Winter is my favorite season for reading. There’s no competition. It is also my favorite season, period, so I suppose this makes sense. I am most definitely biased. Even so, I think winter has a lot to offer readers, even if you are not a fan of cold and snow. So many of the things I associate with winter — slowing down, staying in, cozy afternoons spent under blankets — are also things I associate with reading.
I almost always read more books in January than any other month. And while (obviously!) I love reading in all seasons and in all weather, I am always more excited about books in the first few months of the year. For me, January, February, and March are sacred reading months. They set the tone for my year of reading. I feel extra enthused about all the new books I’m going to read during the year. I am still starry eyed over the various reading projects I’ve decided to take on. Everything feels possible.
I know winter is hard for a lot of folks, readers included. But it is also the best season for reading, and even if you don’t love the cold and the snow, maybe you can embrace some of the things that make winter reading so magical.
A Fresh Start
I know this is not the case everywhere, but where I live in the northern hemisphere, winter coincides with the beginning of the new year. And yes, the new year can be fraught with all sorts of overzealous goal-setting and way too much pressure to start over — as if January 1 isn’t just another day. It has taken me years to let go of all that pressure (a lot of which I was putting on myself), and start viewing the new year as an opportunity to make more space for joy.
Because here’s the thing: beginnings can be super exciting! I love setting up my new reading spreadsheet. I love wandering through my house, selecting the books I’m most excited about reading, and lining them up on my TBR shelf. I love taking the time to reflect about what worked and what didn’t about the previous year’s reading, and then making adjustments — immediately.
Winter reading has a certain momentum that I love. I don’t wait around for permission to read what I really want to read. I dive into all the reading projects! I read all the comfort books! A few years ago, I reread the entire Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold in January and February, and it set the tone for my whole year of reading. This year, I’m focused on reading queer lit for a reading challenge I’m running, and I’ve been tearing through books I’ve owned for years that I’ve simply never prioritized. I’m become very intentional about my winter reading, and that has translated into better and better reading years in general.
The Joy of Reading During Snowstorms
I was recently talking to a colleague about how and when we read nonfiction. She mentioned that even though she does not love winter, she loves reading during a snowstorm, that there’s something about the falling flakes that helps her concentrate on books in a sustained way. This immediately resonated with me. There is something calming, almost mesmerizing, about snow falling. It’s sort of like nature’s white noise. Snow provides such a soothing, inviting backdrop for reading. It also helps with that perennial problem of modern readers: distraction. When I’m reading during a snowstorm, and I look up from my book, I often simply watch the snow fall for a while, instead of reaching for my phone.
Snow falling, for me, feels different from rain, or wind in the trees, or waves crashing, or any of the other natural or human phenomena visible outside our windows. But perhaps it isn’t that different after all, and my affinity for reading during snowstorms is just an example of a reading practice that you can engage in all year long: paying attention to the world around you, and letting its rhythms inspire and guide your reading.
Capitalism wants us to believe that we should be producing as much as we can, doing as much as we can, and moving as fast as we can, all the time. It doesn’t distinguish between the seasons because in capitalism there is only one season, production season. But this is not the way nature works, and it’s not the way our bodies work. It may be impossible to escape all the violences that capitalism does, but it is possible to resist in small, ordinary ways. For me, winter reading is one of those ways.
Lots of animals hibernate in the winter. There are reptiles that live in New England that slow down their heartbeats so much that they appear dead. Some frogs basically freeze themselves during the coldest months, and that’s how they survive. I’m not saying we should all freeze ourselves! But I do think that embracing slowness is the heart of why I love winter reading so much. It is so easy to get caught up in all the flash and buzz, the new releases and the numbers, the “read more” mentality. Winter helps me push back against all that. It reminds me that it is okay to slow way down, to spend a month or three reading one book, that reading like this is actually what my body craves this time of year.
This winter, I’m rereading one of my favorite essay collections, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. I started it in early January. I’ve been reading one essay a week, usually during a spacious Sunday afternoon when I have no other plans. I’ve been writing some reflections after reading each essay. It’s going to take me all winter to finish it. So far it’s the best reading decision I’ve made in 2023. I can only hope it will guide me through the rest of the year, and that I’ll be able to carry that spirit of deep, slow, joyful winter reading with me all the way into next winter.