Books to renew my faith in humanity
July 7, 2021 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I’ve been reading a lot of important books that make me mad and depressed about society. Can you recommend me something recent that’s happy or would give me a sense of optimism towards people?

No genre limitations though I tend to not like YA (sorry).
posted by inevitability to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
posted by Sassyfras at 12:20 PM on July 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Seconding Eleanor Oliphant.

Sourdough, by Robin Sloan

The Boston Girl, by Anita Diamant

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:36 PM on July 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books would fit the bill.
posted by jquinby at 12:38 PM on July 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

If you're looking for non-fiction, maybe try a Steven Pinker book that looks interesting to you? His overall view of humanity is very optimistic.
posted by nosila at 12:58 PM on July 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I really liked Factfulness.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:20 PM on July 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

This may verge on YA, as most of the main characters are college-aged and feel very young, but Red, White, And Royal Blue was a complete delight.

On a completely different note, Alright, Alright, Alright is a book-length oral history of the movie Dazed and Confused and was also a delight.
posted by lunasol at 1:20 PM on July 7, 2021

Came to recommend House In the Cerulean Sea and Eleanor Oliphant, so consider them nthed. EO was also a bit sad in parts, though.
posted by backwards guitar at 1:22 PM on July 7, 2021

Convenience Store Woman was light and fun and weird, and a good reminder that the path to contentment is different for every person. Your happiness doesn't have to look like my happiness.
posted by phunniemee at 1:38 PM on July 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Not super recent, but Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell helps me feel better about people and have more hope than I am inclined to
posted by heurtebise at 1:58 PM on July 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Kind of an offbeat answer but The Plague by Albert Camus I actually found quite uplifting ultimately. It's about a tragedy for certain and horrible things happen, but what the book feels to me to be about is coping, human resilience, and the necessity of helping one another to deal with the ongoing disaster that is life and the universe.

Obviously it's not particularly light though! Just a thought I had.

Dickens is another one - though his books are often filled with various villains and self-interested actors, they also aim to elevate the fundamentally kind and good in the world. A Tale of Two Cities is certainly along these lines, and Bleak House is as well if you are ready for a long (but wonderful) read.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A Paradise Built In Hell
"The freshest, deepest, most optimistic account of human nature I've come across in years."
-Bill McKibben

The most startling thing about disasters, according to award-winning author Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides. A Paradise Built in Hell is an investigation of the moments of altruism, resourcefulness, and generosity that arise amid disaster's grief and disruption and considers their implications for everyday life. It points to a new vision of what society could become-one that is less authoritarian and fearful, more collaborative and local.
posted by caek at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Rutger Bregman
Humankind: A Hopeful History
posted by JohnnyForeign at 2:50 PM on July 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom by Martin Hägglund
posted by demonic winged headgear at 3:15 PM on July 7, 2021

Roderick MacLeish: Prince Ombra. There's a brief scene which, when I didn't know I was feeling bad, made me feel much better. The whole book is wonderful.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 3:18 PM on July 7, 2021

Mountains Beyond Mountains is about an American doctor who works in Haiti named Paul Farmer.
posted by catquas at 4:00 PM on July 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

For sci fi, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

For fantasy, The Goblin Emperor.

I love books about good people doing their best.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:30 PM on July 7, 2021 [12 favorites]

Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library
posted by cyndigo at 8:04 PM on July 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

If the climate crisis is one of the reasons for your anger and sadness, Under the Sky We Make: How to Be Human in a Warming World offers some hope (and motivation to do something)!
posted by thebots at 8:17 PM on July 7, 2021

Seconding Pinker.

Small creatures such as we, by Sasha Sagan. It's a small literary snack, found on another post here.

Sasha does very nice work with expressing wonder for what's in front of us, without promising for anything she cannot offer or prove exists. It's a nice read and can be quickly digested.
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:53 PM on July 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark might help.

“Time and again she comes running towards you with a bunch of hopes she has found and picked in the undergrowth of the times we are living. And you remember that hope is not a guarantee for tomorrow, but a detonator of energy for action today.”
—John Berger, author, Ways of Seeing
posted by fabius at 5:21 AM on July 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson might fit the bill.
posted by kensington314 at 10:15 AM on July 8, 2021

Roderick MacLeish: Prince Ombra. There's a brief scene which, when I didn't know I was feeling bad, made me feel much better. The whole book is wonderful.

The hardback copy of this book is $902 on Amazon. (There are paperbacks available)

I just read Convenience Store Woman (from this thread). I loved it.
posted by gt2 at 5:16 PM on July 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think John Green's latest book, The Anthropocene Reviewed could be pretty good for this. Some of his "reviews" are sad, but many are uplifting and hopeful, which I think matches his general view of the world and the people in it.
posted by that girl at 7:47 PM on July 8, 2021

How about some Vonnegut? I've only read Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, and though he covers very dark topics, he is a humanist through and through. Something about his outlook on things both allows for the faults without hiding from them, as well as remaining kind and compassionate.

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies-"God damn it, you've got to be kind.”
posted by Acey at 10:27 AM on July 11, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks! All great recs. I had forgotten about The Goblin Emperor!
posted by inevitability at 9:47 AM on July 12, 2021

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