I found this list in the San Francisco Chronicle, “Good Novels for Hard Times.” Most of the books listed deal with some sort of struggle, be it economic, environmental, political, or personal, and that got me thinking: what makes these types of books the best books for hard times? Is it the “misery loves company” factor? Is it hoping the main character will triumph over adversity? Is it feeling one must face reality, no matter how bleak? To be fair, not all of them are completely bleak: Empire Falls is on that list, and Richard Russo’s writing always makes me feel better, and there’s Moo, which is good for a laugh or two, but many of them are.
Recently I find myself more interested in mysteries, I’ve noticed. As a person who tends to read a lot of “realistic” literary fiction, I’m finding that I want something to make my brain work through problems that aren’t real–or at least real in the sense that I deal with them in every day life. I’m also more interested in books that include some element of fantasy, or history. One of the books in the article’s list is American Pastoral, and while it’s an amazingly well-written book, it is also one of the most bleak I’ve ever read. Right now the news is bleak enough; I’m not sure that’s what I need from fiction. Not that I’m looking for anything frothy, either. I just don’t want to read books right now that, say, make me want to throw myself on something sharp.
Of course, I also have my go-to, “had a bad day” books: Birds of America, by Lorrie Moore; Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, by Alice Munro; Straight Man, by Richard Russo, among others. These are the books I can pick up any time and feel instantly comforted, not because they’re whimsical and light-hearted per se, but because–and this could sound hokey–I feel better knowing books like this exist, or because they connect with my humor or life or view of the world somehow.
How about you: do you have books you turn to during hard times, or when you’ve had a bad day?
*images from powells.com