Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What to Read.... Winter Places, Winter Books

Winter Places, Winter Books

On the day of my December book signing here in town, it rained.  It was cold, it was grey, the type of weather that rules the day and places demands on sartorial choices.  High heels were passed over for wellies.  Lovely manicures were hidden inside woolen gloves.  One friend who knows a few of my peccadillos greeted me that day by saying, “I saw the weather this morning and thought... ah, a perfect Pamela day”.  
She was right, of course.  I do love grey and rainy days, and if the temperature drops as well, all the better.  Days like that are fun for me to ramble around it, as they cast a romantic spell on every ordinary street.  They drape each house with a nimbus of mystery, convert every glowing window to an augury.  Days like that work wonders on interiors as well, as everyone discovered at that rainy day book signing.  Ordinary nooks become cozy, everyday chairs take on the comfort of nests.  It’s the perfect weather for knitting, for baking, for napping.  It’s the perfect weather for reading!
So far this week, each morning has delivered grey skies - cold rain unceasing.
I have been doing a lot of reading in my cozy rooms.
(Edward has been doing a lot of napping up his his favourite chair.)

Here’s some winter places, some winter books.
With little stories included to influence your mood.
I hope you’re enjoying winter as much as I.
Just click on each book to see more.

You’ve just seen the last guest off, closed the door on the cab and waved goodbye as it disappeared into the miasma of mist that is the only remnant of a rain that pelted the windows all during dinner.  More for atmosphere than necessity, you’d lit a fire in every room downstairs before they all arrived, but it turned out to be a balm to the evening.  Who knew it was going to turn so cold?  Dinner had been a success, though.  The drama of the weather served as a atmospheric soundtrack that seemed to coax the best stories, the most convivial conversations, out of everyone.  Even old Mrs. Lancer had a good time, though she’d never admit it tomorrow.  Leaving the dishes till morning, you pour yourself a small brandy and walk through the house switching off lights till you come to the sitting room.  The fire still flickers.   You glance at the stack of books beside the piano.  Oh why not stay up a little longer?  You’ll sleep in tomorrow.  As the fog thickens outside the window, you pick up the first book.

The All of It
 by Jeannette Haien
One of the wonderful things about Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee is the gentle enthusiasm of its employees.   Readers all, they possess both impeccable taste and an uncanny ability to recommend the perfect book for each customer they speak with.  So it was that on my last visit, I left with The All of It in my shopping bag.  
The All of It was written by Jeannette Haien who spent most of her life as a concert pianist.  This was her first book, published when she was in her sixties, a time when wisdom and ability coincide in extraordinary ways.  Deceptively short (you can read it in one sitting if you choose, though so pleasurable a read, you might prefer to stretch it out longer. I did.), it carries a weight of beauty untapped by most books of longer length.  Chapter One starts with a fly-fishing priest, standing in the rain, casting his line over and over as he considers the knowledge that came to him the day before at the deathbed of a parishioner. You won’t soon forget this one.

The Liar’s Club
by Mary Karr
There are great writers all over the place, really.  But some of them possess not only the ability to tell a great story, but to do so in a language oddly unique.  Mary Karr is such a writer.  The Liar’s Club is the first book in her autobiographical trilogy and it is incredibly entertaining even, or especially, when it is covering material jaw-droppingly raw.  Written with the love and acceptance only earned through forgiveness, The Liar’s Club pulls back the curtain on a Texas childhood and leaves us with much to think about and admire.  I highly recommend it.

The French Dog
 by Rachael Hale
Just look at that cover.
All I need to say is that there are many, many more photographs
 every bit as charming as this inside.  Plus the stories behind each.
Nope, I don’t need to say more.


Though you left the city in plenty of time to arrive before darkness, you hadn’t counted on lingering in that little pub outside Fort William as long as you had.  But the ceilidh, unexpected and delightful, had torn a two hour hole in your schedule causing you to arrive much later than you’d wanted, under a black sky that permitted no stars.  Tired after the drive, you’d pulled the large key from your bag, unlocked the green painted door and without much investigation of your new surroundings, fallen straight into bed.  Now, upon waking, you wander through the cottage, pleased as punch at the comfortable rooms that are yours for a month.  There are ample stores of shortbread and tea in the kitchen, a towering stack of firewood beside the door.  Yes, this is just what you need. Four weeks here will do you a world of good.  
You open the back door for a look around.  Standing frozen in the doorway, you swallow hard.   It was true you’d told the estate agent you’d needed solitude.  True also you’d whined for a month about needing to get away by yourself for a while.
  But this is far outside your expectations.  You begin to laugh. 
  Later, after a hot breakfast, you wander the rooms of the cottage
 till you come to a tiny library of sorts, all tartan rugs and deep-silled windows. 
 There are old copies of Punch arranged on the ottoman. 
 Shelves of books by Benchley, Wodehouse, Parker and Wilde.  
Even a few copies of Efron, Sedaris and Fey.
  Clearly, the owner of this place understands that, for some, stark solitude can occasionally be an invitation to Churchill’s black dog.  He also understands that laughter banishes that creature like nothing else.  As you pull on your coat for a brisk walk in the hills, you can clearly see yourself back in this room at teatime, chuckling over a classic book. Yes, this is just what you need for a month.

My Life and Hard Times
by James Thurber
Whenever I feel myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp drizzly November in my soul;... whenever it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off - then.... well, unlike Ishmael... I don’t head for the sea. 
 Instead, I reach for James Thurber.
This little book, one of his best, is the book I grab.  
It’s the one I push on friends who are feeling sorry for themselves;
 the one I slip into every get-well basket.
Such charming, wonderful wit.

by Clyde Edgerton
A lot of people try to write about the South.  We are a land of drama, humour and contradictions many and varied, all of which are catnip to a novelist.  But writing about the South is a tricky business and few seem to possess the unique talent for painting an accurate portrait of this part of the country, no matter how moved they may be by our history, our beauty, our stubborn singularity, to do so.   As the great Southern writer, Flannery O’Connor once said, “Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic”.
Few books get it right. One book that did was Raney. 
 The story of a Southern girl who marries a Northern boy,
 it’s sweet and funny, and spot on.

The Best of Wodehouse
by P.G. Wodehouse 
Introduction by John Mortimer
It’s not just Jeeves and Wooster that make the Wodehouse books so much fun. 
 These books contain a whole cast of characters that never fail to entertain.
  With names like Augustus “Gussie” Fink-Nottle,
 Marmaduke Chuffnell, and  Gwendolen Moon. 
 Honoria Glossop and her brother, Oswald. 
  There’s the antagonistic D’Arcy “Stilton” Cheesewright
 and Gwladys Pendlebury, the artist. 
 There’s Bertie’s formidable Aunt Agatha and her terrier, McIntosh. 
 There’s even a Marxist revolutionary named Comrade Butt.
The world of Wodehouse is pure escapism to a land so refreshingly silly
 you’ll never wish to leave.  
And if you’ve never seen the Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie versions...
 well, waste no time in doing so. 
 Find them HERE.

The snow fell all night long and now, bright as a celestial blanket, it covers everything.  A weak winter sun regains the prowess of June as it bounces off the snow and streams through the windows, every bit as white-dazzling as a summertime noon.  The lilies on the landing, newly purchased to soothe your wishes for Spring, become incandescent.  You stop to admire them as you make your way upstairs, a cup of tea and an apple balancing precariously atop the stack of books you’ve just retrieved from the library.
Reaching your room, you place the tea cup on the night table
 and let the books fall on the bed. 
 This is where you’ll be till dinnertime, reading and planning,
 dreaming, of the trip you will take in the Spring.

The Great White Owl of Sissinghurst
by Dawn Langley Simmons

From the Lighthouse to Monk’s House
by Katherine Hill-Miller

A Cezanne in the Hedge
and Other Memories of Charleston and Bloomsbury 
Edited by Hugh Lee


When your Aunt Kate was in her fifties, she developed a passion for skiing that became too strong to ignore, eventually enticing her to sell the family home in Mississippi and move to Vermont.  She settled in Stowe, in a century old farmhouse with racing green shutters and a wide screened-in porch.  You like to sleep on that porch when you come up every July for the balloon festival.  But today on this frigid February morning, the screened porch is covered and a winter storm is blowing in hard from the west.  Already the first flakes are falling fast, paw-sized and determined, white heralds of winter’s last blast that has cancelled your flight and closed all the slopes.  Emanating from the attic above, thumps and bumps can be heard as the children hunt for appropriate attire to clothe the legion of snowmen soon to populate the garden.  Your husband is chopping more firewood.  Downstairs in the kitchen, Aunt Kate is making soup.  Ensconced in your favourite room, with Aunt Kate’s elderly Mastiff, George, snoring softly in the corner, you peruse the books she’s left out by your bed.  Could there be a better way to spend a snowy afternoon?
by Jasper Conran
This is one of my favourite books, full of exquisite photography that celebrates
 a way of life few of us are intimately acquainted with.
  Now out in a smaller, much more accessibly priced, version,
 it’s a wonderful addition to any library.

Peter Beard
For me, one of the most intriguing figures of the last century has to be Peter Beard. 
Reading Isak Dinesen as a child, he became fascinated with Africa, eventually moving there,
 befriending the author and buying land near hers in Kenya.  
Thus began a life so entwined with art that the two became one.
  His life was his art, his art was his life.
 It is impossible to corral the work of Peter Beard into one category.
  He’s a photographer, a illustrative diarist, an author.
  He toured with the Rolling Stones, dated Lee Radziwill and discovered Iman.  
 His collages are legendary and extraordinary.
  This glorious two volume set of his life and work was given to me by a dear friend this past Christmas
 and I haven’t been able to get my nose out of its pages.  
   Published by Taschen, it is a wonder.

The Burgess Boys
by Elizabeth Strout
Life After Life 
by Kate Atkinson
I adored Elizabeth Strout’s last book, Olive Kitteridge, 
so I’m anxiously awaiting The Burgess Boys, 
which is her new one scheduled to be released in March.
And I’m an unabashed fan of writer Kate Atkinson, so Life After Life,
 which is coming out just a few days later, is destined for my shelves as well.  
They are sure to be excellent reads, both.

(By the way, one of the above scenarios happens to be true, 
even the lilies.... but minus the snow. 
Can you guess which one?)


  1. Your winter reading list will be the start of my summer one, when the school year ends and I have the luxury of three months off! After attending a wonderful local production of Nora Efron's "Love, Loss, and What I Wore" this afternoon, I know I must read more of her writing! I have always said I wish I were two people, and one of me would do nothing but read! Thanks for the suggestions!

  2. Oh to have more time to read! This work life gets in the way! I'm booking marking this post so that I've got a reading list for spring. Thank you!

  3. Beautiful post! I too resonate loudly with rainy, foggy, cloudy days. Makes my heart and spirit sing when I am lucky to be part of a day just like that. Today, however, is blustery, snowy, cold and dangerous. I will keep the rain and fog in my heart and add some more books to my list. Thank you.

  4. Hmmm... the story about making your way to bed with tea and an apple is the only scenario that mentions lilies and snow. Is this the true scenario?

  5. What a great list! I love Mary Karr and have read the entire trilogy. "Lit" was so good and I was lucky enough to hear her speak about it at the Writers' Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho. P.G. Wodehouse is one of my favorite writers and I adored the television adaptation with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. I did not know about the book "From the Lighthouse to Monk's House" and will try to get a copy. I have "A Cezanne in the Hedge" and have read and enjoyed a few of the essays. Thanks for this wonderful post.

  6. Just when I begin to get the mile high stack on my bedside table down to a reasonable size,
    here comes another of your wonderful book lists, all of which I know must be amazing.
    Going to visit Amazon right now!

  7. JUst want you to know that after reading your thougthts on each and every day I feel a calm and comfort. Thank you,

  8. I always find something on your book list that peeks my fancy. I'll look forward to getting started soon...we've enjoyed a taste of spring and I've been spending most of my free time in the garden.

  9. WHY have I not found your blog earlier!?! Why! * doing the silent wail against the wall while lifting fists high up *. Immediate addition to my blogroll.

  10. The cottage in Scotland??
    I love your book list and would certainly like it on my bedside table. Another one two I would add as I have read them both so many times and never tire of them:
    Anne of Green Gables and
    Steinbeck's Travels with Charley.

  11. Oh I have so enjoyed my visit here, drooling and scribbling down titles that take my fancy (nearly all). Thank you Pamela and thanks for your kind comments on my page today.

  12. Pamela, thanks for a fantastic list of good books. That cottage sounds right up my alley.

  13. I just read your post as I would read a novel, savor every word , every phrase and will dutifully write down the books you mentioned, a few are already on my nightstand, waiting to be read.

  14. Your what to read and where posts are my favorite. I agree that winter is the best time to read. If only I could step into your sumptuous images. Thanks for introducing me to some titles new to me.

    I adore reading PG Wodehouse. A TV series based on his Lords Emsworth books was recently broadcast in the UK, called Blandings. I hope it comes here soon. I loved the Jeeves and Wooster series as well.

    I’m reading an ARC of The Burgess Boys now to review on my blog in 2 weeks, but it won’t be released in stores until March 26. It shares many similarities to OUT OF NOWHERE by Maria Padian that is available now, although published as young adult fiction. Both literary books focus on the Somalis in a fictionalized version of Lewiston, Maine and feature a white teenaged boy caught in the middle of a racial controversy. I’d strongly recommend both books.

  15. Your reading lists are dangerously addictive and this one is no exception. I recently read two P.G. Wodehouse and bought two more. His names in the novels are delicious.
    Thanks for the suggestions.

  16. Thank you for the book recommendations. I needed some help in this area. My dog is dying of cancer and soon I will be quite lonely and restless. (I can tell you this as your devotion to Edward is that of a kindred soul.)

  17. Dear Pamela, I so do love a good reading list, especially if collected by one of my favorites....
    Which sometimes coincides with my own list... but I found a few lovely new inspirations, which made it onto my wish list. Just for you, I just finished Barbara Kingsolver's 'Flight Behavior' and was enchanted....
    Also Maria Semple's 'Where'd you go, Bernadette?'
    Both hilarious and thought provoking. Both via my book club, worth reading!
    Enjoy the last winter weeks!

  18. Not only is your post beautiful and informative, but you also like grey, rainy days like yours truly. Thanks. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  19. This is a great posting It’s exactly what I was looking for. I like your article.

  20. I have the "big" Country by Jasper Conran and love, love, love it!

  21. Pamela, you've added much to my reading experiences through your recommendations and booklist. Some of the authors, I've read or have known of, and many to tell you the truth, I've only heard of here. It's nice to hear what others think are great or interesting reads. Love James Thurber, his wits and perspectives. "My life and hard times" is also a favorite.

  22. 'The French Dog' . What a marvellous title for a book. Almost as beguiling as a book called ' From the House of Edward ' .


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