“The whited air”- books about snow

I suspect Emily Brontë was a smidgen overwrought when she described snow as “O transient voyager of heaven! O silent sign of winter skies!” but Yorkshire and consumption can make one edgy, and really I’m sure we’d all agree, snow is rather cool (pun!).

We all hanker for snow in my household  even the pathetic dusting Christchurch receives; a day off school/work and the opportunity to stoically trudge around the back garden in a doomed but gutsy manner à la Robert Scott. Ah yes, a little flurry of the white stuff transforms our city, and it certainly adds instant atmosphere to any book.

And there is a surprising number of books which feature snow, either in the title or content:

  • Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow by Peter Høeg- published to great acclaim in 1992, this is a  fantastically strange literary mystery. With its part Inuit heroine and setting in Copenhagen and Greenland, this is the ultimate in snow-flakey fiction.
  • Snow falling on cedars by David Guterson- another literary mystery, this time set on the Washington State coast in 1954. A  local farmer of Japanese descent is being tried for murder, and while the worst snow for decades falls on the courthouse, the local town is burning with prejudice.
  • Snow by Orhan Pamuk- set in Turkey on the Armenian and Georgian border, the central character Ka, a poet, arrives as the snow begins to fall. Ka gets drawn into the local political tension between secularists and Islamists. The conflict between traditional and modern Turkey is controversially explored in this snow titled novel.
  • White Fang/ Call of the wild by Jack London– companion novels and classic tales set in the deep snow of Yukon Territory, Canada and featuring noble animals and feral humans.
  • The snow tourist by Charlie English- we are all familiar with the concept of eccentric, solar toupee clad Brits exploring the hotter parts of  the globe. Instead, Charlie English, associate editor at the Guardian, dons thermals to find ” the world’s purest, deepest snowfall”. He pays visits to Northern Canada, the Alps, Vermont, Syracuse and even Scotland to see the snow and delivers snow-lore and a multitude of snow facts.
  • The people’s act of love by James Meek- Siberia post -1919 revolution and a convict escaping from the northern most gulag is captured by a renegade Austrian army unit. Throw in a beautiful widow, a religious cult and the seriously inhospitable climate et voilà, a Man Booker nomination.
  • Let the right one in by John Ajvide Lindqvist- a Scandinavian vampire tale and reviewed on this blog last year. Our perspicacious reviewer Mo-mo noted its ” icy Swedish settings”, adding “if you’re looking for something a little different from your run-of-the-mill fang-tastic potboiler, Let the right one in might be just the thing”.
  • The worst journey in the world: Antartica, 1910-1913 by Apsley Cherry-Garrard- survivor of Robert Falcon Scott’s disastrous expedition to Antarctica, Cherry-Garrard’s first hand account is considered a chilly classic.

31 thoughts on ““The whited air”- books about snow

  1. Helen Lowe 1 June 2010 / 5:15 pm

    May I add “Snow Country” by the Nobel Prize-winning Japanese author Yasunari Kawabata. First published in its full form in 1946, the novel established Kawabata as one of Japan’s foremost contemporary authors.

  2. Tim Jones 1 June 2010 / 5:25 pm

    There’s quite a few books I love on this list – especially “The Worst Journey in the World” and “Miss Smilla” (except for the very end). “The People’s Act of Love” is pretty good too, although, to my surprise, I didn’t enjoy “Let the Right One In”.

    A few more snowy suggestions:

    “South: The Endurance Expedition” by Ernest Shackleton

    “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” – lots of snow in Book 1 of the Millennium Trilogy!

    “I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination”, by Francis Spufford

    “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K Le Guin – travels across a snow-bound, ice-bound planet – one of the very best pieces of polar writing, and it’s about an imaginary world

    “Antarctica” by Kim Stanley Robinson

    “The Wide White Page”, Bill Manhire’s excellent anthology of writing about Antarctica

    Ok, that’s enough snow for now…

    • Helen Lowe 2 June 2010 / 10:18 am

      Tim–The Left Hand of Darkness! Awesome choice.

  3. Michael A 1 June 2010 / 5:32 pm

    Mountaineering books maybe? Into Thin Air; Touching the Void (plus it’s a great movie).

  4. Joyce 1 June 2010 / 6:18 pm

    Oh yes, the library has oodles of titles along that theme…The beckoning silence by Joe Simpson(also held on dvd), The boys of Everest by Clint Willis, Mountain madness by Robert Birkby etc. For some homegrown climbing lunacy try Mark Inglis’s titles!

  5. Marion 2 June 2010 / 9:00 am

    If you are interested in snow in Christchurch the library website has a page Snow Days which looks at some of the heavy falls over the years.
    My favourite snow picture – a tram being shovelled clear on the corner of Colombo and Armagh Streets.

  6. Donna 2 June 2010 / 9:31 am

    I love this post Joyce, makes me want to snuggle into a big (faux) fur coat.

    The things that popped into my mind (both strangely coat related)
    Wintry Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
    Russian novels
    Paul Kelly’s great song Winter Coat

  7. Michael A 2 June 2010 / 1:07 pm

    …and Henning Mankell’s Wallander books (although interestingly the BBC series starring Kenneth Branagh is all filmed in summer – whimps!)

    • joyciescotland 2 June 2010 / 2:05 pm

      Arnaldur Indriðason’s Icelandic crime series featuring Dectective Erlendur Sveinsoon is snow-tastic too. As a child Erlendur and his younger brother were lost in the snow, and Erlendur, in the great tradition of haunted Nordic detectives,is still tortured my his brother’s death. Like Mankell’s titles very atmospheric and well worth a read.

      • Michael A 2 June 2010 / 4:58 pm

        Thanks for the recommendation – I,ll track one of the books down (hopefully it wont have snowed overnight so the tracks are still visible).

  8. Joanne 2 June 2010 / 5:31 pm

    Lee Child’s crime story “61 Hours”. Swirling snow everywhere. 30 below. Very cold and very suspenseful.

  9. Tulip 2 June 2010 / 6:48 pm

    On a slightly different track, I avoid snow movies. They are boring and crappy and I’ve learned my lesson over time to step away from DVDs with a snow scene on the cover, here’s some examples …
    – fargo
    – insomania
    – a simple plan

    • Marion 3 June 2010 / 8:50 am

      Oh Tulip – wot about Dr Zhivago – there’s a snow movie

      • Donna 3 June 2010 / 9:43 am

        Yes! and The Day after Tomorrow, and Ice Age.

    • joyciescotland 3 June 2010 / 9:56 am

      Now, when I think Fargo I think plucky preggo cop and industrial mincer, not snow. But I have been permanently scarred by the snow storm scene in Star Wars when Luke slices open the belly of a Tauntaun. That put me of rice pudding for ever.
      And Ice Station Zebra was rubbish.

  10. Tim Jones 3 June 2010 / 1:11 pm

    If we’re talking Alistair MacLean (Ice Station Zebra), then how about “Bear Island”? Though he should have called it “Bjørnøya”…

    A little further north, the latter part of Philip Pullman’s “Northern Lights”/”The Golden Compass” is set in a very snowy Spitsbergen.

    Helen: Thanks!

  11. aowccl 3 June 2010 / 2:46 pm

    Anyone read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising? There’s a great snow scene there. And another children’s book, The Snowman by Raymond Briggs – the video was one occasion where the movie version enhanced the original.

      • Donna 4 June 2010 / 11:05 am

        One of my faves to, amazingly atmospheric song.

        This could lead us onto wintry music …

    • bronnypop 23 June 2010 / 3:19 pm

      The Dark is Rising books are my ultimate children’s series. Brilliantly written, and those snow and winter scenes – brrr. Still creepy and mesmerising, even as a grown-up (don’t watch the movie, tho, it’s pants!)

  12. Mo-mo 3 June 2010 / 5:21 pm

    The Shining. That is all.

  13. joyciescotland 4 June 2010 / 9:54 am

    Ooh I’m feeling snowed under…so much to read, watch and listen to now. Plus I feel the need to purchase a coat that screams furry oppulence, which I can also cunningly use to shield my scared eyes from The Shining. I’m off to my igloo…keep up the great suggestions people!

  14. Donna 4 June 2010 / 11:16 am

    The Road – Cormac McCarthy.
    The poor wee boy and his Dad battling the brutal cold, the kind that gets into your bones.

    • Michael A 4 June 2010 / 11:50 am

      Haven’t read it but the movie was outstanding (although more cold than snowy).

  15. Tim Jones 4 June 2010 / 12:23 pm

    What we need is a cross between “The Road” and “Glee”. Now that’s entertainment.

    • Michael A 4 June 2010 / 1:50 pm

      I think that’s been done – “Fiddler on the Roof”?

  16. ma1co1m 4 June 2010 / 8:23 pm

    on the comic front how about ‘whiteout’ by greg rucka (and it’s sequel ‘whiteout: melt’), or the first ’30 days of night’ series bt steve niles. and there was a very cool ‘sin city’ story called (if i remember correctly) ‘silent night’, a wordless story following marv on (you guessed it) christmas eve.

    • Joycie 14 June 2010 / 5:53 pm

      Bill Willingham’s Fables:1001 nights of snowfall looks chilly too.

  17. happening 21 June 2010 / 7:08 pm

    would say that the people’s act of love is a very good one. thanks for putting it in your blog.

  18. wendy 23 June 2010 / 7:27 pm

    My latest Swedish read is True Deceiver by Tove Jansson which makes me feel very chilly as it is steeped in snow and ice as is Henning Mankell’s Italian shoes. In fact there is something very cold about Swedish fiction, not only the climate but the tone.

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