This time of year, I tend towards candlelight, woolly blankets, and long nights spent reading. I seek out adventure stories and history, myths and legends and tales of wanderers. I want to read about people who set out in the dead of night, who make friends with monsters and heroes and kings. The pile of books beside my couch begins to change as the weather does.
Here’s a cross-section for your consideration. Read them late at night.
The Prose Edda, by Snorri Sturluson. If you love Norse mythology, this is the one for you. Tales of gods and monsters and creatures who set out to discover, do battle, to live and die. These are legends of adventure, tragedy, passion, and destiny. Reading it is like listening to stories around a campfire – the world behind you drops away.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is a tale of rage. Every time I read it I find something new to love in Stevenson’s language and the madness of his characters. It’s as if you step down, and solid ground is farther away than you thought.
Visit Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy, when you are in the mood for horses, dust, and wide open plains. This is the man who also brought us Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and The Road. Reading him is like staring at the horizon.
Horror fiction makes most sense late at night. Embrace the fear. Though I love the strangeness of H.P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu, a classic), when I want horror these days I turn to Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. What can I say? The man gets me. Read Dread, at the very least.
Franz Kafka is a good man to turn to in the early hours of the morning when you cannot sleep. Find The Complete Stories if you can, although his well-known work (like Metamorphosis or The Trial) will also do the trick. He is dark, but whimsical at the same time, and sharply humorous. A little surrealism never hurt anyone.
In the mood for something non-fiction? Please Kill Me: the uncensored oral history of punk is like listening to the conversation happening over your shoulder while you ride the last train. These people are freaks, and they are fantastic.
Finally, I usually save Jose Saramago for the winter months. Read Blindness; also, The Double. When you’ve read those, try Death at Intervals, Skylight, or Cain. Saramago is a patient and curious writer, deserving of that Nobel Prize. Give yourself time to get familiar with his style – it’s like jumping onto a moving vehicle. Once you’re good to go, you’re already gone.
So, light some candles and pour a glass of wine. Go barefoot, but tuck your feet into a blanket. And start exploring.