“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
If anything evokes a profound wintry feeling in my heart, it is this stanza from the legendary Robert Frost poem, ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. It is also perhaps the only stanza that I know by heart. We, in Lahore, have a complicated relationship with the winter season. We anxiously wait for it during the sweltering heat that we are subjected to in the never ending summer months, yet we whine about extreme temperatures when winter finally does arrive. We romanticise the season, rejoice, and cherish it like no other. We mourn its passing like a dear friend’s, like a love affair that ends before time. Winter brings people together and inspires awe, like no other season does.
There is something unequivocally classic about reading in winter. As the evenings become long and cold and the days grow dark, that is when our inner shut-in can really appear. The changing sunlight has a phenomenal impact on not just our mood, but reading styles as well, among other things. Nothing makes me happier than curling up in the cold months with a book featuring overcast skies and windswept landscapes, to accompany its plotline of sadness and anguish. Wuthering Heights is one favourite that comes to mind; Russian literature is another. There is something about the dark, grey world depicted in a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky classic that suits my idea of the season.
Come December, it is also a must for me to dive into historical fiction — nothing says winter like a novel set in the medieval ages.
All seasons conjure up certain feelings, but winter has a presence like no other. It almost seems like some character out of fiction. Authors often describe winter as though it has its own distinct personality. Scrooge in Dickens’ The Christmas Carol is the very embodiment of a bitter and angry winter. James Joyce’s winter represents mystery and death in The Dead. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs brings winter to life with its childlike hope and twilight magic.
The ability of winter to transform the reality of life with the promise of a fresh start is immense — as if you suddenly get the chance to reacquaint with life all over again. Perhaps, that is where the magic of winter really lies; why it continues to inspire writers to create magical worlds, and readers to live in them. That feeling of isolation that accompanies the winter season grants you moments when you feel like the only person alive, of being surrounded yet completely alone. It is in these moments of solitude that magic happens.
I don’t know what a perfect winter read is. But I know this much: it cannot be the riveting page-turner that you devour in three hours. A winter book should depict the heaviness, depth, and intensity of the season. It should make you want to pour cups after cups of tea for yourself as you move on to the next chapter. It should exhaust you, make you wonder. It doesn’t really have to be a Russian or a Victorian novel, and doesn’t need to be morbid; it should be magical enough, melodramatic and awe-inspiring enough.
It should be wintry enough to make you want to shut yourself indoors and embark on an adventure made only for reading beside the fireplace.