Wintering by Katherine May


cover188544-mediumAn intimate, revelatory book exploring the ways we can care for and repair ourselves when life knocks us down.

Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.

A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.

Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.

This book came to me at a serendipitous time. Quarantined at home during the first wave of COVID-19 in the last months of Winter, feeling very uncertain, worried, and tired. It was the balm I needed to soothe all of that uncertainty.

May writes eloquently about the ingrained need in humans to “winter” or rejuvenate. She talks about the northern European countries where people retreat to their homes and life slows down when Winter comes, and how that time is used to care for yourself, both mentally and physically. She shares her own retreat into “wintering” as illness hits first her husband, then herself, causing her to dramatically change her way of life.

There is lots of reflection here, and it must be said, some preaching from a position of privilege. Not everyone is in a position where they can stop working and retreat into their home to “winter,” but May writes about the concept in a way that “wintering” becomes less of physical thing and much more of a mental process, this making it more accessible. Her prose is lovely, comforting, and timely.

This will make an excellent book club pick.

Publication Date: December 1, 2020
Published By: Riverhead Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy