In this part of the world, mid-November means winter has settled in for a long stay. It also means daylight is making itself scarce. For example, on this particular day—November 18—the sun rose here at 8:06 a.m. and set at 4:32 p.m. A little over eight hours of light. A month from now, it’ll be under seven and a half hours.
Sure, it’s not exactly Fairbanks and darkness at noon. But still.
I was thinking of night while out running errands this afternoon. Shortly after 4:30 I found myself at Westmount Centre, waiting for the 5 to take me home. To the west, over the snowy fields and arena at Coronation Park, the sun had set and was casting a deep, orange-pink glow on the wispy clouds lazily floating by. Minutes later, I was on the bus, heading down 124th toward Jasper Ave. It was already dark, and the trees and decorative streetlamps along the road were lit up, as were the shop fronts and restaurant windows, while a mauve glow lingered in the south over the river valley. It was all very pretty, calming even, andt it got me thinking about the various ways darkness can be portrayed on the printed page.
Which leads to our first reading list of the 2018-19 year: books about night, darkness, and the little things that hide in the shadows.
The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light, by Paul Bogard
This 2013 non-fiction book is more or less described by its title. Its nine chapters are inspired by the Bortle dark-sky scale, a numeric measure with, you guessed it, nine levels describing the brightness of the night sky in a particular place—1 being the darkest, 9 meaning you’re in the middle of a city. More to the point, The End of Night is a paean to primal, natural darkness and a look at what we’ve lost in our artificially illuminated world.
I Remember You, by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
A night-themed reading list maybe wouldn’t be complete without one Scandinavian noir. While there is literally a plethora (i.e., an excess) of titles to choose from, we might recommend this one from Icelandic crime novelist Sigurðardóttir, best known for her crime novels. I Remember You can be a little uneven and formulaic in places—does every single chapter need to end with a cliffhanger?—but we give it full marks for its intertwining of a true crime plot with that of a classic ghost story.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg
Oh, what the hell. Let’s throw in a second one. This early 90s bestseller follows a Greenland-born Dane as she investigates a child’s death in Copenhagen. The death is ruled accidental, as only the boy’s footprints appear in the snow on the roof of the building from where he fell. But Smilla, thanks to her aforementioned snow superpower, suspects something far more sinister is afoot.
Wytches, written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Jock
A limited six-issue comic book series, Wytches follows a family relocating to a new town in New England to escape the nasty rumours that have been following their daughter Sailor, after a bully in her previous school mysteriously disappears. Little do they realize—until it’s almost too late—what exactly is lurking in the dark woods surrounding their new town. Hint: it’s in the title.
At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, by A. Roger Ekirch
Another non-fic to close our list, this 2005 offering is from history prof and writer Ekirch, who is known for his writing on pre-industrial nights and sleeping. A book about nightlife before there really was such a thing, it covers a variety of darkness-related topics, such as the value of moonlight, long-ago spiritual and superstitious attitudes toward the dark, the economic role of inns and taverns, and the criminals and such who once profited by the cover of night.