7 Books that Make the Polar Vortex Look Positively Balmy

Polar vortex!

2014 is off to a very productive start. For instance, a week ago, I had no idea what a “polar vortex” was. So thanks for that, Mother Nature. After shoveling out my car in -38 degree wind chill, I even retained more than 8 of my original toes!

What I’m getting at here is, if you live in the Midwest, or the South, or the Northeast, you’ve probably noticed that it’s cold outside (if you live in California and are breaking out the North Face because temps dipped into the upper 40s, I’m sorry, but I hate you). In situations like these, it’s important to remember that things could always be worse. The long winters in the seven books below are so harrowing, I advise reading them only from under a heavy blanket. Preferably one covered in warm, sleeping cats.

A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin
OK, so technically winter is still coming to the isle of Westeros, but things are already plenty miserable by the end of the fifth book in the mega-popular fantasy epic. When it’s already cold enough to build a 700-foot ice wall to keep the magical frost zombies at bay, the fact that supernatural weather patterns can mean actual winter lasting an entire decade is just icing on the cake.

The Snow Queen, by Joan D. Vinge
Due to a bunch of wonky sci-fi reasons having to do with an orbit around a black hole, the planet Tiamat, the setting of this Hugo Award–winning sci-fi classic, has lovely, 150-year-long summers…and generations-long winters to match. If we shared the same climate and winter ended tomorrow, the last person to remember a sunny day would have been alive during the Civil War (on the other hand, I’m sure we would have invented the internet a lot sooner).

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Then there are those winters that just never end. The White Witch of Narnia loves ‘em so much, she casts a spell to make it winter forever. I like the layered look as much as the next J. Crew shopper, but that’s just uncalled for.

The Shining, by Stephen King
After just a few days trapped in the house, my whole family is feeling a bit stir-crazy, so I imagine we’d fare little better at the Overlook than Jack Torrance, who goes mad while wintering in the isolated, snowbound hotel and tries to murder his wife and young son. I haven’t quite reached that point, but while Jack may have had to face actual ghosts, he didn’t have to entertain a toddler, so probably the stress all evens out.

At the Mountains of Madness, by H.P. Lovecraft
In Chicago these days, it’s not the cold that gets to you (though minus 15 degrees is plenty cold), it’s the wind chill. In Lovecraft’s influential horror novel, it’s not the chilly climes of Antarctica that will get you, it’s the eldritch terrors of the elder gods breaking through the walls of reality. The forecast calls for real feel temps in the high tentacles.

The Terror, by Dan Simmons
Based on the true story of a lost expedition to the Arctic in search of the Northwest Passage, Simmons’ dense novel deals in such detail with the realities of surviving in the freezing cold that it could probably be sold as an air conditioner. If the horrors of concurrent frostbite and scurvy aren’t enough for you, there’s also the suggestion that something even more terrible is lurking out on the ice.

The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
If you want to be chilled to the bone without the murder, blood, and gore, you can hardly go wrong with the sixth novel in the Little House series, which finds Laura and her family struggling through an especially difficult seven-month winter on their Dakota homestead. Instead of going mad or eating one another, the homesteaders all band together to survive, which is a nice change of pace for this list.

What books chill you to the bone?

  • Maisy

    Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer about climbing Everest really got to me. BRRR!

  • http://www.goodreads.com/joeleoj Joel Cunningham

    A friend pointed out that I forgot Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, half of which is taken up by two characters trekking across an endless frozen tundra, trying not to die of exposure. As a sci-fi fan, I hang my head in shame.