Reporter's Notebook

Cold-Weather Reading

When Jack Frost comes nipping at my throat, I turn up the vaulted collar on my pea coat, heat up the kettle and crack the cover of a survival tale to put my discomfort in perspective

By Tristan Scott

As the mercury drops and the daylight dwindles, I can’t quite shake the seductive grip of summer and its unremitting cajolery to do more. And yet, despite this annual compulsion to wring out the final droplets of a season whose preciousness is commensurate to its brevity, the most compelling reason for swaddling myself in goose down and heading indoors for a hot-cuppa is the autumnal chill. 

That’s right. Despite my Minnesota upbringing and hearty constitution, I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to enduring the cold. So, when Jack Frost comes nipping at my throat, I turn up the vaulted collar on my pea coat, heat up the kettle and crack the cover of a survival novel or adventure tale to put my discomfort in perspective. 

I can trace my fondness of the subgenre to my childhood, when fall meant cozying up in a corner of the Hennepin County Library, a copy of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s “The Worst Journey in the World” monopolizing my lap. Or, on special occasions, a chilly autumn day entailed a visit to Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, a children’s bookstore whose interior design was inspired by Ann Mazer’s “The Salamander Room,” and which features a menagerie of adopted animals, including a clowder of Manx cats, a mischief of rats, an assortment of hedgehogs and ferrets, and a cuddly potbelly pig named “Norman.”

The alchemic magic of reading remains as potent to me as an adult as it was when I was a child, and the very thought of a stack of books striking haphazard poses on my nightstand can warm me to the core.

Last week, per the recommendation of friends during a chilly backpacking trip, I began reading “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage,” which chronicles the explorer’s legendary expedition to Antarctica. It’s a fascinating account, albeit one that features a few too many dead dogs for my taste — an offense that is offset by author Alfred Lansing’s descriptions of the expedition’s savory mealtime extravagances, including hot-brewed seal and penguin hoosh, limpets and seaweed. (There are also few passages in recent memory that have made me snuggle deeper into my comforter than those detailing the crew’s rotting reindeer-hide sleeping bags.)

Another favorite from a local legend is “Backcountry Ranger in Glacier National Park, 1910-1913: The Diaries and Photographs of Norton Pearl,” which recounts his double circumnavigation of the park in winter.

It appears that readers share my affinity for the survival tale as an antidote to the onset of winter weather, because my call for recommendations was well-heeded.

Brian Miller is partial to the classic Jack London short story “To Build a Fire,” in which the dog survives (spoiler!), and tips his hat to Canadian writer Farley Mowat’s “Never Cry Wolf” as well as his children’s novel, “Two Against the North.”

Neil McGing’s list includes “Silence: In the Age of Noise” by Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge, a meditation on the power of silence in everyday life, and an account of the 50 days he spent alone journeying to the South Pole. McGing also suggests Bill Waterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes: It’s A Magical World” and “War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival” by Sheri Fink.

Beacon staff writer Mike Kordenbrock, the literary heavyweight in our office, favors James Joyce’s story “The Dead,” published in the collection “Dubliners,” as well as David Grann’s 2018 New Yorker nonfiction story “The White Darkness,” which was republished as a short book of the same name.

Thanks to everyone who shared their fall reading recommendations. I can already feel the collective warmth welling up from within.

Tristan Scott is the managing editor of the Flathead Beacon.