Compassionate but not boring fiction?
February 15, 2013 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Help me find non-boring media that wraps you in a warm (or fierce) blanket of compassion or simply leaves you with a sense of gentle warmth, safety, or contentment?

Examples that have done this for me in my distant past (I don't always know why): So maybe themes like: meeting of minds, coming to know each other, accepting each other, finding one's place, finding acceptance, learning to feel compassion and acting on it, people ultimately being there for each other (in unlikely and needed and appreciated ways), non-martyring but still meaningful sacrifice, connection and wisdom and hope and safety and contentment in a fucked up world, those sorts of things.

Please be obvious! Don't assume *of course* I already know about book/movie/show X!

I'm also looking for this stuff in unlikely places, kids books, science fiction and fantasy, cartoons, with a pattern over time of: random scenes, fleeting looks or moments of understanding, surprising and moving depth, real characters and interactions, in something otherwise focused on light and noise and shiny fun, in a way that drives the plot forward, sometimes subtly, but always woven through.

Most importantly... did it leave you with that calm, safe, warm, glow?
posted by zeek321 to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 62 users marked this as a favorite
There's an entire genre of Japanese anime/manga called 癒し系 "iyashikei" which means "healing, therapy, soothing, refreshing". One good example is "Aria, the Animation" (Wikipedia). Another example is "Someday's Dreamers" (Wikipedia).

And yes, both shows left me feeling warm. (But both shows had sequels and I didn't like them.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:21 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I immediately thought of Watership Down. Parts of it are harrowing but the whole book is about a group of likeable everyday heroes trying to set up a safe home for themselves.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:24 AM on February 15, 2013

Most Ghibli/Miyazaki films, in particular: My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, Spirited Away, The Cat Returns.
posted by specialagentwebb at 9:24 AM on February 15, 2013 [9 favorites]

My Neighbour Totoro - another Studio Ghibli film (same people who made Howl's Moving Castle if you weren't aware). Probably worth checking out their other films too, but Totoro is the first one that sprang to mind that fits your question.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:25 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Book set in future, written in present tense, where girl ends up going to high school on the moon (what book is this?!)
Is it This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger?

Anne Tyler is one of my comfort authors. I especially go back to Saint Maybe and Ladder of Years.

I also love Barbara Kingsolver, although her earlier books like The Bean Trees fall more in the comforting category than her more recent ones.
posted by Kriesa at 9:31 AM on February 15, 2013

Zenna Henderson's People stories, collected in Ingathering.
Maybe 1/4-1/3 of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, particularly the witch-related books.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:32 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Is it This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger?

Haha, yes!!!!!!
posted by zeek321 at 9:34 AM on February 15, 2013

This is why I keep Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series on my shelf. Not high art, but it hits exactly that comforting, humanist note. Also David Eddings (only his early stuff, oh my god) although now that I am old and cranky I find his handling of gender and race winceworthy.

YA is harder for me to judge, because the stuff I loved when I was eight will always do that for me, but may not be objectively comforting. But in general if you had childhood favorites, pick them up again and see if they work. Anything that you reread back then should do it, I think.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:36 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with Anne Tyler, and I'll also add Alice Hoffman, who wrote Practical Magic, although it's been a while since I've read her. In the YA category, try Lloyd Alexander.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:38 AM on February 15, 2013

Monsters, Inc. hits this spot for me. Also, Boston Legal, because of the friendship between the two main protagonists (the first two seasons are the best).
posted by rjs at 9:49 AM on February 15, 2013

The Sherlock Holmes stories are my go-to for this.
posted by MsMolly at 9:57 AM on February 15, 2013

You might like Madeline L'Engle's books.
posted by bunderful at 9:57 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Oh oh oh All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot, and the sequels. Yorkshire country vet stories - often funny, occasionally sad, always heartwarming.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:58 AM on February 15, 2013 [8 favorites]

What a great question!

My favorite for this, but it's a (beautifully) painful journey getting there, is Ann Patchett's Bel Canto

Also Julian Barnes's A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

Nicole Krauss's The History of Love

The World to Come by Dara Horn

Thirding Anne Tyler's books and adding Fannie Flagg's
posted by Mchelly at 10:05 AM on February 15, 2013

How about Anne of Green Gables and the assorted sequels (which I remember being quite good, or at least the first two)? I always think of them in the same 'emotional category' as The Secret Garden, if that makes sense, though that's maybe because I read them around the same time.
posted by sonmi at 10:08 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

English writer Lillian Beckwith has a series of books about her life on the Isle of Skye that are all funny, engaging, and refreshing. Her childhood memoir about her father's country grocery store, About My Father's Business, is pure charm.
posted by Corvid at 10:11 AM on February 15, 2013

Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee

The Lone Pilgrim, Laurie Colwin

Any children's book by Elizabeth Enright, especially Gone Away Lake
posted by Elsie at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2013

Elizabeth Gouge is an older writer, but might be something you enjoy. Castle on the Hill, Scent of Water, and Rosemary Tree are three that I remember with fondness.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:17 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe 1/4-1/3 of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, particularly the witch-related books.

"The Wee Free Men"
fits all of your criteria.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:27 AM on February 15, 2013

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery and Cougar Town. (Yes, it has a terrible name and knows it, but is ultimately a show about close friends enjoying time spent together.) I also find re-watching Bend it like Beckham to be very soothing. (To the point that my husband will ask if I'm feeling well if I'm watching it.) Also Gilmore Girls. And the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace (though I usually skip to the high school or grown-up books.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:32 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Little Women is in the same "emotional category" for me as Anne of Green Gables, the Secret Garden, etc. Also "Mandy" by Julie Andrews Edwards.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:51 AM on February 15, 2013

The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
posted by faineant at 10:52 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I liked Understood Betsy for this reason. My memory is hazy, but basically: nervous and possibly spoiled city girl has to live with country relatives and finally has a healthy, happy life.
posted by ceiba at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

For me, a comfort book in this vein is Peter S. Beagle's The Folk of the Air. Which, for no reason comprehensible to me, is out of print, but not that hard to find used at a reasonable price.

You might also like Beagle's A Fine and Private Place, which, despite being set in a graveyard among ghosts, touches very strongly on the themes you mention.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 11:00 AM on February 15, 2013

Pat Barker's Regeneration (it's a trilogy; the first book has this quality most strongly, I think). Historical fiction about a doctor and his patients.

"Lunch and Other Obscenities", a really wonderful Star Trek fanfic by Rheanna, about people coming to understand each other despite their differences.

Nearly everything by speculative fiction and historical fiction author Zen Cho, such as her short story "The House of Aunts" and "起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion—The Lion Bows)".

"Tomorrow is Waiting", speculative fiction about Muppets, by Holli Mintzer.

"Saving Face", speculative fiction about people figuring out cross-cultural misunderstandings, by Shelly Li and Ken Liu.

"Recognizing Gabe: un cuento de hadas" by Alberto Yáñez -- fantasy about family and gender.

And "Fifty Years in the Virtuous City" by lionpyh, a terrific alt-history speculative fiction piece about two women.
posted by brainwane at 11:02 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and New Chronicles of Rebecca by Kate Douglas Wiggin.
posted by apartment dweller at 11:06 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

The All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor. From the Amazon review: "There's something to be said for a book that makes you wish you'd been part of a poor immigrant family living in New York's lower east side on the eve of World War I."

The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. "They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago."
posted by apartment dweller at 11:17 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Wind in the Willows.
posted by rustcellar at 11:32 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing L.M. Montgomery & Madeleine L'Engle.

Alexander McCall Smith - both his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books and his Scotland series - could work. They exude a kind of wry bemusement at human nature.

The work of fiction I most associate with fierce authorial compassion is Middlemarch. George Eliot is amazing at benevolent but sharply drawn pictures of human motivation - she has all of these flawed characters, but manages this balancing act where she fully explains perceptions and misperceptions and interactions and self-delusions without censuring or endorsing them. But there are as many (or more) moments of disconnection as connection in her books - they don't necessarily lead to a warm glow. And depending on your appetite for 19th century religion, politics, and syntax, Middlemarch might not (ok, probably will not) clear your "not boring" bar.

For TV: Parks & Rec (not so much the first few episodes, but more recent seasons have been all about people being there for each other).
posted by yarrow at 11:48 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Haibane Renmei! (warning: spoilers in plot summary) It's by the guy who did Serial Experiments Lain, and is a lovely, compassionate, complicated story about self-forgiveness and overcoming trauma.
posted by calistasm at 12:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

This particular adaptation (1/6) of "The Wind in the Willows" is wonderfully made, and warms me and cheers me every time I see it. Wikipedia reminds me that it has a great cast: "Michael Palin and Alan Bennett as Ratty and Mole, Rik Mayall as Toad and Michael Gambon as Badger." Oh my God: Rik Mayall singing "When the Toad Came Home" is precious. HE IS THE BEST TOAD EVER.
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

nthing a good chunk of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. Also, the show Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:42 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Since you're willing to take unlikely/fleeting examples in places mostly focused on shiny/noisy fun, too, I'm going to suggest Ed Edd n Eddy. I realize that some people find it loud or abrasive, and it is - but I always really got a kick out of the friendshippy vibe between the three main characters. It's there, if you look for it (especially in the second through fourth season, and maybe the movie) - the end of this episode, for instance, is rather sweet.

Plus, at its best, it's ridiculously silly fun.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:46 PM on February 15, 2013

I think Beauty, by Robin McKinley fits the bill perfectly. It s a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. The difference between it and other retellings is that Beauty's familly are all very kind, no evil step sisters or abusive parents, just a good family and their friends in a difficult situation. The writing is a delight, and the story moves along quickly but sweetly. Its an easy read. One of my favorite "comfort books" of all time.

Then there is my absolute top-of-the-list comfort book, Randall Jarrell's Animal Family. This is the gorgeous story of a woodcutter and a mermaid and the family they build together. Magical writing and illustrations by Maurice Sendak. Read this book and smile for days afterward. Truly a treasure.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:10 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

seconding Laurie Colwin, pretty much anything she wrote, but my favorite comfort book by her is Happy All the Time.
posted by ambrosia at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ooops, I didn't mean to imply that Animal Familly was written by Maurice Sendak. Randall Jarrel is the author and Maurice Sendak does the illustrations. Also this is not a child's picture book, but a short novel with lovely black and white pen illustrations.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2013

Surprised no one has mentioned Amélie. We saw it not long after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and it was just what we needed. Just an extraordinary movie, full of joy in things great and small.
posted by tully_monster at 1:31 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Up, 84 Charing Cross Road (book as well) and most of the As Time Goes By series.
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:33 PM on February 15, 2013

Anything by Chaim Potok, especially The Chosen.
posted by vogon_poet at 2:00 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lars and the Real Girl - I don't want to spoil it by telling you why it's what you're looking for, but it is.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:25 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

The British tv program As Time Goes By does to for me for some reason. DVDs are at Amazon.
posted by 4ster at 3:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just a heads up, I'm not sure about the movie but the book The Shipping News has some pretty bad child abuse in it, which can easily kill any feelings of "gentle, warmth, safety and contentment". At least it did for me.
posted by pennypiper at 3:44 PM on February 15, 2013

Margalo Epps's username reminds me--if you're up for some middle school/high school reading, I love Cynthia Voigt's Bad Girls series, about an opposites-attract sort of friendship. In the later books I also find the bad girls' interaction with the rest of their classmates to be very refreshing--they think of themselves as outsiders but wind up with a great circle of friends. I kind of wish that they could be my friends, too. The books are also hilarious; I'm afraid my dry summary isn't going to do them justice.
posted by mlle valentine at 4:06 PM on February 15, 2013

Agreeing with pennypiper on The Shipping News. A good book, but it has some difficult parts.
posted by ambrosia at 6:25 PM on February 15, 2013

And Nurse Jackie - not gentle but very compassionate.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 7:48 PM on February 15, 2013

Horse books from childhood — Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry. Seconding BlueHorse's suggestion of books by Elizabeth Gouge. Green Dolphin Street and The Scent of Water are my favorites.

The non-fiction of Madeline L'engle is also extremely good. One I remember fondly is the Summer of The Great Grandmother about her aging grandmother.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:50 PM on February 15, 2013

Spider Robinson's Callahan's Crosstime Saloon books
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:54 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

My go-to warm fuzzy YA books are the Weetzie Bat books by Francesca Lia Block. You can get all five in a collected volume, Dangerous Angels, but my favorites are Witch Baby and Baby Be-Bop. Witch Baby, in particular, is about an adopted girl who feels lost in her family slowly realizing how much they love her; it sounds awful when I say it like that, but it's more bittersweet and nuanced because of her unusual family dynamics. Makes me all goopy and smiley every time.
posted by ActionPopulated at 6:37 AM on February 16, 2013

From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. Love it.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:18 PM on February 16, 2013

The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

The Phantom Tollbooth.

The Children of Green Knowe.

Two other Joan Aiken books, hard to find: The Kingdom and the Cave and The Shadow Guests.

Films - The Secret of Roan Inish and Babe.

Seconding Beauty, The Animal Family, Amelie, and the Studio Ghibli films.

Good question.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:43 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah, right, Elizabeth Goudge. Also The Little White Horse.
posted by you must supply a verb at 3:49 PM on February 17, 2013

Children Who Chase Lost Voices
posted by pyro979 at 5:35 PM on February 17, 2013

Apart from what I mentioned earlier, Local Hero hits this spot for me as well.
posted by rjs at 12:14 PM on February 18, 2013

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