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February 12, 2018

“Happy Book” Suggestions from Our Readers

Posted by tom

Joy, one of our readers, recently asked for a “happy book” suggestion for her book group. As she said, "From the mud in Mississippi, to war-time Europe, trekking through the Amazonian jungle, to President Lincoln mourning his son, these were pretty depressing. I need a happy book to suggest for our book club. Any ideas?” We let our readers know about Joy's question, and they came up with MANY ideas, all of which you can see in our special blog post. Happy Reading!


Jeanie: THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion is lighthearted but still has topics for discussion.

Lora: My book club had the same dilemma. Our last book was THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD by Colson Whitehead, and we needed something to raise our spirits. We read NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles. While it wasn't exactly happy, the two main characters were so decent and endearing, and the ending was so sweet, that we all felt better, as if there was nobility in the world.

Marie: A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman, THE ART OF HEARING HEARTBEATS by Jan-Philipp Sendker, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR by Jennifer Ryan, and my personal favorite, WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple

Candy: ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman definitely has a happy ending and many laugh-out-loud moments.

Nancy: The Rosie books by Graeme Simison are cute and funny. I also like the Ann B. Ross books about Miss Julia.

Sonia: The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith

Barbara: THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg

Debbie: Any of the books in the Spellman Files series by Lisa Lutz. They all make me laugh.

Mel: THE STORIED LIFE OF AJ FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin and THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simison

Lory: WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple

Anna: I would recommend ALLIE AND BEA by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It’s a delightful story.

Kristine: After reading BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande and A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by James Agee, I too needed a break. This month's book club choice is THE GEOGRAPHY OF BLISS by Eric Weiner, a delightful book about the author's search for the happiest places in the world. Weiner has a wry, humorous voice as he describes various countries and their “happiness potential,” and helps us understand what makes people happy. It was a nice way to turn my attention away from death and dying and think about living.

Michele: Those books by Jenny Lawson

Kathryn: I, too, must sprinkle in a happy book amongst the darker ones. Here are some of my favorites:

  • The Mitford series by Jan Karon
  • THE FAIRY TALE GIRL by Susan Branch (the first in a series of three; it is full of lovely artwork and is a memoir, not fiction)
  • THE WEDDING BEES: A Novel of Honey, Love, and Manners by Sarah-Kate Lynch
  • Anything by Sarah Addison Allen

Melanie: I find Jan Karon’s Mitford series to be comforting, if not exactly entirely “happy.” MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan  and A YEAR IN PROVENCE by Peter Mayle were good, too, though they aren’t exactly new.



Lisa: Here are three books that I found charming, light and happy:

  • THE LADY TRAVELERS GUIDE TO SCOUNDRELS AND OTHER GENTLEMEN by Victoria Alexander (A funny story about this: I didn’t realize until I was halfway through that it is a Harlequin romance part of their new history series. I’ve never read a Harlequin romance and was a little embarrassed at first that I was reading one. However, I quickly got over it and have recommended this book to quite a few of my friends.)
  • THE RED NOTEBOOK by Antoine Laurain
  • THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

Jane: Happy books can be a tricky genre. It might seem like a "happy" book to you but not to another.  I think of "happy" books as ones that make me laugh aloud and feel satisfied. So here goes my list:

  • A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman
  • MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS by Gerald Durrell (the first in a trilogy; catch the PBS series, which is also good)
  • THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion
  • THE SANTALAND DIARIES by David Sedaris (or other books by him)
  • BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah (excellent as an Audible book because Trevor reads it himself and does all the accents)
  • 84, CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff (and the movie is good, too!)
  • I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith
  • THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (it has sad parts, but it is SO GOOD)

I am quite sure I have read more, but 10 is a good start!

Winnie: THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

Vickie: I recommend NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT by Kristan Higgins. It’s a lighthearted romance with some chuckle-out-loud moments.

Patricia: GOODBYE, VITAMIN by Rachel Khong. Although about Alzheimer's, it has some hilarious moments and sweetly creative ways to deal with the father's delusions.

Mary: I think BE FRANK WITH ME by Julia Claiborne Johnson is basically a happy book, though there are a few sad moments.

Beth: It's been a few years since I read Elizabeth Gilbert's THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS, but I don't recall the book being sad or bad. I know I hated to see it end.

Melanie S: THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

Nancy S: THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg

Cindy: Oh my goodness! Joy’s note resonated with me! Our book group, The Persian Pickle Club, selects our books each September for the upcoming year. This past summer we had many members who had lost a parent, and our group lost one of our own members to metastatic breast cancer. It has been a “sad” year. We, too, had read LINCOLN IN THE BARDO (George Saunders actually came to our small community to give an interview!) and other pretty serious reads. We were ready for a “happy” year. Our group has been together for 19 years, and our ages range from 40-70. We rate our books on a scale from 1-10 prior to our discussion and then do a post-discussion rating. We hope this gives us an idea about how a book measures up as a book group book!

We’ve read nearly 200 books, so I selected five of our favorite reads that we hope other groups will find enriching! It is rare for a book to surpass a “9” so we must be a tough bunch. Below are some ideas that I hope will inspire Joy and other groups looking for a book with enough meat to discuss but also one that will add joy to our lives!

  • THE YEAR OF LIVING DANISHLY by Helen Russell (8.3/8.8 pre- and post-discussion)
  • A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles (9.57/9.57)
  • THE PERSIAN PICKLE CLUB by Sandra Dallas (10/10) It was our first book but still remains a favorite of our group!
  • DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury (10/10)
  • MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather (9.11/8.6)

What I’m reading now: THE AMAZING STORY OF THE MAN WHO CYCLED FROM INDIA TO EUROPE FOR LOVE by Per J Andersson (It’s the month of love!)

Nancy: I am almost finished with CARNEGIE’S MAID by Marie Benedict. It’s a quick read and a good story, and it has a discussion guide too! Isabel Allende is always a good choice. I read IN THE MIDST OF WINTER a while back.

Patricia: The Hundred Years Trilogy by Jane Smiley

Victoria: A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles

Cindi: WINTER SOLSTICE by Rosamunde Pilcher (I hadn't heard of this one until you mentioned it in your newsletter a few weeks ago. I loved it and lent it to a friend right after I read it. She loved it too.) and STANDING IN THE RAINBOW by Fannie Flagg

Dianna F: I would like to suggest ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman for a happy/funny book. I loved it!

Gail: CLASS MOM by Laurie Gelman. What a relief it is to read a book that made me laugh, chuckle or smile on every page, a book I hated to put down because it was such a pleasure to read.

As this short novel explores the kindergarten year of Maximilian Dixon through his mother’s hilarious portrayal of the class mom, the personalities and relationships she encounters are examined and exposed with all of the human frailties “that flesh is heir to.” Jen Dixon is the class mom extraordinaire, although at first that is not a universal opinion. The reader will witness the interaction of all of the Dixons, with their friends, fellow kindergarten parents, kindergarten children and their teacher. Life’s little pleasures will pop out of the story in expected and unexpected places. If nothing else, the book surely proves that we are all young inside our heads, no matter how old we are on the outside, and we all have our little secrets and dreams. It will prove that our lives shine no brighter than when we are happy and taking life in stride.

Jen is lucky, and she knows it. She is enjoying the dessert of her life, as she describes her youngest child, five-year-old Max, who has just begun kindergarten. She has two older daughters who are already away in college. Her friend Nina, who heads up the PTA, has leaned on her to become a class mom. She certainly has had world-class experience having been one for both of her daughters. She provides a laugh a minute with her sarcastic emails, requests and expectations of the other moms, although some take umbrage at her style and do not laugh at all.

Anyone who has ever been a class mom or school volunteer will nod in agreement compulsively as Jen relates her activities and the pages fly by; they will find their lips turning up into a knowing smile as requests are made and duties are performed. Anyone who hasn’t had any experience in being a class mom will thoroughly enjoy her experiences vicariously, taking pleasure in being a voyeur into the life of Jen Dixon as she navigates her home life as a wife and mother and her outside life with all of its various temptations.

Max’s teacher is unusual. She presents a persona that alternates between a sex pot and a Puritan. She is full of surprises, and confounds some of the parents when they try to understand her. There is a parent and a child who never appear for the entire year; no one has met them! There are showoffs, flirts and chronic complainers. In short, the book presents a picture that represents a slice of all of our lives, warts and all.

The novel was nostalgic for me. It took me back to my days of being a school parent, my PTA days, fundraising days, school party days, and play date days. It reminded me of the camaraderie of neighbors, of watching each other’s children, of car pools and overnight sleepovers. It also reminded me of the friction that sometimes displayed itself, but was followed by unity and friendships that blossomed when necessary to support a common cause. It brought back memories of happy children, schoolyards and school dances. The book reminded me of the "dessert of my life."

Jen Dixon was what every parent might want to be, even though she could be abrasive at times, because her tongue-in-cheek dialogue and messages were genuine, and she was sincere. She spoke her mind, she was involved, and she was really a nice person when you scratched her surface. She was a joy to discover.