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In the Winter Cold, Warmth and Light on the Page

"Winter is icummen in," wrote Ezra Pound in a comical little poem — and winter is coming in, indeed. Its advent means shorter days and longer nights, with less natural light. So as darkness falls we readers switch on a lamp or pull a chair close to a fireplace and pick up a book.

Darkness falls, light rises.

Shakespeare has one of his characters announce that "a sad tale's best for winter." I don't entirely agree; some sad stories, perhaps, seem appropriate for the season of cold and dead vegetation, when the land hibernates, but what better way to dispel the gloom than some effervescent storytelling?

In Proust and the Squid, a fascinating new study of how we read and the neurology that makes it possible, Maryanne Wolf walks us through the stages by which we — as a species and as individuals — first learned to turn the shapes on the page into knowledge and story.

But reading is more than just a rational function of the brain. Reading is part dreaming, part imagining. You read a word or phrase — "China," "Timbuktu," "the Erie Canal," "Uzbekistan" — and you're already halfway around the world, or perhaps closer to home than you might have suspected.

And what is more personal than meeting a writer halfway, moving our eyes across a page and letting a story erupt and unfold in our minds? Nonfiction has the force of fact behind every line. But fiction moves to the force of the dancing imagination, and there is nothing we human beings possess or can create that is more powerful.

Here are my recommendations for coming out of the cold and finding good reading beneath the winter circle of light:

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