In the bleak midwinter

by Andy Mitchell

Christina Rossetti chose the perfect word for winter: bleak. “Frosty wind made moan.” Here I sit behind the bookstore desk, looking out the front window, which, in early December, can conjure up cozy snow globe scenes, the kind that fill my early December heart with a Bing Crosby song. But here in the bleak midwinter, the scene is gloomy, dismal. Heads hang low. Everyone sniffles and sneezes. It’s a perfectly dreadful time of year. A good time to fly south. Or in lieu of that, to stay inside and read a book about a warm, sunny place.

One of my all-time favorite books is “The Sheltering Sky.” It’s not exactly a feel-good postcard from paradise, but the setting offers plenty of warmth and sunshine. When Port and Kit travel to Morocco with their friend, Tunner, in tow, they have no idea what nightmares await them as they plunge deeper into the desert. By the time you finish this Paul Bowles classic, you’ll be thankful for your mere run-of-the-mill misery produced by these winter months.

The same can be said for Albert Camus’ sun-drenched existential adventure in North Africa, “The Stranger.” Read it. Love it. Be glad you don’t have to live it. Not everyone’s day at the beach is a day at the beach.

You could travel to the French Riviera with my old pal, Scott Fitzgerald. “Tender is the Night” is his other masterpiece. While Gatsby rightfully tops most lists of twentieth century literature, Tender ought to make those lists, as well. But, again, if you’re looking for fun in the sun, look elsewhere. All of Fitzgerald’s pleasure comes laced with despair. The setting is usually glittering, the people mostly rich and beautiful, but invariably doomed. He threads the ‘Great American Dream’ and then tears it apart, telling the heartbreak of its unravelling.

If, like most of us, you don’t have the time or the money to escape the harsh realities of winter, you could at least find a book where privileged people take business class flights to exotic locales, a book filled with lots of umbrella drinks, one wherein the protagonist struggles day-after-day deciding where to golf and where to dine. But after your vacuous weekend of reading, you would be left cheerlessly back in your own reality. Whereas, after reading a classic sunbaked tragedy, you might feel relieved to return to your gray humdrum week, knowing that somewhere out there around the corner spring is waiting with its red and yellow tulips and its lilac-scented breeze, knowing also that you are earning your spring, toughing it out here in the bleak midwinter.

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