With lazier days and more time indoors to escape the cold, winter comes with the distinctive benefit of having more time to spend with a good book.
What makes for good winter reading? In an article for The Guardian back in 2011, the booksellers Waterstones asked authors, “What’s your favourite fireside read, the book you go back to every winter?”
Ali Smith chose Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (“a piece of light: what better to keep you warm through the darker months?”), Jonathan Coe selected Sherlock Holmes – one of my own choices in this post – while Jacqueline Wilson chose Jane Eyre as a winter classic.
For me, it’s all to do with what goes with hot drinks, warm blankets, and a comfy sofa. On this list, I’ve included a few of my favourite cozy books set in winter to retreat into.
Sometimes a long book – with a hefty list of characters and an inner universe that’s hard to leave – is the ideal companion to while away the hours with. At other times, a wholesome or mood-boosting novel is a welcome antidote to the chilly weather outside.
Whatever your mood and literary appetite, here are a few of the best fiction and non-fiction winter books to get you thinking about winter reading plans, from classic novels to fantasy stories…
The best books to read in winter (with a blanket and hot chocolate)
1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
This bestselling debut by Eowyn Ivey oozes winter. Set on a 1920s homestead in remote Alaska, a couple’s lives are changed forever by the arrival of a wild and secretive young girl on their snowy doorstep.
This girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods; she hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness.
In this beautiful and violent place, however, things are rarely as they appear. The Snow Child is one of my favourite novels set in winter.
2. Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Now an HBO Original Series, Beartown is about a small forest town with a big dream. By the lake in Beartown, there’s an old ice rink where the town’s junior hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals – which they actually have a shot of winning.
But unexpectedly, the match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatised and a town in turmoil. It’s an engrossing book about community, loyalty, and the responsibilities of friendship that’s perfect to read in winter.
3. A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella
Set in a close-knit Pennsylvania suburb in the grip of winter, A Quiet Life follows three people grappling with loss and finding a tender wisdom in their grief.
This new book for 2022 is a beautifully crafted and profoundly moving novel that’s infused with hope, celebrating humanity in the midst of uncertainty.
4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation”… reading these opening lines is enough to make me firmly consider a reread of The Secret History.
The Secret History is an excellent novel to spark a hunger for classics and mystery-solving over the winter months. That said, Donna Tartt’s 2015 book, The Goldfinch, is also a fantastically immersive monument of a novel to enjoy in wintertime.
5. Animal Life by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir
In the days leading up to Christmas, Dómhildur – the daughter of a long line of midwives – delivers her 1,922nd baby.
As a terrible storm races towards Reykjavík, Dómhildur discovers decades of letters and manuscripts hidden amongst her grandaunt’s clutter, uncovering strange and beautiful reflections on birth, death, and human nature.
With her singular warmth and humor, in Animal Life Ólafsdóttir gives us a beguiling novel that comes direct from the depths of an Icelandic winter, full of hope for spring.
6. The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
Before moving to Denmark, I didn’t realise how central hygge really is to Danish culture. You hear it everywhere: a place is hygge, it’s hyggelig to meet someone or do something, a scary or uncomfortable situation is uhyggelig.
7. The Woods in Winter by Stella Gibbons
…for the first time in her life, she was living as she had always unknowingly wanted to live: in freedom and solitude, with an animal for close companion. Her new life had acted upon her like a strong and delicious drug.
In this funny and poignant story for winter, Ivy Gower, a curmudgeonly middle-aged woman with witchy talents, inherits a rural cottage in Buckinghamshire and takes up residence near the tiny village of Little Warby.
Having settled in with a rescued dog and a pet pigeon, she manages, despite her anti-social instincts, to have surprising effects on her new neighbours. The Woods in Winter is a gorgeous tale of the challenges and freedoms of old age and solitude.
8. The Art of Coorie: How to Live Happy the Scottish Way by Gabriella Bennett
It’s the perfect book to snuggle up for winter with and immerse yourself in the joys and simple pleasures of Scottish winters.
9. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May
At some stages in life, we’re full of energy, ideas, and motivation. Other times, what we need most is rest, patience, and self-love.
10. Dubliners by James Joyce
The final words of “The Dead”, the last story in Dubliners, James Joyce’s short story collection, epitomise winter reading for me. They’re simply magical.
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 an open mind. And perhaps a measure of whisky on hand.
11. Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
This year, snuggle up with one of the coziest books to read in December, especially in the lead up to Christmas.
In Winter Solstice, the rippling effects of a tragedy bring five characters together in a large, neglected estate house near the Scottish fishing town of Creagan for the shortest day of the year.
It’s a slice-of-life book about love, loyalty, and rebirth, without much drama or being overwhelmingly sickly sweet. I read it recently and know I’ll be rereading it in winters to come.
12. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Folk tales, snow-capped forests, and magic in the depths of winter at the edge of the Russian wilderness…
As her beloved village’s defenses weaken and evil creeps nearer, young Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed to protect her family and community from the threats she thought only existed in her nurse’s most frightening tales.
13. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
As Sherlock Holmes himself would probably encourage as the weather gets chilly, dedicate a few hours to getting as comfortable as possible, putting your feet up, and solving some peculiar crimes.
I think Holmes and Watson are the perfect companions for warm winter reading inside from the cold.
14. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
My reading of His Dark Materials series as a child was very much like my Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia reading experiences: magical, warming, and otherworldly.
In my rereads as an adult I’ve picked up on a lot I missed as a child – and it’s definitely not a lighthearted, superficial read.
That said, with its polar bears, aurora, and snow leopards, it’s still the perfect book to read in winter.
15. A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson
Following the success and blissful reading of The Summer Book, A Winter Book features thirteen winter stories from Tove Jansson’s first book for adults, The Sculptor’s Daughter, plus seven of the beloved Finnish writer’s most cherished later stories.
Philip Pullman describes Tove Jansson’s writing here as: “as smooth and odd and beautiful as sea-worn driftwood…” It’s the perfect collection to retreat into in winter.
What books will you read this winter? For more of the best winter books, head over to my collection of the best cozy books to read on a quiet night in, or my list of the best Christmas books to get you in the festive spirit.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.