“What could be better, really, than to sit by the fire in the evening with a book, while the wind beats against the windowpanes, and the lamp burns?”
– Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
This particular hearth is where I’ve spent considerable time during this cold snap.
What better season to pick yourself a big, heavy tome you’ve been putting off, or have been intimidated by or even a little afraid of. At the risk of being accused of colluding with the Russians, who came as close to perfect wordsmithing in the 19th century as we might ever get, maybe dive into Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov. Or go straight for the grand prize and tackle War and Peace (which should take you the rest of the winter and some of spring). If you opt for that hefty epic by Tolstoy get an edition that has a complete list of the characters and tab it so you can visit often; the cast is complicated, but the journey is worth it.
Les Miserables would be an admirable choice. Or something by Dickens or Faulkner or Hemingway. Or The Grapes of Wrath. Maybe sharpen your harpoon and go after Moby Dick, especially if you let him get away in a previous pursuit. You can’t go wrong with anything penned by Jane Austin, and The Great Gatsby is great indeed. A fat collection of stories by W. Sumerset Maugham goes down well beside a good fire, or the complete Sherlock Holmes canon. Any big historical novel by my friend Margaret George – The Autobiography of Henry VIII; Mary called Magdalene, and The Confessions of Young Nero among them – will fill this bill nicely. Then there is always Ulysses by James Joyce, usually hailed as the best novel of the Twentieth Century. And if you can make much sense of it, congratulations. I’ve tried more than once.
Whatever you select, happy winter reading! And if you take me up on my challenge to take on a daunting but rewarding task, let me know what you choose.