Offline Moment: Best Winter Reads

Welcome to your weekly offline moment, where we explore different ways to quieten your mind by taking you offline and back to real life. Our hectic modern lives are increasingly dominated by screens, and as a digital company we know first hand how tough it can be to take a break from that addictive bluish glow.

It’s that time of Winter where darkness looms. Street-lights flicker to life at 4pm, the streets are a shadowy mass of woollen coats. All I want to do is scurry home and curl up with some fantastic books. Best served with a cup of tea of course (for ideas click here). These five titles offer up some of fiction’s dreamiest worlds – from the snow-laden depths of wild Svalbard, to the sublime gloominess of Thornfield Hall in rural England. All are within easy reach from the comfort of your favourite armchair. – by Chloe Sherard

Best Winter Reads

Ali Smith’s ‘Winter’ is the second novel in her acclaimed seasonal quartet and since its publication has (rather aptly) become an instant Winter classic. The story itself may sound rather simple: a family converging on a fifteen-bedroom house in Cornwall for Christmas. But, in classic Smith style, the book is an imaginative melting pot of folklore, Shakespeare, contemporary news and good old-fashioned family drama. Couple this with a fractured narrative and Smith’s spellbinding prose and the result is a triumph of originality. It’s surreal, sad, intricate and intriguing. ‘Winter’ is a gorgeous read; one of those ones that leave you a little bit breathless – which, if read whilst hibernating, is a much-needed feeling.

Winter by Ali Smith, £6.99, Waterstones

It feels very right to read a book from your childhood during the Christmas period. The familiarity of a world and its characters that you left behind long ago not only feels befitting but very merrily warms the heart. I read Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman for the first time aged nine and I still feel the magical pull of being transported into Lyra Belacqua’s world every Winter.

It’s a story riddled with talking polar bears, witches, ghosts and animal daemons. Northern Lights is set in a parallel universe and tells the tale of thirteen-year old orphan Lyra who goes from climbing the rooftops of the Oxford Colleges to embarking on a dangerous mission. It takes her to the Arctic to rescue her best friend, Roger, and her imprisoned explorer uncle, Lord Asriel. Interweaving metaphysics, philosophy and fantasy, Pullman’s rich writing and inventive plot is an extraordinary feat. This book makes for an exciting read, whatever your age may be.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, £5.75, The Book Depository

Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’ is impressively long. 700 pages to be exact. Do not let this put you off. It’s a rollicking coming-of-age adventure that transports the reader across several different decades and continents – from Amsterdam to New York to Las Vegas. No wonder this exquisitely written masterpiece won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The book follows thirteen-year old Theo Decker whose life changes when he and his mother are involved in a tragic accident at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. The only person to walk out of the gallery alive, Theo is also the only person to leave with Fabritius’ highly valuable ‘The Goldfinch’ painting tucked under his arm.

A story of friendship, love, loss, betrayal and, well, art-theft, this is an absorbing page-turner that will see you through to the New Year. I’m looking forward to seeing the big screen adaptation next year, starring Nicole Kidman and Ansel Elgort.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, £7.99, Waterstones

Another childhood favourite of mine is ‘The Snow Queen’ by Hans Christian Andersen. Like many fairy tales, this one is rather odd and unsettling. It conjures an unforgettable, wintry world. With a cast of memorable characters such as Gerda, Kay and the icy Snow Queen herself. The imagery is evocative, the plot somewhat ridiculous. Even now the Queen and her evil troll henchmen are just as terrifying. Taking a dip into this fairy-tale is a must when December rolls around.

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, £9.34, Blackwells

Any one of the books written by the Brontë sisters is worth picking up during Winter time. But, continuing the fairy-tale theme of this thread, last on the list is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. This book needs little explanation. A classic gothic romance that revolutionised prose fiction when published in 1847. The novel follows Jane, the new governess at the grand and isolated Thornfield Hall, who slowly begins to realise that her brooding and elusive Master Rochester and his house have many dark secrets. Another sensational book to get lost in during the bleak, mid-winter months. This novel for me is a work of genius. A heart-wrenching, unforgettable tale about a courageous woman and her quest to live a moral life. It is the book that I will be reading deep into the night on Christmas Eve.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, £7.15, The Hive