After unpacking trauma, boy is it ever time for joy! I’ve been recommending a lot of Very Serious books lately that are beautiful and worthwhile and good. But serious times sometimes call for unserious books. Recently, I had the energy to read only the kinds of comfort books that, in Helen MacDonald’s lovely phrase, offered respite through “the soft predictability of each oncoming sentence.”
Jenny Colgan’s formula is obvious, but always entertaining. Her books are almost a Mad Libs for that certain kind of pleasant fantasy about reinventing your life from banal, disappointing reality to whatever hobbyist daydream you hold, be it opening a cafe, a bakery, or a bookshop. If you have ever fantasized about escaping the claustrophobic pressures of the city for a slow, meaningful life in an idiosyncratic community, these are for you.
The books are sweet but not toothache-y, saved by their grounding in emotional realities even as the plots provide convenient solutions to every problem—and recipes for any kind of baked goods you might desire. There’s something almost retro about them, despite being set in and acknowledging the contemporary world: they are touched by real world issues, but tend not to grapple with them in depth because that would pull you out of the dream. (Of course your fledgling small business will succeed by talent and hard work alone!) Tough conversations around race, gender, and sexuality are present in small ways, usually neatly concluded. But then, we didn’t come here for reality—just for joy.
Which brings me back to an idea from Helen MacDonald again: “None of us can bear too much reality.” What we talk about these days, when we aren’t stressing about climate, health, politics, policing, capitalism, and inequality, are crafts, TV shows, movies, books, art, music—things that are in and of the world, but also let us create and inhabit worlds beyond it. We are held together by our interests and our escapes, everyday activities co-existing with global emergencies. During the past year this has been driven home more strongly than ever. Moments of outlet, escape, and daydream are what help us survive. There are always things to keep working for, but rest, joy, beauty, giggles, and peace keep us fueled.
I got some giggles making a quiz to help you find your preferred escape rather than trying to recommend just one. If this doesn’t appeal, well, just scroll down.
If you like it
If lighthearted and bookish is your thing, try Helene Hanff’s epistolary 84, Charing Cross Road, which spans a transatlantic friendship between a writer and a bookseller with moments of hilarity and heartbreak.
If you don’t
If you prefer to keep both feet grounded and eyes wide open, try Danez Smith’s Homie, a bruisingly beautiful poetry collection. One of the blurbs on the back says “the world does not deserve this book” and I have to agree. Luckily, we sometimes get more than we deserve.