Winter Reading Roundup: The Tove Jansson Edition

I love the winter.

It’s an unpopular stance, I know. Especially since I’m not particularly into winter activities. But I love the snow, the way it blankets everything and muffles sound, creating a silent, insulated world that glitters in the light. I love curling up inside with a warm blanket and a mug of tea, seeing the frost ferns on the windows and watching the chickadees and red squirrels flutter and flock around the bird feeder.

To celebrate the season, I like to read wintry books. I find that I can sink that much more into them when I’m experiencing the season itself at the same time. Their descriptions strike a more resonant chord.

Tove Jansson is the queen of that winter feeling. I suppose it’s no surprise, as she grew up in Finland, and so was no stranger to long, cold, dark, glorious winters. If you want to really revel in some winter reading, Tove Jansson is the author to seek out.

A Winter Book
(translated by Silvester Mazzarella, David McDuff, and Kingsley Hart)

Sort of Books edition, 2006.

With an on-point title like A Winter Book, it’s hard not to lead with this one, although some of the stories are summer-themed as well. As Ali Smith writes in the introduction, “…A Winter Book modulates between winter and summer, youth and old age.”

This collection of stories, written between 1968 and the 1980s, but not published until 2006, is poignant and lovely, with a touch of melancholy, a dash of childlike wonder, and a keen, observant eye for the little things that often go unnoticed.

The True Deceiver
(translated by Thomas Teal)

New York Review of Books edition, 2009. The cover is Tove Jansson’s own illustration for The True Deceiver.

The opening page of this remarkable little novel includes this passage:

“It had been snowing along the coast for a month. As far back as anyone could remember, there hadn’t been this much snow, this steady snow piling up against doors and windows and weighing down roofs and never stopping even for an hour. Paths filled with snow as quickly as they were shovelled out. The cold made work in the boat sheds impossible. People woke up late because there was no longer any morning.”

The True Deceiver is the story of Anna Aemelin, an aging, childlike artist, and Katri Kling, a cold-hearted and blunt young woman, who live in a small village in Finland. The book tells of the way their lives intersect with and alter one another in the course of one long winter, when the village is snowed-in.

Although predator/prey imagery abounds—Anna is the rabbit, and Katri is the big, bad wolf—this story is not what you might think at first. At times brutal and at times tender, it is ultimately full of ambiguity and the hallmark of Tove Jansson’s work: the attention to small details of thought and feeling and landscape.

Moominland Midwinter
(translated by Thomas Warburton)

Square Fish edition, 2011.

You didn’t think I was going to do a whole post about Tove Jansson and not rec a Moomin book, did you?! The Moomins are a group of mild, genial, thoughtful beings who live in a magical valley, and are full of “blithe, hilarious anarchy” (Ali Smith). Moominland Midwinter might actually be my favourite Moomin book of all.

As Moomin fans among you will know, Moomins hibernate in the winter. They fill their bellies with pine needles, pile up heaps of peat to slowly smolder away in the stove, and tuck into bed to go to sleep from November to April. But in this adventure, Moomintroll wakes up midway through the hibernation period, and cannot get back to sleep. He then discovers the world in the winter, sees snow for the first time, and meets all kinds of creatures who are only about in the winter season (including an ice horse, eight invisible shrews, and his hairy ancestor, who is living under the sink).

He has encounters with old friends like Little My and the Hemulan, and meets Too-ticky for the first time.

“‘I’m thinking about the things one can’t understand. I’m thinking about the aurora borealis. You can’t tell if it really does exist or if it just looks like existing. All things are so very uncertain, and that ‘s exactly what makes me feel reassured.

She lay down in the snow again and continued looking up at the sky. It was quite black by now.

Moomintroll also put up his nose and looked at the sparkling northern lights that probably no Moomin before him had ever seen. They were white and blue and a little green, and they draped the sky in long, fluttering curtains.

‘I think it exists,’ he said.”

It’s a magical book, and it literally sits on my bedside table all winter, so that I can pick it up and read a chapter or two before bed.

I hope that these books will inspire you to embrace the season—at least in a literary way—whatever your thoughts and feelings on it may be. Happy reading!


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