Maybe you're of the hibernation school. You burrow into your home in December, swaddle yourself in flannel and goose down, and subsist on frozen pizzas and canned goods until April. If so, that's cool. No one will judge you. Even the most winter-loving Rochesterians, though they dance and hug themselves with every snowfall, will spend one or two evenings on the couch in fuzzy slippers.
But if you choose a movie or a book to pass the time, for goodness' sake, choose wisely. Don't watch Diehard 18 again. Don't read the articles in TV Guide. C'mon. It's winter, not the apocalypse. Take some suggestions from these gurus: they're willingly sharing the titles of some of their favorites. This way, you'll have a few things to talk about when you re-emerge, blinking and dazed, into the sun.
First, the books.
Nick DiChario, director of adult workshops and programs at Writers & Books and fiction editor of the literary mag HazMat, obliged us with a list of books set strictly in wintry settings.
He calls Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson a "cold, wet, snowy story." It takes place in 1954, on a Puget Sound island, where a Japanese-American man is accused of murder. "A film was made out of it in 1999," DiChario says, "but read the book first. The prose is so elegant that the movie pales in comparison."
He also recommends An Everyday Savior by Kathyrn Larrabee, "set in rural, upstate New York in the dead of winter. Readers are treated to an icy death, a love story, a loyal dog, and terrific characters. The cold, barren, bitter landscape makes this a great fireside novel."
And you can get ready for Writers & Books' "If All of Rochester Read the Same Book..." campaign (this year's is a local pick, Servants of the Map by Andrea Barrett) with another of Barrett's books, The Voyage of the Narwhal. DiChario says: "This book sends kindly Erasmus Darwin Wells into the Northwest Passage late in the 19th century, where his expedition gets stuck in the ice. The reader gets everything from Eskimos and frozen corpses to great moments of natural history, all of it so finely written it will take your breath away."
Anne Panning, writer, SUNY Brockport professor, and co-organizer of the college's excellent Writers Forum, says that Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love "should have won the National Book Award when it was nominated."
She continues: "I've read this novel twice and the image of a couple making love in the middle of the huge empty University of Michigan football stadium stays with me still. The book is as much about loneliness as it is about love and is told from several different points of view ranging from a 20-something coffee shop employee to a retired professor."
Panning was the only expert to recommend a poet. She continues to go back to Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke because "there is always something new to be amazed by in these poems."
"I read this book in college," she says, "and in graduate school, and still read the book over and over because of its dark complexity."
And although she says that Truman Capote is "mostly remembered as being a flamboyant alcoholic in later life," Panning finds in his Complete Stories "a warm sincerity."
"'Children on Their Birthdays' is a great model for how to give away a story's plot in the very first line yet keep reader interest," she says. "'Jug of Silver' reminds me of Ryan's Big M grocery store in Brockport where they still put out jars of candy for shoppers to guess how many."
University of Rochester professor and accomplished fiction writer Joanna Scott offered a concise but full list:
"On a snowy day, I like nothing better than to read the stories in The Portable Chekhov, a compact anthology! Or else, to help me sink into a dream, I'll turn to some weather-rich novels by Thomas Hardy --- Jude the Obscure, or Tess of the d'Urbervilles."
Scott also recommended a couple of more recent works: Wintering by Kate Moses and The Silver Screen by Maureen Howard. Of Wintering (which won Moses the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction by an American Woman from UR --- she'll be visiting in April) Scott says it is "a beautiful exploration of Sylvia Plath and her private struggles." And Howard's is "a graceful, intricate novel by a writer who is unafraid of the bold subjects of love and death."
And now let's go to the movies.
Jim Healy is assistant curator of The George Eastman House's Motion Picture Department. He says he's "really looking forward to luxuriating in the wide-screen, opulent spectacle of Visconti's The Leopard when we show it at the Dryden on February 19. I haven't seen it in about 12 years and it's one of the most haunting and beautiful films I've ever seen."
He also enjoys movies at home: "I've just bought a bunch of special edition Jerry Lewis DVDs and I'm really looking forward to sitting home with them on a series of cold winter nights. No other filmmaker or performer --- with the possible exception of Vincent Gallo --- has the ability to fascinate and repel me at the same time. It's everything I want from cinema."
Matthew Ehlers --- Rochester filmmaker, founder of Eggwork Productions, and City contributor --- is in England working on a screenplay. But he had four films to recommend via email.
Flirting With Disaster: "Ben Stiller heads a great cast at its best including Mary Tyler Moore and Alan Alda. Look for local favorite and Geva veteran Josh Brolin in his hilarious portrayal of a bisexual FBI agent. Director David O. Russell (of I Heart Huckabees) delivers one of the best comedies of the past 10 years."
Insomnia: "Although the Al Pacino remake version was good, I prefer the original starring Stellan Skarsgård in one of his best roles ever. The original is far darker and creepier than the remake."
Stalag 17: "William Holden plays a conniving prisoner of war in one of Billy Wilder's most underrated films. It's a real tough guy film with some amazing twists."
Mystery Train: "One of Jim Jarmusch's lighter escapades and probably his funniest. It features a diverse cast including Steve Buscemi and the late rockers Screaming Jay Hawkins and Joe Strummer."
Catherine Wyler, artistic director of the High Falls Film Festival, picked three favorites and thinks "it's interesting that they are all war movies, about conflicts that are vastly separated by geography and time, but doesn't that speak to the fact that we're so surrounded by conflicts in the world today."
The first is the Oscar-winning Black and White in Color. Wyler calls it "a satire on colonialism and racism."
"European colonials living in remotest Africa learn of the start of World War I," she says, "and decide they must replicate the hostilities in their community."
Second is a story of Quaker farmers during the Civil War, a movie called Friendly Persuasion. "Sometimes it takes more strength and courage NOT to fire the gun," Wyler says.
And finally, she offers up the quintessential epic Lawrence of Arabia. It is, in her words, "simply one of the most entrancing, exciting, eye-popping epic movies ever made."