1.30.2012

Winter


The weather made her feel as if there was no point to life: whether you worked hard didn’t matter, whether you found someone to love didn’t matter, because even if you worked hard and found someone to love, a day like this would come, when a strange damp coolness seeped in through the windowpanes and seeped in through you, make you see that everything was meaningless. Brian Morton The Dylanist

Winter, the bane of my life. The dreaded season. A time to escape, to go underground. And yet for Adam Gopnik it is a season to love, one of serenity and of all things “warmth.” In his new book, Winter: Five Windows on the Season, he writes about this season in an imaginative way.

“My subject is the new feelings winter has provoked in men and women of those modern times: fear, joy exhilaration, magnetic appeal and mysterious attraction. Since to be modern is to let imagination and invention do a lot of the work once done by tradition and ritual.”

The book was originally presented in a series of informal evening talks with a group of Gopnik’s friends and then as the more formal Massey Lecture Series, a Canadian Broadcasting Company radio forum to address important contemporary issues or as a reviewer put it, “a Stanley Cup final for the mind.”

The published version of Gopnik’s broadcasts consists of five chapters, each devoted to a different aspect of winter

• Romantic Winter--musical, literary, and artistic depictions

• Radical Winter--places of extreme winter, the polar expeditions (North and South)

• Recuperative Winter--the winter holidays, Christmas, the carols, Dickens

• Recreational Winter--winter sports, hockey (The Montreal Canadians and ice-skating

• Remembering Winter—personal recollections of snowstorms, school closings, and days by the fire with a good book

“Joy,” “appeal,” “attraction.” I am thinking to myself how can anyone feel like this about winter. My feelings are precisely the opposite. But I was raised in Los Angeles, where winter can be as warm as summer. That may be one possible reason for our differences.

What struck me most about Winter was how happy Gopnik says he is then. “Gray skies and December lights are my idea of secret joy.”“…a season long seen as a sign of nature’s withdrawal from grace, has become for us a time of human warmth.”

And “by us” Gopnik refers to those who live and have been raised, as he was, in Canada (Montreal) and to his family that, like most families are drawn together inside their homes when the weather outside is bitterly cold and icy.

Gopnik writes: "I love winter, I love snow, I love blizzards. I love the way it transforms an ordinary scene." How fortunate, I think to myself as I sit at my desk shivering.

I am done in by the winter. It virtually immobilizes me. I see men and women outside walking without a cap, bald men, men who have shaved their head. How can they do that? Do they eat more, have different genes, or are they simply braver? My ambition is to delete winter from my life.

After I read the book, I thought why not do the same for summer, the season I love, the joy of my life, a time to embrace not flee. How writers and artists depict summer, the place to be (Italy), the sports (baseball), the holidays (fireworks), swimming at Zuma Beach. Summer—Five Windows on the Season. Look for it soon at your favorite bookstore.

9 comments:

Stefanie said...

I think winter is a very fine season. I often think about moving to Canada should global warming do away with cold winters in Minnesota. Obviously, Gopnik and I would get along quite nicely, chatting about the blizzard outside while sipping hot chocolate by the blazing fire inside :)

Richard Katzev said...

You and Gopnik. Fancy that. What happened to Bookman?

Nancy said...

I am quite taken by Gopnik's writing, thanks to your recommendation. Everyone should experience the warmth, security and intimacy of a Snowbound season at least once, I think. A summer version? Capital idea!

From joy to joy,
Nancy

Richard Katzev said...

Once and no more. Once is sufficient, but not necessary. Perhaps it is enough to read about it, especially when someone like Gopnik is the writer.

Stefanie said...

Me and Gopnik and Bookman, a threesome :) Reading about winter and snow and cold is nothing like experiencing it. Just ask those cold and snow-covered folk in Alaska right now! Besides, it is a belief here in MN that winter is character-building. I am inclined to agree. Since I've moved here I've become quite a character ;)

Richard Katzev said...

You sure are. Just think how much less of a character you'd be if you lived in Honolulu.

The issue of winter being character building is worth considering. Is suffering character building?

I know of no evidence that supports that claim. In the absence of evidence and for a clear definition of what constitutes character building, I am inclined to belief the notion is a myth. A myth that functions to assuage the misery of winter.

Stefanie said...

Ah, but see, you assume people view winter as suffering. The view is that it is a challenge to be overcome. One does not let the snow and cold keep one from being active, from finding interesting and creative things to do. Therefore people fish through the ice, St. Paul has a winter carnival, people ski and skate, and go parasailing across the ice or snowshoe through the woods. To call out from work during a snowstorm or when it is 20 below is to give in and admit defeat (unless you are calling out because you have fun plans). Plus, winter gives complete strangers something to talk about and bond over so you could say it is also community building. :)

tbooth said...

A fine review, thanks Richard. You should do the same for summer—if not a book at least a series of blog posts. Hope you found yourself a warm spot in the sun today.

Richard Katzev said...

Thanks Tom. It will take a while. And yes, we are in Hawaii where it is always sunny and always warm.