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June 18, 2014

Cool for Cats: Wintry Books for Summer

Narnia, as everybody knows, is blanketed in snow, mounds of it piled on the windward sides of trees, crunching underfoot, glittering in the starlight. In fact, Narnia and its environs do include areas that probably don’t see snow from one century to the next—the quasi-Arabian lands of The Horse and His Boy, for example, or some of the islands where the adventurers from the Dawn Treader fetch up—but I’m going to go out on a snow-covered limb and claim that it’s the wintry Narnia, the one Lucy and Edmund first see, that best represents the world that C.S. Lewis created.

This makes sense. Lewis was captivated, from childhood, by what he called “Northernness,” a concept that, for him, took in everything from the landscape (he preferred it windswept and austere) to a sense of the transcendent, and a great deal in between. Basically, he liked winter. And while he and I bat for different teams when it comes to spirituality, I am down Joe Brown with the love of winter. I grew up in an apartment that overlooked Riverside Park, in Manhattan, at a time when we had what my internal Mary Poppins wants to call “proper” winters – that is, winters with snow. And snow that sticks, mind you, not this pasty wet stuff that turns to dribbly slush at the first hint of sun.  The snow would lie thick in the park, deep and crisp and even, and at night, the old-fashioned lampposts—yes, just like Lucy’s—would throw pools of icy light, casting half the snow into deep shadow and sparkling on the rest as on piles of diamonds. And I would look out my bedroom window, and while I could never quite persuade myself that I was looking at Narnia, I did come pretty close.

Why the focus on Narnia and winter? Because, after the endless winter, summer is here and, as the man said, it’s too darn hot. (“The man,” here, is Cole Porter, and though he and Lewis entered and left the world within just a few years of one another, I doubt they would have been chums. If nothing else, Lewis, with his taste for austerity, would hardly have approved of Porter’s louche lifestyle.) Like Lewis, I function best when just a little chilly: thick, sticky air leaves me cranky and unable to sleep or focus. This time of year, then, I rely on three things: pitcher after pitcher of iced water, extremely good air-conditioners, and a roster of wintry books. People talk about using books to “escape,” and while that concept often features an undertone of disdain, the heck with that: if a book can take me to cold weather, I’m all in favor.

Some swell reads for turning down the mental thermostat:

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken

Vodka Neat, by Anna Blundy

Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg

Soviet Sources, by Robert Cullen

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman

Kolymsky Heights, by Lionel Davidson

Archangel, by Robert Harris

Missing, by Karin Alvtegen

Death in a Cold Climate, by Robert Barnard

Don’t Look Back, by Karin Fossum

The Art of Deception, by Elizabeth Ironside

Borkman’s Point, by Hakan Nesser

D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire

Stay cool!

Editrix

 

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