15 New Books for Your Winter Mood

While you're waiting for spring to kick in, check out these 2020 books to indulge your winter blues

Grey trees and snow
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Winter is in full swing in the northern hemisphere, which means cold and dark abounds (we’re on the other side of it, though! It’s going to be okay!). Sometimes in the throes of late February and early March, when spring is so close yet so far, it helps to have some books for the Mood. You know the Mood. It’s the thing that makes you feel like everything’s just a little gray, a little sad, a little heavy. 

Here are 15 new or forthcoming books that can help with the Mood, either by embracing the dark or bringing a little light into it.

Night Theater by Vikram Paralkar

Set in rural India, Paralkar’s sophomore novel has a great mix of creepy ghost story, medical drama, gory body stuff, murder mystery, spiritualism, and parable-esque commentary on humanity and the failings of government. It takes place mostly over the course of a single night and reads just as fast. The characters are compelling and flawed, and the pace is a fast drumbeat. This is a great one-sitting read for a dark night.

Vera Violet by Melissa Anne Peterson

Another one for indulging the Mood, this debut novel is set in the Pacific Northwest (so, the grayest place) and follows a group of young people navigating poverty, addiction, and each other in a rural Washington state town. The writing is lyrical and airy, the subject matter heavy and visceral. This is another quick read, and a rough one, demanding that the reader not look away from the realities of how capitalism fails rural America (and really, all of us). 

In Accelerated Silence by Brooke Matson

If you’re in need of a little starlight (in the form of poetry!), look no further than Brooke Matson’s second poetry collection. Matson is another Washington-based author, who also happens to be a book artist and designer, and also happens to be really into physical sciences. This book blends chemistry, astrophysics, light, and time with grief, mystery, resilience, and love into some truly gorgeous poems that you don’t have to be a scientist (or a poetry nerd) to love. 

b, Book, and Me by Kim Sagwa, trans. by Sunhee Jeong

This little book is the perfect read for some moody teenage vibes that are also achingly exquisite. Translated beautifully from the Korean by Sunhee Jeong, b, Book, and Me embodies the vital and fraught relationships between adolescent girls, while also being a meditation on depression and the meaning of place. It will make you smile, break your heart, and put you on a breakwater with wind in your hair as you grapple with the trickier parts of life.

Weather by Jenny Offill

If ever there was a universal existential crisis, it’s climate change. Jenny Offill, whose Dept. of Speculation was a literary event in 2014, is here to help us deal with it in the form of a basically-perfect, tiny novel about a couple of librarians, a doomsday podcast, a family coping with addiction, politics, and what it means to survive something. The prose is deceptively simple—easy to read, but will jump up and surprise you with its poetics when you least expect it. If you’re in the mood for something that’s dark and light at the same time, this one’s for you.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

Speaking of climate change/existential crises, I for one never thought to wish for a farm heist novel, but reader, it is here, and it is glorious. (Also, Jenny Offil blurbed this one.) Framed inside the world of commercial chicken farming (which is a whole thing in itself, both in real life and in the book), the razor-sharp prose and surprisingly heartfelt insight move this book right along into unexpected places. Barn 8 is so weird in the best way, hilarious even as it probes deep into fault lines of capitalist society, politics, and revolution. 

Thin Places by Jordan Kisner

The subtitle of this book by celebrated essayist Jordan Kisner is Essays From In Between, which hints at the ontological nature of this collection. From apocalyptic robocalls to personal blogs to electro-shock therapy, Kisner gets into the narrow liminal spaces of modern American culture and digs out worlds. Those worlds have a sense of breakdown about them, making this book both an unsettling and an endlessly curious read. This is a good one for when you need some intellectual, philosophical essays that aren’t pretentious and just might shake the Mood for a while.

So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith

If you’re in need of some summer vibes, look no further than this short story collection from Leesa Cross-Smith, the author of 2018’s wildly popular Whiskey & Ribbons. Here, Cross-Smith packs 42 short stories into just over 250 pages, all of them centered on girls and women in potent moments of their lives. Whether it’s obsession, lust, “bad” behavior, wild imagination, or coping with fear or loss, the characters in these stories are fully realized and compelling. With a magic mix of the bonds between women, sensual detail, a dash of nostalgia, and a lot of heart, this collection is an engrossing read that’s perfect for bringing some light into winter. 

A Phoenix First Must Burn ed. by Patrice Caldwell

Speaking of bringing the light, this YA anthology is exactly it. Billed as “Beyoncé’s Lemonade meets Octavia Butler” (I mean, that tagline sells itself), this is a book of speculative fiction and fantasy stories that center Black girls, women, and gender nonconforming people. It’s edited (and contains a fantastic story) by Patrice Caldwell, founder of People of Color in Publishing. Its contributors include big names like Elizabeth Acevedo, Ibi Zoboi, and Rebecca Roanhoarse, in addition to a roster of emerging voices. From folk tale retellings to futuristic worlds, the characters in this collection are a joy to read; the prose dazzles; and the racial, gender, and sexuality diversity is a breath of fresh air.

That Hair by Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida, trans. Eric M.B. Becker

Described as a “tragicomedy,” this is the story of a young Angolan-Portuguese girl and her journey with feminism, her hair, and her identity. As a European-African girl, Mila—who was born in Luanda but moved to Lisbon at age three—reckons with a feeling of outsiderness as she comes of age. With themes of colonial inheritance, memory, family, identity, and changing society, That Hair is a short but punchy read filled with gorgeous prose and expertly rendered metaphor, a stirring and lyrical read. 

Enter the Aardvark by Jessica Anthony

Listen, we’re all high-key stressed about the upcoming election, so if you need to laugh-cry at a political satire populated with queer characters and homophobic ones, taxidermy and parallel timelines, plot twists and toxic masculinity, well then, here you are. Fair warning, this might be a bit much for some of us (see: homophobia and sleazy politicians), but it’s a wild ride and might just be the perfect antidote to the wild ride we’re in in real life.

My Morningless Mornings by Stefany Anne Golberg

If you’re after something kind of cerebral and meditative for the middle of the night (which, this time of year, could be 7:00 pm), Stefany Anne Goldberg’s memoir-cum-philosophy book is here for you. Goldberg grew up in a hard family situation outside Las Vegas, where she decided to separate herself from the world by staying up all night. My Morningless Mornings explores the concept of being awake, ideas about psychology and art, and what happens at 3:00 am. It’s a short and meandering read perfect for the dark hours.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

Sometimes, in winter, northern hemisphere people like to go on vacation to places like Hawaii. This book is set in Hawaii, but this is not vacation Hawaii. In his debut novel, Kawai Strong Washburn—who was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii—weaves a gripping family saga framed within the legends of ancient Hawaiian gods and the realities of the sugarcane industry in 1990s Hawaii. This is a captivating novel that sweeps a reader into its fold and bites like the titular shark.

Letters from Tove by Tove Jansson, trans. by Sarah Death, edited by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson

If, on the other hand, you’re into cold places, why not travel to Finland by way of the collected letters of Moomin creator (and lesbian icon) Tove Jansson? This reprint from University of Minnesota Press captures Tove’s signature clear-eyed writing in letters that capture the mid-century bohemian Nordic life of a celebrated artist and author of much more than just children’s books.

The Last Summer of Ada Bloom by Martine Murray

Finally, for some more summery atmosphere—this time set in Australia—bestelling Australian childrens’ and YA author Martine Murray’s first adult book is getting its US debut in April. Set in a sweltering summer, this book follows 9-year-old Ada Bloom, the emotional barometer for her fraught family, as she unveils secrets and grapples with what it means to grow up. Come for the elegant pacing and family dynamics, stay for the lyrical prose and emotional investment. This one will have you feeling the swelter of an Australian summer, which, after all, is happening right now!

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