Winter Reading guide: Books to thrill, inspire, amuse, and delight in the dark, cold days to come

Jaime Zuverza

Jaime Zuverza

The world can feel mighty small by the time February wraps its icy arms around our state. You leave the house less and less—cutting all frivolous trips down to a spare few—and your stack of books becomes ever more essential, a bulwark against cabin fever. We tapped local booksellers to get their advice on the best reads to stockpile for the winter months ahead. Below, find their picks for must-read titles in fiction and nonfiction, as well as some books with local ties.


Early Riser
by Jasper Fforde, Viking, 2019

In an alternate version of our world, humanity has survived throughout history by hibernating during the extremely cold winter months. Charlie Worthing is a new recruit to the Winter Consuls, one of the small number who stay awake through the season to protect the slumbering population. When a series of mishaps—or are they? —brings Charlie to wild, rural Sector 12 instead of the relative safety of Cardiff, he must navigate the season’s absurdities, dangers, villains, Wintervolk, corporate conspiracies... and a viral dream that’s intruding on reality.

“This offbeat adventure (from the author of The Eyre Affair) isn’t available until February, but it is the definition of winter reading! A wintry romp full of satire, silliness, and chills, perfect for curling up with to lighten a bleak Minnesota winter day.” — Recommended by Magers & Quinn staff

November Road
by Lou Berney, HarperCollins, 2018


Frank Guidry is a New Orleans mobster who knows too much; Charlotte Roy is a housewife and mother on the run from a drunk husband and a dead-end life. From the author of The Long and Faraway Gone, this new release is a love story and a cat-and-mouse chase set against the backdrop of one of the most significant moments in American history: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Berney wields the power of historical fiction, gritty crime thriller, and romance in a genre-defying story that grips the reader.

“Berney is a wonderful storyteller. I usually would not pick up anything to do with the JFK assassination, but this book is just brilliant.” —Recommended by Devin Abraham, manager, Once Upon A Crime

The Comedown
by Rebekah Frumkin Henry Holt and Co., 2018

A scrappy heroin dealer and an obsequious addict in Cleveland are forever linked when a drug deal goes terribly wrong. The tragic moment sets off a chain of events that changes the lives of both of their families, spanning generations. Rebekah Frumkin’s dark comedy takes us across America from the Kent State shootings to the Florida Everglades, while weaving in questions of racial, religious, and class identity.

“Sprawling multi-generational mystery? Check! Complicated feelings about the Midwest? Check! Acid-fueled fight between millennial and baby boomer? Check!” —Recommended by Will Sheffer & Heidi Birchler, booksellers, Moon Palace Books

Her Body and Other Parties
by Carmen Maria Machado, Graywolf Press, 2017

An electrifying collection of short stories, Her Body and Other Parties explores violence, queerness, and sexuality in ways that are at once perplexing and haunting, confounding and profound. Author Carmen Maria Machado plays with old wives’ tales, urban legends, and fables, leaving ample room for the reader to interpret what it all means.

“It was a tradition in Victorian England to read ghost stories around the holiday season, and I’m all for keeping that tradition alive. Spooky books are made for long winter nights, and Machado’s short story collection explores feminist and queer themes. Each story is unsettling and strange in the best possible way.” —Recommended by Megan, volunteer, Boneshaker Books

The Mars Room
by Rachel Kushner, Jonathan Cape, 2018

Romy Hall has been sentenced to two consecutive life terms at a California women’s correctional facility. The Mars Room leads us from her past as a lap dancer who murders her stalker, to her present, navigating the bitter reality of incarceration. All the while her future, now bleak, looms like a character in its own right. From the casual violence of guards to the survivalist mentality of Romy’s fellow inmates, Rachel Kushner captures in perfect detail a life lived in lockup.

The Mars Room is a poignant and memorable work, interweaving narratives from a women’s prison in California. This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year.“ —Recommended by Rebecca, volunteer, Boneshaker Books

There There
by Tommy Orange, Knopf, 2018

Twelve Native American characters navigate the urban landscape of Oakland, California in this debut novel by indigenous author Tommy Orange. What does it mean to be an “urban Indian”? Where is home when home feels foreign? There There is a meditation on identity that merges history with the here and now: “We are the memories we don’t remember. We know the sound of the freeway better than we do rivers.”

“Forceful, emotional, and utterly brilliant, the whole of the novel marches the characters toward an inevitable climax that imbues the story with incredible pace and power. This book is an absolute showstopper.” —Recommended by Matt Keliher, manager and buyer, SubText Books

Check, Please!: #Hockey
by Ngozi Ukazu, First Second, 2018

Eric Bittle, formerly a junior figure skating champion in Georgia, is starting his freshman year playing hockey at a prestigious Massachusetts university. But unlike his co-ed club hockey back in the South, college hockey involves one defensive technique that has cost many a professional player their teeth: checking. Check, Please!: #Hockey is a coming-of-age graphic novel about friendship and finding yourself when you’re far from home.


“You will be deeply charmed by the story of Eric Bittle, a pie-baking, Beyoncé-loving figure skater turned college hockey player, and his journey of identity as he moves through the uncertainty every college freshman experiences. This graphic novel is a joy!” —Recommended by Katie McGinley and Heather Albinson, booksellers, Wild Rumpus Books

Death to the Bullshit Artists of South Texas
by Fernando A. Flores, Host Publications, 2018

The rock bands of McAllen, Texas are destined for greatness—except that they always seem to fall apart before they get there. This group of short stories about the music scene of a small south Texas town invites us to reconsider the notion of success. By turns hapless and relatable, the musicians in these stories ultimately convey creativity as an invigorating defense against the many slings and arrows of life.

“I love this collection of dreamy Texan short fiction, swirling with stories about youth, music, rebellion, and community. Each vignette is steeped in a hazy nostalgia and yet decidedly unsentimental. Unique and mesmerizing, with real emotional depth.” —Recommended by Daley Farr, events coordinator, Milkweed Books

Tin Man
by Sarah Winman, Putnam, 2017

Michael loves Ellis, Ellis loves Annie, and Annie loves them both. Yet Sarah Winman’s blistering novel Tin Man is anything but the usual love triangle. Instead, Winman asks us to consider what remains of love after its object is gone. She crowds this spare little book, set in London, Oxford, and the south of France, with vivid portraits of loss.

“At once terse and expansive, Tin Man is a firework flashing in the night—gone too soon but burned forever into the reader’s memory.” —Recommended by David, manager, Common Good Books


I’ll Be Gone in the Dark
by Michelle McNamara, Harper, 2018

Michelle McNamara devoted much of her life to researching and investigating the unsolved crimes perpetrated by the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer. Remarkably, a suspect was finally arrested around the same time the book was published, after McNamara’s death. McNamara’s passion, intelligence, and literary skill shine in this powerful narrative, destined to become a true-crime classic.

“True crime and dark winter days go together like mashed potatoes and gravy, so if you missed this bestseller by the late Michelle McNamara, now is the time to catch up.” —Recommended by Magers & Quinn staff

Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present
by Peter Vronsky, Berkley, 2018

Following his 2004 book, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, Peter Vronsky continues his examination of serial killers throughout history—and why we’re so obsessed by them. In Sons of Cain, Vronsky’s focus narrows to sexual serial killers, tracing the origins of this particular form of violence back to the pre-civilization era. As an investigative historian, Vronsky brings true-crime intrigue to an academic dissection of serial killers’ motives and mindsets. The term “serial killer” may have only been coined in 1981, but the phenomenon is deeply rooted in the human experience.

“Because who doesn’t want to know about that?” —Recommended by Devin Abraham, manager, Once Upon A Crime

Heavy: An American Memoir
by Kiese Laymon, Scribner, 2018

Heavy is the story of a young black man raised in Jackson, Mississippi by a single mother and confronted with the twin prejudices of racism and body-shaming. Kiese, who has always struggled with his weight, is trapped in an America that both promotes and despises fatness, an America that polices his body in more ways than one. The memoir layers this systemic and omnipresent violence against black bodies with tales of Laymon’s complicated relationship with his mother and the love and redemption he finds in his grandmother.

“Kiese Laymon is one of the most talented writers on the scene and his latest book, Heavy, is this season’s not-to-miss memoir. The book is not only an intimate history but also a wide-reaching reflection on contemporary America. Heavy is certainly heavy but well worth the effort.” —Recommended by Will Sheffer & Heidi Birchler, booksellers, Moon Palace Books

Emergent Strategy
by Adrienne Maree Brown, AK Press, 2017

The subtitle of Emergent Strategy gives you a sense of the scope of this radical self-help book: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. Brown, a visionary social-justice advocate and a creative thinker, encourages the reader to accept the constant flux of the world and find the patterns that shape it. By recognizing these patterns, we can understand, influence, and ultimately create a better world through the power of personal and societal transformation.

“By far the most hopeful and energizing book I’ve read this year. I know I’m not alone, as this is also our most frequently requested book at Boneshaker.” —Recommended by Rebecca, volunteer, Boneshaker Books

Worse than Slavery
by David Oshinsky, Free Press, 1997

The story of racial injustice in America does not end with the abolition of chattel slavery in 1865. David Oshinsky’s essential work, Worse than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice , picks up the narrative there, exploring how slavery’s legacy continued to thrive in legalized forms of abuse: Jim Crow and the criminal justice system. Through the history of Mississippi’s Parchman State Penitentiary, notorious for chain gangs and synonymous with cruelty, Oshinsky gives us an unflinching portrait of life after emancipation—and the lasting effects of racial violence and oppression in America.

“Oshinsky does well to make the reader uncomfortable with the past and, through this discomfort, confront the truth about racism and its legacy in America and in the American criminal justice system. This is a book I would highly recommend everyone living in America read.” —Recommended by Kristalena, volunteer, Boneshaker Books

by Elizabeth Rush, Milkweed Editions, 2018

Much ink has been spilled over the global effects of climate change, and while much of that ink discusses these effects on distant lands, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore focuses specifically on the American shoreline. Rush travels to Louisiana, Oregon, Maine, and New York City to talk to Americans about how their lives and livelihoods have been upended by rising oceans. Rising is the story of communities already faced with the prospect of saying goodbye to the places they call home.

Rising is an eye-opening book, one that should not and cannot be ignored.” —Recommended by Matt Keliher, manager and buyer, SubText Books

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid
by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco, illustrated by Joy Ang, Workman Publishing, 2018

From the creators of Atlas Obscura comes a wonderful kids’ edition that calls out to all adventurers. This illustrated guide will transport you to 47 countries and every continent to discover 100 of the most mesmerizing natural and manmade wonders.

“It’s easy to lose yourself in these luscious illustrations of bizarre occurrences and beautiful mysteries around the globe. Put on your explorer’s hat and get reading!” —Recommended by Katie McGinley and Heather Albinson, booksellers, Wild Rumpus Books

False Calm: A Journey Through the Ghost Towns of Patagonia
by Maria Sonia Cristoff, translated by Katherine Silver, Transit Books, 2018

Through a series of portraits of remote towns in Patagonia, Cristoff brings the reader face to face with people who have chosen or been forced to accept a life of relative isolation. Cristoff spares no detail in her portrayal of this distant world, where mental illness, suicide, and economic stagnation have become commonplace. Yet, within this solitude, Cristoff finds a beauty, a magical realism that unnerves and enraptures.

“Patagonia is a vast and remote place. This book accurately captures that sense of strange expansiveness and crystalizes it into a narrative that is dense with isolation. Simply wonderful.” —Recommended by Hans Weyandt, bookstore manager, Milkweed Books

by Alec Soth, MACK, 2018

“I went to Niagara for the same reason as the honeymooners and suicide jumpers,” says photographer Alec Soth, “the relentless thunder of the Falls just calls for big passion.” Haunting and beautiful, Niagara chooses the iconic falls as its focal point, but mostly captures the human interactions surrounding the natural wonder. Through love letters, motel parking lots, and pawn-shop wedding rings, Soth tells a story of love and loss, lust and death.

“A wonderful follow-up to Soth’s classic photo book Sleeping by the Mississippi. A mind-blowing photo book and a classic, lovingly reissued by MACK books.” —Recommended by Joe, bookseller, Common Good Books


Whisked: Cooking Up Community
edited by Camille J. Gage and Molly Herrmann, 2018

Whisked is a locally produced community cookbook featuring secret recipes from favorite Twin Cities chefs and restaurants.

“Learn how to make a torta just like one from Manny’s Tortas, Ann Kim’s roasted cauliflower with calabrian chile from Pizzeria Lola, and more. It also features writing and art by locals, and the net proceeds from this book go toward the Immigration Law Center of Minnesota.” —Recommended by Magers & Quinn staff

Leave No Trace
by Mindy Mejia, Emily Bestler, 2018

A man and his son trek into the Boundary Waters on a camping trip and vanish. They are presumed dead until a decade later, when the son mysteriously appears. Mindy Mejia’s gripping novel follows language therapist Maya Stark’s quest to connect with her violent, uncommunicative patient—and maybe reunite him with his missing father.

“Mejia wows again with wonderful words, great character development, and a beautiful homage to the Boundary Waters.” —Recommended by Devin Abraham, manager, Once Upon A Crime

When Everything Was Everything
by Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, Full Circle Publishing, 2018

Local Lao poet, playwright, and performance artist Saymoukda Vongsay brings forth her experience as a Lao girl in Minnesota with stunning precision and vulnerability. This book of poetry is directed at children, but holds memories, reflections, and portraits that will resonate with readers of all ages.

“Vongsay tells the story of her childhood in St. Paul in brief memories from the Hmong market to the classroom to Interstate 94. Cori Nakamura Lin provides gorgeous watercolors that make Vongsay’s stories come to life.” —Recommended by Will Sheffer & Heidi Birchler, booksellers, Moon Palace Books

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns
by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson, Limerence Press, 2018

Follow along as Archie, a genderqueer artist, and Tristan, his cisgender pal, review what gender-neutral pronouns are, why they matter, and how to use them. Made a pronoun mistake? The team covers what to do. Plus, they give helpful tips for staying safe and sane in this binary-centric world.

“Quick, easy, fun, and friendly. This is the perfect non-threatening guide to gender-neutral language, and it was created by Boneshaker’s very own Archie!” —Recommended by Kat, volunteer, Boneshaker Books

by Justin Phillip Reed, Coffee House Press, 2018

This winner of the National Book Award for Poetry experiments with language to take on white supremacy, black identity, sexuality, and the prison industrial complex.

Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed is revelatory in its beauty, exciting in its form, and completely, wonderfully human. And, yes, that is bird shit on the cover.” —Recommended by Matt Keliher, manager and buyer, SubText Books

Hush Hush, Forest
by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Nick Wroblewski, University of Minnesota Press, 2018

This gentle bedtime tale perfectly captures the change of season in our northern landscape. Brought to you by two of Minnesota’s finest talents, Mary Casanova and Nick Wroblewski, Hush Hush, Forest watches as wildlife prepare for night, from the preening racoon to the doe and fawn bedding down.

“Snuggle up in the city and dream yourself into the wintry forest!”

—Recommended by Katie McGinley and Heather Albinson, booksellers, Wild Rumpus Books

Directory of American Menu Hotlines, Vol. 1: Hospitals, Military Bases, Senior Centers, Churches & Service Organizations
by Andy Sturdevant, Birchwood Palace Industries, 2018

This is yet another delightful project from local savant Andy Sturdevant, in which he profiles places across the nation you can call to hear someone read you their daily menus. Sound boring? It’s not. Sound weird? It is! Delightfully so. Sturdevant is inquisitive and thorough, with a genuine appreciation for his subjects that reels in the reader.

“Featuring real-life characters like ‘the Miami Valley Cowboy’ and the menu reader at the St. Charles Parish Hospital in Louisiana, whose gusto for her task is impossible to resist. ‘Happy Friday, y’all!’” —Recommended by Milkweed Books staff

Dream Country
by Shannon Gibney, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2018

Kollie Flomo, a Liberian teenager living in the suburbs of Minneapolis, is sent to school in Monrovia. Togar Somah, an indigenous Liberian teen, is on the run from slave traders in the early 20th century. In 1827, children of Yasmine Wright leave a Virginia plantation with their mother to find promise in the new country of Liberia. Shannon Gibney’s web of stories paints a picture of the tangled connections between Liberia and America, and the resilient characters caught in the struggle for freedom.

“This young-adult novel is a wonderful and personal lens to the United States’ relationship with Liberia and the migration of slaves and refugees. It’s a must-read to learn about a part of history that we don’t talk about enough.” —Recommended by Riley, bookseller, Common Good Books

Special thanks to the following bookstores for their recommendations and for keeping the Twin Cities well read: Boneshaker Books, Common Good Books, Magers & Quinn, Milkweed Books, Moon Palace Books, Once Upon A Crime, SubText Books, Wild Rumpus Books