Post-holiday season, it’s tempting to let the winter blues get the best of us. Particularly in the wake of yet another covid winter and yet another sombre New Years. There’s something particularly, poignantly sad about canceling the celebration of a new year, isn’t there? Before the holiday season began, as the days got darker and the weather grew colder, I checked out the audiobook of Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by British writer Katherine May. I listened to it as I walked through a wooded path after the first snowfall of the season. 

The UK focus of the book did give me pause, I admit. “Oh, my sweet summer child,” I thought, quoting Old Nan, “what do you know about winter?” But May’s concept of “wintering” transcends the season itself and is also applied to the dark, low “winter” periods of life. Just as winter is an annual, perhaps unwelcome visitor, so too are these low periods. Wintering was written before the pandemic hit, but its timing could not have been better. Published in December 2020, the ongoing pandemic has given the book a striking relevance that May could not have anticipated while writing it. 

May’s quest to learn the wintering habits of cultures with harsher climates than that of mild England takes her to neighbouring Nordic countries like Iceland, Norway, and Finland. Countries whose people, while far from rejoicing in the waning light, have found ways to embrace the darkness (the Danes introduced us to the concept of hygge, after all). There are passages dedicated to Christmastime rituals like Sweden’s candlelit Sankta Lucia ceremony, as well as neo-Paganistic rituals closer to home like the Druid celebrations at Stonehenge, ringing in the new year by watching the sun rise over the ancient monument. The chapters are structured according to the calendar, from October to March, with subheadings such as “Metamorphosis”, “Midwinter”, “Epiphany”, and “Thaw” as guideposts. Throughout these chapters, May discusses sometimes her own personal crises (how should one adequately prepare for recurring bouts of depression?) while also taking meandering dips into nature writing, looking to the life cycles of beehives and the hibernation habits of adorable, disappearing dormice for inspiration on how to handle the ups and inevitable downs of our own lives.

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Our Favourite Books of the Year

The end of the year always brings about a time of reflection. As with last year, we wanted to look back at the year and share some of the best books that we’ve read and think you should add to your 2022 reading piles!

All blurbs and book covers include links to the VPL catalogue where you can request and borrow these books for yourself! Happy reading! 

Alyssa’s Picks

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke: Piranesi was the first book I read in 2021 and it’s still the best one. This slim little novel is a departure from author Susanna Clarke’s gargantuan previous work Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but it still manages to spin its own labyrinthine magic (because it’s about a labyrinth, you see). In this latest novel, a man who is not technically named Piranesi but whom we shall call Piranesi documents his time in a spacious, dreamlike house that includes endless halls, statues, birds, and tides that bring in periodic floods. It’s his job to explore this house, and to help a mysterious visitor called The Other, who is researching a Great and Secret Knowledge. None of this makes any sense, but Clarke’s careful unfolding of narrative clues turns a vague and confusing plot into a compelling mystery. Who is The Other? And just what is Piranesi’s real identity? (Fun fact: he is named after the 18th century artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi, known for his Imaginary Prisons etchings. A clue!) Piranesi was recently awarded the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction. 

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The Witcher and Other Tales

Book cover of The Witcher: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The second season of the acclaimed television show The Witcher came out on December 17th and I, for one, am eager to bingewatch! I vividly remember watching the first season with my mom in the winter of 2019 (which wow, what a different world it was then). I went into it with low expectations (I was skeptical of Henry-Cavill-as-Geralt, who as far as I knew was supposed to be a grizzled old man) and finished it pleasantly surprised that I’d enjoyed it as much as I did.

This November, I finally read the book that the first season is based on—The Last Wish, which is actually the prequel to the series. I don’t know how I missed it (and plan to re-watch the first season to pick up on the clues) but The Last Wish is made up of several rewritten fairytales. Renfri, for example, is a parallel to Snow White! WHAT!

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