Near Thamesford Ontario, ten winters ago

Make no mistake: autumn is my favourite season. I know I’m not alone in that, right?

But even those who share my love of it often follow up by saying that winter is coming.

Quite often I just keep quiet then, but sometimes I’ll admit that I don’t mind that.

Sometimes I’ll even confess that there are things I really love about winter also.

Adam Gopnik’s Winter (2011) goes a long way towards taking the shame out of that for me.

There are things that he loves about winter too.

In discussing these, he is viewing through “…five windows among many more that we could open on the history of the winter mind”.

His view is partly rooted in an experience of winter in this country, but his perspective is not limited in that way.

Sure, “[w]inter in Canada is an inescapable fact rather than a part-time recreational possibility”, but the wintry talk crosses all borders, taking readers to winter in German and Russia, for instance.

He could been anywhere with snow “….falling so it first italicized the plants and trees and the lights, drawing small white borders around them, and then slowly overwhelming them in drifts and dunes. I knew that I had crossed over into a new world – and that world was the world of winter.”

Don’t you just love that: “italicized”? It’s not all poetic imagery though. There’s even some humour:

“What happens to the hats of all Canadian kids? They are lost to some vast repository of wool that will one day be recovered and used to re-clothe the sheep of the world.”

Some great winter reading 2011

I know…I know. Lots of people don’t see anything funny about winter.

And I know, too, that half the world — perhaps the half you’re living in while reading all this snow-talk — is heading for summer now, instead. (If the sun’s beating down on you, this book will cool you off.)

But the great thing about the Massey Lectures is that they cross so many fields (and not all of them covered by snow).

They pull together disparate ideas and experiences and get your brain buzzing with connections.

Did you know that Vivaldi wasn’t all about the music, that he composed a poem for each of his Four Seasons too?

And those lovely ice flowers that form on the inside of winter windows, the hoarfrost: did you know that there was a massive debate about whether they were alive?

Did you know the name of that beautiful painting you so often see on greeting cards and bookcovers, Caspar David Friedrich “Monastery Graveyard in the Snow”?

From Bruegel to Lawren Harris, from Coleridge to Cowper, from Schubert to Mendelssohn’s sister…

(I’m sorry I have to add another, but did you even know he had a sister who also composed?)

…from talk of the inventors of central heating and radiators to references to the Titanic and Starbucks and Disney: so much about winter that you haven’t thought of yet.

This is the first of five posts that I’ve planned to celebrate this year’s series of five Massey Lectures (really, just a sneaky way to celebrate my other favourite season: there I’ve said it).

Check out the Massey Lectures on CBC, Broadcast Live this week

OR available free as podcast until November 18, 2011 (in five segments), also available to purchase through iTunes

OR buy the CD set in December 2011 at the CBC Shop

OR (and this is the best part) buy the book via House of Anansi and check out all the other amazing Massey Lectures while you’re there.