Books Set in the Cold for You to Read this Winter – Chicago Review of Books


“Huge, dizzying, clumps and clusters of snow falling through the air, patches of white against an iron-gray sky, snow that touches your tongue with cold and winter, that kisses your face with its hesitant touch before freezing you to death. Twelve cotton-candy inches of snow, creating a fairytale world, making everything unrecognizably beautiful…”

In American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Shadow Moon envisions a snowstorm, manifesting it into existence at the behest of the mysterious Mr Wednesday. I think about the scene every time I smell snow in the air, or see the forming clouds on the horizon.

What other books are the perfect pairing for a snowstorm? This year has brought both record snowstorms and cold, but in my city of Chicago, it’s brought an unusual amount of…rain. What can we read, either to mirror the atmosphere while it snows out the window, or to help us manifest a cozy white winter? These ten books will make you feel satisfyingly chilly—just cold enough to snuggle tight under a blanket with your book and your tea.

By Charlotte McConaghy
Flatiron Books

In a near-future where the climate is failing, Franny Stone has one mission: to follow the last of the arctic terns on the longest migration of all birds, from Greenland to the Antarctic. She convinces a fishing vessel and its crew to join her, but their journey will be anything but easy to complete, due to the dangers of the sea and to the greed of her fellow humans. It’s a gutting but hopeful story featuring bone-cold water and a convincingly tangible sea.

The Snow Child
By Eowyn Ivey
Little, Brown and Company

It’s a classic fairy tale: a husband and wife who have always wanted a child shape one out of snow. Jack and Mabel are struggling at their 1920 Alaskan homestead, suffering through the brutal cold and hard work of survival and loneliness. When the girl they build of snow becomes young Faina, they hope that things will change—but just like in the fairy tale, no winter can last forever, and no snow child can stay frozen through the spring.

Spinning Silver
By Naomi Novik
Del Rey

A Jewish girl named Miryem takes over her father’s moneylending business, learning how to turn silver into gold. But her efforts attract the Staryk, frightening creatures of the ice road who bring the winter each year, and who want her abilities for themselves. Novik’s beautiful writing makes for a vivid and complex fairytale-inspired fantasy, and her world of glittering ice and sharp silver is shiveringly cold.

The Left Hand of Darkness
By Ursula K. Le Guin

Genly Ai comes to the ice-covered, glacier-ridden planet of Winter to help it join a growing intergalactic civilization—but first, he has to try and bridge the gulf between his culture and theirs. On Winter, gender doesn’t exist as a concept. This slow but steady story is half novel and half thought experiment. It’s become a true classic of the science fiction genre, and it asks us questions about gender, power, and self.

Moon of the Crusted Snow
By Waubgeshig Rice
ECW Press

The northern Anishinaabe community has slowly modernized—so when a total blackout sweeps through Canada, only a few people are prepared to figure out how to make it through the cold, deadly winter. Tension and panic build as people vy for power and visitors arrive, and the food supply begins to dwindle. The novel looks at isolation, community, and the power of resilience.  

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
By Jon Krakauer
Anchor Books

Krakauer went to Everest to cover the growing commercialization of climbing the mountain. He had no idea that he would soon be in the midst of the deadliest Everest storm of all time: a rogue storm that descended on several expeditions still too close to the peak. The action-packed nonfiction account combines research, interviews, and Krakauer’s own harrowing experience to create a chilly, terrifying account of surviving the harrowing blizzard.

The Bear and the Nightingale
By Katherine Arden
Del Rey

See Also

As the people of Vasya’s town stop giving offerings to the traditional spirits of the hearth and forest, the town becomes vulnerable to a rising darkness inspired by Russian fairytale and folklore. Vasya is a strong heroine who resists her stepmother and the town’s devoutness in order to try and save her family and people from the ever-growing threat of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon who claims souls in the dark of night.

South: The Endurance Expedition
By Ernest Shackleton
Penguin Classics

In 1914, a group led by Ernest Shackleton set out to be the first-ever explorers to cross the entire Antarctic continent. It was doomed to end in disaster. With their ship trapped in the ice, the team was soon marooned on ice floes on a freezing, brutal landscape. An iconic story of leadership, grit, and resilience (he lost no men from his own party), this book, written in Shackleton’s own words, will put any frigid day into harsh perspective.

About Grace
By Anthony Doerr
Penguin Books

The first novel by the author of All the Light We Cannot See features David Winkler, a man obsessed with the snow. His dreams often come true—so when he sees a vision of his daughter dying in his arms, he flees town, unable to know if his child survives but sure she’ll see a better life without him there. This story of grief and longing features some truly tangible scenes of frosty Alaskan chill.

American Gods
By Neil Gaiman
William Morrow

This fantasy classic features Shadow Moon, a kind, muscled man who gets out of prison just to find out his wife died—and that she’d been having an affair. Hired by a man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday, he struggles to find a place for himself as America itself is torn apart by a war between old gods and new. The section of this book that takes place in the fictional Midwest town of Lakeside is breathtakingly, realistically cold. 

Leah Rachel von Essen

Leah Rachel von Essen is an editor and book reviewer who lives on the South Side of Chicago with her cat, Ms Nellie Bly. A senior contributor at Book Riot, and a reviewer for Booklist and Chicago Review of Books, Leah focuses her writings on books in translation, fantasy, genre-bending fiction, chronic illness, and fat phobia, among other topics. Her blog, While Reading and Walking, was founded in 2015, and boasts more than 15,000 dedicated followers across platforms. Learn more about Leah at or visit her blog at


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