With lazier days and more time indoors, winter comes with the distinctive benefit of having more time to spend with a good book.
What makes for good winter reading? In an article for The Guardian back in 2011, Alison Flood wrote about the booksellers Waterstones asking authors, “What’s your favourite fireside read, the book you go back to every winter?”
Ali Smith chose Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (“a piece of light: what better to keep you warm through the darker months?”), Jonathan Coe selected Sherlock Holmes – one of my own choices in this article – while Jacqueline Wilson chose Jane Eyre as a winter classic.
For me, it’s all to do with what goes with hot drinks, warm blankets, and a comfy sofa. On this list, I’ve included a few of my favourite books set in winter to retreat into. Sometimes a long book – with a hefty list of characters and an inner universe that’s hard to leave – is also the ideal companion to while away the hours with. At other times, a wholesome or mood-boosting novel is a welcome antidote to the gloomy weather outside. Or you may be longing for the satisfaction of finishing a classic.
Whatever your mood and literary appetite, here are a few fiction and non-fiction book recommendations to get you thinking about winter reading plans, from classic novels to low-stakes fantasy…
The best books to read in winter
1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
This bestselling debut by Eowyn Ivey oozes winter. Set on a 1920s homestead in remote Alaska, a couple’s lives are changed forever by the arrival of a wild and secretive young girl on their snowy doorstep. This girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods; she hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. But in this beautiful and violent place, things are rarely as they appear. It’s one of my favourite novels set in winter.
2. Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Now an HBO Original Series, Beartown is a novel about a small forest town with a big dream. By the lake in Beartown is an old ice rink, and in that ice rink the town’s junior hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals – which they actually have a shot of winning.
But unexpectedly, the match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatised and a town in turmoil. It’s an engrossing book about community, loyalty, and the responsibilities of friendship that’s perfect to read in winter.
3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation”… reading these opening lines is enough to make me firmly consider a reread of The Secret History.
The Secret History seems to be on every winter reading list. While it is an excellent novel to spark a hunger for classics and mystery-solving over the winter months, The Goldfinch is also a fantastically immersive monument of a novel to enjoy in wintertime.
4. The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
While I’m living in Copenhagen, it’d be impossible not to mention something Danish on this list of the best books for winter. The Danes turn winter into something cold and dark into something cosy, or hygge. Before moving to Denmark, I didn’t realise how central hygge really is to Danish culture. You hear it everywhere: a place is hygge, it’s hyggelig to meet someone or do something, a scary or uncomfortable situation is uhyggelig.
5. The Art of Coorie: How to Live Happy the Scottish Way by Gabriella Bennett
I love this little book about the art of coorie, Scotland’s answer to hygge to cope with long dark winters. I’ve shared before that it’s the perfect book to snuggle up for winter with and immerse yourself in the joys and simple pleasures of Scottish winters.
6. Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
Nothing much really happens in this slice-of-life book, but that’s exactly what makes it such an easy-going, wholesome comfort read for cozy winter reading.
Viv, a battle-weary orc, is hanging up her sword for the last time and aims to start afresh by opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success ― not to mention the fact that no one actually knows what coffee is. If you want to relax with a low-stakes fantasy novel, Legends & Lattes is an excellent choice.
7. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
At some stages in life, we’re full of energy, ideas, and motivation. Other times… not so much. Wintering is Katherine May’s bestselling memoir and guide to the power of rest and retreat in difficult times. If you’re struggling with low energy, depression, or feeling lost, this is the ideal book to read in winter or any other time of year.
8. Dubliners by James Joyce
The final words of “The Dead”, the last short story in Dubliners, are enough to make my winter reading worthwhile. It’s simply magical. I don’t want to give away the quote, I’ll just say – as I have before – that it’s worth getting to.
Dubliners, a short story collection, contains some of James Joyce’s finest writing. If I were to start my journey into Joyce’s fiction once more, it would be cold outside, I’d have a lot of time to spare, and I’d have an open mind. And perhaps a measure of whisky on hand. If you enjoy the experience, I have a lot of good things to say about Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man too.
9. Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps by Lucy Fuggle
I wrote Mountain Song while living in the heart of the Swiss Alps, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and glaciers. If I do say so myself, I think it makes for a relaxing retreat to Switzerland and some cozy winter reading.
10. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Folk tales, snow-capped forests, and magic in the depths of winter at the edge of the Russian wilderness… The Bear and the Nightingale is one of the best novels to read in winter.
As her beloved village’s defenses weaken and evil creeps nearer, young Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed to protect her family and community from the threats she thought only existed in her nurse’s most frightening tales.
11. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
As Sherlock Holmes himself would probably encourage as the weather gets chilly, dedicate a few hours to getting as comfortable as possible, putting your feet up, and solving some peculiar crimes. I think Holmes and Watson are the perfect companions for a warm reading day inside from the cold. This Barnes and Noble hardcover is my favourite edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, and the perfect classic book to read in winter.
12. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
To design mavens, Bernadette Fox is a revolutionary architect. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner. To fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace. And to 15-year-old Bee, she is simply Mom.
In Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, the quirky main character flees the anxieties of everyday American life for Antarctica. This makes for the perfect laid-back, easy-reading plot to immerse yourself in while imagining your own winter escape.
13. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
My reading of His Dark Materials as a child was very much like my Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia reading experiences: magical, warming, and otherworldly. In my rereads as an adult I’ve picked up on a lot I missed as a child – and it’s definitely not a lighthearted, superficial read – but with its polar bears, aurora, and snow leopards, it’s still the perfect book to read in winter. The first book of the series is Northern Lights, one of the best classic winter stories.
14. A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson
Following the success and blissful reading of The Summer Book, A Winter Book features thirteen stories from Tove Jansson’s first book for adults, The Sculptor’s Daughter (1968) plus seven of the beloved Finnish writer’s most cherished later stories (from 1971 to 1996), translated into English for the first time. Philip Pullman describes Tove Jansson’s writing here as: “as smooth and odd and beautiful as sea-worn driftwood…”
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.