Seven Snowy Stories

The winter’s first – and in these parts possibly only – snowfall put me in mind of books in which winter features prominently. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ones that came to mind immediately were children’s stories. So here are seven snowy stories to surprise your children (nieces, nephews, grandchildren, your best friend’s horrible brat…) with. Perhaps for Christmas? 🙂

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

The first in the so-called Chronicles of Narnia, (although a prequel was later written), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is quite simply unforgettable. The set up is simple: Four siblings are sent away from London during World War II to live with an old professor in the country. Exploring the professor’s house on a rainy day, the youngest, Lucy investigates a wardrobe full of fur coats – a wardrobe that has no back panel. She wanders into a winter landscape at night time and feels the falling snow on her face – and so discovers the magical land of Narnia, where “it’s always winter, but never Christmas”…

Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome

Like the title says: a winter holiday in the Lake District, as enjoyed by the Swallows and Amazons, Ransome’s enterprising heroes. Kids let loose on a frozen lake: ice-skating, sledging, building igloos, rescuing lost sheep and discovering ‘the Arctic’. What’s not to like? This is the fourth in the series about the Swallows and Amazons and introduces a new set of characters, the D’s, but perfectly readable as an independent book.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

This is a picture book; so much so that there aren’t any words in it. That’s right: no text whatsoever. It’s the simple and – shall I say banal? – story of a snowman who comes to life. You make the plot up from the pictures as you go along. It’s a genius of a book, utterly enchanting, and not just for toddlers.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Perhaps Jack London’s best known story about a family pet kidnapped and sold off to be a sled dog in the Yukon area during the gold fever, this animal story is rather grim in places and definitely not a soppy Christmas read. Excellently written nevertheless, and no kid will be hurt by learning a little about the gold rush or the unfairness of life…

The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen

The fairy tales of the 19th century Danish writer, Hans Christian Andersen don’t always end happily in the traditional sense (take for example The Little Mermaid, quite contrary to singing-dancing rubbish that Disney sells your children) but that’s no reason not to read them. The Snow Queen, one of his longest stories, is a heartwarming tale of friendship enduring in the face of incredible difficulties. And it even has a happy ending.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Much better known in her native United States than elsewhere in the English-speaking world, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote children’s stories based on her own childhood: her parents moved westward from Wisconsin to Dakota as settlers in the second half of the 19th century. The Long Winter is the sixth of the so called Little House on the Prairie series and describes the winter of 1880-81, one of the severest winters in the history of the United States.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Not one of my favourites, this one, but then it was written for children after I already have grown up. The first in a trilogy of fantasy adventure, marketed for some unfathomable reason in the United States as The Golden Compass, this book takes place in the Arctic regions among witches and ice-bears. Well-written and atmospheric. The trilogy itself goes under the title of His Dark Materials.

You might also like:8 Beautiful Snow Scenes from Literature on Mental Floss

More book lists on Waterblogged:
Just One More PageNine Books to Read on a Greek HolidayThey that Go Down to the Sea in ShipsFive Books You Shouldn't ReadBooks that Transport YouFive Short Novels to Read on an Aeroplane
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A Bear of Very Little Brain (The World According to Pooh)

The other day, in the course of an argument, somebody called me a person with a small brain.

Even while I took offence, I recalled a line from my childhood bible, Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne:

“For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain and long words Bother me.”

(Winnie-The-Pooh)

I’m all with the Bear of Very Little Brain on this one: long words bother me too. Especially when used by people who don’t know what they mean.

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Los lusiadas o como Portugal se ganó un imperio

Read this in EnglishThe Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Fui a Portugal para una semana con un libro, y volví con dos; lo nuevo está en portugués.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original… / Me pareció que esto sería lo mejor que puedo hacer para leer Los lusiadas en su idioma original…

Eso suena muy bien pero no tengas que envidiarme: no logré aprender portugués en una sola semana (echo la culpa a los portugueses, ya que insistieron en hablar conmigo en inglés). Sin embargo, he comprado un libro en portugués, y no cualquier libro, sino la más famosa obra de literatura portuguesa: el poema épico, Los lusiadas, escrito por el poeta nacional de Portugal, Luís Vaz de Camōes.

Aunque sólo en la forma de un libro de historietas.

Todos aquí pueden confirmar que el español y el portugués son suficientemente similares para ser posible leer portugués un poquito sin aprenderlo, ¿no? Por esta razón me parece que tengo posibilidad de comprender Los lusiadas cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones. Y un poco mejor: cuando el texto va acompañado con MUCHAS ilustraciones y ya conozco el argumento.

Porque la historia que Luís de Camões narra en Los lusiadas es de la era héroica de la navegación portuguesa: el viaje de Vasco da Gama en 1497-98, cuando él se convirtió en el primer europeo en llegar a India doblando el Cabo de Buena Esperanza. Y el libro con el que fui a Portugal, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire (Conquistadores: Como Portugal creó el primer imperio global) por Roger Crowley, se trata del mismo viaje – y un poco más. (Conquerors es el último libro de Crowley, y desgraciadamente todavía no está traducido al español, pero espero que no tardaría mucho.)

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The Lusiads or How Portugal Won an Empire

Leer esto en castellano

I went to Portugal for a week with a book and came back with two; the new one is in Portuguese.

I felt this might be the closest I’d ever get to reading The Lusiads in the original…

This sounds grandiloquent but you needn’t turn yellow with envy: I did not manage to learn Portuguese merely in one week (I blame the Portuguese who insisted on speaking to me in English). Nevertheless, I acquired a book in Portuguese, and not just any book but the most famous piece of Portuguese literature: the epic poem The Lusiads by Portugal’s national poet, Luís Vaz de Camōes.

Although only in the form of a comics book.

Any Spanish speaker will testify to the fact that if you can read Spanish, you can read Portuguese to a very decent degree. Consequently I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures. Better still: I fancy my chances of making sense of The Lusiads when accompanied by LOTS of pictures and when I already know the plot.

Because the story Luís de Camões tells in The Lusiads is from the heroic age of Portuguese navigation: the journey of Vasco da Gama in 1497-98, when he became the first European to reach India by rounding the Cape of Good Hope. And the book I went to Portugal with, Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire by Roger Crowley, treats the same journey – and a bit more.

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The Future in the Past (2001: A Space Odyssey)

We live in the future that we used to read about: our smartphones bear more resemblance to The Hitch-hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy than to Bell’s telephone and there are people living on a space station above our heads. When I first read about helicopters and submarines in Jules Verne at the age of twelve, they were already reality; it was then difficult to grasp that to the author all this had been a fictional future. Good for Verne. There are plenty of contrary examples: books in which the authors were so wildly off the mark that we can only wonder at what they were thinking. Science-fiction? In many cases, the word science ought to be crossed off.

But not in the case of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Five Short Novels to Read on an Aeroplane

Okay, so your work sucks and you only live for the holidays, right? Or maybe your work is the best thing ever, but even so you do go on holidays sometimes – right? So you need a book to read that’s just the right length for a short-haul flight.

(I’ll let you know my recommendations for long-haul when I’ve managed to get further than three hours’ flight.)

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A Day’s Hiking (No One Writes to the Colonel)

Two years ago I read No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) by Gabriel García Márquez on the train en route for a day’s hiking. (It was just the right length.) Yesterday it was the first genuinely nice day of the year, so we went hiking; and I re-read No One Writes to the Colonel on the train.

I mean the first time round I thought it was brilliant and my Spanish is two years better now.

It’s BRILLIANT.

(The day’s hiking wasn’t bad either.)

There’s only one problem with No One Writes to the Colonel: I feel completely discouraged from picking up any of García Márquez’s other books ever again: there’s no way  he could have surpassed this one.

In fact, I know he didn’t think he ever did.

You might also like:Gabriel García Márquez, Minus Magical Realism

Federico García Lorca: Impresiones y paisajes

Read this in English (written in two parts)
⇒ Sketches of Spain: CastileSketches of Spain: Granada

Hay libros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque todo se ha dicho ya. Y hay otros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque lo único que puedes hacer es citarlos. Impresiones y paisajes por Federico García Lorca es uno de esos últimos.

La noche tiene brillantez mágica de sonidos desde este torreón. Si hay luna, es un marco vago de sensualidad abismática lo que invade los acordes. Si no hay luna…, es una melodía fantástica y única lo que canta el río…, pero la modulación original y sentida en que el color revela las expresiones musicales más perdidas y esfumadas, es el crepúsculo… Ya se ha estado preparando el ambiente desde que la tarde media. Las sombras han ido cubriendo la hoguera alhambrina… La vega está aplanada y silenciosa. El sol se oculta y del monte nacen cascadas infinitas de colores musicales que se precipitan aterciopeladamente sobre la ciudad y la sierra y se funde el color musical con las ondas sonoras… Todo suena a melodía, a tristeza antigua, a llanto.

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Two Versions of The Old Man and the Sea

Leer esto en castellano

Two Versions of the Old Man and the Sea

My teenage daughter borrowed my copy of The Old Man and the Sea and read it one afternoon. I had been about the same age when I first read it, thirty years ago. “You’ll either love it or it will bore you to tears,” I warned. “It’s that kind of book.”

“I’ve finished it,” she said later at dinner, looking a bit sheepish.

“You didn’t like it.” It wasn’t hard to divine. She knows that it’s one of my favourite books. “You didn’t click.”

“No,” she said. “It’s just about an old man who went fishing. It’s boring.”

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Pride & Prejudice in a Dozen Tweets

One of the bloggers I read writes a Twitter round-up for a proper website. I usually ignore it – I mean it’s a Twitter round-up, for god’s sake! – but the other day I decided to take a look. This had three immediate effects on me:

  1. I had a fit of hysterical laughter – are these tweets for real?!
  2. I congratulated myself for never having signed up for a Twitter account – I always knew no-one possibly can have anything worthwhile to say in 160 characters, especially on a daily basis.
  3. I got inspired.

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They that Go Down to the Sea in Ships

A fit of September blues, accompanied by September skies. (That means grey; where I come from September skies are famous for their particularly beautiful deep blue colour.) My September blues, however, are not merely due to the fact that summer is over; my plans for rowing up the Thames à la Three Men in a Boat are over too. For reasons I don’t want to discuss here not only we didn’t succeed in following the Three Men upriver this summer, we didn’t even have a holiday. Maybe better luck next year?

So – for a while at least – this is the last post in the Upriver series. And what better way to wind up and lighten the September blues at the same time than to immerse ourselves into some books set on boats (and envy the people who get to sail on them)?

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The Novel Life of Britain’s Greatest Frigate Captain

For me, a good non-fiction book is not one that simply gets its facts right; it also has to read well, like a novel. (Showing my lack of sophistication here.) It helps of course if the author of the non-fiction book has a good subject to work with; and the Royal Navy in the time of the Napoleonic wars certainly makes for a good subject.

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A Digression On Pepys (Throwback Thursday)

About a year ago I started to write a post comparing two books that I had happened to be reading simultaneously, one of which was boring me to tears. I was not going to waste my breath on it too much – I was going to point out how good the other book was in comparison. As luck would have it, both were on the subject of history, so I started the post with an introductory paragraph about having read some good history books in my time… Unfortunately, the introductory paragraph ended up running to several paragraphs, neatly hijacking the entire post. The chief hijacker was Pepys – whom I found myself quite unable to dismiss in one summary sentence.

I feel Pepys deserves a post to himself, so here I proudly present you with:

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Five Books You Shouldn’t Read

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Picture by florian.b via Flickr.

Life is short and bookshelves are long… and it’s too easy to get suckered into a book, keep turning the pages, start philosophising or daydreaming and forget to live. So here’s five books you should avoid like the plague if you don’t want to become a book addict:

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The Burning Mountain of Huexotzinco

The Conquest of New Spain, an eye-witness account of how Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico, is one of the most memorable non-fiction books I’ve ever read. And I don’t just mean that I vividly recall various episodes in the book; no, there’s more to it than that. Because of this book, I ended up reading others on the subject, and some of them, like Tlaloc Weeps For Mexico, a novel by László Passuth, were excellent. And because of this book, I practically haunt the Aztec rooms of the British Museum. (And I wish that I remembered more of the exhibits of the Museo de América in Madrid!)
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Adventures in Spanish (Captain Alatriste)

When I travel anywhere I like to take a book that relates to the place I’m visiting. It’s usually a novel set there or a book on the history of the place – or more likely, one of each. Walking down Milsom Street in Bath after you read Persuasion becomes that just a little bit more special. The Torre de Oro in Sevilla seems far more impressive when you know its history. And so, planning to visit Venice soon, I recently embarked on re-reading the Alatriste series of Arturo Pérez-Reverte because Book VII, The Bridge of Assassins, is set in Venice. Those famous churches, bridges and canals will acquire a certain sinister significance when viewed through the eyes of the would be assassins of the Doge.

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Sailing Into History

There are authors who captivate you. With their choice of words, their temperament, their ideas, their life story, their way of looking at the world, their… spirit. It’s been a long time since I last had been so captivated as I’ve been this winter; and it’s a good thing that my husband doesn’t read this blog for I’m positively in love. (With a man who’s been dead for some thirty years. Ouch!)

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