The weather outside may be frightful at this time of year, but we’re warming our hearts and spirits with laughter, cheer, and of course, good books! Whether your searching for a last-minute Christmas present, or looking to get a head start on your reading goal for 2024, we have compiled a list of our book recommendations for the winter season.
Are you good at predicting whodunit? Winter is the perfect time to get nose deep in a spine-tingling mystery novel, and we have some recommendations which you won’t want to put down!
Molly, our Communications Assistant, recently finished reading And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, a tense, atmospheric read about a group of ten people invited to Soldier Island by U.N. Owen, who slowly get killed off one by one, with seemingly no way to escape the island. She says ‘It’s really well-paced, keeping the reader intrigued and guessing until the end without ever giving away the murderer. I felt claustrophobic just reading it. In the author’s note at the beginning, Agatha Christie says she ‘had written this book because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me’; she wanted the challenge. I think she nailed it. Would highly recommend to any fans of cosy crime or murder mysteries!‘
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides is one of Caitlin’s, our Communications & Participation Assistant, top picks for the season. This psychological thriller follows a psychotherapist who becomes obsessed with uncovering the motive behind a woman’s act of violence against her husband. He tries to piece together the story, but is met with the challenge that the woman has not spoken a single word since she shot her husband six years ago. ‘I usually pride myself on guessing how a book ends, but I never saw this twist coming!‘
If you’re one book away from hitting your reading goal for 2023, why not try to squeeze in a novella? Freya, our Operations Officer, and Holly, our Head of Programmes & Creative Engagement, have some recommendations that are short in length but mighty in message!
Freya’s pick is pastoral little novella Andy Catlett by Wendell Berry, which is set in Berry’s fictional Port William, a rural Kentucky town that is the setting for many of his novels that focus on rural community life and the characters that live there. The novel is a recounting from an adult Andy looking back at his nine-year-old self venturing out alone on a bus to visit his grandparents during the Christmas of 1943. Freya sings it’s praises, explaining that ‘it’s a quaint, nostalgic and wholesome story of a young boy as he his independence grows and we witness the journey as he bonds deeply to the environment, community and rural traditions he is immersed in. The story is told with the sentimentality of a grown man reframing his experiences through the transcendent qualities of time and nature with a wistful malaise that seems pretty typical of festive stories, so is a perfect cosy read.‘
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is Holly’s pick, and is the perfect read for this time of year as it is set in the weeks leading up to Christmas in an Irish town in 1985. Bill Furlong is a coal merchant and on first glance lives a life commensurate with the book’s title – small, full of gentle conversations and private joys with his five daughters. But when he makes a delivery to a nearby convent and encounters a young girl, clearly unwell and looking for her child, the true weight of the story unspools. Through Bill’s experience, Keegan exposes the dark injustice of the Magdalene laundries, institutions financed by the Catholic church where ‘fallen women’ were taken to work. ‘With storytelling that is spare, composed, emotive and so beautiful, a powerful message burns though this perfectly-formed novella about trauma, hope and grace.‘
Are you looking for something to warm your heart this frosty season? Peggy, our Chief Executive, and Caitlin, our Communications & Participation Assistant, have exciting fiction reads which explore friendship and relationships.
Peggy recommends The Green Road by Anne Enright: ‘This one goes out to anyone who has ever been summoned to a family reunion, at Christmas or any other time. Anyone who is a member of the Irish diaspora (or any). Anyone who has complicated relationships with what home means, whether near or far from there. Anyone who has wrestled siblings or guilt, or with religion, or sadness. Anyone who has undertaken the big Christmas shop, to she who has braved ‘the horrors of the vegetable section’, or contemplated an ‘experimental bag of chestnuts’ (because never has this scene been so brilliantly rendered as in pages 228-231 of this novel): I offer this book. It will see you as only Anne Enright’s sees a person: it climbs right into the central nervous system of its characters, and with a wit that can turn to sorrow on a halfpenny’s turn, will leave you mourning when you shut the last page on the Madigan clan. It might not sound like a festive read, but she certainly captures the light and shade of winter, does Anne! Be God, she’s so good I might have to read this all over again as a festive treat.‘
A big fan of Japanese fiction, Caitlin’s second pick is Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. The book is set in a small café in Tokyo which offers customers the unique experience to travel back (or forward) in time, as long as they return before their coffee gets cold. This book got a five star review from Caitlin as ‘it explores relationships so beautifully, and emphasises the importance of telling people how you really feel. It definitely made me hold my loved ones extra close, and cherish every moment I have with them.’ But be warned, the book is definitely a tear-jerker: ‘the book is split into four travels, and I cried at three!‘
Has the last book recommendation made you long to travel back in time? Vicki, our NCW Academy Programme Officer, has a historical fiction recommendation which is work shouting about!
She recommends Still Life by Sarah Winman: ‘The opposite of a traditional winter read, this book is like a huge beautiful sunny hug. Set largely in post second world war Italy, this is a story about acceptance; finding family among friends; a love of music, art and culture; and making a home in unexpected places. It’s the perfect escape from a cold and rainy English winter.‘
Long-time fan of non-fiction, or looking to expand your reading palette this season? We have recommendations which are perfect for winter.
Freya recommends the classic non-fiction Walden by Henry David Thoreau, in which Thoreau, unlike the common interpretation of winter as symbolic of death, observes and seeks meaning in the life that perseveres and thrives underneath the ice of the frozen lake, prompting us to look below as ‘Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.’ This book is guiding Freya through winter as ‘other than being a lofty humble brag about living eco and thrifty, Walden’s wintery sections offers us a reminder that life continues to grow even within the darkness.‘
Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country by Edward Parnell is also on our list of recommended non-fiction reads! In his late thirties, Edward Parnell found himself trapped in the recurring nightmare of a family tragedy. For comfort, he turned to his bookshelves, back to the ghost stories that obsessed him as a boy, and to the writers through the ages who have attempted to confront what comes after death. The book explores what is haunting Edward, and encourages readers to empathise, understand, and reflect on their own lives. Edward is the tutor for our beginners’ creative non-fiction course, and this book is the perfect example of why he is an excellent mentor for all aspiring non-fiction writers.
Interested in reading something a little darker? David, Head of Finance, has a haunting read which will keep you on the edge of your seat!
He’s currently reading Gallant by VE Schwab, a darkly magical and thrilling tale of a young woman caught between the world and its shadows, who must embrace her legacy to stop the approaching darkness. David says: ‘Over the Christmas season, I always enjoy a book with elements of ghosts and mystery and this fits the bill brilliantly. Very much a get cosy by the fire and enjoy!‘
Need a last minute Christmas gift?
Purchase a high-quality print (each one hand-made by Well Nice Prints, an independent printmaking studio in the city) featuring inspirational quotes from literary figures of Norwich, including Sir Thomas Browne, Julian of Norwich, and more!
You may also like...
Read three of the best poetry collections based in the East of England
Our weekly spotlight on an East Anglian Book Awards 2023 shortlist
19th December 2023
NCW staff’s top ten favourite reads for winter
We’ve shared our recommended books for the winter season, with everything from haunted gothic novels to heartwarming Japanese fiction.
14th December 2023
Read three exciting historical books from East Anglia
8th December 2023