February: A Mood in Books

Annie KennedyBooks, Inside WITS

I’ve lived in the Midwest for most of my life. That’s over 30 years of Chicago winters that I’ve sledded down, lost my gloves in, and shoveled myself out of. By now, I should be fine with the snow and the sleet and the frigid temperatures. Alas, dear reader, I am not. When the calendar turns over to February 1, I lose my tolerance of winter and ask myself “Is it spring yet?” on an almost daily basis. If you’re like me, you may find yourself looking for any excuse to stay inside from now until April. You’ll also know that “any excuse” really just means “reading.” While reading is excellent all year round, it’s especially excellent in February. Here are some seasonally appropriate book suggestions.  

If you’re looking to beat the winter blues: Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Samantha Irby is an angel, and her most recent essay collection does not disappoint. Released in the early stages of the pandemic, this book brought me much needed relief when I was very frightened. With essays like “Late-1900’s Time Capsule,” detailing Irby’s ideal 90’s mixtape, and “Body Negativity,” a nod to her “smelly, actively decaying body,” you’ll be cracking up, and I bet you won’t even notice that it’s been dark for exactly one million hours, even though it’s only 7:00pm.

The cover art for Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
If you would like a book that will make you feel some semblance of warmth: Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson and The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling

In Nothing to See Here, 10-year-old twins Bessie and Roland bring the heat, literally. Whenever they get angry or upset, they spontaneously combust. While they never hurt themselves, they can hurt others and set things on fire. This causes their dad and new stepmom to make them live in a guesthouse on the family estate. Nothing to See Here is an excellent book about being an oddball and finding acceptance, oftentimes in the strangest of places.

For a story in a warmer climate, look no further than Lydia Kiesling’s debut novel. The Golden State introduces us to Daphne, who packs up her car and hits the road alongside her sixteen-month-old daughter. Their destination is the fictional town of Altavista, where they settle into a mobile home that Daphne inherited. As a Midwesterner, everything about California enthralls me. Just thinking about a dry desert town is perfect for when the temperature is ten degrees, and my driveway is an ice-skating rink.

The cover art for Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
If you’ve given up and have decided to embrace the cold: Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

Faceless Killers is the first crime novel in Henning Mankell’s Wallander series. Kurt Wallander is a police detective in Sweden, well known for their long, cold, and dark winters. In this book, an elderly farmer is murdered, and his wife is left to die in their remote farmhouse. Assigned to the case, Wallander and his team unravel clues that ultimately connect this police procedural to some of Sweden’s largest social issues.

If you haven’t talked to your friends in a while: Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman are besties, writers, and co-hosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend. In Big Friendship, they explore the complexities of life-changing platonic relationships, which are often dismissed when compared to family or marriage. Blending research with their own history, Sow and Friedman tell us about their 2009 meet cute, their experience of having a deep friendship with someone who is a different race, and how they ended up in couples therapy together. Big Friendship was released in July 2020; at that point in the pandemic, I hadn’t seen any of my friends, including my bestie (Hey, Courtney!) in four months. This book would have made me cry regardless, but reading it while being isolated sent me into overdrive. So, here is my tip to you: Call your friends, then get this book.

If you can’t stop thinking about the one(s) who got away: Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi

2021 was not my finest year in terms of reading books. While my friends and colleagues ate up novels like they were delicious snacks, I went through an eight-month book slump. Everything I picked up tasted like old spaghetti. Even the books that I was excited to read sat untouched on my nightstand. The first was Michelle Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart. In this book, she explores her identity as a Korean American and details what it was like to lose her mother. The second was Yolk by Mary H.K. Choi, a book about two sisters who trade identities when one gets sick and needs the other’s health insurance. I didn’t read these books last year, and yet, I never stopped thinking about them. Excuse me while I put them on hold from the library.

The cover art for Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
If Valentine’s Day is your thing (and even if it isn’t): Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi

Emergency Contact is not a book about Valentine’s Day, but since it’s February, ‘tis the season for romance! Penny, thrilled to leave her old life behind, moves to Austin, Texas for college. Sam works and sleeps at a café, and he hates it. When they first encounter one another, it’s less of a breathtaking meet cute and more of an awkward semi-panic that leads the two of them to swap numbers and become each other’s emergency contact. I love this book so, so much, and you will, too.

The cover art for Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi