The Winter Reading List

Oh, the dreaded ‘reading slump‘!

Is it really a thing, a cause attributed to something else entirely, or just a figment of our writerly imaginations?

The answer tends to lie somewhere in the middle. We’re living in a post-COVID society, and there’s a lot of shit happening in the world, not to mention our very crazy personal lives. Sprinkle in everything online that is trying to distract us from even having one solo ad-free thought, and BAM! we’ve forgotten to enjoy old pleasures and partake in formerly enjoyable hobbies.

I have a WordPress draft that I update when I finish a book, and at the end of the year, it transforms into my Year Wrap-Up, of which there are EIGHT so far. Eight years of wrap-ups. So I went to check this year’s process, and my Actually-Read Count for this year is dismally low. A paltry effort.

Three books.

Three books in five months. And two of them are from the same series—the Hannibal Lecter series by Thomas Harris, to be precise. The third is a kids’ book: Matilda by Roald Dahl.

The last time I read Matilda by Roald Dahl, I was an avid reader in primary school who 1. Had no internet at home to distract me, and, 2. Had definitely read way more than three books by the end of the fifth month of the year, and utilised challenges like the MS Readathon as excuses to read more books.

Late last year, I received the Arts Assist Local Encouragement Award in the 2021 Wyndham Writing Awards for my flash fiction Platform 1. For that prize, I elected to receive a Dymocks voucher, because I love books. And, boy oh boy, was I like a kid in a candy store (or ‘milk bar’ or ‘The Biggest Lollie Shop in the World’, if we’re trying to be Aussie-specific). I spent that voucher relatively quickly on a mixture of classics, dark fiction, and kids’ books. Mainly, I wanted fiction that evoked what I like to write (dark fiction that gets you thinking), but anything that struck my fancy was up for grabs.

Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we’re about to hit winter, though it already is heater-on, hot chocolate sipping weather. Sure, what an Australian considers “cold” is a relatively fine summer’s day for Brits or Canadians or whoever, but that’s for another day! What it does mean is that it’s the season for sitting down with a mug of good hot choccy and a cat on your lap and a nice read to the sound of intermittent rain pattering against a window. And we’ve spent more than enough of the wintery season throughout the years doomscrolling Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube (maybe you’re in worse shape and on TikTok), absolutely disintegrating our attention span to the stage where reading more than a page sends our brain into a tailspin.

So I thought I should share some of the books I purchased with that Dymocks voucher, plus a cute bonus, to hold myself accountable, to follow what the cool kids (i.e. BookTubers) do, and share my Winter TBR. At the end of August, if more than half of these are still unread, then No, I WILL read more than half of these books. Join me if you dare!

Audiobooks

Hangman by Jack Heath, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson are all audiobooks I’ve borrowed out through Borrowbox at various, partial stages of completion, and kept reborrowing for months and months on end. There’s nothing wrong with any of these books. They’re all quite enjoyable and readable. And they will be finished. Just a reminder to complete everything. No book is safe. All will be devoured.

Physical Books

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last—inexorably—into evil.

Everyone and their mother’s greyhound’s uncle’s Bengal cat has been talking about this, especially with that dark academia trend that was—and maybe still is?—around. In any case, while it feels like it could be Talented Mr. Ripley territory and can only be read in a specific mood, I feel this could go the way of Rebecca and be an all-time favourite.

Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

One hot spring, the devil arrives in Moscow, accompanied by a retinue that includes a beautiful naked witch and an immense talking black cat with a fondness for chess and vodka. The visitors quickly wreak havoc in a city that refuses to believe in either God or Satan. But they also bring peace to two unhappy Muscovites: one is the Master, a writer pilloried for daring to write a novel about Christ and Pontius Pilate; the other is Margarita, who loves the Master so deeply that she is willing literally to go to hell for him. What ensues is a novel of inexhaustible energy, humor, and philosophical depth.

Why did I pick up this classic? Yes, the reference to cats, but also the desire to read more Russian classics. I picked up Crime and Punishment a while back, because of the premise, and am daunted by the page count. I just needed to cleanse my mind of this one terrible book I was forced to read in Year 12 English—Bypass: The Story of a Road by Michael McGirrin which his love of Anna Karenina nearly turned me off Russian classics. I jest. I was also lured by the prospect of a classic that’s shorter than Crime and Punishment and an aesthetic cover.

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It’s as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out. At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six long days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a treehouse in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.

I bought this because Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky’s earlier work, is a masterpiece, and also, at the time, this book was being shilled all over Booktube and I caved. The plot is also incredibly intriguing.

The Tribute by John Byron

A serial killer is stalking through Sydney, hell-bent on recreating scenes from the Fabrica, the 16th-century foundation text of modern European anatomy. The spate of cold, methodical attacks has the city on edge, but the serial killer may not even be the darkest player in this story. Desperate for a breakthrough, decorated homicide detective David Murphy draws into the case his art historian sister, Joanna, and his wife, Sylvia. Unravelling the mystery of who is behind the killings pushes each beyond the limits of what they thought possible.

I didn’t choose this book, this book chose me. No, really! When you spend over a specific amount at Dymocks, you get a free book. The Tribute was an ARC-copy that was chosen based on my selection of books, and the blurb describes it as similar to Silence of the Lambs and American Psycho and that piqued my interest phenomenally.

The Collector by John Fowles

Withdrawn, uneducated and unloved, Frederick collects butterflies and takes photographs. He is obsessed with a beautiful stranger, the art student Miranda. When he wins the pools he buys a remote Sussex house and calmly abducts Miranda, believing she will grow to love him in time.

I think I first heard of this through the BookTuber RG’s Devilship, who tends to read books up my alley. It sounds dark and twisted and fucked-up. It’s also a Vintage Classic, and I’m a sucker for Vintage Classics, the same way a lot of people are obsessed with Penguin Classics, except Vintage have their red spines and beautiful covers that aren’t orange or whatever unsightly colour the Penguin Classics are.

Cherry by Nico Walker

Cleveland, Ohio, 2003. A young man is just a college freshman when he meets Emily. They share a passion for Edward Albee and ecstasy and fall hard and fast in love. But soon Emily has to move home to Elba, New York, and he flunks out of school and joins the army. Desperate to keep their relationship alive, they marry before he ships out to Iraq. But as an army medic, he is unprepared for the grisly reality that awaits him. His fellow soldiers smoke; they huff computer duster; they take painkillers; they watch porn. And many of them die. He and Emily try to make their long-distance marriage work, but when he returns from Iraq, his PTSD is profound, and the drugs on the street have changed. The opioid crisis is beginning to swallow up the Midwest. Soon he is hooked on heroin, and so is Emily. They attempt a normal life, but with their money drying up, he turns to the one thing he thinks he could be really good at – robbing banks.

This has been recommended in a fair few places, so I honestly can’t remember where I first heard of it, but the premise is intriguing, and I vaguely recalled it from my TBR when I came across it in the bookstore, and that was enough to add it to the pile.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken.

I’m reading this book because a moronic journalism professor back in my uni days saw himself as a twenty-first century Hunter S. Thompson, and I just want to read the book for myself without Professor Gonzo Journalism being the first thing my mind associates with Hunter S. Thompson. Knowing my luck, I’m just gonna imagine every character with his face, but at least I can say I tried. Also, the premise is interesting enough.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is one of America’s greatest and best-loved writers. Known as the father of the detective story, Poe is perhaps most famous for his short stores—particularly his shrew mysteries and chilling, often grotesque tales of horror—but he was also an extremely accomplished poet and a tough literary critic. The Complete Tales includes all of Poe’s spine-chilling short stories and melodious poems, as well as literary criticism, essays, and his only full-length novel, The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym.

This edition is fucking beautiful. It’s also Edgar Allan Poe (try not saying that in Dr Nick Riviera’s voice). Without Poe, a lot of what I read today likely wouldn’t exist. Detective novels, mystery, horror—all genres that are so important today. Perhaps at the lower end of my TBR for a reason, because a complete collection is quite daunting.

Marcie Gill and the Caravan Park Cat by Monica McInerney

Marcie Gill hasn’t had a great start to the Christmas holidays. Her parents aren’t talking to each other and the family business – the Snorkel Bay Caravan Park – is in financial trouble. Her younger brother will only talk about his 23 goldfish and her sister is obsessed with tennis. To make matters worse her gran is in the hospital after a bad fall and won’t be home for ages.

But then something magical happens. Something that involves a Christmas competition, a black cat called George and a wishing stone. Marcie is about to discover that if you wish hard enough, dreams can come true.

Full disclosure: I didn’t get this book with the others. It was a Christmas present, and signed by the author. But it’s so cute it had to be added here. Also, I think a cute, heartwarming kids’ book may be the nice little palate cleanser I need before some dark adult fiction. I’ll take any excuse to read a book about cats.

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