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Summer Lovin’: the Wishful Cooler Thinking Edition

July 26, 2010


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I’m once again channeling my inner Nancy Pearl with a list of books I’ve read and loved that fit into a summer reading theme. Last time, I reached out to beach bums with a nautical list, and this week I thought I’d reach out to all of those who spend the summer inside, running the air conditioner or fans and trying to avoid the extreme heat. Working on the idea that reading about cold weather is the best antidote, I offer you books set in cooler climes.

If you just fancy a quick break from the heat, you can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants. Originally published for World Book Day, it tells the story of young Odd, a Viking boy who must help Loki, Odin, and Thor retake Asgard in order to stop the world from plunging into endless winter. It’s a charming, funny story suitable for readers of all ages, and if you enjoy audiobooks, treat yourself to Gaiman narrating his own book. Alternatively, visit Russia with Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander, another slim story that plays on legend…in this case that of the Romanovs. Told through the eyes of a young servant (now a nonagenerian emigrant), you’ll travel from glittering St. Petersburg to Yekaterinburg, on the edge of Sibera. Alexander adds a lot of little touches to bring revolutionary Russia to life, and there’s an opportunity for the reader to see through parts of the narrative and guess the final twist.

If you’d like to enact your own version of the Trans-Mongolian Express, you can follow up your visit to Russia with some time in Mongolia thanks to Galsing Tschinag’s autobiographical novel The Blue Sky. Follow a young Mongolian boy as he and his family eek out a living as traditional sheep-herding nomads on the broad steppes in this marvelous coming-of-age tale. He’s particularly tested during a difficult winter, so there’s plenty and snow and wind in the book. Tschinag has an eye for detail, and as a reader you’ll feel as if you’re on the steppes as well. While self-contained, this is the first in a projected loose trilogy about Tschinag’s life; I for one can’t wait to read his follow-up!

I would be remiss not to include the nonfiction book Cold by Bill Streever on such a list. As a hybrid of popular science and travel literature, Cold includes everything from scientific explanations of the human body’s reaction to low temperatures to stories of a frozen mastadon unearthed in Siberia’s permafrost to Streever’s personal inclination for cold weather activities, including a swim off the Alaskan coast north of the Artic Circle. ;) While the book has a bit of a random feel to it, that only increased my enjoyment; it was like chatting with a kooky friend you haven’t seen for awhile who just spent a year exploring the idea of ‘cold.’

Speaking of Alaska, before there was Deadliest Catch, author Sherry Smith wrote Lucy the Giant. Lucy is a young teenage girl in smalltown Alaska, whose unusual height comes in handy after she runs away and joins a crab fishing crew. Smith deftly brings to life the difficulty of being on a ship in such a hostile environment, and my hands almost grew chillblains just in sympathy with Lucy. While the setting is marvelous, it’s really the characters who shine; Smith is a gifted author who knows how to bring them to life through their flaws. By the final page, you might find yourself shedding a tear or two, but they’ll be accompanied by a smile for Lucy’s strength and passions.

Of course, winters are nothing new, and if your tastes run towards the classics you’ll be able to find some marvelous books. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton revolves around winter in a small New England town, but its chilliness isn’t confined to the weather. The relationship between the characters has enough iciness to cool down the hottest of summer days. While this isn’t the happiest book on this list, it remains one of my favourites and was the first one that jumped to mind when I decided to explore this theme. For those who prefer their classics on the chunky side, allow me to suggest Norwegian Sigrid Undest’s Kristin Lavransdatter (originally published as a trilogy with The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross). I highly recommend the Penguin edition with Tiina Nunnally’s marvelous translation. While the focus on Kristin’s internal anguish and struggles might not be for everyone, I adored this book for not only bringing medieval Norway to life in all of its details but also for its examination of religion and social change in such a tempetuous period. You’ll learn about longhouses, the work upperclass women like Kristin were expected to perform, political intrigue, and of course the influence of the church as it was overtaking earlier, pagan beliefs. But most of all, you’ll come along for the entire ride of Kristin’s life, from a young girl to a young bride to a middle-aged woman and beyond. And after you turn the final page, Kristin will stay in your mind, as well as the men in her life.

Moving from the Artic Circle to the Antarctic, Sarah Wheeler’s travelogue Terra Incognita details her two trips to the frozen continent. Mixed in with her own experiences, and the life stories of the people she meets (an eccentric crowd, to say the least), are accounts of the historical explorations of the South Pole. This travelogue is thoughtful, literary, evocative, and truly educational…what more could you ask for? It’s quite amusing to see Wheeler’s (British) thoughts on the Americans, Kiwis, and Italians she meets during her first trip, while her later trip to the British outpost gives her time to reflect on gender relations, a subject near and dear to my own heart. The book moves from laugh-out-loud funny to thought-provoking within a few paragraphs, which is a rare treat. By the time you finish, you’ll know much more about Western Civilization’s fraught relationship with Antarctica, past and present, particularly from the British angle.

Finally, Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber is a difficult book to categorise: it’s definitely literary, and has a bit of a thriller/mystery feel to it, but the book is primarily about Lena, our narrator, and her mental instabilities. No matter what you call it, it’s full of cold: set in upstate New York during winter, you’ll freeze along with Lena whenever she goes outdoors, and you should keep a stache of hot chocolate on hand for a particular blizzard scene, written so well it will make you check your own windows for snow. Lena is rare for a main character, in that she hardly knows herself at all and it’s often up to the reader to see past her narrative voice and figure out what’s truly going on. There were definite flavours of Ishiguro in Abu-Jaber’s writing, although I wouldn’t say she’s at his maestro level (yet). As Lena begins to question her own sanity, the reader is right there along with her, which makes the book all the more thrilling. An unusual read for me, but one I’m very glad to have experienced.

Do you guys have any ‘cold’ books of your own to recommend? Or did some of these titles catch your eye? What should be the theme for my next booklist?

P.S.: My computer started acting up last night, so if I’m not around much over the next couple of days, that’s why. *shakes fist at Windows*

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59 Comments leave one →
  1. July 26, 2010 5:27 am

    The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson is very much a winter book, set in Finland during the Winter.

    Thanks for mentioning some Alaskan books as I was struggling to find many for my Alaskan stop on my American tour.

    • July 27, 2010 5:39 am

      The True Deceiver sounds neat! Lucy the Giant would be a marvelous choice for Alaska. :)

  2. July 26, 2010 8:54 am

    And for those looking for something shorter, Jack London’s short story To Build a Fire is perfect for cooling you down.

    • July 27, 2010 5:42 am

      I haven’t read Jack London since I was little! His books are definite cooling. :)

  3. July 26, 2010 9:09 am

    The Palace of the Snow Queen travels around Lapland…the author even stays at the Ice Hotel. Brrrr.

    • July 27, 2010 5:43 am

      Is that nonfic? It sounds great; Lapland’s one of those places I really want to visit some day.

  4. July 26, 2010 9:14 am

    The Kitchen Boy reminds me of the Anastasia movie. Remember? Yes/no? Let’s say you do remember that Dimitri was the kitchen boy who saved Anastasia and they both grew up to be very appealing Russians who can step dance over all of us. Okay, later, I took a Russian History class and realized that Anastasia the movie=lies! Rasputin did not sell his soul for the power to destroy the Romanovs! Much later, a Russian family came into my work place and I was all “So what part of Russia are you from?” Them: “St. Petersburg.” Me: “Oh, I heard of it.” *D’Oh*. The Russians probably think I’m a cliche Californian airhead. At the end of this tangent, I might want to check out The Kitchen Boy too!

    • July 27, 2010 5:45 am

      Um, do I remember the movie with the hottest animated character ever?! Of course I do! lol I did a report in 5th grade on the mysteyr of Anastasia and the Ana woman, so when I saw the movie I already knew it was taking liberties, but I don’t care! I think it’s a better interpretation of Russian history anyway. :p (Except the real death of Rasputin…no fiction tops that!)

      The author wrote another novel focusing on Rasputin, so he must have enjoyed the movie a lot too. ;)

  5. July 26, 2010 9:22 am

    I LOVE these posts, Eva! Keep ’em coming. :D

    I am glad that I either already own, or you’ve previously made me add to my wish list, most of these though! Still, you managed to add two (Kitchen Boy and Terra Incognita) to the “someday, I hope to read” list.

    Know what book I automatically think of when I think “cold”? The Golden Compass. I know that doesn’t continue into the next book in the trilogy, but for whatever reason that book just screams “cold” to me.

    • July 27, 2010 5:52 am

      Thanks Debi! :) I agree: The Golden Compass is definitely cold…I had it on my list of possibles, but then I got lazy and decided to make the list in the post shorter.

  6. winstonsdad permalink
    July 26, 2010 9:25 am

    some nice books I ll be interested in your views on blue sky that looks reaslly good eva ,all the best stu

    • July 27, 2010 5:54 am

      I’ve already read The Blue Sky: it’s really good, so go read it! I definitely think it’s a stu book. ;)

  7. July 26, 2010 9:26 am

    The only “cold” recommendation that I can think of is Smilla’s Sense of Snow which I loved. Some great ones on this list that I’d love to check out. Cold sounds especially neat.

    • July 27, 2010 5:55 am

      Thank you Amy! I was trying to remember which book you had told me I should get over my fears and read, but it wasn’t coming. Now I know it was totally Smilla’s Sense of Snow! I definitely want to get to it this year. :)

  8. July 26, 2010 9:45 am

    I would also recommend The True Deceiver.

    • July 27, 2010 5:56 am

      Two votes: I’ll have to look into this more!

  9. July 26, 2010 9:50 am

    As usual, a wonderful list. I’m adding several of these to my TBR list.

    As for some of my favorite “cold” recommendations I would include Cold, Amy’s Smilla’s Sense of Snow, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett and, for a harrowing memoir of Captain Scott’s polar expedition, The Worst Journey in the World by Aspley Cherry-Garrard. This last one is very intense..

    • July 27, 2010 5:58 am

      Voyage of the Narwhal has an awesome title! And I’ve been meanign to try some Barrett. :) Polar expeditions aren’t really my cup of tea, though, so I think I’ll avoid the last one…I just get really sad and angry.

  10. July 26, 2010 10:38 am

    I really want to read Kristin Lavransdatter! I keep looking for a free e-copy with no luck, so I guess I’m gonna have to bite the bullet and buy it. Ethan Frome is all loaded up on my Nook, though. Definitely jonesing for some cooler weather here in TX. It’s overcast today, and I LOOOVE it!

    • July 27, 2010 6:27 am

      I lurved KL (although I know other bloggers didn’t). :D I miss Texas summers, because Texas has AIR CONDITIONING. lol Colorado keeps doing the high 80s/90s thing which wouldn’t be so bad except my house has no a/c. *sigh*

  11. July 26, 2010 10:43 am

    Loved Terra Incognita! To go along with that Antarctic setting, I would recommend Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness. Also, Thomas’ recommendation of Jack London is good – I like The Call of the Wild and White Fang, and their cold and brutal landscapes.

    And just for the heck of it, the movie The Snow Walker – though it has some superfluous scenes, is actually quite good overall, and is set in the Arctic regions of Canada. It’s based on a Farley Mowat short story.

    • July 27, 2010 6:29 am

      I read Call of the Wild and White Fang in elementary school, so I don’t remember a ton about them, but I do remember the brutality! I agree they’re good cold books. :) I haven’t heard of The White Darkness, so thanks for the rec! And I’ll have to look into that movie.

  12. July 26, 2010 11:47 am

    I Loved the Kitchen Boy!! Thanks for the other recommendations.

  13. July 26, 2010 12:02 pm

    It’s a funny coincidence that one of your summer lists would be a “cold” roundup, since I have a tradition of inaugurating every summer by reading a book set in a frigid place! This year’s start-of-summer cold read was Steve Zipp’s Yellowknife, and last year’s was Robert Goolrick’s A Reliable Wife (although this year I ended up reading several, since I happened to be reading Solzhenitsyn & Highsmith’s The Price of Salt at the same time.) Anyway, I’m very intrigued by the Streever book; maybe that will be next year’s icy read. :-)

    • July 27, 2010 6:33 am

      That is a coincidence! :) I remember getting an unsolicited ARC for A Reliable Wife, but it just didn’t grab me. And I really need to read some Highsmith!

  14. Kathleen permalink
    July 26, 2010 12:12 pm

    Thank you for all of the “cold themed” recommendations. I sure could have used a few of these last week when I was in 100 degree + weather at the campground.

    • July 27, 2010 6:36 am

      That sounds like one of my circles of hell! ;) But I’m not a camping girl at all.

  15. July 26, 2010 2:54 pm

    Both The Left Hand of Darkness and Graceling have sections where the heroes must brave an icy tundra, which always cools me down.

    And thanks for reminding me to add Odd and the Frost Giants to my reading list!

    • July 27, 2010 6:37 am

      I really need to read Left Hand of Darkness one of these days! I’m determined to like LeGuin, even though I didn’t like that wizard book she’s famous for (whose title I can’t remember right now to save my life). lol

      Odd & the Frost Giants is a quick read, so you should bump it up to the top. :D

  16. July 26, 2010 7:51 pm

    Hmmm….cold books….I’d have to think for awhile on that one. Nothing is immediately popping to mind. But guess what? I already have The Kitchen Boy AND Blue Sky thanks to your reviews :p And I definitely agree with your Odd and the Frost Giants rec! Oooooh!!! Just thought of one! A high fantasy! George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire!! lots of very cold scenes in there and gah I love that series :)

    • July 27, 2010 6:40 am

      I really need to get back to high fantasy one of these days: now I know where to start! Is that the first in the series?

      • July 27, 2010 10:52 am

        The first book in the series is A Game of Thrones! So freaking good :D

      • July 28, 2010 4:01 am

        Thanks for letting me know Chris! :)

  17. July 26, 2010 8:51 pm

    Loved Origin, too!

    • July 27, 2010 6:41 am

      You’re the only other person I know who’s read it! I’m so glad you loved it too; it’s a kind of weird book, so it was hard for me to put into words why it was so awesome. :)

  18. July 26, 2010 10:19 pm

    My Antonia by Willa Cather. This book takes place in Nebraska and it totally reminded me of winters in the Canadian prairies.

    • July 27, 2010 9:59 am

      I recently read My Antonia; it definitely had some winter scenes in it! Having lived through a few Midwest winters (I went to college there), I’m grateful I live in a time of central heating. ;)

  19. July 26, 2010 11:29 pm

    I’ll add R.N. Morris’ The Gentle Axe, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and also her The Sittaford Mystery.

    • July 27, 2010 10:00 am

      Is The Gentle Axe the one based on Crime and Punishment? If so, I keep meaning to read that! Good call on Orient Express and Sittaford. :D

      • July 27, 2010 12:27 pm

        Yes, it features Porfiry Petrovich as the main detective. It’s not related to the story but just uses the character. The third in the series is out now but it has no US publisher so I haven’t gotten around to Book Depository-ing it yet.

      • July 28, 2010 3:57 am

        If you enjoy the series that much, I definitely need to give it a try!

  20. July 27, 2010 1:30 am

    Lovely list! Cold by Streever is also on my list, but I still haven’t bought the book. And thanks for bringing to notice “The Blue Sky,” I love reading South East Asian books :)

  21. July 27, 2010 2:01 am

    I’m always in need of something to cool me down in summer. I know summer temperatures in the Netherlands are probably a joke to many, but anything above 24 degrees celcius makes me cranky: I get sunburned instantly and I just don’t function in the heat. So thank you for this list of wonderful suggestions!

    • July 27, 2010 10:01 am

      I usually enjoy the heat (anything up to 85 F, which is about 27C I believe, makes me happy), but I’m used to having a/c. Here, we don’t have a/c and since my muscles hurt a lot, I’m often on a heating pad. Ick! I’m lucky that I don’t really sunburn, but I’m also really into sunscreen and hats. lol

  22. July 27, 2010 2:44 am

    Great list! I really enjoyed the thriller The Snowman by Jo Nesbo. Not only is it about a killer who leaves snowmen next to his victims it is also set in Norway in the cold winter.

    • July 27, 2010 10:06 am

      Thanks! That thriller sounds really creepy, but I do love Norway. :)

  23. July 27, 2010 7:23 am

    I always read these posts and come away with a few more books to add to my list. I think I will never catch up. :)

    When I was a lot younger, I used to read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder every summer when I started to complain that it was too hot. It always snapped things back into perspective for me.

    • July 27, 2010 10:08 am

      I always feel that way about blogging. :) The Long Winter was such a hard read, but I loved that series!

  24. July 27, 2010 12:50 pm

    Ah, love Odd and the Frost Giants :D

    Another YA with a definite chilly vibe (I shivered whilst reading it!) is Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick.

    • July 28, 2010 3:58 am

      Wasn’t Odd lovely? Thanks for the suggestion; I haven’t even heard of Revolver!

  25. July 27, 2010 4:49 pm

    Christy already mentioned it, but Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness was the first book that came to my mind.

    • July 28, 2010 3:59 am

      Sounds like I need to put White Darkness on my TBR for sure. :)

  26. Mome Rath permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:40 pm

    I love these lists — I already finished a Hornblower and the sea turtle book from your last list. I’m in the middle of Sea of Poppies now.
    Out of this list, I’ve only read Terra Incognita (which was nicely complemented with a visit to a Richard Byrd museum exhibit). I’m tempted to pick up Kirsten Lavransdatter for the Norwegian setting (love the world literature!), but I know I’ll have to set a good chunk of time aside for it.
    As far as “cold” books go, I’ve been meaning to read Petterson’s To Siberia for awhile, so that’s on my list for this summer. And I don’t remember if you’ve read Pamuk’s Snow, but it’s an excellent book (and quite wintry, too!).

    • Mome Rath permalink
      July 28, 2010 2:09 am

      Make that an exhibit on Robert Falcon Scott; I’m mixing up my polar explorers here!

    • July 28, 2010 4:00 am

      I’m so glad you found the last list inspiring! :) I think Undset has another shorter book with the same Norwegian setting, so you could read that one first. :) I haven’t read Snow…I’ve had mixed luck with Pamuk so I’m not sure he’s the author for me. But when I do give him another go, Snow is at the top of my list!

  27. August 1, 2010 8:22 pm

    Great post! It’s winter in Australia right now and I’m craving summer, rather than the other way around, but I’ve heard great things about the book Cold and would really like to give it a go.

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