The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 29, 2013

Winter reads for the deep freeze

Authors, professors provide book recommendations for the deep freeze ahead

By Amanda Dyslin
adyslin@mankatofreepress.com

---- — This is it, folks: the deep freeze. And if the upcoming spring is anything like the last, we won't be seeing green until mid-May.

There are the hardy few among us who love the snow and ice and spend oodles of their time bundled up engaging in outdoor winter sports activities. Good for them.

Many of the rest of us hibernate. Tucked away in our warm little abodes, nothing feels cozier on a cold winter's night than a hot beverage and a good book.

To help with your winter reading list, we asked several area authors and college professors to give their recommendations on good winter reads.

Here's what they had to say.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills, English instructor at South Central College and author of “The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don't Mind” and “Beautiful Music for Ugly Children”

■ “And the Mountains Echoed,” by Khalid Hosseini, is a sweeping look at how one person's decisions echo through time and a family. It's set, of course, in Afghanistan, but it makes its way to America, France and Greece, too. The stories are complex and sometimes ambiguous, but that's OK because it's truthful — families sprawl out and make multi-layered decisions that influence us in ways we don't always understand.

■ “Chasing Shadows,” by Swati Avasthi, is the story of three high school friends (two are brother and sister) who are affected by maybe-or-maybe-not random violence in Chicago. The book is unique because it's got alternate storytelling viewpoints (Holly and Savitri), but one story is also told as a graphic novel.

Swati's work is always intense and complex (just like Hosseini's) and it pulls you in immediately.

Rachael Hanel, Mass Media professor at Minnesota State University and author of “We'll Be the Last Ones To Let You Down: Memoir of a Gravedigger's Daughter”

■ “Autobiography,” by Morrissey — Fans of the former The Smiths frontman will enjoy this memoir for sure, but even those neutral toward the eccentric singer will find plenty to like. You won’t find any great revelations (his sexuality and the reason why The Smiths broke up have launched massive speculation and gossip), but here’s a first-person glimpse into the incredible British music scene of the 1970s and 1980s.

Any creative will identify with his passion for his craft. True to form, Morrissey writes with a poet’s grace and wit. Morrissey gets blasted in the press for being an egotistical drama queen, but the book lets me see the lonely, awkward Manchester teenager truly bewildered by what he’s become.

■ “The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking,” by Brendan Koerner — I’ve long thought the 1970s was one of the wackiest decades in U.S. history, and “The Skies Belong To Us” only bolsters my theory. The book describes an era of air travel that many of us still remember —nearly unfettered access to planes, crew, and terminals and lack of screening. As a result, between 1968 and 1973, there was an average of one hijacking in the U.S. per week.

Koerner details several of these hijackings, focusing on one couple who remained on the run for several years after they successfully commandeered a plane. I found myself muttering “unbelievable” page after page.

Elizabeth R. Baer, English and African Studies professor, Gustavus Adolphus College

■ “Submergence,” by J. M. Ledgard — This brief (200 pages) novel is getting rave reviews as the best book of 2013 and as "easily one of the best books I have ever read (NH Public Radio)." Focusing on just two characters, James More, a British spy imprisoned in Somalia by jihadists, and Danielle Flinders, a sexy biomathematician who does undersea exploration, the novel also includes reflections and speculations on the ocean, the desert, climate change, intimacy, enclosure, religion and many other topics.

It is at once a dark story and also full of such gorgeous language that the reader is "submerged" as each of the two characters are in their own ways. Ledgard is Scottish and has lived in Africa for many years.

■ “Knitting Yarns: Writers and Knitting,” by Ann Hood — Ann Hood's 5-year-old daughter died suddenly in 2002 of an infection. Hood found knitting to be one of the few things that enabled her to cope with her grief.

Already a writer, she subsequently produced two books which further allowed her to work through her grief: “The Knitting Circle,” a novel, and “Comfort,” a memoir of her heart-breaking loss. Now she has published this wonderful anthology with funny, poignant and engrossing essays by many famous writers who also knit, including Elizabeth Berg, Sue Grafton, Barbara Kingsolver, Andre Dubus III, Ann Patchett and Jane Smiley.

The book also offers five original knitting patterns. A perfect gift for the knitter in your life!