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The best books to read this winter

As well as listing all of the books we publish here at Slightly Foxed, the quarterly Readers’ Catalogue includes our pick of the best books to read this winter. From classic literature to children’s book gift sets and the best books to read in winter 2021, our small but perfectly-formed selection of book recommendations provides a wide range of good reading to keep you company on long, dark, winter evenings.

This winter, our list of recommended reading outside the mainstream focuses on newly published and recently reissued good books to read for adults.

Winter reading list | Remarks & Ruminations

Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Anne Fadiman is the sort of person who learned about sex from her father’s copy of Fanny Hill, and who once found herself poring over a 1974 Toyota Corolla manual because it was the only thing in her apartment that she had not read at least twice. Ex Libris wittily recounts a lifelong obsession with books. Writing with humour and erudition, she moves easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathologically literary family.

‘One of the most delightful volumes to have come across my desk in a long while . . . witty, enchanting and supremely well-written’ Robert Crum, Observer

Philip Rhys Evans, Wonders and Absurdities 2021

The annual slim volume of the Country Doctor’s commonplace selection is available once again with the usual mixture of wit, humour, good sense, nonsense, eccentricity and absurdity.

Tove Jansson & Tuulikki Pietilä, Notes from an Island

In her late forties, Tove Jansson built a cabin on an almost barren outcrop of rock in the Gulf of Finland. The island was Klovharun, and for twenty-six summers Tove and her life partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä (‘Tooti’), retreated there to live, paint and write. Notes from an Island, published in English for the first time, is both a memoir and homage to the island the two women loved. It is also a unique collaboration between two artists. Tove’s diary entries, vignettes and extracts from a seaman’s log frame the subtle washes and aquatints created by Tooti, and together they form a work of meditative beauty.

Winter reading list | Uncommon Lives

Jane Ridley, George V: Never a Dull Moment

The lasting reputation of George V is for dullness. His biographer Harold Nicolson quipped ‘he did nothing at all but kill animals and stick in stamps’. However, George V navigated a constitutional crisis, the First World War, the fall of thirteen European monarchies and the rise of Bolshevism. The suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under his horse at the Derby, he refused asylum to his cousin the Tsar Nicholas II and he facilitated the first Labour government. How this supposedly limited man managed to steer the Crown through so many perils is a remarkable story. And with it comes a riveting portrait of a royal marriage and family life.

Adrian Tinniswood, Noble Ambitions

In the years after the Second World War, the nation’s stately homes were in crisis. Tottering under the weight of rising taxes and a growing sense that they had no place in twentieth-century Britain, hundreds of ancestral piles were dismantled and demolished. From the Rolling Stones rocking Longleat to Christine Keeler rocking Cliveden, Noble Ambitions takes us on a lively tour of these crumbling halls of power, as a rakish aristocratic Swinging London collides with traditional rural values. Adrian Tinniswood shows that the country house is a lens through which we can understand the shifting fortunes of Britain in an era of monumental social change.

Robert Harris, The Cicero Trilogy

Robert Harris charts the career of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero from his mid-twenties as an ambitious young lawyer to his dramatic death more than thirty years later, pursued by an assassination squad on a cliff-top path. The life that unfolds between these two episodes is recounted by Cicero’s private secretary, Tiro: the law cases and the speeches that made his master’s name; the elections and conspiracies he fought; the rivals who contended for power around him; and, at the heart of it all, the complex personality of Cicero himself. Published in a single volume for the first time, The Cicero Trilogy brings the world of the Roman republic to life.

Rebecca Solnit, Orwell’s Roses

‘Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening’ wrote George Orwell in 1940. Inspired by the surviving roses that Orwell planted in his cottage in Hertfordshire, Rebecca Solnit explores how his involvement with plants illuminates his other commitments as a writer and anti-fascist, and the intertwined politics of nature and power. Following his journey from the coal mines of England to taking up arms in the Spanish Civil War; from his critique of Stalin to his analysis of the relationship between lies and authoritarianism, Solnit encounters a more hopeful Orwell, whose love of nature pulses through his work and actions.

Virginia Cowles, Looking for Trouble

This 1941 memoir of life on the frontline of wartime Europe by a pioneering correspondent is a rediscovered classic. Flinging off her heels under shellfire; meeting Hitler (‘an inconspicuous little man’); gossiping with Churchill by his goldfish pond; dancing in the bomb-blasted Ritz; reading The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism on a Soviet train; eating reindeer with guerrilla skiers – Virginia Cowles’s incredible dispatches provide a vivid eyewitness account of Europe from the 1930s into the Second World War.

Colm Tóibín, The Magician

The Magician tells the story of the German writer Thomas Mann, whose life was filled with great acclaim and contradiction. He would find himself on the wrong side of history in the First World War, cheerleading the German army, but he anticipated the horrors of Nazism in the 1930s. He would have six children and keep his homosexuality hidden; he was forever connected to his family and yet bore witness to the ravages of suicide. He would win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but would never return to the country that inspired his creativity.

Jenny Uglow, Sybil & Cyril: Cutting through Time

In 1922, Cyril Edward Power, a fifty-year-old architect, left his family to live and work with Sybil Andrews, who was twenty-six years his junior. They would be together for twenty years. Both became famous for their dynamic, modernist linocuts. Yet at the same time they looked back to medieval myths and early music, to country ways disappearing from sight. Sybil & Cyril traces their struggles and triumphs, following them from Suffolk to London, from the New Forest to Vancouver Island, and bringing to life their world of Futurists, Surrealists and pioneering abstraction. (Cyril’s work ‘The Eight’ appears on the cover of Slightly Foxed Issue 18.)

Winter reading list | Feasts . . .

Ghillie Basan, A Taste of the Highlands

From the glens of the Cairngorms, the waters of the Moray Firth and the rolling farmland of the Black Isle to the lochs, moors and mountains of Sutherland and Argyll, Ghillie Basan discovers a huge variety of local produce. Here she shares some of the best of it: wild venison, salmon and langoustines, fruits and berries, cheeses and charcuterie, as well as whisky, gin and beer. Alongside a hundred recipes, Basan tells the stories of the people she meets on her culinary journey.

Nigel Slater, A Cook’s Book

Ri is a successful international artist who has worked in London all her life. When her English husband dies she turns to her Greek roots on Crete, island of mass tourism and ancient myth. There she discovers not only proud memories of resisting foreign occupation in the 1940s but a secret, darker history. Unearthing her parents’ stories transforms Ri’s understanding of her family and her country, her identity and her art.

Letitia Clark, La Vita è Dolce

Featuring over 80 Italian desserts, La Vita è Dolce showcases Letitia Clark’s favourite puddings inspired by her time living in Sardinia. Complete with anecdotes and beautiful location photography throughout, each recipe is authentic in taste but with a delicious, contemporary twist. From a joyful Caramelised Citrus Tart to a classic Torta Caprese, this is a celebration of the sweet things in life.

Annie Gray, At Christmas We Feast

Annie Gray presents a delectable trip through time, from the earliest mentions of gluttonous meals at Christmas to the trappings and traditions of the present day. Tracing the birth of the twelve-day celebration under Edward I to the restoration of holiday splendour under Victoria, At Christmas We Feast is stuffed full of recipes – from the familiarity of plum pudding and mince pies to the extravagance of boar’s head and brawn – alongside cultural and historical context.

Lucy Brazier & Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Christmas at River Cottage

Christmas at River Cottage encapsulates the very best that the season has to offer, guiding you from the autumn equinox, through advent and Christmas, and merrily into the new year with recipes that have been honed over the years and are rooted in the River Cottage foundations of tradition, seasonality and sustainability. Accompanying these are tips from Lucy and Hugh on planning ahead, making natural decorations, feeding a crowd and orchestrating the great Christmas dinner.

. . . & Seasonal Treats

Carol Ann Duffy, Christmas Poems

While she was Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy gave her readers an illustrated poem every Christmas, transporting them in one year to a seventeenth-century festival on the frozen Thames, in another to the Western Front to witness the famous 1914 truce, then to a winter’s night in the South of France with Pablo Picasso and his small dog. Christmas Poems presents these ten seasonal poems alongside artwork from Rob Ryan, David de las Heras and Lara Hawthorne, among others.

A Scandinavian Christmas: Festive Tales for a Nordic Noël

Classic tales from Hans Christian Andersen and Selma Lagerlof sit alongside modern-day fables from Karl Ove Knausgaard and Vigdis Hjorth in this collection of Scandinavian stories. Each touches on the warm and wild spirit of Christmas, where the cosiness and contentment of the season can often give way to the unexpected, the magical and sometimes the mystical. 

Rupert Latimer, Murder After Christmas

Uncle Willie – rich, truculent and seemingly propped up by his fierce willpower alone – has come to stay with the Redpaths for the holidays. It is just their luck for him to be found dead the morning after Christmas day, dressed in his Santa Claus costume. Was there something sinister in the mince pies? If so, was it the ones stashed in his room or those sent to him mysteriously by post? And, since his will was recently redrafted, who stands to gain by this unseasonal crime? First published in 1944, Murder After Christmas is a lively riot of murder and misdirection. 

John Lewis-Stempel, The Soaring Life of the Lark

Skylarks are the heralds of our countryside. The spirit of English pastoralism, they inspire poets, composers and farmers alike. In the trenches of the First World War they were a reminder of the chattering meadows of home. History has seen us poeticise the bird, but also capture and eat them. We watch as they climb the sky, delight in their joyful singing, and yet we harm them too. The Soaring Life of the Lark explores the breathtaking heights and the struggle to survive of one of Britain’s most iconic songbirds.

Gaby Morgan (ed.), Happy Hour: Poems to Raise a Glass to

Many of the most famous poets have weaved the delights and temptations of drink into their verse. In Happy Hour, there are chapters on whisky and beer; celebrations; why we drink; and where we go to do it. Yeats and Keats are here, of course, alongside Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson, Hilaire Belloc, Sara Teasdale, Edward Lear, G. K. Chesterton and many more. With an introduction by wine critic Jancis Robinson.

Lia Leendertz, The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2022

This compact and pocket-sized guide has the feel and weight of a traditional almanac, and provides practical information for expeditions, meteor-spotting nights and beach holidays. There are also features on each month’s unique nature, such as beehive behaviour, folklore, seasonal recipes and charts tracking moon phases and tides.

Agatha Christie, The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding

A seasonal short-story collection of Poirot mysteries in a new special edition that includes: The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding; The Mystery of the Spanish Chest; The Under Dog; Four and Twenty Blackbirds; The Dream; and Greenshaw’s Folly.

A Literary Christmas

Enjoy a Christmas Day as described by Samuel Pepys, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot or Nancy Mitford and venture out into the snow in the company of Jane Austen, Henry James and Dickens’s Mr Pickwick. A seasonal anthology collecting poems, short stories and prose extracts by some of the greatest poets and writers in the English language.

You can browse and buy our round-up of the best books to read this winter in the Reader’s Catalogue section of our online shop.


Winter book gift sets for children

For children, our book gift set of Rosemary Sutcliff’s popular series of Roman and post-Roman historical adventure novels is now complete, with the publication of Sword Song and The Shield Ring in September. Other book recommendations for children include Ronald Welch’s series of historical novels following the fortunes of a family from The Crusades to the Second World War, BB’s pair of classic nature novels, The Little Grey Men and Down the Bright Stream and his well-loved adventure tale of three brothers who spend a summer living in the forest, Brendon Chase.

Rosemary Sutcliff, Sword Song

Sixteen-year-old Bjarni Sigurdson, a young Norwegian living in the Viking settlement of Rafnglas, is exiled for five years by the chief, Rafn Cedricson, for the hot-tempered murder of a priest, so breaking an oath Cedricson had sworn to his foster-brother to protect Christians within his lands. Bjarni joins a merchant ship sailing for Dublin from where, robbed of his possessions but with a new companion, a stray hound he calls Hugin, he embarks on a career as a mercenary in the wars between the clan chiefs in Ireland, Wales and the Scottish Isles. On Mull, he falls under the influence of the chief’s devoutly Christian mother Lady Aud, and after a chance meeting on a journey with her to the monastery on Iona, he is able to return and receive absolution from Rafn Cedricson for the breaking of his vow.

Rosemary Sutcliff, The Shield Ring

England is now under Norman rule, but hidden high among the Cumbrian fells is one last Viking stronghold. Into it comes the five-year-old Saxon girl Frytha, saved by her father’s shepherd Grim after her family farm has been torched and her family murdered by the Normans. Here she meets another orphan, Bjorn, and over the years the two become inseparable. When William the Conqueror’s son William II marches north through Lakeland to confront the Scots, the Norsemen send a peace envoy, who is cruelly tortured and murdered by the Normans. It’s clear William is determined to take this final tactical outpost, but Bjorn, disguised as a travelling harper and secretly accompanied by Frytha, enters the enemy camp and after a terrifying ordeal brings back vital information which gives the advantage to the Norsemen.

Perfect Winter Reading | A Magical Collection

Letters to Michael was selected as a perfect seasonal read by Bel Mooney in the Daily Mail 

‘Dear Michael, Guess how much I love you’: A father’s enchanting daily letters and drawings to his son are a powerful and tender portrait of paternal love — and of Britain emerging from war’s shadow

They were the worst of times when Charles Phillipson, a company publicist and amateur artist, took up his pen to create a gift for his small son, Michael. Charles had already been diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis and Britain was at war with Germany. But neither fact could stem the extraordinary energy of a father’s love and the creative skill with which he expressed it. A first little book of the alphabet was followed by this series of precious letters, dated from 1945 to 1947. The letters, writes Michael Phillipson in his introduction to this beautiful volume, ‘affirmed his love for me and revealed his way of engaging with my world . . .’

You can read Bel Mooney’s article recommending Letters to Michael in the full article ‘A father’s enchanting daily letters and drawings to his son . . . ’ on the Daily Mail website.

If you have any suggestions for recommended reading or would like to tell us which books you’ve been enjoying this winter, why not let us know in the comments below?


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