If you’re like me, you tend to read more in the wintertime. There’s something about all that cold outside that makes it even more enjoyable to curl up on the couch with a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and crack a book. In my house, den of bad behaviors that it sometimes is, this also comes with a pack of smokes and perhaps some chocolate. And, of course, no relaxing activity is complete without various furry bodies deciding that I am their cozy piece of furniture for a spell.
If you live in the Midwest like me, or some equally inhospitable climate, the temperatures are still being announced with wind chill factors, and there is likely a covering of snow with a thin layer of ice on top still outside your door. If you’ve found yourself in need of something new, here are my top five recommendations to get you through the remaining months of cold. In an attempt to appeal to eclectic readers like me, I’m giving you a very mixed palette of styles and genres.
#1) Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
This winter I’ve plowed through a list of Pulitzer Prize winners that I never got around to. I was not disappointed by any means, if anything this book actually surpassed my expectations. The narrative was brilliant, and the weaving of multiple story lines was absolutely flawless. You will fall in love with Calliope and you will route for Desdemona and Lefty with more passion than you do for your favorite sports team. If you haven’t read this book yet, what are you waiting for?
#2) Mice, by Gordon Reece
I wasn’t sure what to make of this book at first. Initially I thought it was, in fact, about mice. It took me almost the entire first chapter to realize that the narrator is only calling herself and her mother “mice” because of their meek characteristics. I was annoyed initially, but then realized that it was intentional and thought it was rather clever. Although the book description and the first couple chapters lead me to believe that the story was about bullying and fell under the heading of “young adult fiction,” it turned out there was much more there under the surface. Bullying is what leads the characters to their moral and psychological demise, I got that. But what I enjoyed much more were the telltale signs of a great suspense novel, I could not put this book down! My reading was often accompanied by dread, gasps, and exclamations of “oh my god!” This book is a hidden gem that I was lucky to stumble upon.
#3) The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist, by Matt Baglio
I told you it was an eclectic mix. The title alone, of course, grabbed my attention immediately. I’m not normally a reader of horror, but I do like a good scary movie. Among my favorites are movies about supernatural possession, so this book was right up my alley. Sometimes it was difficult to get really engaged in the narrative, I think because of the style in which it was written. It is at once apparent that it was written by a journalist and not a creative writer, so there’s some lack of emotional investment in the storyline. However, if you like to just learn about stuff that’s far outside of your realm, you’ll enjoy it. And you may find yourself a bit creeped out. Precisely because of the matter-of-fact tone, I had to remind myself, “Wait, this is…a real thing.” Exorcism is alive and well in the 21st century and, well, that’s disturbing.
#4) The Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
We return to my Pulitzer Prize winners list. Much like Middlesex, I was impressed with the author’s ability to blend geographical, personal, and historical narratives together so seamlessly. This kind of writing only reminds me how limited my own talents are, which, instead of making me feel envious, makes me want to strive for greater author achievements. I absolutely loved the main character, and often imagined myself in his position, wondering if I were physically incapacitated would I have the wherewithal to take on some enormous writing project. There must be a name for keeping readers engaged in multiple storylines simultaneously, but I don’t know what it is. I found myself intentionally putting this book down for days at a time, “saving” the last hundred pages or so, delaying bringing the novel to a close because I did not want it to end.
#5) Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant
This has just made my list of at least top twenty favorite books of all time. Over the years historical fiction has become one of my most beloved book genres. I now want to read everything Sarah Dunant has ever written. This story encompassed so many different themes I cannot list them all. But instead of being scattered, Dunant has put them into a prism, with each light reflecting and refracting into the next. I never knew that the cloistered life of nuns would be so utterly fascinating. That on its own would have been enough to hold my interest. Instead, the surface historical facts of “noblewomen” in Italy in 1570 was like a rabbit hole that the reader tumbles down to greater and greater depths of plot. This is a tremendously multi-faceted story without being fragmented into multiple plots. I cried, I cheered, I laughed, sometimes all in the same paragraph. Absolutely wonderful, and so perfect it should never be contaminated by being made into a movie.