A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
As the days become shorter, there’s nothing more comforting than immersing myself in a sweeping historical novel—the bigger, the better! When my book club recently voted to read Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow (Penguin, $18, 9780143110439), I welcomed the opportunity to escape nightly into the grand halls of the Metropol hotel where aristocrat Count Alexander Rostov, deemed a threat by the Bolsheviks in 1922, is sentenced to lifelong house arrest. Hotel employees, guests and other visitors round out the vibrant cast of characters in the Count’s orbit as he adjusts to his new circumstances and tries to pursue a meaningful life in confinement. His friendship with precocious 9-year-old Nina is particularly endearing; the pair’s quest to explore every nook and cranny of the hotel is a delight. All the while, outside the Count’s window, political turmoil and inevitable social change are transforming Russian society. Written with wit and warmth, Towles’ tale is one you’ll want to curl up with and return to night after night.
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
I spent a few sublime weeks last winter in the company of Umberto Eco’s magisterial debut novel, The Name of the Rose (HarperVia, $19.99, 9780063279636). This medieval whodunit is intellectually absorbing and slyly hilarious as it tracks Brother William of Baskerville and Brother Adso of Melk’s quest to solve a spree of bizarre murders at a monastery in Italy. A historian, philosopher and literary theorist, Eco transports readers into the 14th-century mind, and while things get heady (at one point, Adso contemplates a door for more than a page), Eco never lets his own erudition run away with him. There are impressively gruesome deaths to describe, tangled little dramas of monastery life to tease out and one of the most unforgettable libraries in literature to explore. I read long into the night, wrapped in blankets with a mug of tea at hand, happily looking up Latin phrases and medieval heretics until arriving at Eco’s grand finale, a satisfying conclusion with a few icy notes of existential dread to balance things out.
—Savanna, Managing Editor
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
To me, coziness is a cat dozing on my lap, but a book that captures the magic of our purring friends will also do. A sublime, delicate meditation on the passage of time within everyday life, Takashi Hiraide’s The Guest Cat (New Directions, $14.95, 9780811221504) washes over you like a dream, making it an ideal read for a long winter night. A male narrator and his wife fall in love with their neighbor’s cat, naming her Chibi as she begins visiting them at their rented house. The wife tells the man how a philosopher once said that “observation is at its core an expression of love,” and indeed, Hiraide’s ruminations on the quotidian—dragonflies flying towards water sprayed from a garden hose, Chibi climbing a tree—carry tremendous emotion despite the unembellished prose. With equal parts joy and melancholy, the couple’s relationships with the cat and each other shift, along with the course of their lives and Japan, as the late ’80s economic bubble bursts. Hiraide slips in and out of reflection and memory with the precise grace of a cat.
—Yi, Associate Editor
The New Life by Tom Crewe
There is something so pleasurable about spending a chilly day absorbed in the concerns of another time and identifying resonances with our own. Tom Crewe’s debut novel, The New Life (Scribner, $18, 9781668000847), provides just such a pleasure, placing vivid characters and thorny moral dilemmas against a finely textured historical backdrop. Based on two real life freethinkers in late Victorian Britain, Crewe’s John Addington and Henry Ellis are documenting the lives of gay men for a book that they hope will shift cultural perceptions of homosexuality. It’s risky, but they believe in the cause—and that their status as married men will protect them. However, ideological differences emerge, and Addington begins to wonder if ideals can be legitimate if they are not lived openly. Crewe excels when depicting the nuances of conflict and the question of balancing personal risk against the ability to effect change, drawing readers in with polished old-fashioned storytelling that also speaks to a modern sensibility—A.S. Byatt meets Alan Hollinghurst.