Escapism for the recently bereaved
November 16, 2009 5:28 PM   Subscribe

A bereaved work-mate is looking for escapist literature that does not treat with death, dying or human tragedy - in short - 99% of the english language canon is off limits. Can anyone suggest good books?

A work-mate recently lost her fiancee to heart disease. She is taking time off from work and is looking for books to read - lighthearted fare that does not treat with death, dying or human tragedy. She's in her thirties, has unmitigated scorn for Terry Pratchett and his light-fantasy ilk, tends to enjoy Rosamund Pilcher and Maeve Binchey (but considers some of their work potentially dark at present) - is there anything out there?
posted by tabubilgirl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe some John McPhee? Not novels, but better written than most. Looking for a Ship or The Control of Nature come to mind.
Jane Austen meets your requirements but might be too centered on love and romance.
The plays of Oscar Wilde.
JD Powers wrote two interesting novels about the live of American priests in the middle of the last century, Morte d'Urban won the national book award, but the title eliminates it, so how about The Wheat the Springeth Green?
posted by shothotbot at 5:47 PM on November 16, 2009

I recommend some P.G. Wodehouse. I don't think a single one of his stories deals with death or anything tragic -- all of them are generally cheery and end on a good note, not to mention a fantastic read through and through.
posted by pewpew at 5:51 PM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

Try Georgette Heyer. Very light, well written Victorian comedy/romances. A la Austen, but a little more readable.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:53 PM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford trilogy is lovely and gentle and beautifully written--it's a semi-autobiographical sequence of novels about a young woman growing up in rural England at the beginning of the 20th century.

Jan Karon's Mitford novels are also very gentle--they're about an Episcopal parish in rural North Carolina. People do die occasionally in the stories, though.

E.F. Benson's Lucia series is gentle but deeply sarcastic: the six novels follow a middle-aged, moderately wealthy social-climbing English heroine and her neighbors in a small English seaside town.

If she can get her hands on them, Angela Thirkell's novels are really splendid escapist absurdism, kind of like a mid-20th-century "Women's Page" version of P.G. Wodehouse. Thirkell wrote a bazillion of them, and they're mostly about things like getting the second son of the squire to marry the vicar's daughter without offending the Mixo-Lydian ambassadress.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try Georgette Heyer. Very light, well written Victorian comedy/romances.

You mistyped "Regency" there.

And Heyer is "more readable" than Austen to our 21st-century eyes because she wrote in the early 20th century.

But yes! Heyer is an awesome choice. The Grand Sophy and The Talisman Ring are her two best.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:57 PM on November 16, 2009

I can't second P. G. Wodehouse enough.

Maybe Jerome K. Jerome?
posted by pseudonick at 6:03 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Missing Links was one of the funniest books I've ever read, and strangely life-affirming for a slapstick comedy about guys trying to sneak into an exclusive golf country club.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:32 PM on November 16, 2009

I love Straight Man by Richard's mostly light and very fun. Lots of hijinks ensue!
posted by violetish at 6:36 PM on November 16, 2009

Leo Frankowski's "Cross time engineer" is pure escapist fiction.
posted by notsnot at 6:40 PM on November 16, 2009

Totally P. G. Wodehouse.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:40 PM on November 16, 2009

I came in here to recommend Jerome K. Jerome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:44 PM on November 16, 2009

May I suggest Doorways In The Sand?

~ A perfectly crafted gem of a novel, intellectual without being dense, fascinating and charming, and splendidly written. Filled with interesting ideas. Light but not lightweight. A unique work by a unique writer.
posted by coffeefilter at 6:55 PM on November 16, 2009

Bridget Jones' Diary and the sequel
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books (though I haven't read the new Eoin Colfer one, so can't speak to it).
posted by cmgonzalez at 7:45 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dealing with my own personal struggles led me to turn to young adult novels - they're not to everyone's liking, but they are light, easy reads that often have some really dynamite storytelling behind them. I started with the Harry Potters, then went to a few series that I liked when I was younger (Tamora Pierce's Lioness Quartet, for example, and Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time books). Otherwise I just checked out the YA section in local bookstores and was blown away by the creativity in stuff written for teens these days. I wish more of it had been around when I was a kid! But, anyhow - great escapist stuff on a multitude of topics, and they either rarely deal with the kinds of issues you mention, or will do so in such an obvious way that it's not hard to steer clear of what will upset your friend.

It's very kind of you to ask for her. I hope she finds some comfort in your recommendations.
posted by AthenaPolias at 8:05 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

If she likes Maeve Binchy, possibly some of Roddy Doyle's stuff, particularly the Barrytown trilogy, for tragedy-lite working-class Irish goings-on.

And then there's Cold Comfort Farm for the open mocking of gloom-n-doom Thomas-Hardy-style novels.

And if you're really looking for escapism, available in full online at the Internet Archive, The Young Visiters, a sweeping late-Victorian period romance (written in 1890), full of piercing insight into the agonies and glories of romance. Also, it's by a 9-year-old. Fun stuff.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:22 PM on November 16, 2009

I'm with AthenaPolias in recommending young adult novels. They don't need to be crap. I read the Moomin books a lot when I'm bummed out, and they're quality in a way that grown-ups can appreciate and very much about (nonhuman) friends supporting each other and having adventures (though I'd stay away from Moominvalley in November for your purpose, that one's a little dreary).
posted by bubukaba at 8:31 PM on November 16, 2009

I heartily recommend A Confederacy of Dunces!

(I guess Amazon might have better reviews and more editions available, but gotta link Powell's anyway.)
posted by nickjadlowe at 9:21 PM on November 16, 2009

Seconding Sidhedevil's Georgette Heyer recommendations. I see that Jerome K. Jerome was mentioned. I would recommend To Say Nothing of the Dog which owes a great deal to Three Men In A Boat. Also, Van Reid's Moosepath League books are fun. Cordelia Underwood is the first in the series.

(As an aside, there are some fantastic books being written and categorized as young adult/YA, definitely, including some excellent non cutesy fantasy, and Tamora Pierce is great, as is Robin McKinley - Beauty is a great version of Beauty and the Beast.)
posted by gudrun at 9:23 PM on November 16, 2009

Two genres come to mind:

A. Chick Lit. Start with Meg Cabot's The Boy Next Door, which is well-written, funny, and wonderful to read when you are in a depression-hole. Next up is Boy Meets Girl. All of Meg's books, actually, are wonderfully fun reads that lift the spirits. Other good, non-threatening chick lit: the Ivy League novels by Diana Peterfreund, anything by Helen Fielding, and The Little Lady Agency by Hester Browne.

B. YA, as recommended above. I'd stay away from Harry Potter and the Wrinkle in Time books, as both of those deal quite heavily with death. There are a ton of good YA reads in every genre, but a lot of it is much more intense than you'd think. For light but not Gossip Girl-gooey stuff, I'd recommend The Rise and Fall of a 10th Grade Social Climber by Lauren Mechling and Laura Moser, How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine Larbalestier, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, and, as I said earlier, almost anything by Meg Cabot.
posted by brina at 9:43 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about Bill Bryson's travel stuff? Or other humorous travel stuff?
posted by The otter lady at 10:10 PM on November 16, 2009

YA lit is always good- Helen Cresswell's Bagthorpe Saga is one of my favorites. Several in the series, starting with Ordinary Jack. Somewhat average family that turns out to be full of lunatics (even the four-year-old little cousin) desperately striving for immortality via sports, acting, writing, etc. Completely ridiculous and amusing if you are reading it mindlessly, and lots of neat details, puns, jokes that you will catch if able to read with more detail.

I may have completely forgotten any details that make this suggestion inappropriate, but highly doubt it.
posted by variella at 10:30 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eva Ibbotson! Victoria Clayton! And pretty much every suggestion upthread.

I had to physically restrain myself from favouriting almost every single answer.

Oh books! Whee!

unrelated to this comment's breezy cheeriness: I have had a large G&T.
posted by jonathanstrange at 1:09 AM on November 17, 2009

Seconding Bridget Jones and the Meg Cabot stuff. Anything by Janet Evanovich (especially the Stephanie Plum series) make me laugh out loud like an idiot.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:55 AM on November 17, 2009

Wodehouse. This is what he is there for.
posted by OmieWise at 6:23 AM on November 17, 2009

I came also to recommend Georgette Heyer. I have been methodically re-reading all of her books, being in the same boat where I have a very low threshold for being upset by even casual references to death, dying, illness, etc after the loss of a child. At bookstores, Heyer is often placed in the romance section alongside the bodice-rippers, but she is much more substantial. Her characters and descriptions of their world-views are clever and funny, but nuanced and detailed. Supposedly, her portrayal of manners, fashions, society and so forth are spot-on, which is something that really tickles my brain, because I end up going to Wiki and other sources and reading about the people, places, social groups (macaronis and so forth) that she mentions. In addition to her (primarily Regency) comedy-romances, she also has many mystery-romances, which are primarily also "light".

My faves are Frederika, The Grand Sophy and These Old Shades. I am currently reading The Foundling.
posted by bunnycup at 6:51 AM on November 17, 2009

To Say Nothing Of The Dog by Connie Willis has already been mentioned, but her Bellwether would also fit the bill - entertaining story about people researching fads and chaos theory, with some light and nerdy romance. (An anti-recommendation: Passage, by the same author. It's about near-death experiences and is unlikely to be much fun for your friend right now).
posted by harriet vane at 6:53 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

yeah, Bellwether is a really fun book. +1 to that one. Oddly though, Doomsday Book by the same author is one of the most death-ridden books you're going to read. Time travel to Plague-ridden England anyone?
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:30 AM on November 17, 2009

Eva Ibbotson writes both YA fantasy (the type your friend scorns?) and fairytale romance for adults. My favorites are "Morning Gift" and "Magic Flute" in the latter category.

Frank Cottrell Boyce's "Framed" is my latest YA find.
posted by of strange foe at 7:52 AM on November 17, 2009

nthing Wodehouse. Pratchett may also be an option.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:58 AM on November 17, 2009

Terry Pratchett. And if she likes him, there is the entire Discworld series to get through.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:13 PM on November 17, 2009

« Older Automatic Timed Scanning Software?   |   Shirt-ironing hacks? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.