This Is the Content of Our Winter, Pt. 1
Posted by: Neil Hollands
The staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library met for our annual Christmas meeting, with the theme of books where a cold or icy setting played an important role. The resulting choices will induce shivers in more ways than one! Other book groups might experiment with some of the following titles of their own wintry mix.
Jeanette loves Scandinavian mysteries, and she had the latest by the Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason, Hypothermia. In this entry, Inspector Erlunder’s own history with his brother’s disappearance and two other missing persons cold cases figure into a new murder. Jeanette enjoyed the book, but was sad to report that Indridason’s long-time interpreter Bernard Scudder passed away and that the new translator is not quite as strong. For those who want to explore earlier works in this series, the first is Jar City.
Cheryl’s penchant for nonfiction about disasters was satisfied by two books. Gary Krist’s The White Cascade tells the story of America’s most deadly avalanche, a 1910 disaster that swept two trains off the Cascade Mountains in Washington state. Krist blends history with a knowledge of railroads to paint a fascinating story of a little known disaster.
Even better, she thought, was David Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard, another nonfiction work that tells the story of the January 1888 blizzard that dropped on the Dakotas unexpectedly, dropping the temperature by over 50 degrees in the course of a few hours and pounding surprised communities with harsh winds and heavy snows. In particular, children were caught at their schools and teachers faced tough decisions about whether to send the children home or risk dwindling supplies of fuel. Laskin tells the story in great detail, introducing the families (mostly immigrants) who were victims, describing the effects of blizzard conditions and fast freezes, and taking readers through the events of the harrowing day hour by hour.
Barbara brought the Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell’s The Man from Beijing. She was a bit daunted by the beginning of the 1960-set tale, in which an entire village of 19 people is found brutally massacred. But when similarities to a nineteenth-century crime in Nevada popped up, a crime which involved one of the victim’s ancestors, Barbara was hooked. This is a standalone, not connected to Mankell’s long-running Kurt Wallander series.
Morag from our youth department had the Newbery honor choice Blizzard! by Jim Murphy. This children’s nonfiction work describes another storm from that nasty winter of 1888, this one a nor’easter that wreaked havoc from Vermont to Virginia. Murphy describes acts of true bravery and accounts of sheet stupidity in both words and wonderful color illustrations. The rudimentary weather reporting system of the day was caught off guard by a Monday morning storm that battered the eastern seaboard for the next four days. This storm that killed 800 people would change the way that weather was reported and emergencies were managed. Murphy is particularly good at capturing the differences that class made in deciding the ability of different people to weather the storm.
There were so many good books at this meeting that I can’t fit them all in one post. I’ll be back later this week with five more snowy selections.