The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Winter Reads

Book in the Snow by flickr user SPDP

At this point, beach reading has become its own literary genre: light, uplifting, and not heavy enough to cloud over a day in the sun. But what about winter reading? What do we reach for when the days are short, the nights are long, and our main objective is to keep warm and carry on? While I personally hoard any biographies, Dickens, or suspected weepies for winter, I was curious to know if my colleagues did the same. Below are what NEA staff members are looking forward to curling up with this season:

Maryrose Flanigan: Lit by Mary Karr is next on my list, just because she is a riveting memoirist and this feels like the third installment in a great series.

Phil McNeal: I’m looking forward to the final book of the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson called A Memory of Light.  It’s the 14th book in an epic fantasy series. The first book, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990. The final installment comes out this January (2013)!  The books have amazing character plots, battles scenes, extensive use of  mythology, and detailed descriptions of the world. The books in the series have also been huge, from 600 to a 900 pages. This last book is rumored to be over a thousand pages. Come January 8th, if I’m not working or sleeping, I’ll probably be reading this book!

Pepper Smith: Every weekend I pick up an armload of books from the library. Not sure what will stick, but these are the picks for December:

-Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. Always happy to listen to Dr. Sacks.
-The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine.
-Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews. Love the movie Laura and was glad to pick up a bio of one of the leads, an underrated actor who sabotaged his career, but went on to have a good life.
-Lit by Mary Karr. She had a poem in The Open Door, so I’m going back to check out her non-fiction. Not enough foul-mouthed East Texans writing well about recovery.
-The Last Lion (new edition of third volume). Okay, sometimes you need a narcissist leading your cause, but I am quick to forgive the well-spoken…and what a time.

Most of my reading is done in 1 hr increments on a train, so I'm very fond of essays. Whatever latest magazine writing I can find from John Jeremiah Sullivan and Tom Bissel will find a place in the queue."

Elisabeth Deba Leach: I am three short stories into Alice Munro’s latest collection, Dear Life. Savoring each one and hoping they last me through the month. Taking the advice of a friend who said, "Read one and then walk away, let it sink in and then read another, later. Better that way." Pacing. Hard. What I appreciate about Munro: The detail! The point of view! The moments! The unique time of action flow which in her case is almost impossible (but fun) to chart. How did I get so smart about this great Canadian author many can’t seem to get enough of? A summer writing workshop at the University of Iowa. Go Hawks!

Marisa Marinos: For the past seven years, a best friend from college and I see A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre to kick off the holiday season (read: we go before Thanksgiving on the first weekend [it opens]!). I remember when our tradition began because my nephew was due to be born in two months with a known heart problem, so we both had extra tears for the Tiny Tim character. That same friend later bought me the beautiful book, Stories for Christmas by Charles Dickens. After seeing the play, I enjoy reading A Christmas Carol in front of my Christmas tree.  Trite but true, the story never gets old and reminds me to be generous and grateful, especially to and for my 6 ½-year-old nephew."

vEnessa Y Acham: My winter reading: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. I have seen the movie (Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor), listened to the audio (Old Time Radio), and now I want to savory the words of Dashiell Hammett. Moreover, the novel is on the The Big Read list, and my goal is to read (or re-read) all the books on the list.

Ira Silverberg: We’re holing up in the Marin Headlands for the holidays and here’s what I plan on taking along (or buying at City Lights as soon as we get to San Francisco):

-The Ninth Wife by Amy Stolls---because it’s time to read my colleague’s novel (and everyone here says it’s fantastic. I already know that she is as a person.)
-The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe---because I’ve know the author for years and I long for an intelligent tear-jerker.  Sometimes I really need a good cry and I think I’ll find it here.
-NW by Zadie Smith---because I’m a fan and I kind of have a crush on her. (Sorry, Nick.  Sorry. Bob.)

Eleanor Steele: I plan to stretch out on my cheap sectional sofa during this unseasonably warm weather and tackle two books: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty and The Known World  by Edward P. Jones. Both Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction---keeping it classy this winter! Go books!

Jason Shupbach: Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate by Robert Caro. It’s been sitting on the bedside stand for a long time and it’s time to tackle it!

Michael Holtmann: I have a penchant for the obscure, it’s true, but I’m really looking forward to reading the Australian novelist Gerald Murnane’s Inland, which, although it was originally published in 1988, appeared in the U.S. for the first time this year thanks to the efforts of the splendid Dalkey Archive Press. Plotless novels featuring characters that don’t have names aren’t everyone’s cup of hot cocoa, but I’m drawn to Murnane’s compulsive fascination with images and memories---and what I understand is his belief that invented lives can be more real than our own. Winter is a time for reflection, and I suspect Murnane’s book will aid my interior journeying.

Don Ball: Why Winter's Bone of course. A friend has been pushing me to read Daniel Woodrell for a while, so I'm diving in. Then to keep the upbeat mood, JM Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg about Dostoevsky, Mr. Sunshine himself. What could be better for the middle of winter?

Lily Macartney: A book I find myself returning to every few years, particularly as the days get shorter, is Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. It’s equal parts icy and whimsical and I just love it. It also goes great with a cup of cider. One book I’m excited to pick up for the first time this holiday season is Ian McEwan’s new book, Sweet Tooth.

Laura Scanlan: I’ve been rereading some Hemingway; just re-read The Old Man and the Sea which has inspired me to want to read Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost by Paul Hendrickson.


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