Sunday, December 14, 2008


It snowed like crazy here last night, and it's supposed to be below freezing and potentially snowy for the next several days. I am extremely happy, although there are some school things going on that really need to happen and that may not happen if they call a snow day. I love snow so much. Last night we all bundled up and went outside in the dark and made snowmen, threw snowballs, caught snowflakes on our tongues. I don't think I've ever actually seen snow on the freeway before. It was pretty nifty. I hear this winter's supposed to be colder than it's been in years.

Anyway, in recognition of the snow, I thought I'd go through the list of books I've read the past two years and pick out the ones I think are best read on a snowy day.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I can't recall that there's much snow in this book. I feel like there is, but I may be wrong. Even if it doesn't have the snow, it does have a certain element of warm fireplaces and really solid, paper smelling bibliophilia. It is a rather dense sort of book, and I always feel like dense books warm you up, which makes them rather good for winter. It's like the fact that they have a lot of plot amounts to insulation.

The book tells the story of a writer, Vida Winter, who invites a young, rather obscure biographer named Margaret Lea to her house in Yorkshire to write her biography. Through the years, every time a journalist has ever asked for her life story, Vida Winter has told them something different, and now that she is dying she wants to tell the true story at last. The book flickers between the story of Vida Winter's childhood and Margaret Lea's discovery of it, and it never quite reveals the whole story at once until finally it all comes to you in a whoosh. There's a lot in this book about families, and especially about twins, and generally I think the fact that I read it over a year ago and the details are still almost entirely clear in my mind says something for it.

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
Have I enthused about Tam Lin here before? It's my very favourite book, although not necessarily the very best that I have ever read. It's the sort of book that I want to foist upon everyone I meet, except that I couldn't stand it if they didn't like it so I have to pick and choose carefully who I foist it upon.

It is based, obviously, on the Scottish ballad of Tam Lin, only it is set on a Minnesota liberal arts college campus in the early 1970s. Our heroine is Janet, who is rather frank and thoroughly bookish, and an English major. My favourite part about the book is the way the fantastical elements are so perfectly woven in with the scenes of ordinary college life. It's not just the story of Tam Lin, either; there are other bits of fabulousness thrown in there.

Really, it's my book of all seasons. It covers almost four years, so you get a little of everything, and I've read it four or five times in seasons as widely varying as November and June. It is an eminently rereadable book--there are so many well placed and often hard to pick out literary references, and every time I read the book I'm able to find and understand a few more of them. But I doubt I will every get them all. There is definitely snow here--what stands out to me is sledding down hills on cafeteria trays.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Need I explain this one? People call the film versions Christmas movies, even though they're not Christmas movies in the same sense as Rudolph or Frosty the Snowman. Warm fireplaces, mittens, and cold snow, plus one big generally happy family. It's a good snow book. I am making myself want to reread it.

Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton
This is one I read a little bit randomly last January, because my mother brought home an advance proof and it looked interesting. I have to confess my memory of it is slightly muddled, but I know I enjoyed it a great deal. It involves old books, Johann Gutenberg, a couple of modern kids, and Oxford. There's some switching around of time periods, jumping from the story of an apprentice of Gutenberg to the two modern kids discovering this story, getting into trouble, and trying to keep a certain very special book from getting into the wrong hands. The book definitely has fantastical elements, and I suppose it's technically a kid's book. But it's very good, often exciting, occasionally creepy, and throws in some nice historical tidbits. And I do recall some 16th century German snow.

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