A comfortable story in which the world doesn’t end
November 19, 2018 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Recommend me a novel in which the stakes are low.

The last couple of books I’ve read have been ... heavy. (FWIW, The Poppy War, The Power and The Vagrant — all very good and compelling reading, but none of them comforting).

For my own mental health I’m feeling like I want to read a story set in a world that isn’t utterly falling apart and horrifying. Help me find that book!

What I’m looking for is a book in which the stakes are quotidian and low, and the characters are garrulous and avuncular and even a bit ridiculous. Something in the intersection between Jeeves and Wooster, the Andy Griffith Show, and Homer Price, if that makes sense. Any genre, any setting.

Thank you!
posted by gauche to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Nick Hornby's novels are totally character-driven. Juliet, Naked might appeal to you, About a Boy, High Fidelity, etc. Ridiculousness abounds. Might skip A Long Way Down.
posted by wellred at 6:24 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Cadfael Chronicles, if the idea of a series of cozy mysteries starring a medieval herbalist monk appeals to you.
posted by quatsch at 6:39 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Fannie Flagg’s novels sound like just what you need. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the most famous, but I’d start with Welcome to the World, Baby Girl. Or, since ‘tis almost the season, A Redbird Christmas.
posted by elphaba at 6:42 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies is a light story about a local theater company.

I notice that you read fantasy novels, so I will also recommend Lud-In-The-Mist. The Wikipedia article makes it sound more high-falutin' than it really is.

Oh, also The Face In The Frost, always one of my "read myself to sleep with soothing ridiculouslness" books.
posted by Frowner at 6:53 AM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I feel like you might like some Jonathan Ames, and in particular Wake Up, Sir! since it's very much a sendoff of PG Wodehouse. The Extra Man is also a very fun read.
posted by General Malaise at 6:57 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was about to recommend Wodehouse but you beat me to it - I don't know anything about Andy Griffith and Homer Price but the first of Caimh McDonnell's Dublin Trilogy was a dose of wonderful escapism for me recently and I'm rationing myself on the remaining books as you would medicine.

Also, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Both writers give a shot in the arm dose of remembering that people can be, and often are, wonderful.
posted by humph at 7:00 AM on November 19, 2018

Do you like Dickens? Our Mutual Friend is my favorite novel of his. I am also a big fan of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series which comprise one long story arc. They are tonic.
posted by jquinby at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's a lot of great young adult literature that fits the bill. Check out the YALSA recommendations page for recent fiction.

During the last year, I've read the following, that fit your criteria...

Bohumil Hrabil – Closely Watched Trains OR I Served the King of England
Tove Jansson – The Summer Book
Arthur Ransome – Swallows and Amazons (for, like, the hundredth time)
Jakob Wegelius – The Murderer's Ape
posted by mr. remy at 7:21 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maeve Binchy is my go-to for novels in this vein. The Copper Beech, Circle of Friends, and Light a Penny Candle are especially good. And her collection of Christmas-themed stories is like a box of bon-bons.
posted by XtineHutch at 7:23 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:26 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Dud Avocado is fantastic and made me laugh out loud. Garrulous and funny and light.

I love Joan Aiken's novels for adults, check your local library and maybe second hand stores since they are out of fashion and out of print. They are like Daphne Du Maurier, I would say, although I could never really get into Du Maurier.

Tove Jansson's The Summer Book and Fair Play are great - quiet little books with low stakes as far as plot, but lots of thought and heart.

Maybe Douglas Adams would work for you? Silly, so silly, and so funny.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:28 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels, starting with The Eyre Affair, are perfect for book lovers. I’m not entirely as huge of a fan of the Nursery Crimes books, but they are still right in line with what you’re looking for.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:32 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

You can get a lot of mileage out of searching on Goodreads for any list that has the word Cozy or Cozies in them. It's like a magical keyword for getting comforting small worlds with hopeful endings.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:43 AM on November 19, 2018

The answer to your question is Sorcery and Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot.
posted by gideonfrog at 8:13 AM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

Northanger Abbey.
posted by saladin at 8:36 AM on November 19, 2018

Sunshine Sketches Of A Little Town. An interrelated collection of short stories about turn-of-the-century small-town Canada; cute and cozy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:51 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Cold Comfort Farm
posted by crocomancer at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:00 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Based on how you described what you want, I would immediately recommend almost anything by Fannie Flagg, but especially Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man.

I'd also recommend Jasper FForde's The Eyre Affair and its sequels, though they do have some limited potentially-world-ending stakes as the series goes on.
posted by Mchelly at 9:08 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if you're open to YA, you can't do better than The Pushcart War
posted by Mchelly at 9:09 AM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

Garrulous, ridiculous characters and a deeply low-stakes plot? John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces is right up that alley. Probably the most hilarious book to ever have won the Pulitzer.
posted by mediareport at 9:24 AM on November 19, 2018

I found that many of the recommendations in one of my old Asks would fit what you're looking for. Some of them have already been mentioned in this thread!

Introduce me to some funny narrators
posted by zoetrope at 9:28 AM on November 19, 2018

Laurie Colwin - a bit out of date but the writing is so good and people are decent. Happy All The Time is a good place to start. Home Cooking & More Home Cooking are compilations of her articles in Gourmet and are excellent.

also Margaret Drabble if you like British writers. She's so smart and literate and tells a story, with a fair amount of subtext. Maybe start with The Radiant Way.

Ad I really liked There You Go Bernadette.
posted by theora55 at 9:29 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Muriel Spark's A Far Cry from Kensington made me laugh out loud every fifth page or so, and it fits your criteria.
posted by aws17576 at 9:43 AM on November 19, 2018

When the world is too much, I read pretty much exclusively YA. I liked the Miss Peregrine series (there is adventure/fantasy, but everyone ends up okay and there is cool time travel) and they just published a fourth book really recently.

Daniel Pinkwater is a personal fave--YA, absurdist, light fantasy elements, set in New Jersey suburbs.

Non-YA but topical: I liked the Crazy Rich Asians series for escapist, silly, class/social status based humor.

A lot of other people liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but I found it upsetting and angering so I would just say YMMV as mine totally did.
posted by assenav at 9:53 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

You’re looking for the Mitford books.
Lovely gentle stories, and lots of them. It’s about an Episcopal priest in a small town. And all the trials and tribulations of the characters there. But you don’t have to be religious at all to enjoy them
posted by SLC Mom at 10:50 AM on November 19, 2018

Agreed with assenav--I was upset and angered by Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and couldn't get very far with it at all for just that reason.

Seconding Douglas Adams. The Long Dark Tea Time Of The Soul and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency are just as great as The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

The Fannie Flagg books are pretty much exactly what you're looking for, especially Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe.

Have you considered Anne Of Green Gables and the sequels? They are gentle, although very few outright ridiculous characters.

You might also like Divine Secrets of The Ya Ya Sisterhood.
posted by Amy NM at 10:51 AM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Cadfael books.

To Say Nothing of the Dog is one of my comfort reads.

You might also try Home to Woefield and the Moosepath League series.
posted by gudrun at 11:45 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

garrulous and avuncular and even a bit ridiculous

William Goldman having just passed away, I'd say The Princess Bride if you haven't yet read it. (It's different than the movie.)
posted by trig at 11:49 AM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Corinna Chapman mystery series by Kerry Greenwood (of Miss Fisher fame), about a baker in modern-day Melbourne. Lots of fun and sometimes hilarious, a cast of very interesting people, not much gore, some recipes. #7 has just been published in Australia.
posted by MovableBookLady at 1:02 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Full of funny but very real characters, lovely puns, good plots, but no sense of foreboding world-is-about-to-fall-apart doom. (Maybe Night Watch -- the particular book with that title, not the whole subset of characters -- is a little doom-y. But it's still quite good.)
posted by WCityMike at 1:34 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

I was looking for something like this. I enjoyed Less by Andrew Sean Greer (Pulitzer winning!). I also enjoyed The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (not Pulitzer winning!)
posted by jessamyn at 3:16 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, gentle comedy about a family of British expats in 1950s Corfu. Durrell's genuine love of nature is heartwarming, and it is very satisfying that Lawrence Durrell is portrayed as exactly the kind of person who would write The Alexandria Quartet.

One of my favourite books this year is Less, a comic novel about a minor novelist who decides to do some literary globetrotting in order to avoid attending his ex-boyfriend's wedding. There are some weighty themes under the comedy, but it is more life-affirming than anything else.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:22 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have to recommend The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox. The wikipedia page on the author, Barry Hughart, describes the book better than I can. It has sadness and joy and humor and a touch of the same tone as Jeeves.
posted by Altomentis at 4:59 PM on November 19, 2018

Oh my goodness, how did no one mention the utterly delightful No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith? These are my absolute favorite, gentle, wise, humorous, and comforting reads.
posted by ReginaHart at 4:55 PM on November 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Reader on the 6:27 is light and pleasant.
posted by Jabberwocky at 6:22 PM on November 20, 2018

Thank you all! This is a fantastic reading list.
posted by gauche at 7:25 PM on January 10

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