Feel Good Books

Angela Haupt lists fifteen books to lift your spirits in her article for the Washington Post, and I’ve already read four of them.  In case you need a pick me up, here they are with my reviews:

but my next book really is a beach read – says so in the title.  I’ve started reading, and so far, it seems to be a romantic comedy starring Jonathan Franzen and Jennifer Weiner in their famous literary feud. The two main characters are writers, accidentally living in houses across from each other and each has a summer to write a book.  To encourage a new muse in their writing, they agree to write in the other’s genre.  The Franzen character, known in the book as serious Gus, will write a happily-ever-after romance, and the Weiner character, with the name January Andrews agrees to write serious stuff.

 

Her list includes Anxious People by Backman. I’m not a fan of the author, so will probably skip it, but if you are looking for a story about an inept bank robber who takes  prospective buyers hostage during an open house, you might try it.

Others on her list promise some fast, mindless, and satisfying reads; I plan to look for them:

  • Dear Emmie Blue by Lia Louis – romance and humor
  • You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria – romantic fun on a soap opera
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune – fantasy – been on my to read list for a while

What feel good books have you been reading lately?

 

 

From Monogamy to Monotony

It started with Sue Miller’s Monogamy.  With that title, I expected a love story but Miller delivered something else.  With infidelity and death mixed into romantic interludes, the story left me feeling sour.

I went on to read Eleanor Lipman’s new short novel, available now only on Kindle, and to be published after election day.  I thought I could laugh at the bumbling episodes of Rachel to the Rescue, with a fictional satire on Trump’s incompetence and infidelity, but I couldn’t.  Maybe after the election – depending on who wins.

Finally, I turned to Sophie Kinsella – surely, she would save me from the world.  With the title Love Your Life, it promised a fantasy love affair somewhere in the Mediterranean, but, alas, it is not published yet.

Amor Towles has a new short story with a welcoming title – You Have Arrived at Your Destination but it’s only available on audio, and I can’t find my earphones.

Not even the Barefoot Contessa with her new Modern Comfort Food could save me.  The pictures were sumptuous but did not motivate me to get into the kitchen and cook. If only Ina did takeout.

Must be me, right?  I’ve ordered books from two of my favorite inde bookstores, but it’s so long ago – they are coming by media mail – I’ve forgotten what I bought.  I’m pretty sure the new Ken Follett book is in the package, and, if it ever gets here, should keep me busy for a while. 

In the meantime, back to watching movies and taking naps.

 

Solutions and Other Problems

Having finally finished Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Cafe (taking almost as long as reading The Splendid and the Vile), I found myself happily ensconced in an easier path to philosophical thinking with Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems.  If you have read her first book, Hyperbole and a Half, you will recognize her cartoonish characters combined with serious thinking. I like books with pictures but tend to shy away from graphic novels. Brosh, on the other hand, offers her heavy insight mixed with a light touch.  It was easy to transfer Bakewell’s evaluation of Sartre to Brosh’s world of grimly smiling characters.

Brosh’s book is full of her own story as she navigates through her sister’s suicide and her traumatic health scare and includes a plethora of sublime and funny vignettes from childhood through her thirty year old self (notice I did not say adulthood). She draws herself as a frog-eyed and neckless stick figure with a blonde shark fin of a ponytail protruding from her head.   She explains why:

“There are a lot of distracting things about humans,” she says. “There are ways we’ve learned to interpret each other, based on all these outside clues. Drawing myself in this spastic, animalistic way allows me to communicate more directly about the things I’m trying to talk about without using this confusing [human] vehicle as a medium.”

Her style works to simultaneously provoke humor and pathos, drawing the reader into funny situations with thoughtful outcomes. Brosh adds her quirky art to a humorous angst reminiscent of David Sedaris talking about his childhood or his favorite pants. Allie Brosh transforms simple stories about her cat, her childhood, and her anxiety into humorous lessons. Some are just laugh out loud funny but others will have you connecting to your own experiences.

Best of all, by exposing her own idiosyncracies, worries, and insecurities, she gives the reader the freedom to admit to some too, and, in the end, become your own best friend. Maybe Solutions and Other Problems was not written to draw us out of our social distancing doldrums in a pandemic, but reading the book sure does a good job of it.

The last line in the book:

Because nobody should have to feel like a pointless little weirdo alone.   Especially if they are.

 

 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Today is Scott Bakula’s birthday.  You may know this actor in the crime drama he plays on television, but back in the early nineties he was a time traveling scientific wonder, jumping from life to life in the serialized show Quantum Leap.  Matt Haig uses this construct to create an entertaining story in The Midnight Library.

The heroine, Nora Seed, is so despondent and dissatisfied with her life, she sees no reason to live.  Cue the angel in the Jimmy Stewart classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Ms. Elm, the kind and generous librarian who manages the midnight library, appears with a trove of books documenting Nora’s life and regrets as the stacks precariously slide along the ethereal walls.  Before she dies, Nora has the chance to be in lives that might have been, and the adventure begins.

Who hasn’t wondered about the ‘road not taken,” life decisions leading to inevitable consequences.  What if another choice had been made?  How would a different decision have affected your personal life, your career, your impact on others, your contribution to the world?  We can only speculate, but Nora gets the chance to really experience the results of other choices she might have made.

The book of regrets reminds Nora of what she might have done, and she starts a series of quantum leaps through the universe, reliving her life as a successful rock star, wife of a pub owner, glaciologist fighting a polar bear, revered author and professor, married, unmarried, with children, without children – the possibilities are endless but Haig sticks to just enough detours to convince the reader that Nora is probably happiest back in her old life.

And like the song, “Back in Your Old Backyard,” Nora finds herself seeing the life she has as not so bad, with still time for constructive changes.

The Midnight Library offers some respite from reality, and a reminder to be grateful for what we have, no matter how dire the circumstances.  

 

The Authenticity Project

Although I am still recovering from the Presidential debate debacle and the shock (well, maybe not so much) of the President being infected, I found a book to distract me.  Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project promised to be a light cheery read and I submerged myself in the ebook version.  Starting light with the premise of a journal passing anonymously to subsequent readers and writers, the story quickly morphed into a confessional.

Long before the pandemic was a household word, I often left paperbacks on planes or in terminals.  Sometimes I found a book in the waiting area, and once I accidentally left The Dutch House on a seat.  I had finished it but had to buy it again when it was time for the book club discussion (this time I listened to the Tom Hanks version).  Sometimes, I purposely left a book on a park bench and tried to follow its trajectory through a website created for that purpose, but I quickly lost interest and the website address.

I have never revealed the pages of a personal journal; in fact, I follow the advice of a good friend and destroy the pages after purging my soul, rereading my angst, and moving on.  In The Authenticity Project, the characters not only write about themselves but point to their identities so subsequent readers of the journal can find them.

One reviewer called the book a “cozy, feel-good read.”  It does have a happy ending but the surprise betrayal took it off that course and strengthened the story with tension and realism.  Julian, an elderly artist starts the project, writing about his loneliness and leaves the journal in a cafe where the owner, Monica, picks it up and decides to help him.  She too writes about her desperation, and the book passes to a series of characters looking for friendship and love: an addict and wealthy banker Hazard, Australian surfer Riley, social media queen and new mother Alice, and a few others.  Monica’s cafe becomes home base as they eventually connect in person and become friends, trying to help one another.

Through a series of humorous twists, the story morphs into the revelation of each character’s real inner identity; aspiration meets reality, and friendship reigns.  The Authenticity Project will make you grateful for your friends, and mesmerize you into a better world for a while – we could all use that distraction.