Books With Happy Endings

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.

garden-spellsI’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!

9780007161195-us-300I 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.

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High Rising by Angela Thirkell

This book has such a beautiful cover, no?  It’s not what drew me to the book, but I admit that it helped me decide to actually purchase a copy for myself. Virago Modern Classics has published new editions of Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire series, of which this was the first, published in 1933, with these gorgeous cover illustrations.  Well done, Virago!  (And I’ve read in some reviews that previous editions were filled with typos.)51BT-VW7WRL

I’d never heard of Thirkell until I read Jenny’s review of the fifth book, Pomfret Towers.   As an admitted Anglophile, it sounded like this was a series I very much needed to look into.  I can report that I was indeed charmed and entertained by the first book.  It’s a delightfully witty, fun read, sort of in the same vein as the works of Barbara Pym.  Only I find Pym to have more substance, and a bit darker lining to her literary clouds.

The Amazon.com description sums up the plot nicely:

Successful lady novelist Laura Morland and her boisterous young son Tony set off to spend Christmas at her country home in the sleepy surrounds of High Rising. But Laura’s wealthy friend and neighbour George Knox has taken on a scheming secretary whose designs on marriage to her employer threaten the delicate social fabric of the village. Can clever, practical Laura rescue George from Miss Grey’s clutches and, what’s more, help his daughter Miss Sibyl Knox to secure her longed-for engagement?

What I liked about the main character, Laura, is the self-deprecating way she views her own novels.  Laura recounts her first lunch with her now agent, Adrian Coates, and the following is how she describes her writing style:

“You mightn’t like it,” said Laura, in her deep voice.  “It’s not highbrow.  I’ve just got to work, that’s all.  You see my husband was nothing but an expense to me while he was alive, and naturally he’s no help to me now he’s dead, though of course, less expensive, so I thought if I could write some rather good bad books, it would help with the boys’ education.”

“Good bad books?”

“Yes.  Not very good books, you know, but good of a second-rate kind.  That’s all I could do,” she said gravely.

Another thing I liked about Laura was the way she related to her young son, Tony.  Her older three boys are grown and out of the house, so it’s just she and Tony together when he’s not at boarding school.  Tony never stops talking – he’s just a very busy, precocious little boy.  One night as her son is going to bed, Laura counts the weeks of Christmas vacation in her head, wondering how she’ll survive it.

Oh, the exhaustingness of the healthy young!  Laura had once offered to edit a book called Why I Hate My Children, but though Adrian Coates had offered her every encouragement, and every mother of her acquaintance had offered to contribute, it had never taken shape.  Perhaps, she thought, as she stood by Tony’s bed an hour later, they wouldn’t be so nice if they weren’t so hateful.

One thing I decidedly did NOT like about this book, however, were the handful of casually thrown out anti-Semitic remarks, usually spoke or thought by Laura.  I realize that this was written in 1933, but surely even then there were those who found racist remarks unpalatable and unnecessary.  There were two or three instances that stuck out to me, and not enough to mar my enjoyment of the book entirely.  But I docked this a half-star on my Goodreads review, simply to note that this was problematic for me and might be to others as well.  In researching the others in the series, I’ve read that they do not include remarks of this tone.

All in all, a fun, light read for those who enjoy British novels from the period between the World Wars.  It was more sarcastic and biting than I’d anticipated, which gave it a sort of modern flair.  I will read a few more and see how I like them.

For another take and lovely review of High Rising, check out Resh Susan’s post at The Book Satchel.

(Book 7 of 10 for my #10BooksofSummer, from Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge.)

(Not Really a Review of) Fables, Volumes 1 and 2, by Bill Willingham

This has been a really hard week.  I don’t want to get into specifics, because it’s all too fresh and too personal, but just know that I’ve been feeling some intense feelings all over the place this week.  Of course, this has affected my reading.  I’m reading four books right now but my heart is not really in any one of them.  I know, undoubtedly, that I’ll get my reading groove back again.  And probably sooner rather than later, because I’m a capital-R Reader.  It’s what I do!

One thing I HAVE read this week was Volume 2 of the comic/graphic novel Fables, by Bill Willingham.  Jenny at Reading the End recommended it to me after I wrote about how much I dug the graphic novel Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.  (She also recommended Saga and Lumberjanes but I’ve not yet tried those.)

FablesI liked these two volumes.  Fables is set in modern-day (well, 2003, I guess, when they were published) New York City.  Fairy tale characters like Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf (now in human form, known as Bigby Wolf) and Bluebeard are living incognito, in a secret society they call Fabletown, in the big city.  They and all the other folklore figures (both human and animal) have been forced out of their homelands by The Adversary.  After reading the first two volumes, I have no idea who this Adversary is.  I assume I will find out eventually!  In the first volume, Bigby Wolf (Fabletown’s sherrif) is investigating the apparent murder of Rose Red, Snow White’s sister – there’s a lot of blood everywhere in her apartment, but no body.  In the second, called Animal Farm, some of the animals of Fabletown (Three Little Pigs, Brer Rabbit, Shere Khan from The Jungle Book, etc.) are staging a revolution because they want to be able to leave the secluded farm where they live and travel the world.  After all, some of them have been stuck there for thousands of years, and unlike the human Fables, they can’t travel easily.

I’m weirdly hooked on these now.  They’re not life-changing or deep (yet) or anything.  They’re just fun!   I’ve ordered the third volume, Storybook Love, from my main library.  I used to think that I wasn’t a graphic novel person.  Well, I’m here to tell you that THINGS CHANGE.  People change!  It’s pretty exciting to me that now I’m a fan of graphic novels, and podcasts, and a freaking BOOK BLOGGER, and two years ago I was none of those things.  We are all adaptable, is what I guess I’m getting at, and even if you’re pushing forty (ahem) or fifty or ninety, it’s not too late to try something new.  We’re not the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, as a poem by Lucille Clifton reminds me:

 

i am running into a new year

(By Lucille Clifton)

i am running into a new year

and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

 

 

 

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, and other “Light Reads”

IMG_2138I’m probably the last person in the world to read it, but I finished The Rosie Project night before last – what a treat!  It’s a delicious confection of a book – made with quality ingredients, leaving a sweet aftertaste.  I think it’s truly challenging to write a “light read” that isn’t cloying or stupid.  I have read some real bombs in my quest for lighter, fun reading.  I seek that balance between heavier reading fare and escapist lit, but I want my escapism to be well-written!  Graeme Simsion has succeeded in writing a fun read that is charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and doesn’t insult the reader’s intelligence.

For the three people who haven’t yet read it, genetics professor Don Tillman, who, as the reader discovers, obviously has some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, embarks on a quest to find the perfect woman.  His “Wife Project,” complete with in-depth questionnaire, soon takes a back seat to his new friend Rosie’s “Father Project,” her quest to ascertain the identity of her real father.  As they investigate the different dad candidates, their budding friendship unfolds pretty realistically in my opinion, and they share a great natural chemistry.  There’s a scene at a faculty ball (which they both attend with different people) that is particularly cinematic and delightful.  This is an entertaining, feel-good read with characters to root for.  I’m definitely going to read the sequel, The Rosie Effect, but not just yet.  I’ve got lots of books lined up right now (of course!)

I’m always on the hunt for some light reading that’s smartly done.  In the past I’ve really enjoyed authors Elinor Lipman (Then She Found Me, The Pursuit of Alice Thrift,) Sarah Addison Allen (Garden Spells, Lost Lake,) and Alexander McCall Smith (44 Scotland Street series) when I’ve been wanting something lighter.  But I need some new authors – I’d love some suggestions!