Gathering Books and Blankets: Why I Saved My Reading for Winter

by Charlotte Reads Classics

Every year I am taken aback by nature’s force in changing seasons. When summer arrives – glorious! The light and the colour makes me feel as though I have been looking at the world through a film of silk that has slowly rippled away. For some, the end of summer is a terrible and inescapable fate. For me – not so. There is work to be done in the winter.

How could it be any other way for us readers? September is forever associated with going to school with sharpened pencils and enthusiasm and it will always make me yearn for the first experiences of discovering and dissecting great novels. Hugh Walpole (more on him later) said The years of our childhood are of course the foundation of all our life. We never altogether emerge from them. So it looks like I’ll be stuck with odd urges to write essays about literary devices forever and ever. October then. Bringing a dark and nostalgic spirituality – I want to read ghost stories and I will read Wuthering Heights for the billionth time and I wouldn’t have it any other way. November and December come forth with traditions – the Victorians, please.

If you have been reading Charlotte Reads Classics since my old, infinitely more productive writing days, you’ll know that nothing fires up my enthusiasm like a book with big landscapes. Most recently found in Sons and Lovers, akin to the natural, pastoral, wildness of the Brontës. This is what I need in the winter – big reading.

Books I would recommend saving for winter:

  • Bleak House, Charles Dickens
  • Clarissa, Samuel Richardson
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë
  • The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

My winter book this year might be The History of Tom Jones: A Foundling by Henry Fielding. Have you read it? I also would like to try The Castle of Otranto this month to get a quick gothic fix. If I should have a studious book blogger month, I would like to compare the new Rosamund Bartlett translation of Anna Karenina to my dearest, most beloved copy. We shall see what the nights bring.

The book that prompted me to write my first blog post in months (I have of course missed you dreadfully) was one I found in the library this afternoon: Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole. I had never heard of it before, but the blurb was utterly impossible to resist:

The first volume of The Herries Chronicle, which recounts the dramatic fortunes of one family from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century, in a magnificent Lake District setting. Here is fiction in glorious, sweeping measure, set against wild and beautiful scenery and crowded with fairs, balls, weddings, duels, witches, abductions, murder and romance.

Rogue Herries tells the story of the larger than life Francis Herries who uproots his family from Yorkshire and brings them to live in Borrowdale where their life is as dramatic as the landscape surrounding them. Proud, violent and impetuous, he despises his first wife, sells his mistress at a county fair and forms a great love for the teenage gypsy Mirabell Starr. Alongside this turbulent story runs that of his own son David, with enemies of his own, and that of his gentle daughter Deborah, with placid dreams that will not be realised in her father’s house.

The book was published in 1930 and the author was a contemporary and friend of writers like Henry James, John Galsworthy and Virginia Woolf. Whilst they have entered the canon, Walpole’s popularity seems to have vanished almost entirely after his death. There also seems to have been a bit of a scandal regarding W. Somerset Maugham’s novel Cakes and Ale. So with positive and negative reviews, we’ll see.

If you’d like to take my advice on winter reading, here is a handy checklist for when you’re inspired:

  1. Mood lighting. No winter reading should be indulged in harsh glare. Candle light whilst romantic, will hold you back. Aim for something in between.
  2. Heating. It’s cold outside and you will need to be tucked under your finest quilt or woolly blanket for the most immersive reading. Hands can be warmed around a hot mug. Get someone to cook something homely for you.
  3. Reading material. Preferably over 400 pages because you’re compensating for an extra four hours daylight. Pick a classic because they’re tried and tested. Bonus points for themed reading.
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