Literary escapism for those who are Sick of This Shit
November 10, 2017 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I cannot with everything that's going on in the world and I would like to take the weekend to lose myself in fiction. Please recommend novels that will help me briefly forget about how awful the world is right now.

I do not want to read anything with wretched horrible characters. I do not want to read anything tragic (no murder sexual assault other horrible things happening to people.) I do not want to read fantasy. I do not want to read sci fi unless it's REALLY well done (I liked The Sparrow and Ancillary Justice but that's it for sci fi in recent memory.) I do not want to read anything dark and twisty (apologies to Roxane Gay and Hanya Yanagihara and Donna Tartt but it's not the right time for those for me.)

For a frame of reference, I'm currently reading All That Is Solid Melts Into Air and Here I Am, but the former is about Chernobyl and I can't take it right now, and the latter is getting a little too mansplainy and involves adultery and world war. My favorite book of all time is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Please help me feel better through books this weekend!
posted by tatiana wishbone to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot
posted by thelonius at 1:39 PM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I get to this point, I usually escape into the past and patch the gaping holes in my classics knowledge. Even when there's tragedy (like, say, Anna Karenina) it doesn't feel the same as, say, A Little Life-style emotional torture porn. E.g.,

Jane Eyre
The House of Mirth
The Age of Innocence

posted by Beardman at 1:44 PM on November 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

I know what you mean—I feel like this right now, too. I need to go live under a rock stop reading the news.

Other comfort reads:
- A Gentleman in Moscow
- Anything by Jane Austen (well, maybe not Mansfield Park)
- The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
- Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
- The Anne of Green Gables books
- Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne

(Yes, really, Winnie the Pooh! I read the stories for the first time as an adult, and found them delightful.)
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 1:51 PM on November 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books, e.g., The Code of the Woosters or Joy Comes in the Morning (aka Jeeves Comes in the Morning). Light, linguistically-nimble farce in a sort of perpetual Edwardian England.
posted by praemunire at 2:04 PM on November 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

I enjoyed Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh quite a bit
posted by Bron at 2:11 PM on November 10, 2017

Winifred Watson's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

D. E. Stevenson's Miss Buncle's Book

Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love

E. M. Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady and its sequels.
posted by redfoxtail at 2:27 PM on November 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've just read Robin Sloans Sourdough, startup biotech with female protagonist (I'm a guy but Sloan creates great female chars). Set in SF about now. It's just a really nice book. Lots of stuff about baking, microorganisms, progressive left field thought, oh and goats and a llama called Hercules
posted by unearthed at 2:30 PM on November 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've rediscovered Anne of Green Gables right now too, and it's perfect.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:49 PM on November 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I hear you about scifi, but I just finished The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and was cheered and comforted.
posted by theweasel at 2:56 PM on November 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Ursula leguin's "earthsea" series .. I am just rereading the first book now ..
posted by elgee at 3:20 PM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've just started Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things and I am enthralled. The protagonist is also a woman, a botanist.

(These days I only read fiction by women, pretty much. Unless it's, like, Wodehouse. Well, unless it's specifically Wodehouse!)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:54 PM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

My comfort reading:

Elinor Lipman, specifically The Family Man, And Then She Found Me, My Latest Grievance and The View From Penthouse B.

Laurie Colwin, especially Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.

Susan Juby's Home to Woefield and Republic of Dirt.

Carol Shields, The Republic of Love.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:48 PM on November 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Ivan Doig
Richard Russo
Marilynne Robinson

My Grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:58 PM on November 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

When I'm in a similar way lately I binge cozy-ish mysteries. About a year ago I went through the entire run of those The Cat Who books (I can only really recommend the first few). More recently I went through Lawrence Block's Bernie Rhodenbarr books, about a cat burglar.
posted by synecdoche at 5:04 PM on November 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Try Joan Aiken! I love her books for young people but she has a long list of novels for adults too, varied in setting and scope but full of plot and emotionally satisfying.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 5:31 PM on November 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I agree about PG Wodehouse!

Other suggestions:
- Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K Jerome
- Diary of a Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
posted by HoraceH at 5:41 PM on November 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery! It's more grown up than the Anne books, and it's a funny, romantic, light read.
posted by sherber at 5:50 PM on November 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

84 Charing Cross Road is my go-to for this. It's not a novel, it's a collection of letters between a broke screenwriter in NYC and a London bookshop right after WWII, and it is charming and delightful and makes you think happy things about the world.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:27 PM on November 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'm also working my way through the Anne of Green Gables books right now, and it's as good as I could ask of a book series for this.
posted by alphanerd at 7:28 PM on November 10, 2017

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. SF (time travel), but unobtrusive. Comedy, nice love story and a shout-out to Three Men in a Boat.
posted by Logophiliac at 7:35 PM on November 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I found an old James Herriot novel on my bookshelf, and it's so very comforting, and familiar. Highly recommend.
posted by Ftsqg at 9:04 PM on November 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (a novel, not a religious tome)
The Shipping News by E.Annie Proulx
In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute (written 1950)

All are life-affirming stories, well written.
posted by anadem at 9:16 PM on November 10, 2017

Memoir From Antproof Case, by Mark Helprin.
Beautiful, hilarious, delightful. Enjoyed it so much I let it name me on MeFi.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 10:16 PM on November 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I thoroughly enjoyed Chocolat and its sequel, and having found out in the process of linking those that there's another one I'm looking forward to that too.
posted by flabdablet at 5:23 AM on November 11, 2017

Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books. My favourite straight mysteries in the series are Murder Must Advertise, Clouds of Witness and Nine Tailors. The romance subplot (which is delightful) is found in Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon. In Gaudy Night, the romance is the plot and the mystery is the subplot; it's my favourite romance novel, Jane Austen apart.
posted by Aravis76 at 6:29 AM on November 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

I recommend another Mark Helprin book, Winter's Tale.

In his wonderful review of the book, Benjamin De Mott ends with this comment: "Not for some time have I read a work as funny, thoughtful, passionate or large-souled. Rightly used, it could inspire as well as comfort us. 'Winter's Tale' is a great gift at an hour of great need."

I think that comment applies as well today as it did when Mr. De Mott wrote it, in 1983. Maybe even more so now than then.
posted by merejane at 7:51 AM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Presently, I very much cannot even at the moment, as I live in the UK where the sheer volume of governmental STUPID is shrieking from every news outlet.

One of my comfort reads is the early part of the series of Falco novels by Lindsay Davies, about a private eye in ancient Rome. The Silver Pigs would give you a feel for whether you like it or not

I hear your sci-fi thing but The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is indeed marvellous and comforting, as it's all about good people and found family.

I don't know if you like fantasy or not, but the most comforting thing I've read in a long time is The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which is about a good person navigating a treacherous court. It does have a lot of the trappings of fantasy that put me off, but somehow overcame them.

Also the Penric novellas by Lois McMaster Bujold are a delight, and short.
posted by finisterre at 10:50 AM on November 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

I offer The Bear Went Over The Mountain by William Kotzwinkle.
posted by nicwolff at 1:11 PM on November 11, 2017

"The Hot Rock" by Donald Westlake. A heist novel and funny.
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 8:45 PM on November 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've been escaping with nostalgia. Anything fondly remembered that you devoured as a child - for me it's been His Dark Materials and Animorphs and American Girl books, popping them like literary candy. Your childhood will vary.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:13 AM on November 12, 2017

Check out The Deptford Trilogy by Canadian icon Robertson Davies.
posted by rpfields at 7:06 AM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Jim Dodge wrote Stone Junction, which is a favorite of mine that my spouse recommended years ago. Would recommend again. :)
posted by talldean at 4:31 PM on November 12, 2017

Best answer: Cozy mysteries are my manna right now. I have read almost nothing else since a family member's illness/death this summer. I have similarly lost my taste for the heavy, emotional Donna Tartt-esque stuff, or anything especially violent.

I am currently reading the Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters. The protagonist is a monk in 12th century England. Happily devoid of rape, torture, all that sort of L&O:SVU shit, just good ol' crimesolving when someone gets stabbed in the back or poisoned or whatever.

I also loved the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley. The main character is a 12-year-old girl in 1950s England who loves poisons and chemistry. These are super charming to the point of being sort of Brian Fuller-ish (think Pushing Daisies, murder mystery + bright colors + whip-smart dialogue), which was super duper up my alley.

And also gotta throw out there, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. You may be put off by the premise in summaries, but I have never been so filled with hope (or wept so hard in the break room at work) after turning the last page.

Maybe read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy if you haven't already? I am not a huge sci-fi person, but rereading that book always makes me smile.

nthing Wodehouse, Jane Austen as well. Hugs.
posted by wintersonata9 at 6:43 PM on November 12, 2017

Some of this is going to be middle grade/young adult.

The Penderwick series by Jean Birdsall. There are four books so far out of a five book series. The Little Women influence is obvious.

My Most Excellent Year (YA) or Almost Like Being in Love (not YA) by Steve Kluger. I also really like Kluge's The Last Days of Summer but it takes place during WWII with all its potential heartbreak.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.

The Anne of Green Gables series and The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery has been mentioned but I also really like Jane of Lantern Hill.

Cheaper By the Dozen and the sequel Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough. I went to Amazon to verify the authors' names and the reviews are all hilariously for some combination lock instead of the book itself.

If you want something Austen-esque without actually reading Austen, I suggest Judge Morgan's An Accomplished Woman, Indiscretion, or A Little Folly.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 8:01 PM on November 12, 2017

Terry Pratchett, either Guards, Guards! or Wyrd Sisters
Georgette Heyer, The Grand Sophy
Agatha Christie's Miss Marple books
Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle
posted by Enid Lareg at 6:47 AM on November 13, 2017

My go-to recommendation for this sort of thing is Enchanted April by Elizabeth Van Arnim. It's like taking a holiday in the company of delightful new friends.
posted by yankeefog at 7:58 AM on November 13, 2017

Here are some ideas (they're all over the place, but all have a glint of humor/fantasy/escapism) about them.

Under the Net--Iris Murdoch
Skippy Dies--Paul Murray
The End of Vandalism--Tom Drury
Under Majordomo Minor--Patrick DeWitt
Code of the Woosters-- PG Wodehouse
Pursuit of Love/Love In a Cold Climate--Nancy Mitford
Mislaid--Nell Zink
The Night Circus--Erin Morganstern
Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break--Steve Sherill
Little, Big--John Crowley
Straight Man--Richard Russo
Shadow of the Wind--Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell--Susannah Clarke
The End of Mr Y--Scarlett Thomas

I'll also say that, when you're ready to delve into slightly murkier waters, Michael Chabon's latest-- "Moonglow"--is unexpectedly my favorite of his since "Kavalier and Clay."
posted by thivaia at 8:22 AM on November 14, 2017

Wodehouse (again) - the ones that come to mind are "Carry On, Jeeves" and "The Man Upstairs and other stories"
Pratchett (again, again) - favourites to-date are "Guards, Guards!", "Men At Arms", and "Small Gods"
Austin Tappan Wright, "Islandia" - the classic imaginary country story
William Sanders, "Journey to Fusang" and "The Wild Blue and the Gray" - alternate history, best described as "picaresque"
Michael Kurland, "The Whenabouts of Burr" - more alternate history, flavoured with humour both whimsical and sly
Paul Quarrington, "Whale Music" and "King Leary"
any of Stuart McLean's "Vinyl Cafe" collections
Bill Richardson, "Batchelor Brothers' Bed & Breakfast"
"The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce"
posted by e-man at 9:43 PM on November 14, 2017

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