Mood-Boosting Books in the Library

A couple of years ago I discovered that there is a trend now to promote ‘mood-boosting books’ in our local libraries (and perhaps nationally). Perhaps this is to counteract the trauma caused by the daily, weekly, monthly news cycle, or perhaps it’s a bread and circuses distraction so that the population stays calm and carries on. Whatever the reason behind it, it was something I welcomed, even as an inveterate and unrepentant reader of noir literature.

However, the selection is somewhat controversial, to say the least. No disrespect to the librarians who made the selection from what were probably limited resources, but I cannot resist suggesting some alternatives to the more blatant discrepancies between stated purpose and actual effect on the reader.

Completely gratuitous image of Aidan Turner as Poldark – and no, not the torso…

The choice of the Poldark series may have more to do with the phwoar appeal of Aidan Turner’s torso than with the actual storyline, which is often full of cruelty, grim poverty and sadness. If you were aiming for a family saga in which you can sink in, forgetting about your own worries for a minute, then I would recommend Barbara Taylor Bradford’s A Woman of Substance or the Jalna series by Mazo de la Roche.

I recently borrowed The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, which was also on that mood-boosting shelf, expecting a book about a cat adopting a youngish couple to be charming and tender. Well, yes it was, but also rather wistful and sad, connected to the end of an era (Showa) and perhaps an end of a certain way of life in Japan. For a cheerier account of cats as saviours, try A Streetcat Named Bob or The Good, the Bad and the Furry. And if you want a satire of a changing Japan, then Natsume Soseki’s I Am a Cat is a classic.

Portrait of Natsume Soseki with his cat, by Okamoto Ippei.

I’ve laughed before how Alice Munro was mysteriously shelved under Happiness with her stark and unflinching short stories. I could say the same about The Miniaturist, or Chekhov’s short stories, or Louis Sachar’s Holes or A Month in the Country or even The Camomile Lawn. I suppose the idea is to read something about triumph in the face of adversity, but some of the titles seem to wilfully misinterpret what could make people happy. Maybe reading about other people’s suffering makes us more content with our own life?

There are, of course, some excellent choices that I cannot help but agree with: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, the irrepressible Adrian Mole, The Enchanted April, Matt Haig’s The Humans and even Deborah Moggach’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (aka These Foolish Things, although I have problems at times with the ‘white tourists going to exotic locations and poking gentle fun at them’.

What other books would you recommend to people who need escapism or cheering up? Top of my list would be Pippi Longstocking, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt, Paul Berna’s A Hundred Million Francs. What would be top of your list?

29 thoughts on “Mood-Boosting Books in the Library”

  1. Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession. As an added bonus this has a contemporary setting so avoids any potentially damaging whiff of nostalgia.

  2. Through my rocky teenage years I devoured all of Nancy Mitford books which helped me enormously. I especially remember ‘Love in a cold climate’. Not sure if they have stood the test of time…

  3. Oh, Pippi Longstocking! Marvelous. When I’m down, I love rereading the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde (only the first three, though; after that the inventiveness starts to fade); Lucy Mangan’s Bookworm is lovely; Elizabeth Goudge’s Towers in the Mist (Goudge in general) always seems to work. The Enchanted April, of course.

  4. Those are some, well, interesting choices for mood-boosting books, Marina Sofia. Now, for me, I like Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detection Agency series. Yes there is some sadness here and there. But it’s a really hopeful series if that makes sense.

  5. I agree that ‘Enchanted April’ is a perfect feel good mood. I also like the low stakes and humour of E F Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books. I got to be honest though, some of my best feel-good books are ones that are satisfying, even though I realise many of them are also dark – ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ is a book I return to time and time again, because its just so well done and never fails to make me feel better about a world that can contain such great fiction.

    1. Yes, I forgot about Mapp and Lucia, excellent choice. Although Shirley Jackson depresses me no end, because I will never, ever write as well as that!

  6. Agreed re Miss Pettigrew and also the Mapp and Lucias. Unfortunately I tend to turn to Golden Age crime in times of emotional need. An omnipotent detective putting the world to rights is very reassuring!

  7. Ha! But they don’t say what mood they’re boosting – maybe it’s misery! 😉 My top ones would be Anne of Green Gables, Three Men in a Boat and any of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, but especially Cotillion…

    1. Very good point = anxiety and envy-boosting books? Thank you for the Three Men in a Boat mention, which has the additional river link for us living here. And Anne of Green Gables is delightful. I used to devour Georgette Heyer when I was younger, because there simply weren’t enough Jane Austen novels…

  8. This is perfectly timed for me Marina Sofia as I’m determined to only read feel good books in July, so thank you 🙂

    I’m planning on Mapp and Lucia, and some GA detectives. I had also thought about Wodehouse and Mitford but the current political situation means I can’t indulge bumbling toffs like I used to – and its politics which have led to this decision to only read cheery books for a month!

    1. I’m completely with you on the bumbling toffs front. Evelyn Waugh and even Noel Coward also fall slightly into this category, although they are satirical. But it’s too close to the present day incompetence. I also understand why you want to read feel-good books, so I’m hoping you get lots of lovely suggestions from all of the comments. I love the sharing!

  9. I agree about Mma. Ramotswe’s adventures in Alexander McCall Smith’s series set in Botswana. Also, the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout. Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski’s books are always fun, Lisa Scottoline’s DeNunzio and Rosato legal mysteries are hilarious.. Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series is light. And then there is the hyper police officer, Salvo Montalbano, written about by Andrea Camilleri, funny. Then I just read a short book by Patricia Marx, writer, and Rox Chast, cartoonist, with cartoons, “Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I can Correct it?” It’s Jewish humor, but I think it would strike a chord with nearly everyone who can relate to the inherent issues between mothers and daughters.

    1. Mothers and daughters? I might have to search for this one. Jewish mothers are very similar to overbearing Romanian mothers. Thank you for all the great crime fiction suggestions, although this is a hard genre to define as ‘mood-boosting’ (although it is escapist), because it is inherently about sad things and people behaving badly, or suffering.

  10. Anne of Green Gables definitely. And I agree about Bookworm. I’d add Louise Penny’s Three Pines series with the wonderful Inspector Gamache, The Wind in the Willows, Pride & Prejudice.

    1. Ah, you see I think Three Pines can be quite sad in parts, although there is the comfort of that lovely location and eccentric characters we’ve grown to love. Of course Wind in the Willows – one of our family favourites!

  11. Wonderful to see all of the suggestions. I’ve been battling all sorts of lows these past month, so the one or the other should cheer me up.

  12. I have a category “sugar without cellulite” where I file feel good novels.

    I suggest Ladies’ Paradise by Zola.
    Books by Katarina Mazetti.
    The Calhoun series by William G Tapply.

    1. That is a perfect description – and thank you for the unusual suggestions! (Well, I knew the Zola book – we read it at school in Romania for our French class, believe it or not – but not the others.)

  13. I just saw this post, missed it when it came out. I love it, love the idea. I just finished Cold Comfort Farm for the first time at age 70. A lovely book.

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