A Happy (reading) List

A curated list of light classics and more. A happy reading list!

Recently, I made a request on Facebook asking for recommendations for happy books: mainly classics, with exceptions welcome. I had just read about a third of a classic on World War 1, and was literally having nightmares. Jonny suggested that I stop reading it, and I agreed. I realized that what I need and want to read this year are lighter novels, those that lack an overwhelming sense of darkness or sadness surrounding the story or characters, without being pure fluff. And now thanks to so many kind suggestions, I have a wonderful list of books to choose from. Thank you!

I thought that some of you might be interested in the “happy list” as well.  I didn’t include every single book recommended (there were just so many!), and for most of the authors recommended I placed their most apparently popular book on the list, as a reminder to myself to explore their other works as well.  The list is here, and I will place it in my sidebar for a little while so we can all easily find it again.  I know that I will be returning to this list frequently!

Obviously, since I haven’t read most of these, I can’t personally vouch for their goodness. I’m not sure that they are all necessarily happy books, but none sound downright depressing, and most did seem to fit the bill. I did skim reviews, and I think that some if not many of these books would be appropriate for older children, or for read-alouds.  In fact, a few are children’s classics. Feel free to leave your own recommendations in the comments!

The Happy List:

Heidi  Johanna Spyri ::  An obvious classic, and one I never read as a child, though I’ve seen the movie and know the story.

The Little World of Don Camillo Giovanni Guareshi ::  This is a new title to me, and it sounds great!

Big Stone Gap   Adriana Trigiani  ::  The first in a modern series set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

I Am One of You Forever and Brighten the Corner Where You Are  Fred Chappell  ::  The first follows a young boy growing up in North Carolina in the 1940s, the second is narrated by that same boy, and is about his father, a schoolteacher who sounds like he has all sorts of wild adventures.  I can’t wait to read these!

I Capture the Castle  Dodie Smith  ::  First published in 1948 and considered a modern classic, this book sounds really great.  Several people mentioned it to me as a favorite.  Reading through reviews, I realized that the same author wrote the children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmations.

Mother Carey’s Chickens  Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin  ::  Considered a children’s classic, about a single mother, raising her family in rural Maine.

Mother Mason  Bess Streeter Aldrich ::  Another classic about family life

North and South and Wives and Daughters Elizabeth Gaskell ::  I’ve read Cranford, and have long wanted to tackle a longer Gaskell novel, having loved the minseries based on her books.

So Big  Edna Ferber ::  I’m reading this one now!  I had never heard of Edna Ferber before a friend recommended her last week.  So Big is her masterpiece and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1924.  It is considered must reading for fans of Willa Cather (yes!), Pearl Buck (yes!) and Marjorie Rawlings (again, yes!)  Giant is another of her more famous books.

Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl  Louisa May Alcott ::  I’ve not actually read Little Women, though I’ve listened to large chunks of the audiobook.  I just finished An Old Fashioned Girl and it was a simple, sweet story.

A Girl of the Limberlost and The Harvester  Gene Stratton Porter ::  A Girl of the Limberlost is one of my favorite books, and I’ve enjoyed a couple others by Porter.  The Harvester is very well reviewed, and I downloaded an inexpensive copy to my Kindle!

Don Quixote   Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra :: An obvious classic, one I hope to read someday, though it is LONG!

These Old Shades Georgette Heyer ::  Georgette Heyer is often compared to Jane Austen.  She wrote classic, “clean” romance from what I can tell.

Edenbrooke Julianne Donaldson ::  More clean romance (in the vein of Austen?), though written recently.

Whose Body?  Dorothy Sayers ::  One of her many classic detective novels, the first of her stories to feature Lord Peter Wimsey.

Shadows on the Rock  Willa Cather :: Cather is my favorite author, and this is one of hers that I haven’t read.  It was specifically recommended for the happy list.  Seth read it a couple months ago, and I’ve been meaning to.

Decline and Fall Evelyn Waugh ::  considered a comedy

Right Ho, Jeeves P.G. Wodehouse ::  Wodehouse has been recommended to me again and again.  Right Ho, Jeeves is considered of the greatest comic novels in the English language.  Why haven’t I read it yet?

Excellent Women  Barbara Pym  ::  Another funny classic.

The Three Musketeers Alexandre Dumas ::  I haven’t read anything by Dumas, but my oldest son Seth has read both this one and The Count of Monte Cristo and loved them.

The Bird in the Tree Elizabeth Goudge  ::  This is the first in the popular Eliot family trilogy set in England in the late 1930s.  Several people recommended Elizabeth Goudges other novels as well.  She wrote for both adults and children.

Jane of Lantern Hill and The Blue Castle  L.M. Montgomery  ::  These are some of the favorites mentioned that were written by the author of Anne of Green Gables.  The Blue Castle sounds especially good.  Emily of New Moon is another that was mentioned.

Early Candlelight Maud Hart Lovelace  ::  By the author of the Betsy-Tacy books, this is a historical novel she wrote for adults.  It sounds excellent!

The Making of a Marchioness  Frances Hodgson Burnett  ::  By the author of The Secret Garden, this is a brief romantic novel, and I believe it is aimed at adults rather than children.

High Rising  Angela Thirkell  :: This is the first in a series of satirical English comedies set in the fictional county of Barsetshire

Three Men in a Boat and Three Men on a Bummel  Jerome K. Jerome  ::  These are supposed to be hilarious.

The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty  ::  I am really looking forward to reading some of the stories written by this Pulitzer Prize winning author.  I read her described as the grand matriarch of southern writing tradition.

A Light in the Wilderness  Jane Kirkpatrick  ::  Based on a true story, this novel follows three women along the Oregon Trail.  People describe it as “gripping.”  Sounds good to me!  Where Lilacs Still Bloom is another of hers that sound good.

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Happy Reading!!

Comments

  1. Gill Millington says:

    Hi, I love all the Miss Read books too. They always take me to a happier , simpler place. Coming from the UK, I have to say that they were written starting in the 1950’s and represent an England that we are nostalgic for because it no longer really exists. I remember it that way growing up then. Nevertheless they are excellent gentle stories which are wholesome, innocent and clear in their morality.
    Your reading list has given me some very good books to explore, starting with Willa Cather.
    Thank you for all your posts, I enjoy them so much. Gill

  2. Hi Ginny,

    I know this is an older post and that you’ve put together your booklist already, but I have one that I’ve been reading myself and just had to recommend to you. ‘Uneasy Money’ by P.G. Wodehouse. Don’t let the title turn you off, beekeeping plays a major role in the plot! 🙂 It’s an enjoyable (and funny!) read.

  3. This is an inspiring list, and all of the comments are so useful too! I’ve never read “The Blue Castle,” but with so many recommendations I’m going to borrow it from the library right away.

    I’d like to second the recommendations of Miss Read and James Herriot, and may I also suggest Jan Karon? Also, if you like fairy tale retellings, “Beauty” by Robin McKinley is beautiful! Such warmth and love between the characters, and true magic.

  4. I wanted to thank you (and whoever else first recommended it!) for the recommendation for Mother Mason by Aldrich. I purchased it after I saw it on your list and it was so very wonderful. Actually, it was just what I have been needing to read as I have been feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Thank you! It was such a wonderful book.

  5. Thanks for putting together this list!!!! Especially love that it is geared towards “happy”!!!

  6. So funny. I have printed a couple reading lists from sources I read or follow. I really enjoyed your list and have a bookstore in my pharmacy, so I can order directly. I sat down to what I thought was your list and started looking through all this teen angst, dystopian, slightly disturbing stuff. I had to laugh when I realized the list I was perusing was from Marissa Meyer who wrote Cinder, Scarlet, Cress. I liked your list much better.

  7. I just discovered Wodehouse and am addicted already. Just hilarious and brilliant. I also have to second the Eudora Welty recommendation. Her books are wild and funny and profound.

  8. May I suggest Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes by Gilbreth and Carey?

  9. I’ve only read a handful of these, and the rest sound great. We could use some happy reading around here as well.

    Actually, I wrote a review of I Capture The Castle just a bit ago, over at The Mirror Magazine:
    http://www.themirrormagazine.com/the-puzzlement-of-people/

  10. I love your blog! I am very excited about this reading list, as a few of the authors mentioned are my favorites…. Going to the library to check out books from the rest!!
    Happy reading!

  11. Thank you, thank you, for sharing this list, Ginny. I LOVED I Capture the Castle. Little Women is a fave too. Happy Reading!

  12. I looked through the comments and don’t think anyone has recommended the books of the amazing, cheerful Miss Read. She wrote 2 series (Fair Acre and Thrush Green) and the books are cheerful without being simpering. The characters are charming and real; there is more than a touch of Jane Austen. Miss Read wrote in the mid to late 20th century; all of her books take place in English villages in the mid-century. Timeless and lovely. They are my go-to books when I need a spot of good cheer.

    • I love Miss Read too! I’d recommend starting with “Village School” and going on from there. Her descriptions of people and the lovely English countryside are wonderful.

      I don’t like everything by Maeve Binchy, but her “Evening Class,” about a disparate group of people (living in Dublin, Ireland) learning Italian in a night class, always makes me happy. It’s about love, kindness, trying new things, and connecting with people (even if they’re different from you).

      I also enjoy James Herriot when I want a light, “cozy” read.

  13. Hello, I work in a bookshop in Sudney, Australia and I am often asked for happy books.
    It’s a bit of a challenge, but I always suggest Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm, The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. I see Brideshead Revisited is on your list- surely one of the saddest books I’ve ever read!

  14. OH I hope you are all brimming with health by now! I just joined Yarn Along (I think!!). I posted even though it’s not Wednesday. I’m sure I’ll get with the program.

    Thank you for sharing that fantastic reading list!
    x

  15. I am back here leaving a second comment because I have been thinking about this post/topic ever since it was published. I have always felt kind of embarrassed that I was more comfortable reading mostly children’s literature and “tame” books that didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I think it is good for us to be challenged or made uncomfortable if the purpose is for us to think more about an issue or consider something from a different point of view. However, we teach our children to speak up or run away if they find themselves in a situation that causes them discomfort or scares them, so why wouldn’t we treat ourselves with the same respect as adults, even if it is “just a book”?

    Personally, as I make choices about what I watch/read/listen to, I’m going to challenge myself to remember the wisdom given in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” We were created by a God who embodies all of those qualities and wants his children to do the same–it makes sense that things that are not true, noble, right, pure, etc. would disturb us and that we might want to avoid them. Another verse comes to mind: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” 2 Corinthians 3:18–if we want our world to be more loving, peaceful, etc., it will happen by studying examples of those very characteristics, not by studying disturbing examples of the opposite.

    And now, I’m stepping off my soapbox and adding a few more to the happy list:

    The many books written by Miss Read (Village School is the first one)–I haven’t read them all, but the ones I have are charming.

    The Little Britches series by Ralph Moody (not always happy, but always inspiring)

    The Spark by Kristine Barnett–nonfiction, but easily one of the top 3 books I’ve read in the last year or two; a must for anyone who loves children and learning

    They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth–one of my all time favorites from my childhood

    These next two are a little “fluffier”–perhaps the precursor to chick lit (of which I have read none) from the 40s thru 60s. They are both English writers and set their characters/romances/mysteries in fairly predictable plots, which are delightful just the same:

    Elizabeth Cadell–wrote dozens of books; some of my favorites: Honey for Tea, Six Impossible Things, The Cuckoo in Spring

    D.E. Stevenson–I have not read many of hers yet, her Miss Buncle series is my favorite so far, and I also enjoyed Anna and her Daughters (not necessarily always happy though) and Bel Lamington (kind of a flat, drawn out ending, but I still liked it); I couldn’t get into the Mrs. Tim series but I might try again.

    Also, not a book, but a publisher I discovered recently is Bethlehem Books–they publish lots of old children’s/young adult literature favorites that might be difficult to find (among them They Loved to Laugh). I’ve found lots of titles on their website that I want to track down.

    Thanks again, Ginny, for sharing your list and starting a great discussion. Happy reading!

  16. Katharine Whitmore says:

    I Am One of You Forever is one of my favorite books. I buy it and give it to people all the time (more than once giving it to the same person twice). I might warn you that it does have some very bittersweet moments — certainly none of the angst of the novels about WWI and WWII, but sad and a little tragic here and there all the same.

  17. Thank you for sharing this list. I am always looking for well written books that aren’t so depressing, which seems so hard to find!
    Thanks again

  18. What a wonderful list. Thanks so much for sharing it. Despite the fact that I am an English major with an MFA in children’s literature, I have only read a few of the books on this list. I’m looking forward to reading many of these new discoveries, and I’ve been feeling too like I need some happy reading right now. I’m so glad that you shared this list!

  19. Cathy Pfeifer-Croken says:

    Good Afternoon from Beautiful PEI:

    Wish to add to your “Happy List” with:

    “Anne Of Green Gables” and all the sequels by Lucy Maud Montgomery;

    “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” by Alexander McCall Smith;

    all Lord Peter Wimsey novels and all Jeeves and Wooster and all Blandings novels;

    “Doctor Doolittle” by Hugh Lofting;

    and

    all Agatha Christie’s novels — I am especially fond of the only novel that she set in Ancient Egypt.

    Enjoy your “Happy List”!

    Sincerely,
    Cathy.

  20. The Big Stone Gap trilogy is one of my favorite sets of books. I highly recommend it!

  21. Oh yes, Georgette Heyer has many books and almost all of them are a fantastic read! They mostly have a romance of sorts but all very very ‘clean’ and almost in the background of the story but all her books are a fascinating look into the world of Georgian England. Highly recommended. And Elizabeth Goudge is also a wonderful author well worth discovering.
    Thanks for the all the reading recommendations – I’ll be keeping an eye out for some.

  22. I do not do Facebook so I did not know of your request until this evening. I still have a few of my books from my childhood. I especially loved the Five Little Peppers series by Margaret Sidney; Under the lilacs by Louisa M. Alcott (don’t forget Little Men) : also the Honey Bunch series. These are good for the younger ones. I still remember my favorite story I wanted to hear over and over..A mother cat moved her kittens to a open trunk,and left for a short time. The trunk lid was down when she returned and she was in a frenzy…trying to get help. It all ended happy but I can still remember the trauma I felt during her frenzy. (Guess I kept wanting to have it read over and over to make sure those kittens were safe). . Reading to your children is a joy, a memory maker and creating for them a lifetime habit of reading and a desire to learn. Also a precious time together –not easy to get in these busy times. Happy reading, Jere

  23. I’m so glad you posted this list! I saw your Facebook post requesting ideas, and had intended to revisit it and recommend one of my favorite authors, Sarah Orne Jewett (as well as scope out everyone else’s suggestions!). She belongs to the same school of literature as Willa Cather, and her book Country of the Pointed Firs is prefaced by Cather.

  24. We just did Code of the Woosters for book club, and I have to agree about Wodehouse. It’s a must! Also the television series by BBC. Truly laugh out loud material. And it’s one of the few things I don’t mind reading or watching repeatedly.especially when I need a laugh.

  25. Mary Beth says:

    What a great list! I sometimes find myself at a loss as to what to read next, so I especially appreciate lists like this (with notes included!) to get me going again. In an attempt to keep up with what my bigger kids were reading, but not having much time to do read with plenty of little kids running around, I contented myself with reading the Childrens Illustrated Classic of Don Quixote. It was just right for this stage of life 🙂

  26. I spent six months reading ‘LittleWomen’ , a few pages day during her little brother’s nap time, to my then 5 year old daughter. She is 30 now, with 3 children of her own and an avid reader. LW reamins one of her favorites to read and reread and read again.

  27. Samantha Lehmann says:

    Why does it always seem of late that the books I begin are about some holocaust or THE Holocaust? It is ironic how our mind leads us to the book that oddly fits the space we are in, regardless of whether we want to be there. I just tossed two books back at the library’s doors! I am now reading Rebecca – yes I read it as a teen and LOVED it – and I plan to watch the black and white movie with my kids. We are into B&W films from the library of late. Also, Pride and Prejudice – I love the wit of the English women – being raised by an English grandmother makes it so warm and snuggly. See tea, biscuit, and warm blanket. And book.

    Many of these titles are from English authors … There are a few Downton Abbey watchers, I think 😉

    And thank you for this post. You reminded me of the little things that are actually quite big… homeschooling CAN be snuggling up in blankets with “new” library books all over the room… wee toes wiggling, sudden giggles, and warm cocoa. Thank you for reminding me of that… small things are ever so big!

    Blessings,
    Sam Lehmann

  28. I’d suggest Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Oliphant, it’s often referred to as in the vein of Austen’s Emma. If you like Gaskell’s Cranford (in your picture) it will be right up your alley.

  29. I love love looooooove the books of L.M. Montgomery, and was so happy that The Blue Castle made the list. I like to think of it as the ‘adult’ version of AOGG. I love the Emily series too–it’s darker than the Anne series, but so refreshing in a way.

    I second the recommendation for Rosamunde Pilcher books, especially Coming Home, which is my favourite of hers. I’ve read it about four times.

    slainte,
    erinn

  30. ‘Heidi’ and ‘Little Women’; two of my MOST favorite books ever–along with ‘Jane Eyre’! I’ve read them many times, beginning when I was 12. I read them aloud to my daughter when she was young, and they continue to influence me today. These are two books that helped to shape my early thinking on simplicity–the idea one does not need a lot of ‘stuff’ in life in order to be happy, and that relationships with others are of the utmost importance. Enjoy the reading!

  31. Who recommended Barbara Pym? Must be a kindred spirit! She is absolutely wonderful. Every one of her books is a joy.

    No one mentioned E. Nesbitt She wrote for children, but many of her books (The Wouldbegoods for one) are such delightful read-alouds for the whole family.

  32. THANKS!!!! I am always looking for good books.

  33. Jeeves is PURE GOLD. Read that whenever you’re feeling blue. Wodehouse has lifted my spirits on many, many a dreary day. One of my favourites for sure. 🙂

  34. I picked up an Adriana Trigiani in the library today it sounded like a good read from the back, I didn’t check it out as I have plenty to read at the moment!

    I loved the Dodie Smith book a delightful read, North and South I studied at school with a teacher I really didn’t get on with (she told me I had wasted my time studying and would fail my exams just before I was about to take them!). I often look at the book on my shelf and wonder what I would make of it now. I loved Wives and Daughters.

    Any Wodehouse is a fun read!

    I note that one commentor has recommended Anna Galvalda I read most of her books last year and loved them.

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