Winter Reads that Wow!

My favorite part of winter in New England is the forced hibernation because it offers the perfect excuse to lose myself in a good book while snuggled into an oversized sweater, flannel sweats and slipper moccasins.

This winter the escape into reading has taken on new meaning — I think you know why.

I loved Zade Smith’s Swing Time. I’ve been a fan of hers since reading White Teeth, her dazzling debut novel published in 2001 when she was just 26 years old.

Smith continues to deliver big stories that span decades. Swing Time centers around two black girls who meet in a dance class and bond instantly because they are the only “brown girls” in the class.

Zade Smith in her signature turban with her book’s cover

The girls grow up in public housing in Northern London, raised by very different mothers. One is permissive and inattentive; the other mother is politically radical, putting herself through university, evolving into a fiery feminist and Marxist. These varying upbringings allow Smith to expand on race, class and politics. There are plenty of humorous, keen observations to move the plot along.

For fans of historical novels, grab Francine Prose’s Lovers at the Chameleon Club: Paris, 1932. It opens in the decadent 1920’s and follows its protagonist through all the drama of World War ll.

The Chameleon Club is a secret Parisian club, frequented by lesbians and gays who enjoy cross-dressing in an elegant decadent setting where anything goes. It’s reminiscent of Cabaret, the musical. The protagonist, a trouser-wearing athlete, race car driver and later Nazi collaborator is based on the life of Violette Morris. Reviewers suggested that Prose created her high-living, self-serving protagonist to explore the nature of evil.

Prose being interviewed. (She made headlines recently for advocating May 1st as an international day of strike against Trump.)

To be on board with educating yourself about black lives, I recommend Citizen by Claudia Rankine. This poetic journal has won almost every literary award given. It’s beautifully written and jarring. It will make you think anew about what it means to be black. It bears repeated readings.

Cover for Citizen with the author, Claudia Rankine

For a change of pace, try The Sympathizer, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the Vietnamese American, Viet Thanh Nguyen. This spellbinding story is told from the viewpoint of the narrator, a Vietnamese army captain and a sleeper communist agent.

The New York Times credits Nguyen for “filling a void in the literature (about the Vietnam War), giving voice to the previously voiceless while compelling the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light.” When you’re ready to move on to Nguyen’s latest book, The Refugees, was just published to rave reviews.

Currently I’m engrossed in Margaret Drabble’s newest novel, The Dark Flood Rises, which relays the stories of several British octogenarians and their various approaches to old age.

I eagerly embraced this book, curious about Drabble’s take on aging. I came of age with Drabble, first reading her when I was a young mother, resonating with her protagonist’s struggles to balance motherhood, marriage and a career. I felt like I had found a new friend. My own life seemed to be on a similar trajectory with Drabble’s evolving protagonist. Together we survived divorce, single parenting and life on one’s own.

While Drabble isn’t fond of entering the ranks of the elderly, her wry take is engaging and thought-provoking.

Drabble signing copies of The Dark Flood Rises

This weekend I picked up a used copy of Lorrie Moore’s latest short story collection, Bark. While I have yet to crack the cover, I’m fairly confident recommending it, since I’ve read several of her previous collections, including “Who Will Run the Frog Hospital.” Moore typically delivers an ironic wit that makes me laugh aloud. And who couldn’t use a good laugh these days?

Speaking of bibliotherapy, there’s the sweet little book of Zen wisdom, The Things You Can See When You Slow Down by the Buddhist monk, Haemin Sunim.

This is an open-it-to-any-page-and-you’ll-discover-a-treasure book that offers sayings for connecting on a deeper level with self and others. I find it soothing. It’s quickly become a new addition to my nightstand for sleep-induced reading.

What are your favorite winter reads? Feel free to share them here or on the WOW Facebook page.

This post was originally published on on February 28, 2017.

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