The faithful companions for those dark, chilly nights
When outdoors the weather is chilly, hostile and uninviting, we are not left with much else to do, than to snuggle up in a warm blanket, make ourselves a nice cup of warm beverage and enjoy a good book. Of course, it doesn’t have to be cold outside to read a book. We should always find time for them throughout the whole year. Because they offer us a unique experience, something we can’t get from the TV and other media.
But winter gives a special feeling to it all. The hostile weather in contrast to the coziness and safety of our homes. The Danish people, among other pleasent activities, call it ,,Hygge”. It is the ability to feel comfortable, safe, happy and satisfied with yourself. It doesn’t have a simple translation, because Hygge is a lot of things – different experiences and sensations.
But we are about to focus on one particular aspect of a great Hygge experience. That of reading and enjoying great books, while you sip your hot chocolate. We invite you, to dive with us into rich worlds, not only of timeless classics from the olden days, but more recent ones as well. We shall explore different genres. From light, easily digestable stories to more deep, dramatic and influencing masterpieces.
So if you have come here, seeking only jolly Christmas tales for children… you won’t be entirely disappointed. Christmas settings will be common, but in general this article will try to encompass other aspects as well, which to me are fitting for proper winter books picks.
1. Everything of Charles Dickens
When the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer and colder. When it’s that time of the year, where the cities, towns, villages slowly begin to shine with colourful decorations. The city squares begin to fill with small cabin shops, offering wine and cookies. A special sort of joy, excitement and expectation fill our hearts.
Some may call this a Christmas spirit. I though, call it a ,,Dickensian haunting”. As if the ghost of the old victorian himself comes to haunt me every year at this time and makes me want to read another of his books. Or rewatch one of the many adaptations of ”A Christmas Carol”. Which will be the first one in our list.
Many believe that it was Dickens with his Christmas Carrol, who helped made Christmas what it is today and how we celebrate it. It’s a monumental work, which has inspired a dosen authors after Charles, not to mention the film adaptations.
For me, it is a concoction of emotions and experiences, which make it so great. It is also a very typical English novel from that time, because it has that eerie feel to it, or at least begins with it. The Victorians were very keen on spiritualism and you can notice the presence of beings from the extraterestrial world throughout various novels. The ,,eerie-ness” was one of the things, which made me love it. But not as mouch as the simple messege this novel delivers. Not only it makes you stop and think, but when you try and dive into what Dickens tries to tell you with it, is simply genious. Terifying. Shocking and eye opening.
You must, by now think, that I’m probably describing a horror story. Not at all. It is, after all, a common children’s book in our times. And indeed besides the harsh lessons it tries to deliver, it is no short of jolly, humourous and heartwarming sceneries. Especially the lovely ending. I highly recommend this – for kids and adults alike.
But to cherish only a single of his books would be a Humbug! There are plenty of others you can use to dive into the reality of the lower and upper classes of 19th century Britain. Another monumental novel of his is ”Great Expectations” from 1861. It is one of Dickens’ many novels, where the author in some sence reflects his own personal life and past into. Charles had a tough childhood. He was a child labourer in a shoe factory, where he got miserable pay and on top of that, he had a strong-willed and merciless father. So in couple of terms, he often writes about the children in Victorian times. About their struggle, hardships and poverty.
”Great Expectations” revolves around a poor, orphaned boy, Pip, in the countryside. He is taken into the care of his late mother’s sister, who isn’t famed for her kindness. An also – her husband, who is a blacksmith and a polar opposite of his wife, a gentle fellow with a big heart.
Without spoiling this magnificent story, I’ll note, that it encompasses the childhood and early adulthood of Pip. One night, when little Pip goes to the graveyard to visit his parents’ tombstones, he gets approached by an escaped convict. The ex-prisoner threatens the boy and forces him to bring him food to quench his starvation. That particular is pivotal for the boy. Because his life takes a sharp turn awfterwards.
I read that book in my 19s, but reading it, it didn’t feel as a children’s book, like some would say. It was an engulfing novel, which doesn’t let you go before you see what happens next. You should look for the original version though. Dickens wrote two ending of it, due to the pressure of his Victorian audience.
In adittion to those two books, I would also recommend Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, which I also put in my winter books collection.
2. Jo Nesbø’s ”Harry Hole” series
The Nordic nations of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland offer a unique setting for a special type of readers. The crimifans. With their long winters, dark nights and short days, a gifted author can give birth to various intense, thrilling and sometimes downright scary novels. Such talented auther is Jo Nesbo.
He was born in 1960 in Oslo, Norway, and in addition to a writer, he is also a musician, reporter and an economist. Jo wrote his first book in 1997, ”The Bat” (Flaggermusmannen). That was the beginning of his most famous book series with the renowned detective called Harry Hole. The ”Hole” series span between 12 books, with his most recent book ”Knife” (Kniv) hit the shelves this June. One of the series’ books (The Snowman) was recently adapted into the big screens.
He also has other series and characters, like the ”Olav Johansen” series. They include ”Blood on the Snow” and ”Midnight Sun”. Jo is author to few stand-alone novels as well, like ”Headhunters” and ”The Son”. Oddly enough, he is also author to a couple of children’s books, like the Doctor Proctor series.
Wether you are a veteran crimi fan or a rookie who just looks something to start with, Jo Nesbo has something for both. His utter genius and handling of the mysterious and the unknown will definitely keep you up and anxious in that cold, winter night. If you decide to make your first head-on dive into Jo’s world of crime, murder and suspence, I recommend you start with ”The Redbreast”.
3. Meik Wiking’s ”The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living”
Now how about we leave the dark side of Scandi literature and look into something more jolly. After all, which indexes, do the Nordic countries usually top up? If you thought the Happiness index, then you are no further from the truth. The last few years, that index has been topped by Denmark. Although together with Finland, they switch the first and second places by tiny bit year to year.
Third on our list is this smiling fellow. He is yet another Scandinavian author, who I plan to include in my winter books recommendations. His name is Meik Wiking from Denmark and is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute. Wiking is famous for couple of books, which became instant bestsellers: ”The Little Book of Hygge”, ”The Little Book of Lykke”, ”The Key to Happiness” and his most recent – ” The Art of Making Memories”.
By now you should have guessed what his genre is. I call him the ”writer of feel-good-reads”. This is so, because his novels are absolutely charged with positivity, good vibes and a simple desire to snuggle up somewhere comfy with a cup of tea and read.
While I recommend all of his books, one sticks out the most for me. And that’s the book I’d most want to accent on. I had the privilage to read ”The Little Book of Hygge” month and a half before Christmas. Because, as you will find out for yourselves, the cold months offer a special setting to practice and experience Hygge.
Meik tries to explain the term in detail, but it has no direct translation from Danish. Instead, it means a lot of different experiences, which could make you feel the Hygge. Without spoiling too much for you, there are many ways you could experience it. Not only alone with a book in your hand. That would be a severe understatement of the word.
Wiking has gone as far as writing food recipies in the book, desserts, drinks and activities. Heck, he even mentions lighting as a tool for a propper Hygge. But enough said, I’ll let you experience the whole thing by yourself. And I guarantee you, that after you read it, you would look upon the little things and joys in life, from a bit different perspective!
4. Stephen King’s ”The Shining”
To be honest, I hate to recommend novels from Stephen King. I also get uneasy when someone asks with which title to start. Why? Am I not a fan, you might think? On the contrary. I grew up with with King and he is responsible for many of my sleepless nights as a kid.
The problems come from the fact, that this genius of horror has so many great titles in his bibliography. So every time, when a rookie asks what should he or she read first, I start to flip through every book I’ve read to try and figure which one will have the best first impression. Stephen King and Charles Dickens have something in common. And that’s the fact, that they are being appreciated and renowned during their lifetimes. Not every author can be proud of that.
And how could The King not be? With over 60 published books in addition to dosens of short stories and more than 350 milion copies sold worldwide, King has earned his spot in the list of best selling authors of all times. And that’s just the books. He is also one of the authors with the most screen adaptations. There is a movie for almost every novel he’s written. In 2019 alone there were four stand alone movies made after popular novels. Two of which are remakes of old editions (”IT” and ”Pet Sematary”).
As he is one of my favourite authers of all times, I do wanted to include him on this list. But not only because of that, as you’re about to find out. I may find it hard to recommend King’s books, but it’s not hard to think of the perfect one when it comes to winter books. It is concrete – ”The Shining” from 1977. The Shining is a phenomenal, world-renowned and influencing novel. You could say it is pretty scary, but the suspence and sheer terror enrich it even more.
It revolves around a young american family of three from Colorado. A father (Jack Torrance), who is an author and former alcoholic, his wife (Wendy Torrance) and their little boy (Dany Torrance). As form of a getaway and a tool for inspiration for his writings, Jack accepts a job offer to be a caretaker in the Overlook Hotel, along with his family.
The hotel is a giant, luxurious ski resort up high in the Rocky Mountains. The building itself and its numerous halls, the surrounding mountainous landscape are indeed beautiful and inspiring. Due to the high altitude, the heavy snowfall, blizzards and closed roads, however, the large hotel is forced to close its doors for visitors from the Autumn months to early Spring.
But the hotel holds a sinister secret behind its walls. And a dark past, which the family will get to know first hand. I will not spoil it anymore for you. The rest you’ll need to find out for yourself, if you dare. I strongly recommend this as one of my top winter books. King also wrote a sequel to The Shining, called ”Doctor sleep” (2013), 36 years after the original.
5. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
There is something about British authors and famous detectives. There’s Sir Arthur Connan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Not saying that there aren’t other nations’ great examples, but as if that Island offers the right setting to inspire so many great novels.
Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie is the author with the second most sold book copies of all times. She is only behind William Shakespeare with over 2 billion copies sold. Yes, billion with a ”B”. Also, her works are translated into over 100 different languages. In 1971 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her enormous literary achievements.
This is the second crime addition to our winter books list. I picked Agatha Christie’s Poirot, because of his numerous thrilling cases, which could be a perfect fit for the cold, winter time. Such cases are the Murder on the Orient Express, which has had many screen adaptations. My favourite being the 2017 one with Kenneth Branagh.
Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes are perhaps the two detective giants of crime literature. While Holmes uses his sharp senses and skills of deduction, Poirot uses psychology. He (Poirot), always looks the motives of the suspects. Among other skills, he can skillfully put himself into the shoes of the suspects, while he tries to come up with a conclusion of a case.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is one of the most ”Christmassy” novels you could read. Especially if you are a crimi fan. It offers classic English upper class settings of old, large mantions with aristocrats who dislike each other. In this book, around Christmas time, Poirot needs to investigate the murder of a very rich, yet cruel person by the name of Simeon Lee. What is interesting, is that there are a lot of suspects, who would like to see Lee dead. So it’s up to Poirot to find the murderer and prevent further bloodshed.
Those were my personal 5 top picks for winter books recommendations. But below you will find other worthy titles, which you should also take into consideration.
6. The Steadfast Tin Soldier, by Hans Christian Andersen
“There were once five-and-twenty tin soldiers. They were all brothers, born of the same old tin spoon. They shouldered their muskets and looked straight ahead of them, splendid in their uniforms, all red and blue…. All the soldiers looked exactly alike except one. He looked a little different as he had been cast last of all. The tin was short, so he had only one leg. But there he stood, as steady on one leg as any of the other soldiers on their two. But just you see, he’ll be the remarkable one.” – Hans Christian Andersen
In this story, Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of one different, yet special tin Soldier and his love for a paper ballerina.
7. The Chimes, by Charles Dickens
”The voice of Time, ‘ said the Phantom, ‘cries to man, Advance! Time is for his advancement and improvement; for his greater worth, his greater happiness, his better life; his progress onward to that goal within its knowledge and its view, and set there, in the period when Time and He began. Ages of darkness, wickedness, and violence, have come and gone–millions uncountable, have suffered, lived, and died– to point the way before him. Who seeks to turn him back, or stay him on his course, arrests a mighty engine which will strike the meddler dead; and be the fiercer and the wilder, ever, for its momentary check!”
― Charles Dickens, The Chimes
The story is about an old messenger, who has given up on humanity. But through the phantoms, who haunt the bells of a local church, he is shown why he shouldn’t despair and loose hope on the people’s ability to improve.
8. Dracula, by Bram Stoker
“These friends – and he laid his hand on some of the books – have been good friends to me, and for some years past, ever since I had the idea of going to London, have given me many, many hours of pleasure. Through them I have come to know your great England; and to know her is to love her. I long to go through the crowded streets of your mighty London, to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is.”
― Bram Stoker, Dracula
In Dracula, Bram Stoker tells the story of the famous vampire, who after centuries in solitude wants to dive into the huste and bustle of the streets of Victorian London.
9. Sherlock Holmes – The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle
“Holmes took up the stone and held it against the light. “It’s a bonny thing,” said he. “Just see how it glints and sparkles. Of course it is a nucleus and focus of crime. Every good stone is. They are the devil’s pet baits. In the larger and older jewels every facet may stand for a bloody deed. This stone is not yet twenty years old. It was found in the banks of the Amoy River in soutern China and is remarkable in having every characteristic of the carbuncle, save that it is blue in shade instead of ruby red. In spite of its youth, it has already a sinister history.”
― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle
Holmes fans, rejoice! This is a combination of your favourite sleuth and a case on Christmas time.
10. The Revenant, by Michael Punke
“For the first time that day, he thought about the men who abandoned him. His rage grew as he stared at the doe. Abandonment seemed too benign to describe their treachery. Abandonment was a passive act—running away or leaving something behind. If his keepers had done no more than abandon him, he would at this moment be sighting down the barrel of his gun, about to shoot the deer. He would be using his knife to butcher the animal, and sparking his flint against steel to start a fire and cook it. He looked down at himself, wet from head to toe, wounded, reeking from the skunk, the bitter taste of roots still in his mouth. What”
― Michael Punke, The Revenant
You may know the Revenant from the famous movie, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio in 2015. This is a book about rage, vengeance and survival. A high recommendation for any winter books collection.