In today’s Connecticut Post Health & Fitness section, I ran a Los Angeles Times story about the power of books to make us feel better. The story included a link to a list of “mood-boosting books” assembled by the Society of Chief Librarians and the nonprofit Reading Agency, which you can view at http://readingagency.org.uk/adults/tips/mood-boosting-books-2012-list.html
The list of 27 books is pretty eclectic, ranging from the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic “The Secret Garden” to more modern picks, like Bill Bryson’s “Notes From A Small Island” and Helen Simonson’s “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.” Reviewing the list, I realized that “The Secret Garden” is the only I’d ever read (and that was actually read to me, as a kid). However, I have my own literary pick-me-ups — books that I turn to when I’m feeling a little blue. Like the books on this list, they’re not all obviously peppy (have you read “The Secret Garden,” by the way? A kid’s entire family is wiped out by cholera! Not exactly an upper.)
But all of them make me feel good:
“Garlic and Sapphires,” Ruth Reichl: A non-fiction account of Ruth Reichl’s attempts to stay anonymous as the New York Times food critic. She employs a variety of disguises and, not only do they conceal her identity, they reveal a lot about how we treat people based on their looks and what we think their socioeconomic status is. Funny, smart and full of sumptuous descriptions of fancy restaurants I will probably never actually dine in.
“The Outsiders,” S.E. Hinton: Like “The Secret Garden,” this young adult classic isn’t a particularly chipper read, but I’ve read it at least three times. It’s about poor teenagers in Oklahoma who are constantly at (often violent) odds with the rich kids in town. When one of the poor kids kills a rich kid in self-defense, it sets off a firestorm. If the only thing you remember about this book is that includes characters named Ponyboy and Sodapop, you owe it to yourself to pick it up (but, honestly, those names alone are enough to perk you up when you’re feeling glum). There’s something weirdly comforting about the book’s message that things are hard all over. And even though really sad things happen in it, there’s such beauty and sweetness in Hinton’s writing, probably because she was a teenager when she wrote it.
“Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” by David Sedaris: The great thing about books of essays is that you can pick them up whenever you want, read a favorite piece, and be done with it. Though I’ve kind of gotten over Sedaris in recent years, these two books of hilarious essays are faves of mine. “Corduroy and Denim” includes one of my all-time favorite Christmas stories, the riotous “Six to Eight Black Men,” about Christmas traditions in other countries (with, somehow, an interlude about how the blind can hunt in certain states). Not a deep read, but so much fun.
These are some of my favorite mood-boosting reads. What book makes you feel better when you’re blue? Leave comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.