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Wintering
Cover of Wintering
Wintering
The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
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A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! AS HEARD ON NPR MORNING EDITION AND ON BEING WITH KRISTA TIPPETT

“Katherine May opens up exactly what I and so many need to hear but haven't known how to name.” —Krista Tippett, On Being
“Every bit as beautiful and healing as the season itself. . . . This is truly a beautiful book.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

 
"Proves that there is grace in letting go, stepping back and giving yourself time to repair in the dark...May is a clear-eyed observer and her language is steady, honest and accurate—capturing the sense, the beauty and the latent power of our resting landscapes." —Wall Street Journal
An 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.

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! AS HEARD ON NPR MORNING EDITION AND ON BEING WITH KRISTA TIPPETT

“Katherine May opens up exactly what I and so many need to hear but haven't known how to name.” —Krista Tippett, On Being
“Every bit as beautiful and healing as the season itself. . . . This is truly a beautiful book.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

 
"Proves that there is grace in letting go, stepping back and giving yourself time to repair in the dark...May is a clear-eyed observer and her language is steady, honest and accurate—capturing the sense, the beauty and the latent power of our resting landscapes." —Wall Street Journal
An 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.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    Indian Summer

    Some winters happen in the sun. This particular one began on a blazing day in early September, a week before my fortieth birthday.

    I was celebrating with friends on Folkestone beach, which juts into the English Channel as if reaching out to France. It was the start of a fortnight of lunches and drinks that I hoped would allow me to avoid a party and see me safely into the next decade of my life. The photographs I have of that day now seem absurd. High on a sense of my own becoming, I snapped the seaside town bathed in the warmth of an Indian summer. The vintage-looking launderette that we passed on the walk from the car park. The pastel-coloured concrete beach huts that stack along the coast. Our combined children jumping over the shoreline together, paddling in an impossibly turquoise sea. The tub of Gypsy Tart Ice Cream that I ate while they played.

    There are no photos of my husband, H. That's not necessarily unusual: the photos I take, over and over again, are of my son, Bert, and the sea. But what is unusual is the blank in the photographic record from that afternoon until two days later, when there is a picture of H in a hospital bed, trying to force a smile for the camera.

    At the idyllic seaside, H was already complaining that he felt sick. It didn't signify much; I have found that parenting a young child brings one long succession of germs into the house, which cause sore throats and rashes and blocked noses and stomachaches. H wasn't even making a fuss. But after a lunch that he couldn't bear to eat, we walked up to the playground at the top of the cliffs. H disappeared for a while. I took a photograph of Bert playing in the sandpit, a rope of seaweed tied to the back of his trousers like a tail. When H came back, he told me that he'd vomited.

    "Oh no!" I remember saying, trying to sound sympathetic, while privately thinking what a nuisance it was. We'd have to cut the day short and head back home, and then he'd probably need to sleep it off. He was clutching at his middle, but that didn't seem particularly troubling under the circumstances. I wasn't in any hurry to leave, and it must have shown, because I have a very clear memory of the sudden shock when our friend-one of our oldest ones, whom we knew from our schooldays-touched me on the shoulder and said, "Katherine, I think H is really ill."

    "Really?" I said. "Do you think so?" I looked over to see H grimacing, his face sheened with sweat. I said I'd go and fetch the car.

    By the time we got home, I still didn't think it was anything more than a dose of norovirus. H put himself to bed, and I tried to find something for Bert to do, now that he had been robbed of his afternoon on the beach. But two hours later, H called me upstairs and I found him putting on his clothes. "I think I need to go to hospital," he said. I was so surprised that I laughed.

    H sat in a plastic waiting room chair, a cannula in his hand, looking miserable. It was Saturday night. The place was brimming with rugby players admiring their broken fingers, drunks with lacerated faces, and elderly people hunched in wheelchairs, their carers refusing to take them back to their residential homes. I had dropped Bert off with neighbours and promised to be back in a couple of hours, but soon I was texting them to ask if they wouldn't mind his staying over. By the time I left H, it was after midnight, and he still hadn't been moved to a ward.

    I went home and didn't sleep. Returning the next morning, I found that things had gotten worse. H was vague and hot with fever. The pain had built up through the night, he said, but by the time it was at its peak, the nurses were changing shift, so...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 6, 2020
    In this elegant memoir, journalist May (Burning Out) finds beauty and transformation in a difficult period of her life. In the span of six months, May’s husband falls ill with acute appendicitis; her six-year-old son, who is bullied and suffers from anxiety, stops going to school; and she leaves her job as a university lecturer after suffering severe stomach pains from malabsorption. Though May centers her thoughts on these harrowing events, she is more interested in reflecting on the internal process they set into motion (what May calls “wintering,”) and embraces the harshness of life as part of the cycle of nature: “When everything is broken, everything is also up for grabs. That’s the gift of winter: it’s irresistible. Change will happen in its wake, whether we like it or not.” She traces events that transpire between September and March as she weathers winter through a mix of traditions—winter solstice at Stonehenge, Finnish saunas, and polar bear plunges—that reaffirm her purpose and see her through to the next phase of her life: “Mine is a personal animism, hushed by my conscious brain, nurtured by my unconscious.” May’s evocative ode to retreat will appeal to fans of Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living.

  • Kirkus

    October 15, 2020
    Winter offers a chance for renewal. In an intimate meditation on solitude and transformation, English journalist, essayist, and fiction writer May reflects on changes that occur, in nature and in one's sense of self, during the cold, dark season. Wintering, she writes, "is a fallow period in life when you're cut off from the world, feeling rejected, side-lined, blocked from progress, or cast into the role of an outsider." The author homes in on one particular winter that began in September with her husband's emergency appendectomy, which confronted her with the fragility of life and immanence of death. As the season progressed, she also was beset by ailments: tonsillitis during a trip to Iceland, debilitating stomach pain that required months of investigation, insomnia, depression, and bouts of anxiety. Chronicling the months from fall to the coming of spring in March, the author shares her observations of the changes--migration, hibernation, and the dropping of leaves--that seemed "a kind of alchemy, an enchantment performed by ordinary creatures to survive." Like hibernating animals, May, too, found herself craving more sleep as the days became shorter. Instead of migrating to warmer climates, though, she traveled to see the aurora borealis, and she took a New Year's swim in frigid water, experiences she found exhilarating. Interwoven with her observations of nature are myths, folktales, and children's stories in which wintry landscapes often take on a magical quality. For May, winter is "a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order," and for accepting "the endless, unpredictable change that is the very essence of this life." Readers enduring forced hibernation during the pandemic may find wise counsel from May: When "feeling the drag of winter, I began to treat myself like a favoured child: with kindness and love," eating and sleeping enough, and spending time "doing things that soothed me." A serene evocation of a dark season.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from October 15, 2020
    Winter sends animals to hibernation and people to their homes to settle before a fire. But winter, according to May, can come at any season. Hers started in early autumn with her husband's appendicitis and her own illness. Suddenly her days bring slow-cooked meals and coloring with her son rather than university lectures and frantic writing schedules. As the author draws into herself, she begins to see the healing powers of cold and quiet. Moving through the calendar year, May talks to men and women who have mastered the art of living in the cold. She interviews a Finnish woman whose childhood revolved around months of snow; she discovers a man who tracks wolves to keep them away from flocks and safe from hunters. May attends a St. Lucia festival, visits Stonehenge, swims in frigid water, and crosses the Arctic Circle in search of the northern lights and guidance. And through it all, she ponders her son's difficulties in school and her own loss of voice. In this introspective, beautifully written mix of memoir and philosophy, May explores life's hardest season and the lessons of acceptance. With a pandemic keeping us isolated in so many ways, May offers much-needed solace and comfort and a reminder that seasons eventually turn.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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Wintering
Wintering
The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
Katherine May
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