I’ve been mulling over this post for a few days now, ever since a regular library patron of our branch asked me a seemingly innocuous question. “Have you read any good, happy-ending books lately?” I was completely stumped. So many questions swirled in my brain. Had I read any good happy-ending books lately? Had I ever? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t think of a single book to recommend to her? Why do I only read sad books? Would I be a happier person if I read happier books?
I know that I used to read happy-ending books. I went through a huge “chick-lit” phase in my 20’s. (Yes, that term is problematic, but I do find it an apt way to categorize a large chunk of my previous reading habits.) These were books about young women in their 20’s, mostly looking for love, a good job, and their identities in big cities like New York and London. I was in a medium-sized Southern city, with a job I wasn’t sure about, but I still felt a kinship with these young women. Most of them eventually found what they were looking for, or at least got started on a path that they liked, and it was comforting to read.
I’ve read and adored authors like Elinor Lipman and Sarah Addison Allen, who both write smart, charming fiction about love, family, and relationships. They’re mostly happy in the end, usually. I read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion last year and thought it was adorable and fun. (Although I don’t feel compelled to read the sequel, The Rosie Effect.) Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Attachments were pretty happy and funny. So I know that every once in a while I do read on the lighter side.
Looking at my Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge, out of 62 books read thus far, I’d classify only 7, maybe 8, of them as “happy-ending books.” That equals about 11%. No wonder I totally blanked when my library patron asked me to recommend something. I am often attracted to messy, bittersweet, or downright sad books because I read to experience and learn and feel. I want my reading to teach me something – an emotional truth, the reality of a person’s life on the other side of the world or someone totally different from me in my home region – I want to experience it all, the good and the bad. I look for connection, for understanding, for enlightenment. That said, sometimes I just want a thrilling page-turner!
I don’t mean to say that because I seek emotional realism and complexity in my fiction that I am better than someone who reads mostly for escape. I have already wrestled with book snobbery years ago and I won. I thankfully left that crap behind. I know that people read for many reasons, all valid. These just happen to be my preferences and habits, most of the time.
I know that there is room in my reading life for both the emotional texture I crave and the restorative practice of escape. I saw that patron a couple of days after she asked me my question, and I told her that she’d really gotten me thinking about my reading habits. I said that I am going to start mixing in more happy books, taking a chance on authors or books I may have previously not given a fair shake to. Besides, I want to be able to help the next person who comes in looking for that sweet, feel-good story when they’ve had a rough week.
So this is where you come in, dear readers! Give me your picks for books with happy endings. I need some inspiration! My library patrons and I thank you.