WINTER by Adam Gopnik

A taste for winter, a love of winter — “a mind for winter” — is for many a part of the modern human condition. IGopnik tells the story of winter in five parts: Romantic Winter, Radical Winter, Recuperative Winter, Recreational Winter, and Remembering Winter. In this stunningly beautiful meditation, Gopnik touches on a kaleidoscope of subjects, from the German romantic landscape to the politics of polar exploration to the science of ice. And in the end, he pays homage to what could be a lost season — and thus, a lost collective cultural history — due to the threat of global warming. Through delicate, enchanting, and intricate narrative detail, buoyed by his trademark gentle wit, Gopnik draws us into another magical world and makes us look at it anew.

OK, that about sums it up.  It is a beautiful book, and me — a lover of cold weather, of being slightly cold, of that sleeping season that is winter — just loved this book.

Some quotes to whet your appetite:

Gray skies and December lights are my idea of secret joy, and if there were a heaven, I would expect it to have a lowering violet-gray sky (and I would expect them to spell gray g-r-e-y) and white lights on all the trees and the first flakes just falling, and it would always be December 19 — the best day of the year, school out, stores open late, Christmas a week away.

There are two traditions — the classical Christian idea of the North as bad, dangerous, to be escaped, and the Romantic idea of the wintry North as alluring, seductive, to be followed.

Kitsch is just our shorthand for failed Romantic mysticism.

With regard to the fascinating tales of the polar expeditions

Part of it is just our voyeur’s fascination with hard times being had by other people.  They [the polar explorers] went in search of absolute winter — and got it, good and hard.

‘Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has yet been devised.’ – Apsley Cherry-Gerrard

That nineteenth-century sense of having to be too polite in too-tight clothing and too-tight quarters with people you can’t quite stand, is never more palpable than in the diaries of the polar men.

And about Christmas,

The funny thing about Christmas is that its pagan origins all lie in reversal feasts, in Saturnalia and the Kalends festival, and secularized today.

…… the world’s one permanent religion:  the dream cult of rejuvenation.

He talks about the art of the era of Romanticism, music dedicated to winter, the underground city of Montreal which he says is only possible in a cold city, where one needs to escape the bitter cold to go outdoors.

He examines our winter holidays, and what a treat that was.  All in all, I loved this book.  I admit, because I live in an area where the winter gets cold (for us) at 50 degrees F, and none of the houses have heat except space heaters, I had to wait until Spring to read the book.  I got too cold when I tried reading it in the winter.  hahaha

Adam Gopnik  is a staff writer for The New Yorker—to which he has contributed non-fiction, fiction, memoir and criticism—and is the author of the essay collection Paris to the Moon, an account of the half-decade that he and his family spent in the capital of France.

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