It’s that time of year when I find myself wondering if the days will ever get warmer. I’m tired of wearing my coat every day and enduring dry air. The first couple weeks of winter are pretty romantic—but after that initial charm, it’s no fun. How am I supposed to go about my life like normal when all I’d really like to do is stay holed up in my hoodies and blankets in bed?
I know I’m not alone in this either. My Twitter timeline is full of tweets about seasonal depression and yearnings for summertime. We’ll make it through, I know. But sometimes, I almost want to ask: at what cost?
Self-care is crucial in times like this, as we must find ways to make our indoor lives fulfilling until we make it to spring. So to warm you up, here are ten books to get you through the last few weeks of winter with your heart entirely intact.
M Train by Patti Smith
Though she writes beautiful prose for any season, M Train by Patti Smith is perhaps the memoir best suited for winter. In her late 60s, the artist charted her travels following the death of many of her loved ones. The result is a moving memoir about solitude, nomadism, and ghosts. Smith reckons with death, reflecting on Frida Kahlo, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Jean Genet as she tries to build a life for herself in the wake of loss. The image of her sitting among her piles of books on the floor of her East Village apartment carried me through the 2021 snowy season. Smith writes for dreamers.
The Geometry of God by Uzma Aslam Khan
Khan’s novel, though perhaps not the most conventional in style, is impossible to put down. Set in proximity to Pakistan’s national government and academic circles, the story jumps between many perspectives but focuses on two sisters and their relationship with science, love, the state, family, and each other. As the two grow up and become embedded in conversations about Pakistani language and identity, they find refuge from social chaos in romantic connections, renewed familial understanding, and a shared love for women in science. Khan’s writing is witty, dialogue-driven, and universal in its message. The novel demands that we, as people of the world, find ways of noticing “the geometry of God” in one another.
Writers & Lovers and Lily King
Lily King knows the emotional landscape of the contemporary writer and lover because she falls into both groups. Published in 2020, her novel follows Casey, a woman in her early 30s who’s working as a waitress and writing on the side. When her mother suddenly dies, she loses faith in herself and her passion. Through a series of flings, Casey makes meaningful realizations about loneliness, grief, and self-doubt—especially how these concepts influence the way she loves and writes. Any artist should read this book, as it’s a treasure map for those seeking inspiration through difficult times.
Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
A classic installment in the American fiction canon, Erdrich’s debut novel Love Medicine challenges tradition and conventional family structure by demanding that we expand our definitions of love and camaraderie. This book forces us to see our family members as people with rich lives of their own, rather than mere characters in our own lives. The Kashpaws and the Lamartines, both families of Ojibwe tribal heritage who are still embedded in Indigenous traditions and rituals, prove the necessity of sticking together in the face of miscommunication and betrayal. Through the renewal of these relationships, Erdrich masterfully asserts how care and attention within communities offer ways to develop a sense of self. Love Medicine makes the world feel kinder.
Love and Other Poems and Alex Dmitrov
If anyone understands the way winter gets to the heart, it’s Love and Other Poems. Dmitrov is one half of the popular AstroPoets Twitter account, and in this poetry collection he writes about being a gay man in New York City at every time of year. His poems have both a dark humor and a light irony to them, transporting you to taxi cabs, studio bedrooms, parks, and the universal heart of the poet, ever-beating and ever-loving.
Daytripper by Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
In my opinion, Daytripper is the best graphic novel ever made. The protagonist of the story, 32-year-old Bras de Oliva Domingo, writes obituaries for a living, and because of this proximity to the deceased, he imagines multiple versions of his own death. Some are peaceful, some are violent, some are surprising, and each is memorable, thanks to Moon and Bá’s brilliant storytelling and vivid detail. As we watch Domingo experience death over and over again, his life becomes more and more full, his interrogation of death reminding him of his life’s potential. Perfect for the dark months, Daytripper tells us of all the good that mortality can do.
Collected Poems by Anne Sexton
A master of the confessional poem, Anne Sexton never fails to lead her readers through the dark and into the light. Sexton’s poems tend to read very smoothly thanks to their familiar images and phrasings, like the birds and lit matches in “The Ambition Bird” and the famous “at night, alone, I marry the bed” in “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator.” Her poems question women’s experiences, often asking how we can find solace in chaos and grief; each poem has a different answer. Reading Sexton’s work during the winter feels like being reborn again and again.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
Though the title sounds too somber for the season, One Hundred Years of Solitude spins an epic of wonderfully large proportions for readers to wander through. This novel tells the story of the Buendía family, ruminating on mythology, place, and family as key components of the human experience that pull us out of interminable isolation. Márquez is a brilliant storyteller, calling into question our perceptions of the truth and the confidence we have in our own memories. This novel is really about belief and trust in our ancestors—those who have overcome loneliness before us.
Breathturn by Paul Celan
This is a bit of a niche pick, as Celan is mostly only famous among those interested in the Frankfurt School of German philosophical thought. Breathturn (Atemwende in German) charts the course for how to write poetry following World War II, asserting that grief makes us truly present and able to appreciate beauty. Celan’s imagery is beautiful and unfamiliar, looking toward sites of mass destruction in order to conjure poetry. The ugly provides us tools for a genuine rebirth—one that recognizes how companionship can save us from nihilism in the face of grief. Breathturn tells its readers again and again that we still are a “we,” despite whatever has happened.
Love Letters to the World by Meia Geddes
Feel-good all the way through, Love Letters to the World is true to its title. Geddes is mindful and precise in her writing, focusing on forgotten moments of beauty and drawing our attention to things we don’t typically revere such as our bones, language, and childishness. In each letter, she asks us to look up and speak to the world like an old friend—someone we can trust who has our hopes and dreams in mind.
Happy reading! XOXO