Hello friends! I’ve been receiving a lot of mail from readers about how to “read happy,” especially right now when we’re all pressed down with worries, and since it seems like a defining element of “serious literature” is that it be depressing as heck.
I think there are a couple of things going on here. The first is a misunderstanding that a book that makes you feel good — whatever the genre or theme — is somehow “un-serious.” The second is that reading as a form of self-care, to make yourself feel better, is also somehow “un-serious.”
Well, abandon those preconceived notions, sweethearts. “Reading happy” is something I take very seriously, and I’m thrilled to get you started.
÷ ÷ ÷
Dear Aunt Paige,
What on earth can I read that is not depressing or scary but also not superficial, lightweight, or, you know, intended for children? I have no interest in those "book club" type books, but I also don't want to feel worse (more anxious, more depressed, more hopeless) after reading than before. Is it possible that "reading happy" is an unattainable goal for the discerning booklover?
Well-Read and Weary
"Reading happy" is absolutely attainable for all booklovers. You don't need to sacrifice your appetite for profound stories in order to find books that also lift your spirits or provide hope.
Some of my favorite, soothing literary picks of the last few years have been the late-in-life love story by Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night
, which is graceful, benedictory, and a master class in pacing. Kazuo Ishiguro's The Buried Giant
is similarly beautiful, with rich sentences to savor and a slow-building, slightly fantastical plot that reveals itself as an allegory for the cycle of life. Michel Faber's extraordinary The Book of Strange New Things
, while melancholy, is so transcendent in its evocation of change, distance, longing, and renewal that reading it is a balm and a gift. These are vital, challenging works that nonetheless inspire peace within.
If you want to laugh while marveling at a writer's craft, look no further than Bernadine Evaristo's Mr. Loverman
, in which an elderly, Shakespeare-obsessed British Caribbean man living in London tries to work up the courage to leave his wife for his lover of 50 years. Kristin Arnett's Mostly Dead Things
is riotous and raunchy; Paul Beatty's The Sellout
is a great satire on race in America (and marijuana farming); and if you just need a break from modern issues, there's nothing wrong with a little Jeeves and Wooster
, especially if you imagine the scrumptious Hugh Laurie as you read. Ahem.
One last thing to consider is just switching the type of books you read. Have you tried the avant-garde fiction of the weird-but-accessible Paul Auster? (We like The New York Trilogy
.) Or the hopeful honesty and lyrical prose of nature writers like Terry Tempest Williams
and Robin Wall Kimmerer
? Or narrative history from terrific writers like Jill Lepore
, Isabel Wilkerson
, or Robert Macfarlane
Follow your interests and ignore other people’s opinions and you will find joy in what you read.