November 27, 2023

A Very Cozy, Place-Based, Winter Book List

Those of us who love historic places often talk about how they make us feel, recognizing that they range from awe-inspiring to sobering, depending on the stories these sites tell.

We also know that the last few months of the year surface a bevy of emotions that come with the holidays, where you just want to curl up in your coziest woolen socks by the fire all while cradling a steaming cup of hot cocoa—and a good book.

This winter, we decided to combine familiar winter feelings and your love for history, to bring you a place-based book list curated for the season.

Sourced from National Trust staff and others who love to read, this list is meant to feed your soul with stories with a strong sense of place, stories that build connections to our ancestors, and stories that bring us joy as we close out the year.

An image with four different book covers on them: Charm City Rocks (Dell), Starling House, Siren Queen (Tor Books), Save What's Left (Anchor)

Images courtesy of Dell (Charm City Rocks), Tor Books (Starling House and Siren Queen), Anchor (Save What's Left).

The yearning to sit by the fire on a wintery-mix night:

These books are the epitome of cozy, transporting you to the city and town in which they take place. While Charm City Rocks is a classic romcom set in the big city (Baltimore) and Starling House is a gothic haunted mystery in a small town (Eden, Kentucky), both settings are very much an essential part of the narratives. These books stand ready to sweep you away as your home becomes your fortress against the snow, ice, and everything in between.

Feeling relaxed and leaving everything behind to sit on the beach with a peppermint frozen hot chocolate:

Who needs the cold! These books are for those who enjoy living or vacationing in a place that is warm, sun-soaked, and temperate during those long and dark winter months. Siren Queen takes you to the warm environs of Hollywood, telling the story of a Chinese American would-be starlet, in a page-turner that is not your standard beach read. Save What's Left features the small-town politics of a beach town and with it the story of a woman looking to find a new start in a place that turns out to be nothing like she expected.

An image with four different book covers on them:  As Seen on TV (Forever), A Proposal They Can't Refuse (MIRA), Lone Women (One World), The Cartographers (William Morrow).

Images courtesy of: Forever (As Seen on TV), MIRA (A Proposal They Can't Refuse), One World (Lone Women), William Morrow (The Cartographers).

The sense of comfort (and mild exasperation) you feel when you watch a holiday movie about saving a small town/library/family home:

We will readily admit our love for a certain type of movie that mixes nostalgia and the holiday season. Sprinkle in a little bit of love and you can’t help those warm and fuzzy feelings, even though things aren’t necessarily realistic. These two books live in that world (albeit minus the holiday theme). As Seen on TV is about a woman who travels to a small town in danger of big-city development, all while carrying her own preconceived notions as baggage. A Proposal They Can't Refuse is, naturally, about two people caught in a fake engagement to save a family run Puerto Rican restaurant on one side, and a family distillery on the other, as their Chicago neighborhood faces gentrification.

Looking for suspense as your family (whom you love) predictably overwhelms you when everyone tries to talk at once:

Sometimes the holidays become too much, and you want something suspenseful (and featuring someone else’s family drama) to really sink your teeth into so as to drown out the noise. First things first, these two books are not for the faint of heart. Lone Women is a mix of horror and the history of the West which follows a Black homesteader and a terrible secret into Montana. The Cartographers is about an old highway map that holds a secret, one that devastated the heroine’s family and leads to a mystery only she can decipher.

An image with four different book covers on them:  AP US History: Important American Documents (I Made Up) (W.W. Norton and Company), American the Beautiful? (Harper Perennial), Above Ground (Little, Brown and Company), The Comfort of Crows (Spiegel & Grau).

Images courtesy of: W.W. Norton and Company (AP US History: Important American Documents (I Made Up), Harper Perennial (American the Beautiful?), Little, Brown, and Company (Above Ground), Spiegel & Grau (The Comfort of Crows).

You ate too many cookies and just want to think about history and places that will bring joy and make you laugh:

Sometimes it is the irreverent books that provide the most comfort and pull you away from yourself when you gave into the temptation that was the sugar cookie dough. These books couch truth in humor and connect our past with our present with some unexpected results. In Alexandra Petri's US History: Important American Documents (I Made Up) readers are taken along an invented journey in what is referred to as “history fan fiction.” America the Beautiful? One Woman in a Borrowed Prius on the Road Most Traveled is a travelogue that mixes the so-called Great American Road Trip with some biting commentary, for a refreshing look at traveling in the United States. Both will make you laugh out loud, scratch your head, and maybe walk away thinking differently about our connections to the past.

Hoping for inspiration to fight for a better world in the New Year:

As a preservationist, you look for ways to make the world in which we live just a little bit better, even as some things are out of our control. As the year winds down, you might hope for something to provide just a little bit of inspiration. These two titles don’t shy away from the tough conversations, from a series of poems called Above Ground that connect the ideas of family and home, to ruminations on the past in The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year, which is a set of essays that are grounded in a smaller place—a backyard. While different in format and tone, both are about the human connection to where we live.

An image with four different book covers on them:  The Great Displacement (Simon & Schuster), The Fight to Save the Town (Avid Reader Press), Family Lore (Ecco), Warrior Girl Unearthed (Henry Holt and Co).

Images courtesy of: Simon & Schuster (The Great Displacement), Avid Reader Press (The Fight to Save the Town), Ecco (Family Lor), Henry Holt and Co (Warrior Girl Unearthed).

Overcome by a feeling of urgency to learn more about our greatest challenges:

While not very festive, these two books certainly feed that sense of urgency to gain some knowledge before the new year. The Great Displacement examines the ways in which Americans are migrating in the face of climate change, while The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America looks at the myriad of challenges faced by small towns in the United States. Both books take a community level approach to sharing at a deeply personal level the challenges being faced across the country. Together they confront some of the biggest challenges historic preservation face—and how we can be a part of the solution.

Remembering our ancestors and those we have lost in the past year:

For many, the end of the year is a time for remembrance, moments when you feel absences more keenly. These two books are about fighting for those stories, even when they are threatened. In the Family Lore a Dominican American family comes together for a living wake that takes them through their own history and their lives to come, while in Warrior Girl Unearthed (the only young adult novel on the list) a young girl fights for her Anishinaabe people. While both deal with challenging subjects, they both honor the ancestors through gripping and nuanced storytelling.

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While her day job is the associate director of content at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Priya spends other waking moments musing, writing, and learning about how the public engages and embraces history.

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