Ah, autumn. Days and nights are cooler, leaves are dying in bursts of color, and we’re drinking pumpkin-spiced anything we can get our hands on. Soon winter will be here, with that brisk chill that makes us long for steamy summer days when we longed for this winter.
Earlier this year, I asked you to recommend books to take on summer vacation. Man, did you come through! We ran a selection in the newspaper, and I’d like to do it again for the cold seasons.
I’ll say now what I said then: You can read any kind of book at any time. However, I’m drawn to a different kind of book in cold weather than I am on summer vacation. I’m in a different frame of mind. I’m not baking in the sun about to doze off at any second or half-planning what my next tourist stop will be. In winter, I’m on the sofa in sweat pants, my feet tucked beneath me, drawing warmth from my woolly blanket and long-haired cat (cats are brilliant in winter). Occasionally I’ll look up to contemplate the grey sky, gaze at the drizzle turning the fallen leaves to mush or watch bundled-up people hurry by. I think how lucky I am to be in this moment, warm and comfortable, yet having a glorious adventure through the pages of a book.
Yes, that about sums it up — I want to stay in one place and watch my characters go while I revel in how content and peaceful I am. So here are my top reads for whiling away a cold, dreary day while you’re safe and snug inside.
“Wuthering Heights,” by Emily Bronte
No one does bleak like a Bronte sister, especially Emily. “Wuthering Heights” is not so much a love story as a passionate one. This book has a great atmosphere to read about, yet not inhabit — wild and fraught and crazed. It’s full of characters you don’t want to meet, moors you don’t want to roam and houses you don’t want to enter. “Wuthering Heights” is great to curl up with not just because of its intense characters, but the intense emotions it spurs in readers. Most people love or hate this book, and it’s easy to see why: Heathcliff, Cathy and the rest of the Earnshaws and Lintons themselves stagger along the thin line between love and hate, taking readers along for the ride. Like the wind that rattles the treetops and the whirling snow, Heathcliff is himself a chaotic force and nature — fun to watch, not to experience.
“The Great Typo Hunt,” by Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson are like Odysseus except there are two of them and their monsters are less vicious. They travel the United States correcting typos wherever they see them — store signs, restaurant boards, any public notice. They get permission (usually) and people are bemused, yet accommodating. Except the federal government. When Deck and Herson correct a typo at the Grand Canyon, they are charged with defacing federal property. The government is not amused when they point out the typos in the federal complaint. Deck and Herson are copy editing heroes; they had the guts to do what the rest of us only dream about. Their quest across America is not the wildest ride, but it’s smart, fun and deliciously cheeky.
“Lionheart,” by Sharon Kay Penman
If your last name is Penman, I think you’re obliged to make a living as a writer. Penman has written numerous historical novels, and “Lionheart” is the first I picked up. I wasn’t sold at first; the first segments bounce between the points of view of half a dozen female characters, which is disjointing. Penman settles down once she introduces Richard I, the Lionheart himself, who is leading a crusade to the Holy Land. She introduces dozens more names and attempts to explain about as many family trees; don’t worry about it. There are a handful of characters she mentions enough that they become familiar, even well-developed, and keep the story coherent. This novel is one big adventure as Richard leads his troops against “the infidels” and his fellow Christians who combine against him. Although Richard is excellently drawn in this book — brave, brash, poetic, unexpectedly introspective at times — it is his wife Berengaria who fascinates. This dutiful, devout woman tagged along with Richard to the Holy Land, and it is unclear how much time she spent in the country of which she was queen. Detailed yet thoroughly engaging once it gets going, “Lionheart” is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the Crusades without suffering through them.
“Allison Hewitt Is Trapped,” by Madeleine Roux
For someone who really doesn’t like zombies, I sure mention a lot of zombie books on this blog. I’m happy to make an exception for Allison. She’s a grad student trapped in a bookstore with her co-workers, living off a dwindling supply of soda and snacks. The patrons don’t want to pick her brains as much as eat them. Allison knows she can’t stay in the bookstore forever. Her goals are to get free, get her mother, and get to the enclave Liberty Village, where they’ll be safe. She blogs about her progress, and it’s this storytelling format that carries the story; her spaced-out entries and comments from other trapped people give the book an eerie quality. Allison herself is smart, sassy and brave, a worthy heroine with whom to spend a cold afternoon.
Can you recommend a good book to curl up with on a chilly fall day?