Our friends over at NPR Books have for the past couple of months offered recommendations for literature that sheds light on events in the news. But on this Friday between Christmas and New Year's, they know that what we really want isn't news, it's an old, comfortable story. So here's Parul Sehgal, editor at the New York Times Book Review, with a dose of nostalgia for a wintery afternoon.

PARUL SEHGAL: We want simple things from books in winter, or at least I do. I want my desire to loaf, laze, retreat from the world to be vindicated, and one book does exactly that. It's "The Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame, whose advice is just and sane. No animal, he writes, according to the rules of animal-etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.

"The Wind in the Willows" is the story of two rodents, Mole and Rat, who act like Edwardian bachelors, messing about in boats and tramping through the snowy wood. The book passes through all the seasons, but it's in winter that the friendship between the two deepens. They sit around the fire and talk until late.

At one point they're rescued from a frosty misadventure when they stumble on Badger's house, where they meet and make merry with the other creatures of the wood. But "The Wind in the Willows" isn't just cozy, it's also the story of an intervention and an uprising with a character who some believe is based on Oscar Wilde. It's a book full of paradoxes, a deeply politically nursery story and an ode to the hearth and the open road.

But look, I am summarizing, when the thing to do is to quote. Here's Mole, off for a wintery adventure: The country lay bare and entirely leafless around him. Nature was deep in her annual slumber and seemed to have kicked the clothes off. He liked the country undecorated, hard, and stripped of its finery. He had got down to the bare bones of it, and they were fine and strong and simple.

SIEGEL: The book is "The Wind in the Willows," recommended by Parul Sehgal, editor at The New York Times Book Review.


SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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