”

Justin Scott is another Newtown author with an idea for a good tale to while away the hours. “I recommend going to abebooks.com to buy a 1937 memoir called Horseless Carriage Days by Percy Maxim,” said Mr Scott. Percy Maxim, he explained, was a Hartford-based inventor of early automobiles in the late 1890s. The book, he said is a “fabulous picture of creative young engineers in old Connecticut.”
In addition to his own A Mosaic Of Newtown History collection of essays, ideal for shorter stints of reading, Town Historian Dan Cruson promotes Mr Scott’s books for winter reading. “I would also suggest any of the five mysteries written by Justin Scott, set in Newbury, a town not unlike Newtown. Any of Justin’s Isaac Bell mysteries, written with Clive Custler, are also a very good read, which I highly recommend,” said Mr Cruson, noting that The Spy has a character “strangely similar to one of our area’s town historians…”

“One of my very favorite books, and a perfect one to read as winter settles in, is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons,” shared Sue Kassirer. “Published back in 1932, it is a timeless parody of late-19th Century romantic/pastoral fiction. She is also currently captivated by Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. “In beautifully written prose, it ‘revisits the grotesque barbarities of our nation’s history in the interest of our common stake in freedom and dignity… an electrifying narrative of the past, profoundly resonant with the present,’ as the judges of the National Book Award said.
“Being a children’s book editor, I also have to recommend two children’s books,” Ms Kassirer added. Raymie Nightingale by Kate Di Camillo is one, and Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer is the other. The latter book was written by her mother in the 1960s. ““It’s a prefect read for ages 8 and up on a snowy winter’s day,” she said.

“One of the greatest pleasures I have had in reading is to follow one author’s series in order,” college professor Anne Rothstein noted, in sharing her thoughts on winter reading material. Among her favorite serial authors is Daniel Silva, “whose character Gabriel Allon is the main protagonist in his thriller and espionage series that focuses on Israeli Intelligence. Each year, I wait eagerly for the next book in the series,” said Ms Rothstein. The Women’s Murder Club by James Patterson is another series Ms Rothstein enjoys.
For Sue Roman, two books have had a big impact on her. “The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan is a fascinating look at the long history of the East-West interaction. Frankopan writes in an engaging way about how people, ideas, goods, religions, art, and commerce flowed through the eastern Mediterranean region,” Ms Roman said. The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement, by Reverend Dr William J. Barber II, is her second pick. “The Reverend Dr Barber is the Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, of our day,” she said of this recommendation.
Unbroken, A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, is the story of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, and Pat Caruso’s current choice for a good winter read. “Any book by Vince Flynn is always great. If you like espionage, CIA, current events, and a tough guy by the name of Mitch Rapp, you cannot go wrong,” Mr Caruso urged. Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher and Red Platoon by Clinton Romesha are two more books he thinks others will enjoy. “I am looking forward to reading Endurance by Alfred Lansing, the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his Antarctic voyage,” he added.

“I have rather eclectic tastes,” admitted resident Robert Schroeder, a retired research scientist. His suggestions for winter reading include Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, “an amazing story from the author’s life growing up in the Rust Belt of America.” Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, a novel of the 1930s; Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow; Da Vinci’s Ghost by Toby Lester; and The Strangest Man, the Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo are other books Mr Schroeder believes will keep a reader happy all winter long.

Of the main character in The Strangest Man, a book about Nobel Prize winner Dirac, Mr Schroeder added, “Some would say he was the real-life basis for Sheldon Cooper in the TV show Big Bang Theory, only even more strange in character.”

“My book of the year,” said Sydney Eddison, author and poet, “is A Man Called Ove, which I absolutely loved. A strong but gentle story, revealed rather than told. It stays with you when you come to the end. I finished it, then began to read it from back to front.”

Karen Pinto has found two books fascinating, both nonfiction. “The first one is called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot… It is about a poor, young black woman from Baltimore whose cancer cells were taken from her to experiment on, without her permission, in 1951. Those cells have been reproduced by the billions and used to help develop the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and much more. It reads like a novel,” Ms Pinto said. Her second recommendation for winter reading is The Soul of an Octopus, A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, by Sy Montgomery. “This book is a National Book Award finalist,” she said. “Did you know that an octopus is very smart and deeply emotional, playful, and personable, as well as ambidextrous? I didn’t,” said Ms Pinto, “until I started to read this book.”

A couple of books that Mat Kastner has found interesting are ones he believes others will, too. “Erik Larson in The Devil in the White City traces the conceiving and building of Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition World’s Fair, the ‘White City,’ as the author also follows a serial predator, H.H. Holmes, who lures women visitors into romance then does away with them. The book’s presentation of the lofty and the base propels it, along with portraits of major contributors to the fair, like architect Daniel Burnham, the organizer, the famous —but by this time elderly — landscape architect Frederic Law Olmsted, and George Ferris, who constructed the original Ferris Wheel for this world’s fair,” Mr Kastner said. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a novel by David Lagercrantz, is the fourth book “featuring the brilliant hacker Lisbeth Sanders and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist,” and Mr Kastner’s second suggestion. “The original trio of books by Stieg Larsson was so successful, that his family hired Lagercrantz to write a sequel,” Mr Kastner learned. (Stieg Larsson died before the series began publication.)

What article on books would be complete without some input from a librarian or two? Andy Forsyth, the C.H. Booth Library head of reference services, pitched in with her thoughts. “I really enjoyed A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression, by food historians Andrew Coe and Jane Ziegelman. The book is a social and political history of food production, changing culinary tastes, the growth in understanding of the importance of nutrition and the establishment of dietary standards, and the development of home economics in American life. And it contains some authentic, vintage recipes to try,” she said. “For a snowed-in weekend, a fast-paced thriller is always a good choice,” Ms Forsyth said, and added that Stuart O’Nan’s “short but satisfying” City of Secrets, set in 1945 Jerusalem, gets another vote from her. “With lots of winter left, I am looking forward to reading up on ‘hygge,’ the Danish concept of joyful coziness,” said Ms Forsyth.

C.H. Booth Young Adult Librarian Kim Weber has a favorite series for winter reading. “A Great Reckoning is the twelfth book in the Inspector Gamache series written by Louise Penny, and the perfect winter read. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec is often called to Three Pines, a quintessential small town where everyone knows your name; it’s also a town where people get murdered on a fairly regular basis. The characters are quirky and endearing, the plots are complex and scattered with clues that will keep you guessing, and descriptions of the food shared in Clara’s kitchen will inspire you to make your own bowl of French onion soup and crusty loaf of bread. Start with Still Life and continue with the rest of the series. Spring will be here in no time,” she guaranteed.

Also affiliated with the library, antique books expert John Renjilian weighed in with suggestions for winter reading. “I pretty much read about books, or about history… So given the limited parameter, I’m now reading two books: Peter Welsh, Tanning in the United States to 1850, a Brief History, and Joseph Ellis, Revolutionary Summer, the Birth of American Independence. Given an interest in American history, I would recommend anything written by Ellis, Gordon Wood, Edmund Morgan,” good history, he offered, and good writing.

A volunteer with Friends of the C.H. Booth Library, Toni Earnshaw offered two books that she wishes she could read again for the first time. “I’ll recommend two books that have been around a long time but are worth reading, or rereading this winter for two reasons. One, they are hilarious and two, they both take place in hot, steamy settings. The first is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and the second is Sick Puppy, a novel by Carl Hiaasen. The first takes place in New Orleans, the second in south Florida, and each is populated by unforgettable, over-the-top characters that will make you laugh out loud,” she said.

Laugh, cry, think, debate, shiver, or dream. These suggestions only are a dusting of books that are out there, waiting to be read, waiting to make this cold season just a bit more bearable.