Even book nerds get the blues: the Seasonal Affective Disorder blues, to be specific. In the doldrums of February, it can be hard to remember you once thought it was endearing when Anna asked her sister to build a snowman in Frozen, much less that you ever prayed for a snow day. But never fear, fellow bibliophiles! We’ve been in much tougher places than this. Books get us through our breakups, they get us through being trapped on the subway, and they enable us to sit through the world’s most boring required lectures (I know I wasn’t the only one!). Now, books are here again to save the day by driving those cabin fever blues away! Like the quests in many of my favorite books, defeating evil (or boredom) is all a matter of selecting a hero with strengths appropriate to the task. Here are five heroic books that are more than up for the job!
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by William Shakespeare
I’m bringing out the big guns right off. This beautiful play has everything you need to drive the cold winter from your door. First, we’ve got a plot about star-crossed lovers that turns into a delightfully tangled love quadrilateral after an extremely ill-advised detour into an enchanted forest. There, the lovers encounter squabbling and mischievous fairies, mistake identities, administer love potions, get turned into donkeys (or mistake one for a true love!), and still, against all odds, untangle themselves into some kind of happy ending for all. And of course, in a major added bonus for our purposes, this all takes place during the height of summer in a mythical land far, far away. I was once told this was “the perfect play,” and I’ve never been able to refute that. Its SAD-fighting potential is just another one of its magical capabilities.
The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim
Speaking of the healing properties of warm, sun-kissed lands far away, here’s a book that really feels you on that restless desire you have to escape, right now, and be Anywhere But Here. The Enchanted April centers on a group of early twentieth-century women who all decide to escape the depressing English winter (and some depressing husbands and home lives) for a four-month stay at a beautiful Italian villa. While there, the women all have the time and space to breathe and to think, and to remind themselves exactly who they are. Each woman is able to make peace with something, allowing her to move forward and to resume her life with a greater sense of purpose and inner peace. It turns out all they needed was some quiet and the sun on their faces to find it.
Seven Gothic Tales, by Isak Dinesen
All right. You’ve visited Italy, you’ve run through the enchanted forest with fairies at your heels, and winter is still here. So here’s the book to help you remember that once, that wasn’t such a bad thing. In Seven Gothic Tales, while winter certainly has its dangers, those dangers are of the dark, enthralling, tale-by-the-fireside kind. Dinesen, a Dane by origin, reminds us of the undeniable pull and fascination of the north. We live through a lifetime of love during a rising flood, see through the eyes of a fading old man and his lovers, and even have a supper at Elsinore with two sisters who have lead frozen lives, chasing their beloved brother into a kind of living death. If you’ve forgotten the seductive power of the darkness, trust Dinesen to remind you what it was like to sit wide-eyed in front of a roaring fireplace, and believe that monsters and fairy tales are real.
A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
For an even stronger dose of beauty in the face of all seasonal odds, I can’t do better than to recommend Fermor. In the dead of winter in 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor, all of 18, decided to wave goodbye to his studies in England and walk across Europe to Istanbul. Fermor had little money, he rarely took any transportation other than his own two feet, and, at one point, he ran smack-dab into some Nazis to boot. And yet, instead of writing what could have been a book about a society on the brink of its descent into hell, he wrote a book about finding every last scrap of beauty and fascination that he could. It’s a remarkable thing to read, and a perspective we could all use when we’re trying to get out the door on a grey Monday morning.
The Song of Ice and Fire Series, by George R.R. Martin
I get that this isn’t an instinctual choice. A big chunk of the series takes place on a frozen tundra, and you’ll hear the somewhat disheartening phrase “winter is coming” more than is strictly good for you. But you know what else you’ll get? An engrossing cast of thousands with an equally engrossing thousand plot lines, all maneuvering around a bloodily contested throne. It’s the sort of series you can escape into for days, just keeping track of all the plots within plots and wheels within wheels and forming your own conspiracy theories about who Jon Snow really is. You can also travel first-class to many exotic lands from the comfort of your own couch: from fertile river lands with brave knights and castles, to the colorful, bustling capital, to sun-drenched, Spain-like Dorne. And when we do venture up North, it’s usually to visit people whose literal job it is to beat the crap out of creatures who seem to be actually made of ice and cold. (Catharsis!)
What are your favorite books to help drive the cold winter away?