If you’ve ever asked a bookseller for a “happy” or “joyful” recommendation, then you’ll know what pure terror looks like. Books are so many things (thought-provoking, challenging, strange, unnerving, devastating, eye-opening, mind-shredding), but rarely are they happy, and even when they are happy, that happiness often comes with qualifications (death, disease, famine, war).
But in a world as bad-feeling as our world is right now, it feels worthwhile to find some good-feeling to put on our shelves, so I asked our booksellers for their go-to “happy” recommendations, and boy did they come through.
This book combines two very delightful things: reading and Queen Elizabeth II’s corgis. Do I really need to say more? A wonderfully pleasant, witty, and charming read about the Queen discovering a love of reading after encountering a mobile library. Even better? It’s a quick read, perfect for a quiet afternoon.
8/10 on the sunshine scale, like watching silly small dogs chase each other around a dog park.
Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe is a heartwarming romp of a novel about a family vacation that goes about as awry as family vacations are capable of going. There are romances and heartbreaks, bumbling mistakes, arguments over interior design, tennis matches — Evan James delivers us everything we could want in this hilarious comedy-of-manners set in our beloved Puget Sound.
6/10 on the sunshine scale, like an afternoon spent reading in a hammock.
Who hasn’t contemplated avoiding an awkward situation (an ex’s wedding) by escaping to Europe on an ill-advised author tour? (Or at least: who hasn’t daydreamed about having that option?) The satirical, episodic Less follows author Arthur Less as he goes from one unfortunate incident to another. At turns fun and harrowing, moving and absurd, Less is so full with feeling — you really won’t want to put it down. A read guaranteed to make you laugh.
Want more? (Who wouldn't!) The sequel, Less Is Lost, comes out this September. Get in your preorder now.
7/10 on the sunshine scale, like an evening of people watching along the Seine.
A Psalm for the Wild Built is the definition of a cozy comfort read, full-to-brimming with good feels. This sweet and happy fantasy novella is the first in Becky Chambers’ Monk and Robot series. An odd-couple road trip for the ages, a tea monk, Sibling Dex, is joined on their travels by an inquisitive robot named Mosscap. Quiet and philosophical, lovely and soothing — a perfect antidote to the loudness of today’s world.
10/10 on the sunshine scale, like the perfect, tree-shaded, winding road.
This graphic novel (the first volume that pulls together the wildly popular webcomic series of the same name) follows Eric Bittle, a freshman on the college hockey team struggling to adjust to college life and unable to deny his crush on the team’s captain. (Who doesn’t love a good crush! Especially when that crush is moody.) Check, Please! is charming and well-written, a fun rom-com, and a delightful look at male friendships. And, once you’re hooked: Book 2 is right there, waiting for you.
8/10 on the sunshine scale, like the perfect, requited crush.
Oh, what a precious book. Queer and lovely, romantic, rich with detail, intersectional (!) — Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows Lily Hu as she explores her sexuality and navigates the complicated world of San Francisco in the 50s. This book is both beautifully written and deeply researched, so you know you’re in capable hands while reading. A tender coming-of-age story about identity and love.
9/10 on the sunshine scale, like an incredibly clear night sky, speckled with stars.
Can you call a book narrated by an 11-year-old whose mother has disappeared a “happy book”? Maybe not! But I’m certainly going to try, because I remember the experience of reading this book, and living in the mind of the curious, capricious Bee Branch as being charming, lovely, and hilarious, as she observes her mom, Bernadette, a fiercely intelligent, fiercely frustrated, and fiercely funny woman gnarling at societal constraints. A riotous and consistently surprising read.
7/10 on the sunshine scale, like expertly delivered, witty comeback.
This is another one that, on paper, might be difficult to pitch as a happy book — a book about an aging widower whose suicide attempts are consistently thwarted — but hear me out! First off: who doesn’t love a grumpy curmudgeon? Especially the type of grumpy curmudgeon who doesn’t actually hate things the way he claims to, but actually, maybe, appreciates them? And maybe his heart is bigger and more generous than he’d like you to believe? This book manages to be whimsical and loving, hysterical and pensive. Perfectly Scandinavian.
8/10 on the sunshine scale, like a clear morning, silent except for the birds in the trees.
I just think any book that includes chapters from the perspective of an octopus should be included on a list of happy books. Yes, the main character in this one is still grieving her husband. Sure, there’s a dead son in there too. But really this book is about finding your own family and community, making friends across species, and learning to love the stage of life you’re in. See? Happy! Truly a lovely, thoughtful, expansive look at our world and what we owe to those around us.
7/10 on the sunshine scale, like making eye contact with your pet and knowing exactly what they’re thinking.