You Take the Flotsam, or: Books to Shiver With

Perversely, when it’s very cold, I tend to want to read about places that are even colder. I think this has to do with my extreme unfitness for cold-climate living. I love the way snow looks. I love throwing snowballs for the dog. But I’m a candidate for hypothermia after about 10 minutes of shoveling the driveway. It’s pathetic, really – remember the movie, Titanic? Remember that scene where Leonardo DiCaprio lets Kate Winslet have sole possession of the floating piece of ship’s timber? Right then, I turned to my date in the darkened theatre to whisper fondly, “Honey, if we’re ever in a cold water shipwreck, I’ll be dead the minute I land in the drink. You take the flotsam.”

So, as a result of my morbid fascination with cold-weather adventure: a list of books to chill the blood, in no particular order.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. I have to admit, I read this for the first time as an adult. I loved George’s My Side of the Mountain so much when I was a child that I would have happily run away to go live in a tree in the Catskills. I am glad to have finally read Julie. I think adults ought to read it – even if it is for a second time. The issue of aerial wolf hunts certainly has not gone away, nor have the clash and combination of native and western culture. 

Julie of the Wolves is an enriching read for so many reasons – its detailed descriptions of animal behavior, its treatment of human difficulties in bridging traditions, and for the harrowing adventure of a girl – and her wolves – on the tundra.

The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge is a touching, raw take on Scott’s final Antarctic expedition. Bainbridge’s vividly imagined view of the inner lives of each of the expedition members makes the reader feel right there with them. It is a shatteringly creepy and deeply human story.

Antarctica 2041 Adventurer/environmentalist Robert Swann sets out to tell us about his quest to save Antarctica from the pillaging he imagines will erupt when the International Antarctic Treaty (which, among other things, says that Antarctica doesn’t belong to anyone in particular and therefore nobody better go mining it or dumping lots of stuff there or committing various other atrocities) comes up for review. What he mostly does, though, is show us why he fell in love with the continent, and what a cruelly beautiful and undeniably important place it is.

Lots of hair-raising adventure is in the mix, as Swann makes it to various polar regions (north and south) before he really knows what he’s doing – boy, does he learn some things along the way… And so will the reader, while gasping at the perils that anybody there at the ends of the world encounters every day.

So there you are – three excellent excuses to get out the hot cocoa, spike it with a good splash of rum, and settle down to be grateful for the wonders of central heat.

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