Cold, snowy weather lends itself to bus or train commutes. Instead of white-knuckling your way along an icy freeway, you are in a warm place with plenty of time to read. So here is an array of books, new in paperback, to tuck into your backpack for your daily journey. Don’t dread the commute — enjoy it. And don’t forget to thank your bus driver.
“The House of Mirth,” by Edith Wharton. (Scribner, $19.) OK, I can’t fool you; this isn’t new — it was first published in 1905 — but this edition with a new introduction by novelist Jennifer Egan just came out last week. Two Pulitzer Prize winners between the same covers! (Wharton was the first woman to win the prize, for “The Age of Innocence.” Egan won in 2011 for “A Visit From the Goon Squad.”) “The House of Mirth” is the devastating story of the downfall of Lily Bart, a well-born but impoverished young woman in 19th-century New York. She falls in love with a young attorney but refuses to marry him because he is not wealthy. And she passes up subsequent proposals, always thinking she can do better — until it is too late.
“Suitable Accommodations: The Letters of J.F. Powers 1942-1963.” (Picador, $20.) The author of “Morte D’Urban,” which won the National Book Award, J.F. Powers spent much of his adult life looking for “suitable accommodations” for himself, his wife and their five children, bouncing among various homes in Minnesota and Ireland. In this collection of letters and journal entries, edited by his oldest daughter, Katherine A. Powers (whose name you might recognize from reviews on this page, and her monthly audiobooks column), Powers writes about how cranky he was about his family life taking away from his writing time, and how he preferred not to have to earn money any other way. “Should a giraffe have to dig dandelions or a worm fly a kite?” The book opens in 1944, when Powers is serving time in prison in Minnesota for refusing induction into the military. “A while ago I saw somebody playing with a small snake,” he writes. “I guess it will die eventually. It can’t get out, either.” It ends after his book wins the National Book Award but fails to make him rich.
“The Street,” by Ann Petry. (Mariner Books, $15.95.) Originally published in 1946, “The Street” was the first novel by an African-American woman to sell more than a million copies. That alone should pique your interest. The story takes place in Harlem, tracing the lives of Lutie Johnson, a newly single mother struggling to make a living, and her son, Bub. The book is laced with “shrewd social commentary about the relentless nature of poverty and its effect on black women in particular,” Tayari Jones writes in her introduction to this reissue. “She addresses stereotypes one by one and crushes them underfoot.”
“Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe,” by Evan James. (Washington Square Press, $16.) The neurotic Widdicombe family spends its summer on Bainbridge Island outside of Seattle in this hilarious satire of New Age angst and goofiness. I’ll say no more, other than urge you to read it. It’s good to laugh out loud in dark, cold January, even on the bus.
“Churchill: Walking With Destiny,” by Andrew Roberts. (Penguin, $24.) At 1,000 pages and 2½ pounds, this book admittedly barely qualifies as a paperback. (The hardcover is a full pound heavier.) But it’s a fascinating, well researched and well written read. This one-volume biography of one of the greatest men of the 20th century was named a best book of the year by the New York Times, the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. It will surely last your commutes for the whole year.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune’s senior editor for books.