Books that make you feel glad to be human?
September 15, 2012 2:30 PM   Subscribe

You helped me feel depressed through novels. Can you now help me feel good about being alive and connected to humanity through books?

I'm looking for stories that have stayed with you for years that have re-affirmed the feeling that life is worth it. Tales that have touched you and helped you realize how beautiful and wondrous being human can be. Or fiction that has become your touchstone to return to when you feel hopeless with the rest of the world and humanity and want to remember why you remain here.
posted by kanata to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
The YA books Weetzie Bat and Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block are go-to books when I am feeling bleak. They are breezy, fun, quick (both can't take more than 3 hours to read), and they deal quite deeply with how different people face the ugliness that exists in the world, the importance of the family you chose, how to survive being hurt by the people you love, and why being a clutch-pig is not so good for you.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:37 PM on September 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Witch of Blackbird Pond always has me feeling pretty good by the end.

And to that end, I also recommend Where the Sidewalk Ends --- I find more meanings in the poems now than I realized there were in them when I first received the book as a gift from my aunt when I was in the second grade. A lot of the poems strike a lot of chords of humanity.
posted by zizzle at 3:27 PM on September 15, 2012

Little, Big

I have read this book every year for the past 20 years or so. I have never failed to find something new in it, or to have my faith in life and the universe reaffirmed.
posted by jammy at 4:39 PM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ha, I almost added Little, Big, but decided that one suggestion was enough. It's way denser -- the kind of book you need to read 2-3 times to really "get," and there is as much bittersweet as affirmation, but it's a testament to the glorious mystery and persistence of life and hope.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:43 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ursula LeGuinn's "Very Far Away from Anything Else" is quick (it's technically YA) and way heartwarming and it's my go-to for warm fuzzies when I've got an emergency involving lack of warmth and fuzz.

Also, Somerset Maugham and Balzac both have this sort of uplifting effect on me, though I realize this might not work on everyone. Both like writing about people in rough and ugly situations doing rough and ugly things, and yet both of them manage to give you that zoom-out-as-the-closing-credits-roll gee-we're-all-part-of-this-big-weird-world-all-together feeling, which is a big part of what makes me personally feel glad to be human. For Maugham, the classics are "The Moon and Sixpence" and "Of Human Bondage," and "The Razor's Edge" is tragically underrated IMO. For Balzac, you probably wanna start with "Father Goriot."
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:44 PM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson (but maybe suits Brits best)
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
The Consolations of Philosophy by de Botton (not a novel, but....)
Anything by Saki
Anything by Pratchett
posted by Prof Iterole at 4:52 PM on September 15, 2012

For the last 25 years, I have kept a small book of quotations from works that have moved me. The benefit is that I have a pocket-sized collection of statements that mean something to me; I can always track down these works if I want to, but right here and now, I have the pieces of them that I need, written in my own hand. Once you have your list, you might consider doing something similar.

What speaks to me will not be what speaks to you. Nonetheless: Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway"; George Eliot's "Middlemarch"; Terry Pratchett's "The Wee Free Men" and "A Hat Full of Sky."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:58 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Julian Barnes's History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters does this for me.

Also Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, though it's also incredibly sad.
posted by Mchelly at 5:40 PM on September 15, 2012

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It's a short story; full text here.

OT: Everyone should read The One Straw Revolution and the Ishmael series.
posted by gray17 at 5:40 PM on September 15, 2012

i second Ursula K. LeGuin

when i'm depressed i can become a little non-functional and i have to read really elementary stuff. a continued favorite is J.W. Schultz's pseudo-autobiographical "My Life As An Indian." of course we all know it doesn't end well but it has enough sweep and schoolboy grandeur to lift me out of myself.

Louis Dickinson Rich's "We Took To The Woods"

also, believe it or not Dolly Parton's autobiography Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business.
pretty fucking cheery and funny.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 5:49 PM on September 15, 2012

These look great so far as you seem to be getting my gist. I want to be reaffirmed about humanity and that doesn't necessary mean cheerful and humorous. I am actually in a good place for once and like the poignant and sad and meaningful stories that just reinforce my decision to keep trying to connect with humanity as a good one.
posted by kanata at 6:02 PM on September 15, 2012

John Henry Faulk's Christmas Story.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:13 PM on September 15, 2012

Baking Cakes in Kigali made me happy, even though the subject matter isn't all marshmallows and lollipops.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 6:33 PM on September 15, 2012

Zadie Smith's first novel, White Teeth makes me feel that pleasurable literary mystical oneness every time I read it.
posted by emilycardigan at 7:39 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Shipping News, Annie Proulx. It's one of the bleakest books on earth in the beginning--I've had friends who had trouble with that, but it is so worth it once it gets moving. The ending is one of the most beautiful ever.

(Believe it or not, I also feel this way about Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, dated as it may feel now. Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine will also give you a good interdependent-web vibe, as Bradbury the Unitarian might have said.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:43 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a biologist, so I'll give you a different spin. For me books about being glad to be human are really about being glad to live in this baffling world. The one I most strongly recommend is Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It definitely changed my trajectory in a lasting way. Desert Solitaire is a gruffer take with the same view - the message is "Seriously dude, how cool is this shit!?"

It's a subtle tonic, though - for me what's great about being human isn't that we're human, it's that as humans we get to appreciate all of this fantastic stuff. The ants don't realize how amazing they are. So in this way any book about science gives the message that OF COURSE life's worth it. With training, you may get this sentiment from a textbook = P. When the human touch comes into scientific writing, the message is even more clear, as in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Endless Forms Most Beautiful (this one's a bit more hard-science), or EO Wilson's Naturalist. Mmmm...
posted by Buckt at 8:54 PM on September 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

Oh and I should add when I want to remind myself how great it all is, I usually just watch Sagan.
posted by Buckt at 8:54 PM on September 15, 2012

Willa Cather writes really, really well about happiness -- not I-found-The-One-so-everything-is-great-now happiness, but deep, earned, life-well-lived happiness. Try The Song of the Lark, which I think every English-speaking girl should get a copy of on her 13th birthday.

The Left Hand of Darkness, especially towards the end, is a really beautiful portrait of unexpected, unconventional, intense human connection. Very sad, very joyful. Le Guin does this feeling really well in general.
posted by ostro at 11:35 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Viktor Frankl's 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, has always been very inspirational to me, and clarified a lot of things for me with respect to some Buddhist teachings related to suffering that I was having difficulty grasping. Which seems weird, given that Frankl was a Jewish concentration camp survivor, but actually makes sense in context.
posted by xyzzy at 1:40 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Winters Tale by Mark Helprin.
posted by elendil71 at 3:22 AM on September 16, 2012

I was just coming in to recommend A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin.
posted by Spinneret at 8:39 AM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry, the text of A Christmas Memory is here.
posted by gray17 at 5:53 PM on September 16, 2012

Seconding Bel Canto, I just read that one and it was amazing.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is in this category, although it's a little bit "Look what I'm doing! I'm reaffirming your faith in humanity! Isn't this great?!" about it.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
posted by katya.lysander at 8:24 PM on September 16, 2012

Pride and Prej a million times over, which is exactly the number of times it deserves to be read.

The Fledgeling by E.B. White. Many more children's books as pointed out above thread.
posted by kettleoffish at 8:48 PM on September 16, 2012

The Bridge Of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.

Also LeGuin, in particular her short story "Solitude".
posted by Pallas Athena at 3:15 PM on September 17, 2012

I've picked up and am reading Little, Big and quite enjoying it. So that's the one I marked best answer for now. I am sure I will return time and time again to this thread and delve into other suggestions. Thank you all for your help.
posted by kanata at 4:46 PM on October 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

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