Thursday, January 18, 2018
Mood Lifting Books
I enjoy receiving the occasional request for list topics. This week's is from Rosie, a blog reader who said she'd appreciate recommendations of simple, wholesome reads to make us feel happy. What a great question. Don't we all need that sort of reading therapy from time to time? When I started brainstorming, I decided to fit them into two criteria.
* They should be written in an easy-flowing style. Books that require deeper concentration are exempt from this feel-good list, simply because they demand more from the reader than pure relaxation.
* The story matter must contain something encouraging that sticks with us. Ideally, the characters themselves are seen as instrumental in boosting their own low moods and raising their spirits. In this way, the books become gentle tutorials, as well as lovely stories.
So without further ado, here are my picks.
1) Little Women
The March sisters are all so sweet and earnest in the way they take corrective feedback on board, and it is all to do with thinking right rather than just acting right. The whole story reads a bit like a primer on pulling yourself out of a bad mood, starting from the first chapter, when Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy sit grumbling together one Christmas Eve while their father is off as a chaplain in the Civil War. (See here for a review.)
2) The Blue Castle
This is one of L.M. Montgomery's few novels for adults. If your bad mood is tied in with the complications of people pleasing, the heroine Valancy Stirling is a great example to follow. It takes a strong catalyst to help her see that being a 'yes-woman' is slowly choking her. To quote from my review, 'She knows better than to attempt what many of us think is logical, to fix things by changing people's opinions. She makes a wiser move and decides to shrug them off and live a life more true to her inner values.' (For the whole reviews, see here.)
3) The Little House series
These books chronicle Laura's own life. They are powerful mood busters because the Ingalls family were content with so little, and help restore our thankfulness for small blessings we may have taken for granted. You'd have to be pretty hard-hearted to read their joy over a tasty meal, rosy sunset or crackling fire without taking it on board. (I'm hosting an informal Little House-athon this year, if you'd like to take part or just drop in from time to time. See here to find out more.)
4) Anne of Green Gables
The story of how red-haired orphan Anne Shirley came to live with the Cuthberts and brightened their lives has made generations of hearts happy. Poor Anne was already an expert at boosting her own mood before she ever came, or she might not have survived her early years with cruel families. She relied heavily on private retreats into her own wonderful imagination. A girl who says, 'For the first time, I don't need to imagine things are different,' is worth listening to. (Here is an article I wrote on the awesomeness of Anne's imagination.)
5) I Capture the Castle
It's the diary of 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain, whose fresh and merry attitude contrasts with the grumbles of her older sister Rose, even though the girls have to put up with the same dismal poverty. But Cassandra has more resources up her sleeve, including wisdom and a sense of humour. (Review is here.)
6) Harry Potter
You can't visit Hogwarts without having its magic work on your mood. Harry himself is always so much happier at school than with his aunt and uncle Dursley. But most importantly, we get so deeply sucked into the tension, mysteries and adventure of the plot, we don't have time to think about our Muggle hassles. (You don't have to search far to find ravings about Harry Potter in these blog lists and articles.)
This girl is the expert at repelling bad moods to the extent that her name is synonymous with optimism. You must read the books to really catch her heart. Pollyanna isn't one of those pains in the neck who refuses to acknowledge reality. Nor is she an ostrich who buries her head in the sand. She clearly sees the negative things going on around her, but chooses to accentuate the positive by focusing on it. The story of how her father taught her to play the 'Glad Game' is a good introduction to a simple tool. (My review is here.)
8) Daddy Longlegs
In this epistolary story, young Jerusha Abbott writes her anonymous benefactor lots of descriptive letters about her experience studying English literature at college. Since her light-hearted, unique take on things causes him to fall in love with her, it can't help growing on the reader too. There's nothing quite like having a bright and hopeful outlook described in first person to give us a jump start.
9) The Ivy Hill series
These are new novels by Julie Klassen, one of my favourite current authors. She love village chronicles so much she took on the challenge to write her own. The lives and trials of the characters who live in Ivy Hill are very immersive, and keep us turning pages. There are so many different dilemmas between them all, it's not hard to come upon one that will probably reflect your own, and be handled very well. (Reviews are here and here.)
I'm going to finish with a true story rather than fiction. Rachel Anne Ridge tells how she discovered a stray donkey wandering around on her property. Since it was more difficult than they anticipated to discover where he came from, they decided to keep him, and Flash revealed many different aspects of living a good life for humans to adopt too. Anyone who equates donkeys with foolishness should think again. I loved this book! (I've reviewed it here.)
So there, if I was asked to take on the role of book apothecary, those might be my prescriptions. Casting my eye over them, I'm aware that with the exception of Harry Potter, they may come across as fairly feminine. If you're a male reader who's read this list, what additions would you recommend? In fact I invite anyone to add to it in the comments. What are your favourite mood-boosting books? I'll follow them up, because we all need as much encouragement as we can get.
You might also enjoy this post about the flip side of this subject, the power of melancholy books.
Or this one about reading with depression.