Today (well, it was today when I started writing this) Waterstones released its shortlist of Waterstones Children’s Book Prize books, which The Guardian said was dominated by gritty teen reads (Don’t worry for us that there are no Nosy Crow books on the list, by the way: we didn’t submit anything for the prize because we felt that nothing we’d published in 2011 quite met the criteria). It was a tough but impressive line-up of teenage books, but even several of the picture books – Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen – were books with (carnivorous) bite and wit. What I do think, for what it’s worth, is that the Waterstones shortlists are particularly strong on children’s books that adults enjoy, whether gritty or whimsical or witty. But that’s another post…
So I asked around the office to get people to tell me what their “mood-boosting” books were. What’s interesting is how often these aren’t “happy-clappy” books: there are references to grief, tears and emotional roller-coasters as well as to escapism in people’s explanation of why they chose these books. Perhaps they’re more accurately described as “comfort reads”. That’s not what I asked for but it is, I think, what I got, and it says something about the range of ways that readers can extract emotional satisfaction from a reading experience that so many of the books people mentioned, though they had happy endings, were often far from monochromatic in their emotional palette. That relieved and complete sense of “ahhhh” at the happy resolution of what might have been a sad or difficult book is enough to make a book a comfort read and even, perhaps, a “mood-boosting” book.
Dom, who responded in detail and with real enthusiasm, said, “I have a serious Agatha Christie addiction. I have to re-read one a month, or I get twitchy. I find the blend of ‘gung-ho’ + naivety + well-mannered acceptance of dangerous situations of her lesser known heroes like the Beresfords, or Anne in The Man In The Brown Suit to be the perfect tonic to our fear-filled lives: we’re ALWAYS being told what will kill us: sugar, salt, wine, deep snow, white bread, etc. And the ‘deadly’ things are ALWAYS fun!
“Anything by Eva Ibbotson lifts my soul. There’s a line in The Secret Countess that pricks my eyes with tears whenever I read it.
“And Mrs ‘Arris Goes To Paris by Paul Gallico! A BEAUTIFUL book all about the kindness of strangers.
“Oh, and Sita Brahmachari’s Artichoke Hearts weaves together perfectly the joy of life and living with the peculiar blend of gratitude/regret of grief…while being intensely uplifting all the while.”
Ed said, “Comic capers from Jasper Fforde, Carl Hiaasen (he’s done a few stories for younger readers too, like Flush and Hoot) and Janet Evanovich are always a lot of fun too!” and that his wife “always heads for a Georgette Heyer: off you go to another time and place, away from all your worries and there’s always a happy ending.”
Leen said, “Jane Eyre is a massive comfort read! As is Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. And The Neverending Story. Oh, and any Georgette Heyer book.”
Kirsty, reasonably enough, asked, “Is it comfort reads for kids or adults?” She said that her children always go back to Enid Blyton and A Squash and a Squeeze (illustrated by Axel Scheffler) but she also listed Captain Underpants and Little Women (not sure if they were for her or for the children, and she’s not around to ask right now, so you’ll have to guess).
Steph, very definitely and with no hemming and hawing over alternatives, nominated a book I didn’t know at all: Someday. She said, “It takes you on an emotional roller-coaster and reaffirms everything good about parenting and the circle of life.”
Joanne, who’s doing freelance marketing for us and whose biography I really must get up on the website, said, “Jez Alborough’s Hug! was the first thing that popped into my head.”
Mine – and I did find it hard to choose – are probably I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and Emma is a pretty cheering kind of a read too. When I was a child, I read and read and reread Enid Blyton, particularly the Malory Towers books. I did set out to make Just Right a particularly feel-good text, and I think it achieved that, judging by the reviews.
What are YOUR mood-boosting books? Are they the same as your comfort reads?
While we’d love to hear about any books, we’re especially interested in children’s book – ones you read now, ones you read as a child and/or ones you share with children.
Please tell us on Twitter or (even better, because it lasts longer) by commenting below.