Winter by Adam Gopnik

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Winter by Adam Gopnik

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Category: Reference
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Rachel Holmes
Reviewed by Rachel Holmes
Summary: A collection of five essays on winter, exploring art, history and society and how our perspective of the sometimes harsh, bitter season has changed over time. A surprisingly wonderful, philosophical read with a charming and relaxed tone.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: September 2013
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780874470

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In this collection of five essays, each one offering a unique and fascinating perspective on the season of winter, Adam Gopnik takes the reader on a captivating journey, exploring history, art and society, through Romantic Winter, Radical Winter, Recuperative Winter, Recreational Winter and Remembering Winter. In each essay, Gopnik focuses on one or two central themes, whilst also touching on surrounding ideas. For example, in Romantic Winter his central topics are art and poetry, however, issues such as changing society, technology, sex and culture are also explored, in relation to these pivotal notions. He also includes two sections featuring collections of artwork to illustrate his viewpoints, which add a charming, individual touch to this book.

My first impression when I received this book was pure wonder at how there was so much to be written about one seemingly repetitive, natural occurrence. However, what Gopnik manages to convey so well is not only the different images surrounding winter, but also the changing perspective of the season over time. For example, the invention of central heating in the 1800s resulted in a significant change in how we viewed winter; no longer such a brutal, harsh coldness we were forced to accept, but an opportunity to sit indoors in the cosy warmth and reflect on the beauty of the outside world, often through poetry and art. Gopnik has a wonderful way of transporting the reader to the time and location he is discussing, creating a wonderful journey across continents, and in particular the areas of Canada, the North Pole, Germany and London. I did feel, however, that a mention of winter in the southern hemisphere, in countries such as Australia, was noticeably lacking, if only to convey a contrast to the typical northern winters and present ideas of what winter means to the people living there.

Gopnik's knowledge on the subjects covered in these essays is extensive, to say the least. He discusses, at length, ice hockey in Canada and admits he uses these essays as an opportunity to speak on his favourite sport. Whilst I found the history of the recreational activity rather insightful, I did think devoting almost an entire essay out of the five to this subject was a little tedious! However, I did respect Gopnik for bringing such native authenticity to his work.

The most poignant essay for me was Remembering Winter, which was presented in a rather sombre tone, in comparison to the rest of the book. Here, Gopnik imagines what the future may have in store for the season of winter, and discusses the effects of global warming on societies, cultures and day-to-day life. Rather than enjoying what we now take for granted as part of a yearly cycle, we would look back and reflect on what once was, and the emotions winter once invoked.

Winter is not merely a collection of essays about a season, it is also a journey through time, told in such a delightful manner, you almost forget that this is a series of lectures. Inspiring and thought provoking, it allows the reader to experience the many layers of this somewhat magical, natural occurrence.

Reading this in November, a time when we are about to be launched into the very heart of the northern winter months, gave me reason to appreciate this transitional time far more than I would have done previously. Overall, this is a beautifully philosophical book, well worth a read whilst curled up by the fire, as the snow falls outside.

Thanks to the publisher for this book.

If this book appeals then you might like to try:

Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticisms 1981 - 1991 by Salman Rushdie

The Future History of the Arctic: How climate, resources and geopolitics are reshaping the north, and why it matters to the world by Charles Emmerson

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