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WINTER'S TALES

What better way to salve your holiday blues than with a fat, companionable book? Curl up in your favorite armchair with a couple of these warming titles

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You might live in a cold climate, you might reside in the Sun Belt-it doesn’t matter: Good winter reading should make you feel warm in a season when the blood runs sluggish and the soul tends to retract. The ideal winter book encourages coziness. It promotes snacking. It indulges drowsing. And most of all, it condones staying inside, draped with bad posture in an unstylish chair, clad in one’s most comfortable bathrobe, barely moving except to turn the page or refresh the teacup. To my mind, there’s no quicker route to coziness than to get lost in a book set in the snow. Peter Hoeg’s smart, icy new thriller Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $21) is one stylish way to go-what could be more wintry than a mystery set in Copenhagen and Greenland? A snowy, Benningtonesque New England college town keeps a body frozen and interest simmering in THE SECRET HISTORY (Ivy, $6.99), Donna Tartt’s 1992 classics- influenced best-seller about a cliquish cabal of college students who enact their own murderous Greek tragedy. And snow-plus panic at the melting of it- figures in Scott Smith’s A SIMPLE PLAN (Knopf, $21), which has the added benefit of increasing the heartbeat while keeping up with the plot. (For optimum pleasure, read this one sitting alone in a cheap coffee shop, fueled by plates of french fries and repeated cups of hot chocolate: You’re in the amiable company of strangers while Smith’s protagonist is in moral isolation.) In the category of older favorites, Mark Helprin’s WINTER’S TALE (Pocket Books, $12) is always a delight. You’ve got your magical flying white horse, you’ve got heroes and villains, you’ve got a rich travelogue of fantastical | situations, and you’ve got that kind of elasticity of time where past, present, and future loop together with fairy-tale disregard of logic. (This is a deeply needed distraction when you think you’ll never get through the holidays and then you do and then you think you’ll never get through January.) Best of all, you float on an evocation of New York City as a romantic Emerald City. Which, of course, it is, providing you’re not trying to shop at Macy’s on the weekend before Christmas. While in a New York frame of mind, you mustn’t let winter pass you by without reading (or rereading) Jack Finney’s TIME AND AGAIN (Fireside, $10.95)-a book that should be enjoyed yearly, but only in the winter, so you’re in the right mood as you admire the accompanying historical photos of 19th-century people ice-skating in Central Park. Like Helprin’s tale, this is a fantasy that spans centuries-in this case, the New York City of 1982 and 1882. (The city never looked lovelier.) Following which, you will read (or reread) Edith Wharton’s THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (Collier, $5.95), won’t you? There’s a reason Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation of late-19th-century New York society life is so compelling at the close of the 20th century, and a reason, too, why Mrs. Wharton has made her way onto today’s best-seller lists in the company of Danielle Steel and Anne Rice: Her piercing analysis of social conventions and the consequences of disruption are as fresh now as when the novel was first published in 1920. Besides, in her evocation of social life-the clothing, the calling cards, the cutlery-she touches on another rich category of winter reading: food. You can never read too much about food in winter. (You could, indeed, honorably immerse yourself in reading nothing but cookbooks for four months.) But if you’d like to combine recipes with warming literary sketches of domestic happiness, curl up with MORE HOME COOKING (HarperCollins, $22), a posthumously published collection of essays with stirring directions by Laurie Colwin, most gathered from her columns in Gourmet magazine. And if all else leaves you cold, do this: Go tropical. EASY IN THE ISLANDS (Penguin, $7.95), a collection of pulsing, pungent short stories by Bob Shacochis, is ripe with heat and sun and Caribbean flavor. Read it and your pulse will race, you’ll swear you smell jasmine and coconut oil in the air instead of pine needles, and you may fall into a kind of trance. Pretty soon you’ll look up and it will be spring. And time to read books about sex.