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.

Going Back To One Book At A Time

For most of my reading life, I was a one book at a time reader.  It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve started reading multiple books at one time.  It seemed to be working for me… until all of a sudden it didn’t.

Multiple Books (1)I started feeling unsettled and anxious about having 4 or 5 or 6 books on my nightstand in various states of being read.  (I am an anxious person by nature, so that this minor thing would cause me anxiety is not surprising.)  My focus has also been horrible this summer.  I know there are other factors involved (only child starting kindergarten, the ridiculous, disgusting, horrifying,but-I-can’t-look-away news cycle) but I think having too many books going at once is part of the problem.

So I’m going to try to go back to what used to work for me.  I’ll try reading one book at a time, with the exception of an audio book.  I am going to try to control myself with my library holds so that I don’t have too many things coming in at once and become overwhelmed. (The modify holds function on the online catalog is the best!)  I am going to try and PUT DOWN THE PHONE when I’m home.  I might put it on top of the fridge, that seems like a nice out of the way place!  And that nightstand of mine could use a good cleaning out anyway, regardless of what I happen to be reading.

These are my ideas.  Basically I just want to slow down.  Settle.  Breathe.

Are you able to juggle multiple books well, or do you find that it makes you scatterbrained and crazy?  Are you feeling like you need to find ways to gain more focus?  If you’ve experienced what I’m describing I’d love to hear your ideas about how to recover one’s attention span.

 

(Sort Of) In Progress

My son starts kindergarten Tuesday.  His dad and I are feeling all kinds of feelings, as you can probably imagine.  Excitement, nervousness, sadness, disbelief all rolled up into one state of what I call general “floopiness.”  Consequently, I can’t seem to concentrate on reading.  I finished Lumberjanes Vol. 1 on July 15 and since then I’ve been reading things in dribs and drabs.  (It was cute, by the way.  I’ll definitely get the second volume and see how I like it.)  I find myself wanting to watch movies and The Great British Baking Show on PBS more than I want to pick up a book.  (I am slightly obsessed with that show – it’s everything delightful!  Beautiful, intricate baked goods, humble, adorable British people who seems to genuinely like one another and want one another to do well – I just love it.)

I had to return Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl to the library today – woe is me!  I was only 164 pages into it, but it still has a pretty lengthy holds lists.  I couldn’t keep it any longer in good conscience.  I really am enjoying it.  She’s a marvelous writer, marrying memoir with passion for botany.  She makes botany really interesting!  She makes me want to plant trees!  I may go ahead and buy it before a copy makes its way back to me at the library.

16158542I’m listening to The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown on CD in my car.  It’s the sort of thing that I probably wouldn’t pick up to read in paper form, but Michael Kindness’s glowing recommendation on Books on the Nightstand persuaded me to try the audio book.  Oh, and the fact that it’s narrated by the late Edward Herrmann, a.k.a. RICHARD GILMORE from Gilmore Girls!  As promised, he does a fantastic job narrating.  I’m a little over halfway through and think I’ll be able to finish before I must return it to the library.  (More holds!) It’s pretty fascinating, weaving the biography of one of the young boatmen in particular with history of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the rise of the Nazis in the lead-up to the 1936 Olympics.  I am enjoying it much more than I thought I might!

9781481440875_custom-83c869fee28f9137f21e4e8c5eae3529468e813a-s300-c85I’ve started Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon but haven’t gotten far.  It’s definitely intriguing.  Some sort of shapeshifting alien has landed off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria, and a diverse cast of characters are all dealing with the aftermath.  I think I’ll try to get back to this one tonight!  And I’m also halfway through Fables Vol 9: Sons of Empire .  Graphic novels seem to be about my speed these days with my short attention span.

So it seems that I’ve got a case of what Stefanie from So Many Books calls “The Middles.”  I predict that in a few weeks, when my family settles into our new schedule, I will bounce back with more focus and a renewed zeal for reading.  I hope that you all are having a good summer!  Tell me what you’re currently reading in the comments.  Or if you’re like me and having trouble concentrating, what is holding your interest these days?

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Delights

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, is Top Ten Bookworm Delights.  I really like this topic – it is sure to be filled with things we all might be able to identify with as voracious readers.  But there are sure to be unique spins on it as well, and things that don’t really hit our own bookish buttons.  So here are some of the bookish delights that give this passionate book nerd joy.

  • Owning a signed copy of a favorite book with a personal message.  I was lucky enough to attend a book talk and signing by the amazing Jess Walter in 2013.  He’s one of my top five favorite authors.  I got to briefly speak with him at the signing, and told him that my book group book for the month was his Beautiful Ruins, and that it was the second time I’d be reading it.  He graciously seemed to appreciate my gushing and wrote this inside my book:IMG_3276 “For Laila – Thanks for reading – twice.  Best wishes. Jess Walter.”
  • Visiting bookstores and/or libraries when on vacation.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who looks up bookstores on TripAdvisor along with restaurants and attractions, right?
  • Looking at my newly reorganized bookshelves.  I wrote earlier this year about my messy bookshelves.  They’re still kind of messy, since I store games and DVD there too, but at least the books are separated into fiction and nonfiction/poetry, on two different sets of shelves.  Alphabetical by author.  I like feeling more organized.
  • Marking a book “read” on my Goodreads shelves.  I am hopelessly addicted to Goodreads.  It satisfies all my list-loving cravings.  Shelving the recently finished book into multiple shelves (and adding it to the annual list of What Women Born in the 1970s Have Read This Year) makes me ridiculously happy.
  • My Eat Sleep Read mug from Malaprops.  I love Malaprops, a fantastic independent bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina.  On a trip there last fall with my husband, I snagged a fabulous bright red mug that has EAT SLEEP READ on one side and the store logo on the other side.  It makes me happy every morning when I drink my coffee.mug
  • My Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice tote.  I bring this to work every day and it’s a wonderful, beautiful upgrade from my previous market tote bag.  You can peruse Out Of Print’s bookish tote bag collection here.
  • Still owning and rereading your copy of an old childhood favorite.  My childhood copy of The Westing Game  by Ellen Raskin is still in decent shape after all these years.  I reread it a couple of years ago and it’s still BRILLIANT.  I also listened to the audio and it’s fun too.  I’m glad I managed to hang on to this one.IMG_3277
  • When a child or parent tells me that a book that I recommended for the child was a winner.  I am a Senior Assistant at a small library branch, and we are less than a mile from an elementary school, so we get a lot of kids in here.  Just today a parent told me that the books I’ve recommended for her daughter have turned out to be great choices, and that always makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile.  I will do anything to help foster a child’s interest in reading!
  • Bookstore gift cards for birthdays/holidays.  Because I clearly do not have enough books, right?  (Ha ha!)
  • That wonderful moment when you finish one book and haven’t yet chosen your next one. This might be my favorite bookish delight of them all.  The possibility!  The bounty!  It’s always an exciting moment for me. Only a true book nerd will understand.

So tell me, friends,  what are some of your own bookish delights?  Did any of mine resonate with you?

Do You Reread Regularly?

I listened to an episode of Books on the Nightstand the other day from back in September (episode 349, to be exact,) and hosts Ann and Michael were talking about rereading books.   They had both reread one of their favorite books for a then upcoming book talk at Booktopia ( the bookish weekend events they used to host.)  Ann had reread Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Michael had reread Any Human Heart by William Boyd.

It was a very interesting discussion.  Neither of them had been dedicated rereaders at all, mostly because they both work in publishing and have so much reading to do for work, and keep up with new things that their publishing company (Penguin Random House) doesn’t publish as well.  But Ann shared that the experience of rereading one of her all time favorite novels may have pushed her into being someone who makes time to reread.  She said that this time she was not so consumed by the plot, obviously because she knew the story line already.  This allowed her to pick up on things she thinks she missed the first time around, when she was frantically turning pages.  She mentioned that a couple of characters stood out to her more this time around, and she realized how central to the novel they really were.  She didn’t know how realistic is was of her to expect very much rereading in the future, given her line of work, but she said that now she has a new understanding of the benefits and pleasure of rereading books.

Michael enjoyed his reread, but did not come away from the experience with a new vision of himself as a reader.  He said that there were simply too many books coming out all the time that he wanted and needed to get to, and rereading just wasn’t something he saw himself doing.

Last week I posted about rereading Middlemarch, and how much I am enjoying the experience.  In reality I might reread one book a year, but I always want to reread things more than I actually do.  One blogging friend mentioned that she’d never reread a book before, but that it sounded like fun.  I suggested maybe trying a childhood favorite first, and see how that goes.

IMG_3192
Need to reread some Kingsolver.

So all of this got me wondering, how many of you guys make time to reread?  Is it one book a year?  Two?  Do you read a particular book in a particular season every year?  Or are you more like Michael, and simply have too many new books that you’d rather make time for?  I’d love to hear what you think.

(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

 

 

 

Reading Challenge Fail?

Happy March!  This is the final month of the TBR Triple Dog Dare hosted by James at James Reads Books.  With my stated exceptions (a book on hold  at the library since October, and my book group books) I’ve only read books that I physically owned as of December 31.  But I feel like I may not make it through the month of March.  Okay, I know that I won’t – because I’ve signed up to participate in Reading Ireland Month over at 746 Books!

I don’t know what I was thinking – except, oooh, Ireland, I love Ireland!  (I’ve been there, once, almost ten years ago when my then-boyfriend/now-husband went with me to visit my aunt and uncle, who live there in County Kerry.  They moved back to the US – long story – for a period of years, and now they’re living in Ireland once again.)  Anyway, I don’t know when I’m going to read the book I’ve chosen – Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation.  I’m reading the hefty Middlemarch right now and I’ve got to read Super Sad True Love Story for my book group by March 20.  I suspect that Middlemarch will get put on the back burner and I’ll split my energy between the O’Brien and the Shteyngart.  Oh, a reader’s life!  Juggling all the books!

So I’m wondering what you all think about reading challenges and failure.  I have enjoyed reading some things that have been sitting neglected on my shelves at home.  I’ve finished six of my own books and am currently reading two more.  It’s made me think about how and why I purchase books, and made me re-think purchasing any more until I read more of the ones I already own.  So this Dare has been a win for me already, regardless of whether I stick it out until the end of the month.

Have you “failed” a reading challenge before?  Do you think that there is such a thing as reading challenge failure?  Or is any attempt at broadening our reading horizons automatically a win?  Yoda would say, “Do, or do not.  There is no try,” but I’m cutting myself some slack here.  No one is giving me a medal or a cookie for completing any reading challenges.  Eight books have gotten some well-deserved attention that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise gotten if I hadn’t accepted the Dare.  And I’ve learned some things about my reading preferences.  I just might buy myself that cookie after all.