18 books for winter: feel-good novels, big books, and classics for colder weather

With lazier days and more time indoors, winter comes with the distinctive benefit of having more time to spend with a good book.

Sometimes a long book – with a hefty list of characters and an inner universe that’s hard to exit – is the ideal companion to while away the hours with. At other times, a mood-boosting and feel-good 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 novels to get you thinking about winter reading plans.

Immerse yourself in the intricate world of a big book

With War and Peace being so high on my list of best-loved novels (a book I tend to read in summer), it’s perhaps not unexpected that other big books follow close behind.

1. Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series, starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

“Normally seven minutes of another person’s company was enough to give her a headache so she set things up to live as a recluse. She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding.”

2 & 3. The Secret History and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

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, you could also give The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt’s third, most recent, and very beautiful novel – a try.

4. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I’ve been buried in this novel all weekend: a story of four young men who, having met at college, grow and navigate the realities of their past and present in a web fraught with difficulty, yet never far from art, beauty, and acquiring greater knowledge.

It’s painfully sad at times (at many times) and should probably come with a trigger warning, but the novel says so much about love, friendship, and what we dedicate our lives to. The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015, and arguably a good pick if you like Donna Tartt’s novels.

5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

One of the ultimate books about books, The Shadow of the Wind is a beautiful book – set in Barcelona – to read in winter, whether read in the original Spanish or in translation.

“Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”

6, 7, 8. His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia, or The Harry Potter series

You could also delve into the expansive and magical worlds of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, C.S. Lewis’s wintery Narnia, or J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts.

Spend a cosy weekend with a lighthearted novel

9. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

If the Queen of England were to really stumble upon a mobile library while in pursuit of her corgis, Alan Bennett’s imagining would undoubtedly be the result.

“What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.”

10. Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson

A marvellous first-hand account of an American in Britain.

“By the time I had finished my coffee and returned to the streets, the rain had temporarily abated, but the streets were full of vast puddles where the drains where unable to cope with the volume of water. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you would think that if one nation ought by now to have mastered the science of drainage, Britain would be it.”

11. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project quickly became a favourite lighthearted novel of mine when I read it in early 2014. Meet Don Tillman, a professor of genetics whose talent lies in cultivating order and certainly not romance. Follow his trials, failures, and transformations, and turn your life around a little in the process too.

12. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

“There are only two things I can do better than most people. One of them is to make vodka from goats’ milk, and the other is to put together an atom bomb.”

13. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

“Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.” – From the publisher

In Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, the protagonist flees the anxieties of everyday American life for Antarctica. This makes for a good plot to immerse yourself in while imagining your own winter escape.


Find wisdom in a literary classic

14. The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

“Home is behind, the world ahead,
and there are many paths to tread
through shadows to the edge of night,
until the stars are all alight.”

15. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

As Holmes himself would probably encourage as it gets chilly, dedicate a few hours to getting as comfortable as possible, putting your feet up, and making some deductions.

16. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A classic book for parenting, morality, and snowman building.

“Atticus strolled over to Miss Maudie’s sidewalk, where they engaged in an arm-waving conversation, the only phrase of which I caught was ‘… erected an absolute morphodite in that yard! Atticus, you’ll never raise ’em!’”


17. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

This is my favourite by Charles Dickens: a novel full of life lessons, although one that never fails to sadden me somewhat. I still come back to it time and again.

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

18. Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners, a short story collection, is where it all begins for James Joyce. 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 a very 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.


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