January 27, 2015

What to read when a blizzard traps you inside


senate torture report final smallIf you find yourself in the Northeastern United States today, odds are Winter Storm Juno has dumped upon you somewhere between a foot and a fuckton of snow. Schools are closed. Workers halt progress and retreat to shelter. Drifts blockade doorways, render roadways impassable, marooning a population of globetrotters indoors, able to muster but a glimpse of their white-capped, wind-strewn surroundings, powerless to step foot back into the world and live the lives they once knew.

Seriously, the National Weather Service’s blizzard warning for New York City trots out the phrase “LIFE-THREATENING CONDITIONS” (all-caps theirs, the product of some technical-to-the-point-of-dystopian style guide).

As much as a quick jaunt out for a soy caramel latte would hit the spot in this weather, it’s not gonna happen. This is why you should have asked for that espresso machine for Christmas. “Oh, there’ll always be soy caramel lattes available,” you reasoned, utterly dependent and naive to the cruel whims of nature and the sheer quantity of snow it can suddenly cascade upon you. “No need to do that myself.” You live with the costs of your simpleminded choices. Best do that living inside where it’s safe.

As long as you’re snowed in, what a great time to do some reading!

While literature has the power to transport its readers to fantastic worlds, it’s impossible to totally put this freaking blizzard out of mind. So here’s some suggestions that, through both similarities and contrasts, provide nice pairings with a[n] historic deluges of snow.

(ed. note: These are trying, desperate times. We can resolve whether “a historic” or “an historic” is right or better another day. (real ed. note: it’s “a historic.”)

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin: Today this is not a story unparalleled world-building, or of emotional trauma for readers mourning their favorite characters’ cruelest of fates, but one of hope. For all repetition that “winter is coming,” winter has not come. Five books in, you’ll be wondering whether The Winds of Winter will ever come. Normally that would be super frustrating, but it’s a reassuring concept when presented against the howling gales outside.

Egil’s Saga by Snorri Sturluson (maybe, scholars aren’t really sure): Martin can’t finish his saga, but this 13th-century work tracks real-life Vikings across generations in their real-life voyage from Norway to settle Iceland. By basically refusing to provide descriptions or authorial judgments of anything, Snorri (or whoever wrote this) rockets through a couple hundred years in a couple hundred pages, featuring shape-shifters, extemporaneous epic poetry, and a hero who murdered first when he was seven. Beat that, George.

Dune by Frank Herbert: Maybe even just the idea of another snowy place isn’t proper escapism today. At one time or another, every inch of the earth has most likely been home to at least some flurries. On the desert planet Arrakis, though? Not a chance, not anywhere on it—though perhaps waves of shifting sands covering all beneath them could prove a bit too reminiscent today.

God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy by Mike Huckabee: This superfluous pre-campaign fodder manages to stand out from the rest by slut-shaming Beyonce and accusing Jay-Z of acting as her pimp, as publicized by U.S. News and other outlets. If that snippet is any indication, Huckabee will provide more than enough hot takes to get you through the snow.

The Senate Intelligence Committee Report On Torture by The Senate Intelligence Committee: In case our handsome paperback edition of The Torture Report made you mistake this for a beach read, let’s remind you that The New York Times editorial board called it “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” This is the opposite of a beach read. This is the opposite of a beach day. As good a time as any.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: Assuming we survive the snow, the shape-shifters, and the Others—you’re stuck inside, you can’t prove they’re not out there; “life-threatening conditions,” dude—we’ll have to evaluate the society we find and grow from there. Also a disturbingly apt companion to The Torture Report.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz: We’ve gone over blizzard reads, but here’s a Junot one. Until someone comes out with a novelization of the 2006 motion picture Juno (ed. note: Melville House politely declines in advance any requests to publish a novelization of the 2006 motion picture Juno) we’re gonna have to stick with Diaz and his silent T. Which is totally fine, as Junot is a devastatingly good writer. Plus The New York Times Book Review deemed “Invierno” (English translation: winter) “the collection’s most subtly devastating story,” so Diaz works on both levels here.

Even if the snows don’t consume the world around us, Diaz is well worth the read, as are all of these books. Maybe not Huckabee’s.


Josh Cohen is a contributing editor for MobyLives.