Cheerful Reading: Your Recommendations Needed

On December 16, my book club is due to select the books we’re going to read for the next several months. Over the last several months, we’ve been doing some heavy reading. Our book selections have covered suburban angst, dark family secrets, an abusive religious cult, self-destructive behavior, and lost urban souls. The feeling at our last meeting was that it would be nice to read something a little sunnier.

So I’m looking for ideas for some cheerful books to read that are also good book club material. Fiction or nonfiction are fine. Recent books and classics will be considered. We love variety and enjoy books about different cultures and time periods. The most important thing is that the book be fairly easy to find in the U.S. (Bonus if it’s out in paperback or readily available at most libraries.) It should also be something that can actually elicit a good discussion.

Any ideas?

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9 Responses to Cheerful Reading: Your Recommendations Needed

  1. Katherine says:

    I for ne recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (fiction; written in an epistolary format). It takes place just after WWII, but it’s truly a heartwearming, enjoyable story, and easily one of the best I’ve read this year. Not available in paperback in the US yet, I don’t think, but it could probably be found at most libraries. However, buying it in hardback is definitely worth it, it’s just that good!

  2. Jenny says:

    Kim, Rudyard Kipling.
    Another Marvelous Thing, Laurie Colwin.
    Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen.
    The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov.
    To Say Nothing of the Dog, Connie Willis.
    Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman.
    The Soul of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman (or Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain.)
    The Gastronomical Me, MFK Fisher.
    Jenny and the Jaws of Life, Jincy Willett.

    Those are just a few examples of some of the best books, fiction and non-fiction, that I’ve read on the lighter side in the past few years. To be honest, I hope you read all of them, but one will do. :)

  3. Sarah says:

    I’d suggest:

    First and foremost, Austen!

    Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope- the 4th novel of the Barsetshire series, but enjoyable on its own. A wonderful Victorian novel with a happy ending.

    Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons- especially if you’ve read Hardy and Lawrence.

    The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy- Gore Vidal described it as Daisy Miller’s revenge. A young American learns about life and love in 1950’s Paris.

    Kingsley Amis is also very funny, albeit often offensive as well.

  4. Lorin says:

    Funny, our book club just had this same conversation, along the lines of “We’ve been reading some heavy stuff. Can we get a break?” Our “rules”, such as they are, is that it can’t be something people have read before, and it should be available in paperback. So my friend went to a bookstore and asked around for suggestions and came up with the following:

    1) “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

    2) “The Enchanted April” by Elizabeth von Armin

    3) “Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Company” by Maria Amparo Escandon

    We ended up picking Gonzalea & Daughter. I just finished it last night. I thought it was good, though maybe a bit uneven. It dealt with some pretty serious issues, but did have a lighter tone. (We’re meeting tonight to discuss, and I’ll probably post a review early next week.)

  5. Juxtabook says:

    David Lodge – Nice Work
    Evelyn Waugh – Vile Bodies
    Nicola Beauman – A Very Great Profession
    Charlotte Mosley – Letters Between Six Sisters
    Georgette Heyer – Sylvester

    I would also second Cold Comfort Farm that Sarah suggested.

  6. Teresa says:

    Lots of good options here—several are already on my personal list!

    Katherine: I’ve been hearing great things about the Guernsey Literary…. I’ll probably read it eventually, but it might be a good one to bring to book club since it seems well liked by everyone who’s read it.

    Jenny: I have a copy of Kim and do plan to read it very soon. Do you think an Indian person would be annoyed by it? (One of my friends in the group is from India, and I’d be reluctant to recommend something with an overly romantic view toward the colonial period.) I also plan to read To Say Nothing of the Dog, but I don’t know how the rest of the group would like it. The Fadiman and Dinesen are good possibilities.

    Sarah: I strongly suspect we’ll end up reading some Austen, since another group member mentioned her a while back. I wouldn’t mind rereading Cold Comfort Farm, either, and the group might really like Flora. Trollope’s books are longer than our usual picks (though I love him). I’m glad to hear the Dundy book is good—it’s been on my wishlist at Bookmooch and Paperbackswap for ages because my library doesn’t have it. I live in hope that it’ll show up on one of those sites, but I might just have to order it eventually.

    Lorin: That is funny that your group went through this. I think that tends to happen because the serious books get so much more attention and they are easier to discuss. Guernsey is on my list, and Enchanted April is a good possibility (I love the movie). I’ll keep an eye out for your review of the Gonzalez and Daughter book.

    Juxtabook: Another vote for Cold Comfort Farm. Looks like a serious contender! I’ve been meaning to read more Waugh, so I’ll take a look at that one. Letters Between Six Sisters is a good possibility. I know I want to read it, and the Mitfords offer great fodder for discussion (although IIRC it’s awfully thick, which might make it a no-go). I’ve been pondering bringing Heyer to the group because I’ve been wanting to try her books, so that’s a good option. I might check the library catalog to see what they have on hand.

    Great suggestions everyone. Keep ’em coming!

  7. Jenny says:

    To begin with, no, I wouldn’t suspect that Kim would be annoying to an Indian person. Kipling seems both knowledgeable about and respectful of the many different cultural and religious threads that make up Indian society, including the foibles of the British. However, if it were annoying, that would make for good discussion! It’s certainly not openly offensive. Secondary suggestion: if you just want some wonderful history along these lines, try anything by Peter Hopkirk, but particularly The Great Game. He takes what might be obscure and makes it into a thrilling adventure story.

    Second, I rethought my Colwin suggestion. My own two favorites are Happy All the Time and Family Happiness.

    Third, I vote, too, for Cold Comfort Farm, but I don’t know how much discussion you’d get out of it.

    Let us know what you eventually choose!

  8. Nicola says:

    The Big Stone Gap series by Adriana Trigiani. Most Nancy Mitford novels, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and of course I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

  9. Teresa says:

    Jenny: Thanks for the feedback on Kim. You’re right that a little annoyance can make for a good discussion, but I wouldn’t want to suggest something with an overly condescending attitude. (And I would be interested in the Indian perspective on Kipling.)

    Nicola: Great suggestions! You’re definitely in the ballpark because my previous club read Lucia! Lucia! by Adriana Trigiani (a mixed success but fun) and I Capture the Castle (generally positive reactions, and I loved it). Gilead is one of my all-time faves, and I’ve been meaning to try some of Nancy Mitford’s work for ages. So Mitford looks like a very good possibility.

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