An English teacher once told me that a book didn’t count unless it had literary merit. It wasn’t worth reading unless it contributed something to the global canon of literature. That thought has stuck with me not because I was inspired by the idea but because I took such offence to it. Literature is a confounding hybrid of art and entertainment that finds a home with people in both extremist camps. As I have grown up, I have only doubled down on my opinion that snobbery and shaming only serves to discourage people from reading. I believe that books can comfort, transport, entertain, and distract in the best way. Similar to how HBO showed the world that television could be well made and culturally valuable, books that raise eyebrows among the intelligentsia still serve their purpose in society. Most people on most days reach for books to be enthralled.
I dedicated my degree to engaging with literature on a critical level, but when I graduated, the first books I bought to read for the pure joy of them were not ones my teacher would have approved of (and I relished them all the more for that reason).
Recently, I’ve found myself looking at my bookshelves, walking my fingers along the spines of old favourites, and wishing I could read them again for the first time. Books like Pride and Prejudice feel more valuable to me now than ever before. It has been done to death, it is eye-rollingly clichéd, and yet it is one I would return to it like an old friend right now. I know that it will keep me company and pull me along through English countrysides, familiar characters, and earnest love. It’s like my mother’s macaroni and cheese in book form.
I would encourage everyone sheltering in place to revisit a novel from their childhood or reread an old feel-good book. Independent bookstores across Canada are implementing curbside delivery services to keep themselves in business. Why not choose a beautiful edition of a familiar story? To have a package arrive just for the sake of comfort and company is the ultimate self-care.
If you are short on ideas, here are a few recommendations for books that make you feel good:
This atmospheric book could be set in your favourite overly cramped and dusty used bookstore, if the shop were also home to encoded tombs that a cast of wacky characters are obsessed with. Shiny Silicon Valley technology meets old-world coding in this short and enjoyable mystery.
This Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner feels even more relevant now than it did on its release in 2000 thanks to the renewed superhero fervour of the Avengers and their ilk. This humorous look at the American dream through the eyes of two Jewish cousins creating comic books in Brooklyn before, during, and after the Second World War is a delightful adventure.
If a fantastical neo-noir romance set in the 1920s were put to pages, it would be this novel. The writing is slow, casting its spell with beautiful prose and imagery. The currency of this book is magic, set across time and space with a mysterious circus tying everything together.
Told from the perspective of a bee over the course of her life, this novel is surprisingly scientifically-accurate as well as a heartwarming allegory for overcoming differences and obstacles in the face of adversity from nature and peers.
Two of the greatest modern fantasy writers come together to create a “what would you do if it were the end of the world?” scenario told from the dual perspective of an angel and a demon, two unlikely friends who have grown very fond of Earth. The book is bursting with personality, humour, and all the earmarks of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s writing. It’s just a romp, really.
This fake book within a real book that inspired a classic movie is the pinnacle of an adventure novel. William Goldman takes every existing trope established by Treasure Island and others of the genre and conjures up an imaginary out-of-print classic that includes all the conventions with commentary provided throughout.
This cult classic from 1985 is easy to read and just magical. Interweaving storylines set in ancient Eurasia and present day, Jitterbug Perfume is an epic of magical realism, alchemy, fragrance, and the quest for eternal life.
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, introduced the rest of the world to hygge and taught us how to make our homes as cozy as possible. His book about memory is the ultimate comfort read for troubling times because it provides hope for our sanity and, ultimately, our happiness. It may also give you some ideas on how to create lasting moments of happiness during the pandemic.
This is a good candidate for anyone feeling guilty for not starting that big project while in isolation. It is hard living under these conditions, and this case for slow living is one to consider now that we finally have the time to do so.
Any chick lit would do on this list. The genre is the perfect palate cleanser, striking a balance between real world settings and impossible scenarios. You are almost guaranteed a happy ending, and that is what we all need right now. The Rosie Project is a good choice because of its humour, poignancy, and the least amount of corny cringe (in my opinion).
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