Like Virginia Woolfe... But happier!
October 18, 2013 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Bookfilter: Books that are beautifully written but funny, feel-good (at least at the end) and preferably with some female characters that are cool.

Looking for things to add on my reading list.

-Everything by Jane Austen
-J.K. Rowling
-Virginia Woolf (but it can put me in weird existential headspace)
-F. Scott Fitzgerald (for the beautiful style)
-Sylvia Plath (for her crazy but immersive antics)
-E.M. Forster
-Michael Chabon

-Oscar Wilde's rambles
-Dorothy Parker (found her too self indulgent)
-Truman Capote (a little too weird and confusing)

So excited about your answers!! :)
posted by dinosaurprincess to Writing & Language (22 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I suppose I wouldn't call it beautifully written, but Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel hits all the other marks.
posted by Syllables at 2:39 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Happy All the Time, by Laurie Colwin! The title makes it seem like it might be silly and fluffy but it's actually interesting and well-written and I really like the characters and reading it cheers me up.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:43 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Is non-fiction ok? Louise Dickinson Rich writes about locations and lives in Maine, and is very funny and makes everything come alive. (A reviewer once said, "she could make the phone book come alive.") Her signature book is "We Took to the Woods".
posted by Melismata at 2:46 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

also non-fiction, but meets many of your requirements: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
posted by belladonna at 3:07 PM on October 18, 2013

I loved, loved loved A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé.
posted by dame at 3:32 PM on October 18, 2013

+1 on Laurie Colwin; all her work is suffused with earned sunshine; it's not Pollyana-ish at all.

Annie Proulx's The Shipping News tells of a cranky hack writer who decamps to Newfoundland and finds joy thanks to an older aunt and a younger daughter (not the movie).

Three Times Table by Sara Maitland is an exhilarating "magic realist" book exploring a daughter, mother, grandmother as each move to the next stage of their lives. Practical experiences, also non-cute dragons. Another winner from Maitland is Home Truths (known as Ancestral Truths in the US): a woman comes home from a scary African adventure minus one hand to the loving arms of her family.
posted by Jesse the K at 3:43 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a soft spot for Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons. Three strong female characters, nicely written and set at the beginning of WW2 in North Carolina.
posted by ninazer0 at 3:47 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

John McGahern's last novel, That they may face the rising sun, manages to be (mostly) about people who are happy without being boring. It's a rare thing. It has its dark shadows too, though. Here's a review that helps get at its remarkable qualities.

I'm not sure how it triangulates relative to the authors you've mentioned, though.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 3:52 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might try Van Reid's Moosepath League books. Cordelia Underwood: Or, The Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League is the first one.
posted by gudrun at 3:58 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you like J.K Rowling and you like a strong female lead you might like the Sci Fi uglies, pretties, specials series by Scott Westerfield. The writing is decent (but not amazing). The books are a very fast read and there is a lot of action, so it keeps moving along very quickly.
posted by poe at 4:14 PM on October 18, 2013

How about a book from the ultimate funny optimist, Julia Child's, My Life In France. Then one of my all time favorite books, My Brilliant Career, by Miles Franklin. The link leads you to the free kindle edition on Amazon (that's right FREE!). This is a really great story about a young Australian woman choosing between love and a career at the turn of the century. Even if you don't want to read the book, the movie starring Judy Davis is well done and worth watching. I actually love them both, but the book, of course, is better.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:16 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, yes! Seconding My Life in France! I may have to go reread it right now, in fact. Thank you, WalkerWestridge!
posted by TEA at 4:31 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Jennifer Weiner's work isn't really high art, but the books are fun to read.
Also, and I recommend it so ofter you'd think I was related to her--Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado.
In fact, the whole NYRB classics imprint is worth browsing.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:52 PM on October 18, 2013

Margaret Laurence's Manawaka books. They don't have happy endings per se, but one has the feeling that things will work out for most of the protagonists( exception being The Stone Angel).
posted by brujita at 6:48 PM on October 18, 2013

Zadie Smith! Since you mention Forster I'd especially recommend On Beauty, which is an extended E.M. Forster shoutout, but all of her stuff is fantastic.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:48 PM on October 18, 2013

Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping is not funny-funny, but it is quirky and beautifully written.

Olivia Manning's School for Love is a quiet drama with interesting women in it (although it is filtered thru the eyes of a kid that just moved to Jerusalem in 1945).

And Barbara Comyn's The Vet's Daughter is also pretty great, in a surreal and absurd way.
posted by MrMisterio at 9:58 PM on October 18, 2013

A few of my faves that may fit the bill: The Summerhouse trilogy by Alice Thomas Ellis; all the Mapp and Lucia books by E.F. Benson; The Hottest Dishes of Tartar Cuisine by Alina Bronsky; Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham; Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson; Diary of a Provincial Woman by E.M. Delafield.

Also, I kind of think that if you loved Jane Austen, you may like Barbara Pym, even though she's a bit more somber.
posted by peripathetic at 11:07 PM on October 18, 2013

Anne Tyler's books have incredibly well-drawn characters. Some of her books are funnier than others (I wouldn't say that any of them are deliberately written as comedies but they almost always have comedic elements), they usually feature something dramatic which happens off-stage and which is then a catalyst for her characters responses, and they are all (IMHO) superbly written.
posted by h00py at 3:13 AM on October 19, 2013

Wow, for once I get to be the first to recommend Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Nancy Mitford's pair of books, Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love. All three have strong female characters (though they do some pretty silly things at times) and are achingly funny in bits. Sad bits in Castle too.

For slightly more modern, you could try Connie Willis. Many of hers are very funny, like Bellwether, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Uncharted Territory. It's a wry kind of humour though.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:20 AM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you would enjoy the novels of Kate Atkinson. She is a good prose writer, and she has also written a range of more demanding and more accessible books. Her focus is on women, though she has some very likable male characters too.

Her most recent book, Life After Life, is somewhat reminiscent of Orlando I thought, though her character repeats her life, rather than extending it infinitely. But it's a view of history through a fantasy of life.

Her Jackson Brody private detective stories (first one, Case Histories) are intelligent, with serious issues, but basically designed to give women readers an emotional roller-coaster and make you fall in love with the lead character. When I worked at the University I found those books were a good topic of conversation with other women from all different departments.

These books make you feel you have experienced something meaningful, they aren't just fluff, but they leave you in a good place, a redemptive place, by the end. I honestly think Atkinson deserves a medal for creating something that is good for all women readers.
posted by communicator at 1:22 AM on October 20, 2013

Early Margaret Drabble: A Summer Bird-Cage; The Millstone; The Garrick Year.
posted by BibiRose at 2:52 PM on October 20, 2013

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