The weather outside might be frightful, but reading by the fireside or in your bed is one of the pleasures of life. With the frigid temperatures at this time of year – and the snow – you have a splendid opportunity to get comfortable and indulge in some reading without feeling guilty about “missing” something outside. With this in mind, we’ve made a list of eleven cold weather prose and poetry pieces from classical literature for your cozy enjoyment.
One: To Build a Fire, by Jack London (1908 version): This is a literally chilling tale of Man vs. Nature, involving the journey of a solitary traveler through the subzero Yukon Territory. London succeeds at making the reader really feel the cold. Unlike the remainder of our stories listed below, this story is best read in the coldest room of your home, so you can get the full effect! (Also, check out his The Call of the Wild, which also has a hibernal environment.)
Two: The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell: Right, now it’s time to get comfortable by the fire and enjoy the stimulating discussions of literary figures in the 18th century. There is a very “safe” feeling about Boswell’s writing, as if the cares of the world were swept aside among good food, wine, and great conversation — and the best part is that you feel like you are right there enjoying all of it.
Three: The Spy, by James Fenimore Cooper: This exciting tale of the American Revolution begins in winter of 1780, in upstate New York. We can all imagine those conditions, and Cooper helps us along with his forceful prose. This was the book that launched his career.
Four: The Dead, by James Joyce: Set against the backdrop of an Irish snowfall, this is a rather serious story of love and loss. It is one of Joyce’s earliest, before he became one of the chief practitioners of stream-of-consciousness, and also focuses on the Irish identity. It is included in his Dubliners collection of short stories, though it is really more of a novella, clocking in at 15,000 words.
Five: The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien: Naturally, this is an epic to last you for most of the winter, depending on your reading speed. The tale of Frodo’s journey across Middle Earth to rid the land of a pernicious, mysterious ring is full of Tolkien’s colorful and indeed pictorial prose. The weather conditions grow darker and colder with each chapter, though Tolkien’s storytelling mastery makes it feel like he is right next to you by the fireside.
Six: The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens: It is difficult to think of a more cheerful book than Dickens’ first novel, or of one more suitable to the comforts of a warm living room. The humorous symbiosis of Mr. Pickwick and his faithful valet Sam Weller, along with the charming Christmas scenes in the countryside, combine with the other jovial elements of the novel to make it a favorite for wintry reading.
Seven: Passing by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost: This is probably the best-known poem about winter in the English language. Frost’s simple diction and rich imagery combine to transport the reader to the snow-covered woods. At the same time, there is a deeper meaning to the poem – one which you can ponder while sitting comfortably and warmly at home.
Eight: Wynter Wakeneth All My Care: In direct contrast to the poem above, this is probably the least well-known winter poem in the language. Its author is unknown, though its message of man’s mortality is something we can all relate to. Make sure to enjoy the Middle English spelling, which takes one back to an earlier and simpler time. Please find the poem by clicking here.
Nine: How Like a Winter Hath My Absence Been, by Shakespeare: There are few aspects of the human condition that are not covered by The Bard, and certainly winter receives his poetic treatment. This poem, his 97th sonnet, is a poem about missing someone, and uses the different seasons as metaphors, while being rich with imagery.
Ten: The First Snowfall, by James Russell Lowell: One of the famous “Fireside Poets” of the 19th century, Lowell was a gentleman-poet from one of Boston’s old wealthy families. Despite its title, The First Snowfall is not a poem intended to celebrate the aesthetics of nature, but rather a piece that is intensely personal and evocative.
Eleven: Snow-bound, by John Greenleaf Whittier: Written by another member of the Fireside Poets, Snow-bound is a much more upbeat entry, focusing on the cozy comforts of being “snowed in”. Like The First Snowfall, it is excellent for being read aloud, especially in front of the fire!
–By Tom McKinley