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Winter Reads by 192 Books | Book Club

BOOK CLUB

Chloë Ashby visits 192 Books in New York and discovers their best reads for winter months.

New York’s Chelsea is a landmark destination for art lovers thanks in part to longtime dealer Paula Cooper, who relocated her eponymous gallery here in 1996. Since 2003, when she and her husband, the former publisher Jack Macrae, opened 192 Books, the neighbourhood has also catered to the city’s bookworms.

Nestled next to Clement Clarke Moore Park on 10th Avenue, the light-filled space is part bookshop, part cultural and community meeting point – hosting book launches, readings and discussions. In keeping with Cooper’s background there’s a strong selection of art books, as well as a table devoted to translation and wooden shelves lined with a mix of old and new literary fiction. “We want people to come in and find not only what’s new and good but also something they didn’t expect,” says manager Evan Dent. “Something from another country, a book by a favourite author they never thought they’d find, or something recommended to them by the staff.”

Whether you’re after a story that matches the season – with snow-capped landscapes and cosy interiors – or a long and sweeping story in which you finally have the time and space to lose yourself, 192 Books is teeming with tomes that will keep you snug as the temperature drops and the nights draw in. 

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Winter calls for hibernation, which the nameless narrator in Ottessa Moshfegh’s third novel is expert at. My Year of Rest and Relaxation follows a young woman in New York who decides to sleep for twelve months and emerge reborn.

After the death of her parents, the twentysomething art history graduate at the centre of Moshfegh’s novel quits her job at a bougie gallery and shuts herself away in her apartment. Sedated by a ludicrous combination of pills she receives from a terrible psychiatrist called Dr Tuttle, her daily habits amount to nipping downstairs to a bodega, buying coffee, then retreating to her lair.

The novel begins in June 2000 and ends with 9/11. It would all be quite dismal if it wasn’t brushed with moments of tenderness and levity. In classic Moshfegh style, My Year of Rest and Relaxation is super smart and blackly funny.

Winter by Ali Smith

The second slice of Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet begins and ends with allusions to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It features Barbara Hepworth’s smooth stone sculptures and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, a play “about poison, mess, bitterness, then the balance coming back”. Muriel Spark is in there, as is Virginia Woolf. Even Elvis Presley (via GI Blues) and Charlie Chaplin (via The Great Dictator). Like AutumnWinter is sprinkled with cultural touchstones.

The shapeshifting novel may be set over a couple of days in Cornwall, but it’s disrupted by flashbacks, dreams, visions and more. It tells the story of Sophia Cleves, a successful retired businesswoman, her son Arthur and her “radical activist”, “hopeless mythologizer” sister Iris. Sophia invites Arthur and his girlfriend Charlotte to stay; unbeknownst to his mother, Arthur has split with Charlotte so he pays a young woman to pose as her. In trademark Smith style, enter the unexpected stranger: Art found Lux at a bus stop reading a menu from Chicken Cottage.

Bleak but beautiful, Winter is a breathtaking commentary on family life, art and politics in the 21st century. “What will the world do,” Lux asks Sophia, “if we can’t solve the problem of the millions and millions of people with no home to go to.” 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This is exactly the kind of sweeping story that I’d recommend immersing yourself in this winter. Told across eight decades, and moving from Korea to Osaka, Tokyo and Yokohama, Pachinko is an epic saga about family, identity and the immigrant experience.

Korean-American author Min Jin Lee’s second novel follows a poor but proud Korean family across four generations. It begins in early 20th-century Korea with Sunja, the daughter of a fisherman called Hoonie and his young wife Yangjin. To avoid bringing shame on her family after falling for a married yakuza (gangster) and becoming pregnant, Sunja marries a local pastor and moves to Japan – the beginning of a new and unpredictable life away from her homeland.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” So begins Donna Tartt’s confessional novel about six students and a secretive murder at a college in Vermont. In the style of a Greek tragedy, the author immediately reveals what horror has happened – leaving the reader free from surprises but full of tingly apprehension.

Set at the fictional university of Hampden, The Secret History is narrated by Richard Papen – a bright but lonely boy who intends to fashion for himself “a new and far more satisfying history”. As he’s granted membership to an eccentric group of undergraduates who study Classics and set themselves apart from their peers, we feel as though we’re right there with him.

Coventry by Rachel Cusk

“Every so often, for offences actual or hypothetical, my mother and father stop speaking to me. There’s a funny phrase for this phenomenon in England: it’s called being sent to Coventry.” So begins the essay, originally published in Granta, after which Rachel Cusk’s new collection of non-fiction is named.

Following the publication of her lauded literary trilogy, Outline, Transit, Kudos, Cusk brings us a series of essays that offer insight into her life, her work, and also the wider world. Her previous memoirs A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother and Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation received mixed responses (both from critics and the parenting forum Mumsnet). Coventry, though, comes wrapped in praise.

Combining lived experience, cultural criticism and literary criticism, the collection covers everything from family life and gender politics to writers such as Natalia Ginzburg and artists like Louise Bourgeois. It grapples with homemaking, driving, etiquette, adolescent girls and much more.

Words and images by Chloë Ashby

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