Books2All recommendations – winter reading list

Contributed by Victor Rees

Books2All resident writer

Fri 27 Nov 2020

It’s that time of year again – the air’s getting colder, the days are growing shorter and, by 4 pm, it’s already looking like midnight. For a long time, I’ve associated winter with reading, spending some time each evening away from screens and in the company of a favourite author. Because we at Books2All understand it’s not always easy to be motivated to crack open a doorstopper classic, we’ve put together some short fiction winter reading recommendations to help beat the winter blues. Whether they’re short story collections or bite-size novels, each one offers a quick escape into strange and imaginative worlds. All the books are easily available to buy online, while some can be found completely free! Check out our article on brilliant free resources here!

Winter reading choice 1: Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord (2010)

This novel is so good Books2All has already given it a mention as part of our #FridayReads. Lord adapts a Senegalese folk tale for her story about a chef who becomes the target of various chaotic forces after leaving her gluttonous husband. Its greatest strength is the clarity of the storytelling, which makes the book speed along with the gripping pace of a fireside yarn. The presence of a constantly interjecting narrator helps build the feeling that the reader is being pulled along on this bizarre journey of Chaos Sticks and giant, talking spiders. For all its precision, Redemption in Indigo is also a story you’ll want to return to. Lord has crafted a condensed epic with more imagination than many books twice its length cram in. I can’t think of a better review than this quote from The Booklist: “This is one of those literary works of which it can be said that not a word should be changed.” 

Winter reading choice 2: Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman (2006)

Gaiman is an author well known for creating whole worlds and mythologies in his comics and novels – these stories are more of a taster, providing glimpses of spectacular settings in only a few pages. Many of the stories in Fragile Things provide the comfort of familiar recognition, as you witness a skilled writer pastiche Doyle, Lovecraft, Gothic narratives and fairy tales. While the bulk of the collection is arch, referential fun, it can also be quite beautiful, as with the C. S. Lewis-inspired piece The Problem of Susan. For fans of these playful, postmodern spins on familiar narratives, I would also recommend the stories of Theodora Goss, starting with her collection In the Forest of Forgetting (2006). Like Gaiman, Goss can spin new life into well-trodden ground, playing with a reader’s familiarity with legends and mysteries. 

Winter reading choice 3: The Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov (1925)

Now for something a little less cosy. This Soviet-era novella is part fable, part Frankensteinesque horror, part political satire – it’s another quick read that covers a lot of ground. A starving dog is taken off the streets by a doctor and becomes the subject of a strange experiment; through an advanced form of surgery, he is gradually transformed into a man. Of course, as with Frankenstein, the doctor soon comes to regret dabbling with nature once the dog’s human personality is revealed to be outrageously unpleasant. This brief classic is a funny and approachable introduction to Russian literature that injects surprising cynicism into a superficially whimsical premise. For anyone looking for a less sardonic doorway into foreign-language work, I recommend Penguin’s 2012 collection Russian Magic Tales, a treasure trove of folk stories and beautifully escapist fables.  

Books2All winter reading - Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Heart of a Dog published by Vintage (2009)

Winter reading choice 4: The Collected Short Stories – Oscar Wilde

Wilde’s tales were originally intended for adults to read to children, but have endured with both groups for over a hundred years. His fairy tales are most famous of all – short stories like The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant, which are written with a delicate clarity and culminate in a moral. They’re so well known you might find you’ve absorbed the stories without ever having sat down to read Wilde’s prose – but they risk overshadowing the variety of his other short work. Tales like The Fisherman and the Soul have a dreamlike, haunting quality. The Canterville Ghost is a tongue-in-cheek parody of ghost stories. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime is both funny and disturbing. These short stories bounce between styles, often showcasing a recurring melancholy on top of Wilde’s famous sharp wit. And, of course, all are freely available online!

Winter reading choice 5: Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Daphne du Maurier

Even if you’ve never read du Maurier’s work, chances are you’re at least familiar with its many film adaptations – the latest, Netflix’s Rebecca, came out earlier this year. Fans of period horror and strange happenings, who want to make the most of a cold winter night, should pick up a copy of her stories, which are usually full of twists and extremely high concepts. The Birds is a personal favourite, showcasing a simple scenario – what if all birds began attacking Britain? It’s a silly idea made chilling in the author’s hands, where it is realised far better than Hitchcock’s 1963 film adaptation. On occasion, her stories are also surprisingly prophetic. In The Blue Lenses, a woman wakes from eye surgery and realises, in an early prediction of face filters, that everyone she sees now has the head of an animal – not bad for something written in 1959. 

Books2All winter reading - Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier
Don’t Look Now published by New York Book Review (2008)

Winter reading choice 6: The Collected Stories – Saki

If you’ve never read the stories of H. H. Munro (writing under the pen-name Saki), you’re in for a treat. Saki was one of the English masters of the short story, crafting tales with a moreish quality – read one and you’ll find you can’t stop. His work is ideal for readers who aren’t looking for out-and-out horror or sci-fi but still like being unsettled as well as entertained. There’s a fair share of bizarre scenarios – in Tobermory a man teaches his cat to speak, while in The Music on the Hill a young bride angers a woodland god. However, Saki’s strength comes in observing the strangeness and occasional cruelty of banal family gatherings – a bit like an Edwardian version of BBC Two’s Inside No. 9

We hope these recommendations give you some ideas for books for your winter reads and, with Christmas creeping up around the corner, they could also serve as great gift ideas!

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