In search of A Happy Book
December 7, 2019 6:47 PM   Subscribe

My dad has requested "a happy book" for Christmas. Do you know of any recent releases that might fit the bill? I looked in my local bookstore catalogue but nothing jumped out at me. Details below.

He is 60 something, somewhat conservative but can be open to interesting new ideas. Has enjoyed PG Wodehouse, Jerome K Jerome, Alexander McCall Smith, James Herriot, Tolkien, earlier Bill Bryson, 20th century aviation. Doesn't like SF/fantasy, sex, romance, violence, or "learning life lessons from dogs" (?!). Limited swearing probably ok. I'm stumped, have you read anything recently that made you feel happy? Thanks!
posted by Naanwhal to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe Vacationland from John Hodgman? I haven't read his other books, but I enjoyed this one and it was a quick read.
posted by curious nu at 6:56 PM on December 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


The Mitford series by Jan Karon is quite happy with interesting, kind, quirky characters. They should be read in order—the first is At Home In Mitford. Later on in the series they get increasingly religious, if I remember correctly (the main character is an Episcopal priest), but the early ones are quite funny and don’t have nearly as much heavy focus on religious themes (if that matters to you).
posted by bookmammal at 7:18 PM on December 7, 2019 [3 favorites]




He might enjoy How To Invent Everything by Ryan North. It's pretty upbeat and non-threateningly informative. I read some of it and then I bought it for my dad cause I felt it had dad book energy. (He didn't like it cause he thought it was a how to book but your mileage may vary)
posted by bleep at 7:45 PM on December 7, 2019


Best answer: Oddly enough, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles made me really happy. It's about a Russian nobleman whom the Soviets condemn to perpetual house arrest in a hotel in Moscow. It sounds very grim, but instead it's about people building community and looking out for each other, even in desperate times. I really really enjoyed it.
posted by suelac at 7:47 PM on December 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


I think he'd really like The Gurnsey Literary Potato Peel Society or A Man Called Ove.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:20 PM on December 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


It's not a new release, but if he hasn't read Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, that's the happiest and funniest book I know.

(nb - to each their own, but I'm always baffled when people refer to the Potato Peel Society book as light or happy. All I remember from it is the part about the experience of the Ravensbruck concentration camp survivor who comes to the town.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:32 PM on December 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


Best answer: Jeeves and The King of Clubs by Ben Schott is a funny and faithful homage to the originals.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 9:21 PM on December 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Would he like one of Sam Kean’s books? They’re all relatively light, cheerful nonfiction about scientific discoveries (the most recent is about WWII/the Manhattan project, so might be over the violence line, but it’s pretty much all gently described.)
posted by tautological at 9:35 PM on December 7, 2019


I misremembered "How to Be Good" as "How to be Happy", but I liked it, and how can you be a happy person if you are not a good person?
posted by labberdasher at 9:49 PM on December 7, 2019


I haven't read A Gentleman in Moscow but I know other people who reacted to it like suelac above.

But reactions vary: I found The Gurnsey Literary Potato Peel Society really depressing in a way I wasn't expecting (beloved character dies in a Nazi camp but hey, that's okay, the main character gets to feel like she got to know her!) and I couldn't make it through A Man Called Ove because the first part, at least, was too sad.
posted by trig at 10:40 PM on December 7, 2019


I was going to recommend ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ too! I loved, loved this book.
posted by Salamander at 10:59 PM on December 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


If he's enjoyed Wodehouse and Jerome K. Jerome, he may enjoy "To Say Nothing Of the Dog" by Connie Willis. (Have no fear: the dog does not impart any life lessons.) It actually references Jerome K. Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat"!

It may be too sci-fi for him, however. It's set in a world where time travel has been discovered, but turns out to only be of use to historians. Imagine if PG Wodehouse and Oscar Wilde collaborated on a time travel novel.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:06 PM on December 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Ha! Came to recommend a Gentleman in Moscow. My dad loved it. It's like an ultimate Dad book.
posted by athirstforsalt at 4:46 AM on December 8, 2019


Spike Milligan or Roald Dahl (Boy is an amazing book, heartbreaking and hilarious)
posted by speakeasy at 6:09 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


oh yes! speakeasy reminded me. If your dad likes 20th century aviation and the British authors you mention, then you get him Roald Dahl's Going Solo (if he hasn't read it before.) It's about Dahl's life post high school, first with fascinating adventures in Africa and then as an RAF fighter pilot in WW2. So good.

(I couldn't get through a Gentleman in Moscow. Boring. Again to each their own.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:56 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


My dad enjoyed Ben McIntyre’s “Operation Mincemeat” so much he gave it back to me so I’d read it too. It’s an amusing, and eye-opening, history of an Allied counterespionage plan during the Second World War. Ian Fleming is a bit player. McIntyre has a whole bunch of spy histories that range from dry and infuriating (“A Spy Among Friends,” maybe hard to follow if you aren’t already into spy craft but rewarding if you are) to ripping good yarns (“Double Cross,” in which MI-5 secretly controls literally every German spy in Britain). If he likes “Mincemeat” you can get him “Double Cross” next year.
posted by fedward at 9:58 AM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


To add on to fingersandtoes on aviation: both West with the Night and Wind, Sand, and Stars are not exactly happy, but they are "about the triumph of the human spirit" or something. My dad tried to get me to read them for YEARS and then I was glad when I did.
posted by athirstforsalt at 10:44 AM on December 8, 2019


"Learning life lessons from dogs" is a hilarious way to put it and I'd interpret that as "nothing pop-sci" to be totally safe.
posted by teremala at 12:52 PM on December 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


The James Herriott mention made me think your dad might enjoy some nature-y books that are sort of cozy?

Two books that kinda fall into this category that I loved are:
Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks: Macfarlane is a British nature writer, and this is a compendium of mostly-real-but-lost-from-common-usage words with unusual definitions (for example, a word that describes the hole a rabbit makes in a hedge row)

Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees
: Wohlleben is a German forester and if you've ever seen one of those articles like "trees talk to each other through a forest internet made of mushroom spores and also they have tree buddies and get sad if they lose a tree friend growing next to them"... this is 100% that book.

From what I recall, both of these books touch very lightly on climate change, but it is not the primary focus. They are not heavy handed and definitely dwell more in the "isn't the natural world a fascinating and wonderful place?" genre.
posted by mostly vowels at 1:45 PM on December 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


Best answer: Not new, but quite obscure: if you're in the UK, The Ascent of Rum Doodle is back in print, both in paperback and (although I can't find it online, so you'd have to have access to one of the shops) in a Hatchards special edition. It's the story of a mountain climbing expedition, very much in the vein of Jerome K. Jerome.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 7:35 AM on December 9, 2019


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