Between politics, war, oil spills, disease, poverty, natural disasters, unnatural disasters, climate change and everything in between, sometimes the world is a tough place to live. And sometimes, we can take it, and are even attracted to exploring misery, as evidenced by the success of our Bleakest Books, Books about Shattered Childhoods, Post-Apocalyptic Fiction and Depressing Russian Literature features.
But sometimes, when the world gets to be too much, it's perfectly acceptable – beneficial, even – to use a book as good old-fashioned escape. What makes a feel-good book? Does it have to be unrealistic, with our hero saving the day in the end and being showered with riches, good fortune and love? Does it have to be lighthearted and fluffy, or do stories of more substance qualify as well?
For me, the key element in a feel-good book is hope. Obstacles are fine, dilemmas and conflicts galore, even some pain and trauma – sure! J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey is largely about disillusionment, breakdown of communication and loss of spiritual fulfillment, but still fills the reader with hope and joy by its end. Any one of the novels in Dorothy Gilman's Mrs. Pollifax spy series fits the bill. They are often full of violence, betrayal and dastardly men of ill-repute doing terrible things. But the ending generally provides a clean divide between good and evil, and you can count on victory going to the good.
There has to be a message of redemption, a feeling of overall well-being, a surge of joy, and a message of triumph and goodness. It absolutely must feel authentic; if it's too formulaic or feels false in tone, it will tip over the fence from moving to heartwarming and make me retch. But the stories that remind us that life is beautiful and we're all in it together are invaluable, and sometimes few and far between.
The books that drive us toward life and light and bring us back to a place of simple happiness – they much too often get overlooked in favor of the gritty, the grim, and the literarily complex. But in this life, which sometimes feels enormous and complicated, there is much to be said for the simplicity of happiness.
Without further ado, here are 25 books that make me feel good. I hope they have the same effect on you.
See our video review of The Princess Bride by William Goldman. › Play Video