Reccomend a novel for my beloved girlfriend.
January 25, 2013 12:26 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend told me that recently she has become sad and preoccupied with death. She often finds her mind drifting and starts to ruminate about her life stresses and sometimes death. Please reccomend novels to spark a love of reading and hopefully give her a distraction for when these bouts of worry surface. Preferably novels that are fun, with plots to get lost in or carried away with, and not too heavy or serious.

I love my girlfriend dearly and, apart from all my other advice, suggested she tried reading fiction whenever she gets sad and starts worrying about death and her day to day life problems. She doesn't read at all and told me she stopped reading when she was young after she read a number of books in succession reccomended to her by a friend all dealing with really depressing topics. I'd like some reccomendations for a 19yr girl new to reading that are a distraction from death. Anything fun, exciting, funny, exhilarating or (possibly) thought-provoking, great plots and characters that make you want to keep reading but nothing too literary, complicated or heavy or depressing. These novels should be rewarding without a lot of work and enjoyable throughout. I want to get her to fall in love with reading as well as just solve this, hopefully temporary, problem. If it helps she's a very sweet girl, not at all intellectual, and she is emotional and enjoys being sentimental from time to time (but maybe that could be a trap, as I would prefer these reccomendations to lighten the spirit and captivate and charm).
Thanks so much
posted by Erred to Media & Arts (52 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Harry Potter.

There some *SPOILER ALERT* death, but there's lots of *SPOILER ALERT* triumphs.

And also wizards.

I also recommend them because since she'll essentially be new to reading, it's nice that they start out at pretty young level, and get progressively more involved as the children at Hogwarts age.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:33 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I really recommend the Jeeves and Wooster stories of PG Wodehouse.

They're light and breezy and short. Honestly, how could you not smile?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:34 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Tales of the City. So full of life and the short short chapters make you want to keep turning the pages.
posted by crocomancer at 12:35 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, what sorts of things is your girlfriend interested in?

See, me, I like science. Not so much for fantasy or spaceships or elves or whatever, but sciencey science fiction. So for me, Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Congo, etc) is perfect departure reading. People die and the plots are generally of the mess with science, get burned sort, but the books are fast-paced, entertaining, and read like a movie. When I'm stressed out or depressed, I grab something like that and can forget completely about my problems.

But someone like my grandma hates that sort of thing. She wants something fluffy and light, with a spiritual or religious overtone--think: Oprah-type books. I would be bored to death and angsty reading something like that, much in the same way she would be bored to death and angsty reading the Andromeda Strain.

So, what does your girlfriend like to do in her free time? If you can help narrow down her interests, there's a better chance of getting a hit with the recommendations here.

And part of the reason I bring this up is that when you're trying to get someone started in on reading, if they're horribly turned off by the first thing you suggest to them, it's really hard to convince them to try again. At least in my experience. YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 12:36 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

50 shades of grey is a diverting enough read without burdening a person. Ignoring political considerations it's worth a go.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:41 PM on January 25, 2013

Also what phunniemee said... I trust that you have enough of an idea what she's into to reject my suggestion out of hand if it's not her.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2013

This is hard without knowing her. What is she into? What kind of TV/movies does she like? My suggestions would vary a lot. I haven't tried but I am guessing it's pretty hard to get adults into reading?

The two Bridget Jones books are really funny and charming though.
posted by SoftRain at 12:55 PM on January 25, 2013

I really liked the Bridget Jones books at that age. No death and I still laugh thinking about particular lines or chapters.

Some people really enjoy the Terry Pratchett Discworld books and find them really funny and engaging. They aren't really my cup of tea, but they are very fast reads and I at least smiled at parts in the ones I read before moving on. If you don't care for them, not too much is lost, but if you enjoy them, there are about 3,000 more to read and most people who like them seem to REALLY like them.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:56 PM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I would caution against 50 Shades. It could be stressful, especially as a recommendation from her boyfriend.

The Help might be good. She might also enjoy Bridget Jones's Diary.

I Capture the Castle is a good read, and I think Cold Sassy Tree might also fit the bill.

Finally, something really funny might do the trick. Dave Barry's books are always really hilarious and well-written. I'm currently enjoying Let's Pretend This Never Happened, which is a funny book by a well-known blogger.
posted by sockermom at 12:59 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

This thread from yesterday should be very helpful.

I know you are asking about reading suggestions, but I have a slightly different suggestion for you -- try to give less advice and listen more. She sounds sad. And perhaps needs to hear why you love her so and why she is a wonderful person. And also, if you don't listen you won't know if she is thinking about death as a choice for herself.
posted by bearwife at 1:03 PM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

19yo girl who is sentimental and sweet and emotional ... sounds like an idea candidate for manga. I'm not familiar enough with the form to recommend specific titles, but I know that there is an entire genre of sweet/silly/happy manga that might delight her. Ask your local comic book store for some suggested titles?
posted by jbickers at 1:08 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Saying what she's interested in is tougher than you might think. She's one of those people who beats herself up for not having any over-arching, "live motivating" goals, passions and interests. It took her a lot of deliberation deciding her major and she is still unsure whether she made the right decision. She's doing Tv, film and theatre studies by the way. I think she's still finding out what she's interested in. That said she did almost choose to study Psychology and told me she is interested in that. But I think any dark psychological thrillers are out. So something fun with psychological elements could work but might be a bit niche! I would love to say she's really into science fiction or fantasy but I don't think I would have had to ask the question if she was. That said I wouldn't rule out anything with those elements. Things I might reccomend her myself would be His Dark Materials or Life of Pi. And yes I should be able to determine whether any reccomendations are a good fit for her or not. Thanks for all of the reccomendations so far!
posted by Erred at 1:13 PM on January 25, 2013

Best answer: When I was really, really depressed in my twenties, I read a bunch of YA novels by Diana Wynne Jones (they are older, so they're more original and more geared to teens than contemporary YA). These are all light and charming fantasy:

Howl's Moving Castle
Deep Secrets
Charmed Life
Dark Lord of Derkholm

She's written many others, all of which I have also enjoyed. They're smart and funny without being taxing.

Also, if she likes movies, she might enjoy Miyazaki - Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle In The Sky and Porco Rosso and Spirited Away may be the ones that are the most light-hearted. I find that those always cheer me up.

Oh, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - it has some dark and spooky parts, but all the likeable characters survive and it's not a grim book. I also read that one when I was really depressed and it was very distracting and enjoyable, and also long.
posted by Frowner at 1:18 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Give her a stack of David Sedaris books.
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

The Moomin books by Tove Jansson are wonderful. The earlier ones are adventurous and picaresque; the later ones a little more solemn and thought-provoking, but all of them are engaging, non-depressing, and easily read without being "childish". They are classified as kids' books but, like Alice in Wonderland, they have enduring appeal for all ages. I'd advise reading in order of original publication, though perhaps skipping the very first one ("The Moomins and the Great Flood").
posted by pont at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm fond of the Deborah Harkness books--like Twilight but everyone has a Phd.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:19 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I will add as a spoiler that you may share or not with your girlfriend should she choose to read any Diana Wynne Jones or Jonathan Strange.....


If a sympathetic character appears to die, they really don't!

(When I am feeling bad, I like to know that there will be a happy resolution to the story rather than wait to find out.)
posted by Frowner at 1:21 PM on January 25, 2013

Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm got me through a bleak time. It's a good corrective to the literature of miserablism, in that the parodically ludicrous problems of the Starkadder family (including too-sensitive souls, untamable libidos, unspeakable urges, brimstone Christianity, leprous cows, and the debilitating memory of "something nasty" seen in a woodshed) are no match for a spirited heroine and the pleasures of civilization.
posted by Iridic at 1:23 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, and another vote for the Moomin books! Even the second one, which pivots on the plausibly drawn threat of armageddon-by-comet, is entirely pleasant and life-affirming.
posted by Iridic at 1:26 PM on January 25, 2013

In order from least to slightly more complex, I would recommend Beauty by Robin Mckinley (such a simple, sweet, re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast story, I absolutely love it to this day, but the cover may look too young for her), The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend (hysterical diary of an kid in England- its a series, so even though Adrian starts out at 13 3/4 he gets older as the books progress and she might relate). Finally, the Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger is light, fluffy, fun with a spunky heroine and a host of lovable oddball characters.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:28 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just saw some more posts. I'd thought about manga but she takes the mickey out of me liking anime and manga so I don't think she'd take it seriously enough if I bought her any. She actually saw the film version of the Help and liked it and tried to read the novel in Spanish so that's the right track. Bridget Jones could work I think, thanks. I'll check the rest out as well. To be clear, she is scared of death and hates the idea of nothingness after death. She finds herself thinking about it when she doesn't want to and it makes her sad. She doesn't want to harm herself in any way. I'm there to listen whenever she wants to talk.
posted by Erred at 1:31 PM on January 25, 2013

I loooove David Sedaris.
I also am a huge huge fan of the Wooster and Jeeves books and find them hilarious, but I think you need to be a certain sort of person to enjoy them (the sort who likes silly but not lowbrow humor, I think, and an Anglophile...)

How bout the good old bildungsroman? Catcher in the Rye, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:38 PM on January 25, 2013

I also say David Sedaris books. They are short essays that are very funny, which may be easier to focus on for someone getting back into reading.

I also recommend Janet Evanovich's series of books (Stephanie Plum Novels), One for the Money, Two for the Dough and on up to Notorius Nineteen. Although I heard the movie was not good, the books are worth it. They have a little bit of everything, romance, humor, mystery. The main character is a young woman with an out of whack life that makes for fun light hearted reading.
posted by maxg94 at 1:51 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy did a better job than pretty much anything ever of teaching me not to take the world too seriously. It's hilarious and pretty engaging. There is, admittedly, some death--I don't think I'm spoiling anything here by noting that the Earth is destroyed in like the first or second chapter--but again, it's a comedy book, and it doesn't dwell on death as a topic.

I wish you much luck.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:08 PM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would try one of the Modesty Blaise novels (not the graphic novels). They're great reading, very light, very absorbing, and the good guys always triumph. And if she likes it, there are 11 more.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:17 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Confederacy of Dunces is funny, ribald and the characters are just wonderful and over the top comic. And it's in New Orleans. BONUS!
posted by THAT William Mize at 2:18 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oddly enough, I find David Sedaris to be angry and bitter, at least the last couple of things of his I read. I like his earlier stuff.

I read a lot of YA stuff because things usually work out in the end and you can read most of them in an afternoon.

I like Robin McKinley, though I find her insistence that the heroine MUST couple up with the old, wise guy icky after awhile.

I just read Princess Academy and liked it a lot (spoiler: NOT very princessy, despite the title.)

I liked Fire, though it's violent, especially at the start.

I love Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice, but that'd be a hard sell for a starter book.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:24 PM on January 25, 2013

I have a hard time with Confederacy of Dunces because the main character is so odious, and I like to have a protagonist I can root for.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:25 PM on January 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks guys, there's a lot for me to look at on Amazon! Someone asked earlier what she likes to do in her spare time: well, she loves watching comedy series. She likes to watch New Girl with me because we started watching it together around the time we first started hooking up. So female protagonists that make an ass of themselves a lot could be a win. But maybe a protagonist a bit closer to her age than Bridgette Jones would be better? I'm sure something like this has already been reccomended, I'll look through everything again tomorrow. Anyway, a lot of these suggestions seem really promising.
posted by Erred at 2:28 PM on January 25, 2013

I like Buffy the Vampire Slayer but it's pretty cheesy fun, especially the first season.

*ducks to avoid thrown objects*
posted by small_ruminant at 2:35 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Christopher Moore is good easy funny reading. My faves were Lamb and Practical Demonkeeping.
posted by phunniemee at 2:44 PM on January 25, 2013

But maybe a protagonist a bit closer to her age than Bridgette Jones would be better?

I misread Bridget Jones as an early 20s character when I read the books originally- sort of the point of Bridget is that she's immature and kind of hapless but still lovable. Plus, when I was a teenager, I still liked to read "up" a bit in age, because it felt like getting a window into my Possible Future Life.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:46 PM on January 25, 2013

If she's studying film, would she be interested in reading either movie scripts or the books from which some of her cheerful favorites were adapted? Then she knows the outcomes and she might find the differences between the book and movie interesting.
posted by carmicha at 2:49 PM on January 25, 2013

How about Anne of Green Gables, or other books by L M Montgomery? The first three books, about Anne in her young teens, are of course the most widely read, but she does grow up, go to college, get married, have children, etc... Anne's House of Dreams is one of my favourite comfort books, though it does include two deaths. That might be ok, though... LM Montgomery's early 20th c. attitude towards death is very matter of fact and ultimately life affirming. Other, non-Anne books to try would be Jane of Lantern Hill, or The Blue Castle. Definitely The Blue Castle.

Madeline L'Engle's Vicky Austin books could be something to look into as well.
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:23 PM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would like to strongly second the Parasol Protectorate series (which WalkerWestridge linked to above.) Before the holidays I read all of them and cried when they were done! Unlike some other books/series with supernatural elements these don't get too heavy and you always feel like things will turn out okay at the end.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 3:23 PM on January 25, 2013

I like Girl of the Limberlost, too, which is the same era as Anne of Green Gables.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:45 PM on January 25, 2013

She might like Marian Keyes. Sushi for Beginners.

Also Maeve Binchy is warmheated, such as Circle of Friends, etc. A lot of her protagonists are young women finding their way.

In the same vein, Jennifer Weiner and Sophie Kinsella.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:59 PM on January 25, 2013

Weetzie Bat and Witch Baby are short, breezy, fun, and deal with different ways to cope with the sadness of living. I reread them when I am feeling especially grim.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:06 PM on January 25, 2013

I always find myself calmed and uplifted when I re-read the Anne of Green Gables books. However, a beloved character does die at the end of the first one... Anne is very sad about it but is able to accept it as a part of life, treasure the character's memory and trust that things will be ok. I don't know if that disqualifies it.

(Another beloved character dies in the seventh one, which is about one of Anne's daughters.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:25 PM on January 25, 2013

I enjoyed Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (both the book and the movie, actually), Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman, and Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty (several of the sequels are preoccupied with death, though). All these are rather young adult -- whether she would enjoy that or think it too young, I don't know. (Related: Suburgatory is a lot of fun to watch.)

If you're more in rom-com territory, perhaps authors like Georgette Heyer and Eva Ibbotson, perhaps Arabella and the Reluctant Heiress to start.

And if there is interest in Jane Austen, I think Pride & Prejudice is the best one to start with. I don't know if watching one of the movies made from the story would make it more accessible, or if reading it aloud or together would work better. I think just attempting to read it alone and cold would be a bit much at first.

To answer an unspoken part of your question, if your girlfriend suffers a lot from intrusive thoughts of death or otherwise, some talking it over with a doctor or therapist might be helpful for her to gain some more control over her thoughts.
posted by Margalo Epps at 7:11 PM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Other people have made some great recommendations for escapism and wonder, but my personal experience with depression has been to turn to stuff that comforts me and helps me work through things rather than something that distracts me.

I'd recommend Salinger's Franny & Zooey first. You may have to be a certain kind of person or have lived a certain kind of life to get everything this book can give you, but it's something I can read one low afternoon and cry my eyes out over in the end. It works well both as a spiritual crisis book, and a general lull chicken broth comfort book. I think I may need to go back to it soon.

Anne of Green Gables is a good recommendation. Those books fall somewhere in between comfort and escape for me.

St. Exupery's The Little Prince and Kenji Miyazawa's Night On the Galactic Railroad are both gently comforting stories in the same vein; light fantasy lingering over a well of emotion.

I could add a few other things but I think the above is a good set--those are all fairly short, breezy reads so won't be exhausting to wade through, but they have enough thoughtfulness and emotional depth to offer something beyond escape. If I were someone else, I'd recommend those books to myself.
posted by byanyothername at 9:13 PM on January 25, 2013

Oh Lord. Disrec 50 Shades. Disrec disrec disrec. That book would turn anyone off reading, it's so badly written, even leaving aside the incredibly problematic treatment of BDSM.

I love Meg Cabot's Princeess Diaries and Mediator series. They're light and funny, but the protagonists are strong, capable young women with delightfully snarky senses of humour.

If she's willing to give romance novels a try, I can't recommend Julia Quinn enough. Great characters, surprisingly original plots for a bunch of Regency romances, and so damn funny I've literally had to stop because I was crying so hard with laughter I couldn't see the page.
posted by Tamanna at 11:20 PM on January 25, 2013

YA can be great for this kind of light but engaging reading. Tamora Pierce writes quartet book series (usually) and the work is pretty good writing, yet easy to read and has lots of diversity and female protagonists. I particularly liked the Circle of Magic series, but there's lots to choose from.
posted by gubenuj at 11:22 PM on January 25, 2013

The Princess Bride (the book!)
posted by mail at 2:33 AM on January 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Please pre-screen these. For example, I saw "Night on the Galactic Railroad" a few years ago and thought it was about death. For me, "Moominpapa at sea" was a depressing story.
posted by SandiBeech at 4:00 AM on January 26, 2013

I'm going to recommend a book I first read when I was your girlfriend's age. Since the author was a wife and mother when she wrote it, you would not think it would speak to a young woman. But I think it does. It's short, and can be read by dipping in here and there. Gift From the Sea. Here's a review.
posted by gudrun at 7:56 AM on January 26, 2013

Have her read "Photographing Fairies" by Steve Szilagyi - one of the most interesting and charming books I've ever read and I've read a lot.
See review below:
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 8:39 AM on January 26, 2013

Alexander McCall Smith has a few nice series of books that are charming and very humane. Most well known is the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series.
posted by neutralmojo at 3:05 PM on January 26, 2013

Please pre-screen these. For example, I saw "Night on the Galactic Railroad" a few years ago and thought it was about death.

It largely is. Sorry, thought I made it clear enough: what's worked for me when going through a depression was to read stuff that helps me engage with and work through whatever I've got going on. Distraction doesn't work for me. It might work for others, but I'm a little suspicious of them. That's not to say reading a pile of depressing things during a depression is a great idea; but reading stuff that deals with people overcoming depression or examining mortality helps me. This stuff is part of living; I can't wish it away, as much as I might like to. It's healthy to contemplate mortality and let a little melancholy in; it's comforting to listen to others who've been through it before.

posted by byanyothername at 3:39 PM on January 26, 2013

Your girlfriend sounds like she might possibly be depressed. If that's the case, reading is probably not going to bring her out of it. I had my first bout of depression at about her age, which was still pretty mild compared to others. But I felt really sad, was pretty down about my abilities and future, was ashamed at my lack of motivation, and daydreamed about dark things a lot instead of doing productive work. This was all my depression speaking and it definitely wasn't something I could think or reason myself out of. What helped me was speaking to a professional therapist.

I worry that, if she does have depression, giving her helpful book suggestions might not be the best way to help and might actually hurt. If she is not already in the habit of reading, starting to enjoy reading or anything else really might be a big uphill struggle and it could end up being just one more thing that she feels like a failure about. If it's you, her boyfriend, asking her to read, now she might also feel that you are disappointed in her, too.

Of course, your girlfriend may not have depression. However, I also can't see anywhere where you've said she wants to read or has asked you for any suggestions. I'm sure you have very good intentions for trying to get her to read, as it's probably a hobby you really enjoy and you feel it has all sorts of positive benefits for you. It does for me, too. But that doesn't mean you can or should push her into it.

It sounds like you care about her a lot. I would stop trying to "fix" her by offering her lots of advice, compiling lists of books for her, etc. Love her for who she is, tell her how awesome she is and why you love her, listen to her, and help her willingly when she asks you for it.

Also, here's a list of symptoms for depression. If you think she may be depressed, here's some tips on what she can do and how you may be able to help her get the help she needs.

Best of luck.
posted by mosessis at 8:46 PM on January 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Little Prince, really? I cried for weeks after reading that. I was a kid, but... maybe read that one first before you hand it to her, and see what you think.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:10 AM on January 27, 2013

I really enjoy cozy mysteries as an entertaining distraction from life, these may suit your girlfriend too. My favourites are the Aunt Dimity series by Nancy Atherton and Corinna Chapman's Earthy Delights series by Kerry Greenwood.

Some of these have a death in them as part of the mystery so you may want to check the plot of the different books to find one she might like but in general they are very lighthearted, sweet stories that aren't terribly taxing.

ETA- I forgot to mention that Aunt Dimity is a character that appears only through writing in a notebook as she is dead. But it's not gruesome or depressing at all.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 4:56 PM on January 27, 2013

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