12 of the best classic books set in winter for atmospheric reading

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snow country hardcover penguin clothbound
Photo: Nika Smirnova

“Here in our mountains, the snow falls even on the maple leaves…”

― Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country

Reading Anna Karenina as the snow tumbles down outside, enjoying a Sherlock Holmes story with a dram of whisky in December… what season could be better for reading classic books than winter?

I recently updated my collection of the best winter books, but only included a few classics – there were so many modern novels I wanted to share.

To make up for that, today I’m taking a closer look at the best classic winter books to read on the coldest days of the year. All of these recommendations are best enjoyed in a comfortable reading nook with a hot drink by your side and something freshly baked and sugary for sustenance.

Travelling between snowy Moscow, the blustery Yorkshire Moors, and a remote mountain spring in Japan, add these atmospheric classic winter stories to your reading list for a season of excellent classic literature.

The best classic winter books to enjoy with mulled wine

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents, grumbled Jo . . .” So begins Little Women, the beloved comfort read and one of the best classic books to read in winter.

This is Louisa May Alcott’s classic story of four sisters who couldn’t be more different: grown-up Meg, tomboyish Jo, timid Beth, and precocious Amy.

As they rely on each other through the best days and the most difficult, a story unfolds that’s perfect to read or re-read on cozy evenings under a soft blanket, especially in the days leading up to Christmas.

Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata

Set in a wintry dreamland at a remote mountain hot spring, Snow Country is not only one of the best classic books about winter but also one of the gorgeous stories available in the Penguin Clothbound Classics series.

Penned in 1948 by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata, this Japanese literature masterpiece is ultimately about doomed romance, but you’ll also uncover desolate beauty and a story for the ages under the thick falling snow.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Is Anna Karenina a winter book? My answer: like most of Tolstoy’s classics, it’s a book about life, and there’s something from every season to find and enjoy. But also, yes, this story of life, death, love, and renewal is perfect to read in winter.

There’s something about long classic books that pairs perfectly with cold days outside, dark evenings, and time for contemplation. To help you find the best version of the classic for you, here’s my comparison of the best translations of Anna Karenina.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books are admittedly modern classics, but still, these are the quintessential winter reading for me.

Start the series with Northern Lights and tumble into Lyra’s world of polar bears, aurora, and snow leopards in one of the best winter books of all time. I’d also absolutely recommend watching the HBO adaptation of His Dark Materials after reading the books.

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

There are plenty of good reasons why the locked-room mystery Murder on the Orient Express is such an enduring classic. It’s also one of the best classic winter books of all time.

When a snowstorm forces the famous Orient Express to grind to a halt, our Belgian detective finds himself with more to do than just sit and look at the snowy landscape out the window.

As the secrets of the crime are slowly unraveled, everyone is asking the same questions: how did a passenger perish in his own locked compartment, and who on the train is responsible?

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Set on a planet called Winter, this iconic science fiction classic is one of the best books to read in winter. The Left Hand of Darkness is Ursula K. Le Guin’s story of two people, until recently strangers, who find themselves and their friendship on a tortuous 800-mile journey across a harsh and inhospitable icy landscape.

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners book cover

The final words of “The Dead”, the last story in James Joyce’s beloved short story collection, Dubliners, encapsulate winter reading for me. They’re simply magical.

If I were to start my journey into Joyce’s fiction once more, it would be cold outside, I’d have a lot of time to spare and an open mind. And perhaps a measure of whisky on hand.

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

One of the best winter children’s classics of all time, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe feels like stepping into a snow-kissed world of icicles, sleigh rides, and Turkish delight.

This winter, why not tumble through the wardrobe into one of literature’s most iconic settings with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Complete Sherlock Holmes

I’m a firm believer that Sherlock Holmes stories are a perfect match for winter. They’re just so very cozy. As the weather gets chilly, put your feet up, get comfortable, and solve some unusual crimes with Holmes and Watson, the ideal companions for warm winter reading inside from the cold.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The sole masterpiece by Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights was published just a year before she died aged thirty. In the words of Robert McCrum for The Guardian, “Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have passed into the language. Impossible to ignore.”

The dark Yorkshire moors, the destructive jealousy, and the complete disregard of upper-class propriety… don’t compare Wuthering Heights to Pride and Prejudice or expect proper Victorian ladies: this book is dark. (And a perfect book for cold, windy weather.)

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings

No collection of the best books set in winter is complete without A Christmas Carol. Dickens’s classic tale is the quintessential Christmas short story that I try to make a tradition of reading every December.

If you treat yourself to a hardcover, I’d recommend this Penguin Clothbound Classics edition; it’s a beautiful book to treasure, complete with some of Dickens’s lesser-known Christmas short stories to enjoy with a mince pie or two.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Raymond Briggs’ charming festive story about friendship, love, and loss from 1978, The Snowman, is one of the most iconic children’s winter classics of all time. Which is impressive, really, considering it’s completely wordless.

After waking up to snow outside his window, a little boy rushes out into the day to build a snowman. That night in his dreams, the snowman comes alive. The hazy, softly coloured illustrations feel like Christmas morning to me.

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