A fairly short and cheerful literary novel
October 9, 2017 11:32 PM   Subscribe

My book club is burnt out on doom and gloom and is looking for something uplifting. Not too long either as we're all exhausted. And it should be a novel that could reasonably be described as "literary". Please help?
posted by hazyjane to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Bel Canto by Anne Patchett. (Not 100% happy but I found the tone mostly cheerful.)

Any Jane Austen, my favorites being Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion.

Depending on your definition Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine could be literary or complete schlock I suppose. Definitely cheerful. (FWIW I score it as literary.)

The Man who was Thursday by Chesterton.
posted by mark k at 11:45 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

Dietland by Sarai Walker was a hell of a lot of fun.
posted by lunasol at 11:48 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

Three Men and a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome.

It's a classic work, and at times a gut-buster.

Seconding Chesterton, above. That story was such a ride.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:16 AM on October 10 [8 favorites]

Something by Wodehouse might be a nice break. Or maybe Calvino's Invisible Cities?
posted by kickingtheground at 12:56 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. A charming 19th century small-town novel, full of kindness, goodness, and wit. Gaskell's Wives and Daughters is similarly gentle and uplifting, but probably longer than what you're looking for.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 1:10 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

The Sellout by Paul Beatty. It's light with farcical humor so it's not too dark, short and a pretty easy read, and it won the Man Booker Prize (2015 I think).
posted by cotterpin at 1:13 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

Two different varieties of literary:

Plainsong by Kenot Haruf is just kind of quiet and decent.

I love Richard Russo and Straight Man is one of the funniest books I have ever read.
posted by charmedimsure at 1:22 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

The Underground River by Martha Conway. Great story, intriguing characters, loved it.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:21 AM on October 10

Seconding Wodehouse. Right Ho, Jeeves is the only book that's ever made me laugh out loud in public.
posted by cardinalandcrow at 3:29 AM on October 10 [4 favorites]

'The Shipping News' is a wonderful tale of someone coming into their own in the most personal of senses. It's really a beautifully written story.
posted by h00py at 3:41 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

Lucky Jim (Amis) or Sweet Thursday (Steinbeck) would be my suggestions. Sweet Thursday is a sequel of sorts of Cannery Row, but I read Sweet Thursday first, and had no problems getting to know the milieu and characters. Lucky Jim might be more 'bitterly funny' than 'cheerful', but it is very, very funny.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:13 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

The Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols
The Mouse that Roared by Leonard Wibberly
posted by JohnFromGR at 4:30 AM on October 10

A couple people have recommended The Man who was Thursday, but that may depend on your group's tolerance for heavy-handed Christian allegory. Personally I found the first three quarters of the book delightful, and then wanted to throw it across the room roughly once a page when Chesterton shifted gears into his "What If The Real Treasure Was The Jesus We Met Along The Way?" very special episode mode.

My personal recommendation would be Cold Comfort Farm, which is a hilarious parody of back-to-the-earth country gothic melodramas, in which a cheerily efficient female protagonist methodically unwinds the neuroses that have tangled the "doomed" Starkadder clan in knots.
posted by firechicago at 4:41 AM on October 10 [13 favorites]

It's not exactly Literary, and was roundly panned by my scifi book club, but A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is my comfort read of choice at the moment.
posted by nerdfish at 4:42 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

Saul Bellow // The Actual (it's very short - more of a novella)
posted by bifter at 4:45 AM on October 10

Farley Mowat's The Boat Who Wouldn't Float is the funniest book I have ever read in my life. It's also the best book ever written about what it's like working with/owning a wooden sailing vessel.
posted by kalimac at 4:51 AM on October 10 [2 favorites]

The Housekeeper and the Professor was charming, about 200 pages, and had plenty to discuss.
posted by songs about trains at 5:05 AM on October 10

Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin. Short, funny, and sweet. I read when it was new, nearly 50 years ago, and I still remember it with great happiness.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 5:10 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]

The summer book by tove Jansen
posted by Nilehorse at 5:21 AM on October 10 [6 favorites]

If you're willing to branch out into nonfiction, Patricia Lockwood's Priestdaddy is what I would call literary nonfiction. Lockwood is a poet, Priestdaddy is her memoir, and the writing is gorgeous and, at times, laugh-until-you-fart humorous.
posted by duffell at 5:41 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

All of Penelope Fitzgerald's novels are on the short side, and I think either The Blue Flower or The Beginning of Spring (which I particularly love) might work well here. They're not comedy, and difficult things do happen to the people in them, but they're charming and not at all gloomy.
posted by terretu at 5:54 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

The Everlasting Story of Nory by Nicholson Baker definitely qualifies as cheerful.

These I might not describe as cheerful, but they're enjoyable to read, not depressing, and leave you with a good feeling:

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson
Silas Marner - George Eliot
Delta Wedding - Eudora Welty (This book is one of my all-time favorites.)
The Country of the Pointed Firs - Sarah Orne Jewett
posted by Redstart at 6:45 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

You're going to want to say "no" and walk away before I get done, so promise me you will read this entire comment.

So, my post-apocalyptic book club read this once (you promised! read the whole thing!); it's called Ella Minnow Pea, and is an epistolary novel that is also a lipogrammatic novel (every couple chapters, the characters are forced to omit letters from their usage). It's a really oddball idea, but the tone of the letters people are writing feels really charming for some reason. It was the first book that a friend who was new to the group read and she said to me "this is the most charming dystopia ever!" It has a happy ending, it's clever, and it's way short.

There's still enough "meat' in it to raise discussions about how people respond to authoritarian thinking, superstition, and the like; we were talking for a couple hours about it in my book club.

Or, a curated collection of Edith Wharton short stories may be fun. She's more snarky than uplifting, but it can be REALLY fun; I loved her story Xingu so much when I first read it that I started adapting it into a one-act play only 20 minutes after I finished. Her story "Roman Fever" is even better; it has one hell of an "oh my GOD!" plot twist that only shows up in the very last sentence of the story. (For about a week after I read it, I amused myself by showing it to others and watching them read it, and invariably whenever they got to the last sentence, they would blurt out something like "holy SHIT!" or "daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn" or "oh my GOD!").
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 AM on October 10 [5 favorites]

maybe some Jane Austen, like Emma? Everyone getting married and whatnot?

[edit - I see it was suggested already... anyway, Emma!]
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:01 AM on October 10

I would suggest Ali Smith's How to Be Both. It does involve a teenage girl (it's not YA) mourning her mother's death, but the focus is on her rejoining the world, falling in love, etc. It's not a heavy or dreary book at all, and the romance is charming. It is also experimental in form without being overwhelmingly so--it won the Goldsmiths Prize (for experimental novels) in 2014.

Bonus: there are actually two versions, and how people reacted differently depending on which version they happened to get will be a built-in discussion starter.
posted by praemunire at 8:14 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]

What about Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado? I thought it was both hilarious and well-written. Here's an NPR review.
posted by zoetrope at 8:49 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

Tired of gloom? There's no better time to break out Cold Comfort Farm
posted by Mchelly at 9:02 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

Thank you very much for all these great ideas. I will pick one for the book club over the next few days and probably read most of the rest myself.The book club had been reading a slew of dystopian fiction and for my own reading these were mixed with psychological thrillers. I definitely need a break from all that. What a brilliant list!
posted by hazyjane at 10:35 AM on October 10

Ooh, one important note about Ella Minnow Pea that I'm seeing I forgot to mention - it isn't about a worldwide problem, it is only about wackiness on the part of the government of a small island off the coast of South Carolina or something. Some of the letters are from people who go to the mainland and are saying things like "yeah, everyone here thinks what's happening back home is messed up, let us know how we can get you out" so it's not, like, world-ending danger.

And happy ending!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:41 AM on October 10

Anything by Tom Robbins!
posted by stinkfoot at 10:56 AM on October 10

My book club, which usually reads grim, dour books about slavery and injustice, greatly enjoyed the reprieve offered by Zadie Smith's On Beauty. In general I find her work funny and accessible while still being artful and "interesting" in a hoity-toity lit fic sort of way.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:23 AM on October 10

Seconding The Dud Avocado and The Summer Book.

Try some Eve Babitz - I liked Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.

(This post makes me think how much those NYRB classics have brought to my reading over the last few years; all three of these books were unexpected pleasures.)
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:25 AM on October 10

How about Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury? The first few paragraphs captures the anticipation of summer perfectly when you're a kid.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 5:30 PM on October 10 [2 favorites]

If it's funny and literary you want, Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov is perfect (and not too long).
posted by yellowcandy at 7:48 PM on October 10

I found Barbara Comyn's "Sisters by a River" to be very engaging and entertaining. It's a memoir style recounting of the author's upbringing in the early 1900s on the river Avon. As an American I was not familiar with her work, but have since devoured her other books. I just finished "Our Spoons came from Woolworths" this evening, I just couldn't put it down. All of her books are rather quick reads, and would be great for a book club to discuss the roles of women in society and the expectations therein. She writes very plainly, with the beauty and the tragedy of life given equal measure.
posted by FergieBelle at 8:37 PM on October 10 [1 favorite]

A few from Canada:
Green Grass Running Water by Thomas King (satire, creative structure, a great read) finalist for Canada's governer general award

The Colony if Unrequited Dreams, by Wayne Johnstone... Although they say The Son of. Certain Woman is Johnstone's funniest, I haven't read it.

Terry Fallis has won the Stephen Leacock award twice (Canadian award for humourous writing) so you could check him out.

Susanna Juby's Alice, I think is like a Canadian Adrian Mole, with a female protagonist in BC in a hippy back to the land household ..

And for a classic, Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, which is a series of connected short stories, and awesome.

posted by chapps at 9:00 PM on October 10

Oh, seconding "Sunshine Sketches", especially if you grew up in a small town.

Actually, that and "Dandelion Wine" would make a nice set.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:14 AM on October 11 [2 favorites]

OK, not humourous exactly (except for a few moments here and there), but definitely uplifting: Mary Lawson's three books of small town northern Ontario life: Crow Lake, The Other Side Of The Bridge, and Road Ends. Some of the same characters are in each book but all can be read independently. My personal favourites are Crow Lake and Road Ends, but The Other Side Of The Bridge was on the long list for the Man Booker prize.

Road Ends has the most humour but it will be most satisfying if you've read Crow Lake first. The Other Side Of The Bridge is more of a stand-alone.

I love these books and read them over and over.
posted by Amy NM at 8:30 AM on October 11

the Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
posted by eeek at 6:35 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

I loved The Bean Trees but I recall it had some difficult content.
posted by chapps at 10:35 PM on October 12

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