The New Year, and Some Anniversaries of Famous Novels

Every January 1 brings thoughts of anniversaries and the passage of time, so I thought I’d put a literary spin on that by looking at memorable novels released 10, 25, 50, 100, 150, and 200 years ago.

The big publishing event of 2007 was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final installment of J.K. Rowling’s renowned wizarding-world series. A novel that delivered excitement, pathos, war, death, hope, and closure.

Also released in 2007 was Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction the following April for its mix of sharply drawn characters, politics, history, and pop-culture references.

A quarter-century ago brought readers Donna Tartt’s critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992). While I haven’t gotten to that book yet, I’m currently in the middle of Tartt’s mesmerizing second novel, The Little Friend (2002). And I believe Tartt’s lengthy third novel, 2013’s The Goldfinch, is one of the very best fictional works of the 21st century.

Fifty years ago saw the release of one of the 20th century’s most amazing books: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Ha — just kidding. It was 1967’s One Hundred Years of Solitude — Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s sweeping, multi-generational epic about the town of Macondo but also about, well, the entire human experience.

One hundred years of literature ago (1917) was when L.M. Montgomery’s Anne’s House of Dreams got published. I think it’s the best and most moving of the sequels to Montgomery’s outstanding Anne of Green Gables — with another sequel, the later Rilla of Ingleside, a close second.

Going back another 50 years to 1867, the early Emile Zola novel Therese Raquin got published. It was nowhere near Zola’s best book, but it was quite scandalous at the time and had moments that presaged the much better writing that would appear in later Zola classics such as Germinal.

In 1817, there was Northanger Abbey — which most readers would agree is the least compelling of Jane Austen’s six novels. But everything’s relative — it’s still a pretty good book as it mixes satire of Gothic fiction with a straight story of romance and more. Northanger Abbey was actually the first novel Austen completed (which helps explain its “so-so-ness”), but the late-1790s work wasn’t published until after Austen’s death.

Sir Walter Scott’s excellent Rob Roy also came out 200 years ago. The historical novel is named for the Scottish outlaw/folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor, though he’s not the lead character in the book and doesn’t show up until a number of chapters go by. He’s actually a lot more prominent in the 1995 Rob Roy movie starring Liam Neeson.

What are your favorite novels from 1817, 1867, 1917, 1967, 1992, and 2007? (Google can be your not so “Little Friend” here.) Heck, you could also mention memorable novels published in other years ending with “7” or “2.” Lee Child’s Jack Reacher debut The Killing Floor — 1997! Toni Morrison’s Beloved — 1987! Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple — 1982! Stephen King’s The Shining — 1977! Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago — 1957! John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God — 1937! I’ll stop now…

Except to say that I don’t expect another 2017 milestone — incoming President Donald Trump actually reading a book. If he did, perhaps it would be Russian Bear, Russian Bear, You Love DT.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

We Like These Vulnerable Characters for NOT Being Like Trump

Thanks to a bunch of gutless Electoral College electors on Dec. 19, the U.S. will soon have a new President who seems totally sure of himself despite being a vile, incompetent, sad excuse for a human being. So it’s sort of comforting to think of characters in literature who are vulnerable and not so confident despite being nice, smart, and capable.

I’ll name some of those characters and discuss the possible reasons why they’re not Trump-like egomaniacs. Many of the reasons have to do with the knocks they’ve taken in life, not necessarily a genetic tendency toward humility.

As you’ll see, I won’t include many protagonists who are straight white males — a “group” with a seemingly disproportionate percentage of “members” possessing too much conceit and vanity. After all, to be female, a person of color, and/or gay in a sexist/racist/homophobic society can do a number on one’s self-worth.

I thought of this topic last week after finishing the first of Sue Grafton’s “alphabet series” — the absorbing A Is for Alibi. We’re introduced to private investigator Kinsey Millhone — a decent, intelligent woman with an appealing sense of humor. Yet she often beats herself up mentally, even as her “go-getter-ness” and competence rarely falter. Why the self-doubt? Well, her parents died when she was very young, she is twice divorced despite being only in her 30s, and she’s just getting by financially (being tight on money hardly boosts self-esteem in our material world). Also, she’s a not-always-respected woman in a mostly male field — especially so in 1982, when the novel was first published.

Contrast that with Philip Marlowe, a male private investigator of the 1930s who does NOT have confidence issues — as I found when just reading Raymond Chandler’s compelling “hard-boiled” novel The Big Sleep. But the skilled, cynical, slang-slinging Marlowe has much more integrity than The Big Bleep: Donald Trump.

(The many people who recommended I read Sue Grafton and Raymond Chandler are thanked in the comments section.)

Other admirable protagonists lacking Trump’s off-putting boastfulness include Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre — who is average-looking, unloved as a child, and spends years in the awful Lowood school where some of the shivering and underfed students become sick enough to die. The smart/resilient Jane’s confidence is almost never totally shaken, but there are certainly moments of despair before she reaches the dramatic ups and downs of her adulthood.

Adolescence can be tough for even the happiest of characters, but Irie Jones of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Molly Bolt of Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle face sexism and other serious stuff that partly undermines their sense of self-worth. The brainy, biracial Irie struggles with racism, her weight, and unpopularity at school, while the strong-willed Molly has a rocky relationship with her mother and is a discriminated-against lesbian during a more homophobic time (the novel was published in 1973).

A couple of white guys with confidence issues? One is Silas Marner, who is so buffeted by life (a “friend” frames him and takes his fiancee) that he becomes a recluse and a miser. Yet he has a good heart, which becomes especially obvious in the heartwarming second half of George Eliot’s novel. Another is Philip Carey, whose psyche is undermined by being an orphan, getting co-raised by an emotionally cold uncle, and having the disability of a club foot in W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. So it’s not a total surprise when he becomes masochistically enamored with an unlikable woman who treats him badly. Yet, at the same time, the decent Philip works toward entering a helping profession (medicine) — which is certainly more than someone like Trump would ever do.

Your favorite characters who are nice, smart, and capable but vulnerable and not very confident?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, which will probably be published during the first quarter of 2017. But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson. 

A Novel Exploding With Themes (and Some Grenades)

As regular readers of this literature blog know, my “modus operandi” is writing themed pieces rather than, say, book reviews. Almost every time I read a novel, it gives me an idea for a theme, and then I try to remember various other novels that also fit into that theme.

Well, I just read a book that reminded me of MANY themes I’ve written about in the past. So I thought I’d go with that this week.

The novel is Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, an author (recommended by several people credited in the comments section) I finally tried last month. Michener’s 1947 book checked off so many previously discussed themes that I decided to list ten of them, along with some other novels that fit those themes.

1. Tales is among a relatively small group of debut novels that became VERY popular bestsellers. A notable recent example: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (originally Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in England).

2. Michener is one of those authors whose first novel was published at a relatively advanced age — in his case, 40. But even that was several decades short of Harriet Doerr’s age (74) when her Stones for Ibarra debut came out.

3. Tales is among the many novels that are semi-autobiographical with a heavy dose of fictionalizing (Michener was a U.S. Navy man in the South Pacific during World War II). There have been countless other semi-autobiographical novels, but I’ll name just one: Saul Bellow’s Herzog, which I also read this month.

4. Michener’s book is one of those “fish out of water”/”culture shock” novels that place characters in unfamiliar settings — in this case, American soldiers based on South Pacific islands. Another of the numerous “fish out of water” novels is Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky (Americans in North Africa).

5. Tales is among the war novels by military veterans who give readers a “you are there” feeling and don’t sugarcoat what warfare is like. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the most obvious examples.

6. Michener’s book is among the famous novels that are edgier than many readers expect them to be. Also the case with Herman Melville’s Pierre.

7. Tales is a very multicultural book, surprisingly so for its time. A more recent novel with that welcome element: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

8. Tales is basically a collection of short stories that coalesce into a novel — an interesting sub-genre of fiction. Another example: Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.

9. Michener’s book is among the novels that have won the Pulitzer Prize. So many other excellent ones: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

10. Tales is among the fictional works that inspired a production more famous than the book itself. In this case, the Broadway musical South Pacific (based on just a couple sections of Tales) and two South Pacific movies (one theatrically released and the other created for TV). Daphne du Maurier’s short story “The Birds,” made into the iconic Hitchcock film, is among the other works somewhat overshadowed by subsequent adaptations.

What are some other novels that fit into the above ten categories? Any thoughts about Michener books you may have read, as well as his authorial abilities in general? As many of you know, Michener went on to write many more books — including long, heavily researched, often geographically specific novels such as Hawaii, The Source, Centennial, Chesapeake, Space, Texas, Alaska, and Mexico.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, which will probably be published during the first quarter of 2017. But I’m still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson. 

The Play’s the Thing This Week

My previous blog post got lots of traffic when I strayed from my usual focus on novels to talk about poetry. Now I’m going to diverge again by discussing plays.

NO, I HAVEN’T SEEN HAMILTON — WAHHH!  🙂

As with poetry, I’m not an expert on plays, but have read and seen a number of them. Which is one appealing aspect of plays — you can enjoy them via the written word alone, or watch those words acted out by hopefully great performers collaborating in the social environment of a hopefully full theater.

Actually, at least some plays are taken from the words of novels and other kinds of previously published fiction. For instance, this April I enjoyed an excellent production of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Millburn, NJ’s Paper Mill Playhouse, a regional theater that’s near-Broadway caliber. And then there’s community theater — I just saw a wonderful version of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat at The Studio Playhouse in my hometown of Montclair, NJ.

Montclair used to have several playhouses, and one highlight at a now-relocated venue was a 2007 production of Arthur Miller’s iconic Death of a Salesman with an all-black cast. Frankie Faison was riveting as Willy Loman.

I’ve also seen Miller’s A View From the Bridge and read All My Sons, The Crucible, and The Price — intensely compelling, all.

Back in my post-college single days of the late 1970s and early ’80s, I enjoyed a ton of Off- and Off-Off Broadway shows (“The Price” was usually low then). One memorable experience was seeing a play called Rat’s Nest that featured an acting turn by Bobby “Boris” Pickett of “Monster Mash” song fame. (Bobby’s band was Boris Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, if you need to know.  🙂 ) I also recall a very nice performance of Oscar Wilde’s droll/witty The Importance of Being Earnest.

Once in a while during those years I cobbled together enough money to take in a Broadway play — including Martin Sherman’s Bent (starring Richard Gere), William Hoffman’s As Is, Paul Osborn’s Morning’s at Seven, and August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Much later, a decade or so ago, I also saw a revival of Wilson’s magnificent Two Trains Running as well as the haunting The Light in the Piazza, based on Elizabeth Spencer’s novella, starring Kelli O’Hara and Victoria Clark.

Returning to the early ’80s again, I was in the audience for Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music. What a thrill to attend that one-woman show and see the legendary singer and actress whose career was hindered by blatant racism. I won the tickets as a door prize at some New York City event I can’t even remember.

Other plays I’ve enjoyed on the stage or page include Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, Wendy Wasserstein’s Uncommon Women and Others, Marsha Norman’s ‘night, Mother, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, Moliere’s Tartuffe, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy, George S. Kaufman/Moss Hart’s The Man Who Came to Dinner, Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie, etc. And of course Hamlet, Macbeth, and a few other classics by Shakespeare.

Oh, I should mention that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the aforementioned monster hit Hamilton.

Tragedies, comedies, or fare that’s in-between. Musicals or straight dramas. What are your favorite plays? Your most memorable theater experiences? What do you think of plays as a genre?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson. 

This Poetry Post Is Amateur at Most

I don’t know a lot about poetry and I haven’t read that much of it since college, but I’m about to write a blog post about…poetry. (Instead of my usual focus on novels.)

It was the idea of Kat Lib, one of the regular commenters here, and I decided to go with her suggestion and hope that readers more “versed” in poetry will help me out in the comments section.  🙂

Heck, songwriter Bob Dylan, who some consider a poet, won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. And various other musical greats — Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Phil Ochs, Rush drummer Neil Peart, and Renaissance lyricist (but not band member) Betty Thatcher, to name a few — wrote words that could stand alone, or almost stand alone, from the melodies with which they were coupled. So poetry, if some lyrics in popular music can be called that, is still kind of mainstream in a way.

As an English major in college, I read (or, in some cases, was forced to read!) tons of poetry. I liked Chaucer and Shakespeare; Milton and Alexander Pope not so much. Since then, the little poetry I’ve consumed has often been part of novels — including A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Lewis Carroll’s Alice sequel Through the Looking-Glass (“Jabberwocky”!), J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

Scott was a renowned poet (“oh what a tangled web we weave/when first we practice to deceive”) before turning to novel writing. Interestingly, one of the reasons Scott wrote his books anonymously was because poetry was considered more prestigious than novels in the early 19th century.

On the flip side, Thomas Hardy was a renowned novelist before turning to poetry during the second half of his writing career. Also, the writing that Herman Melville did after lapsing into obscurity during the last half of his life was mostly poetry (with the posthumously published novella Billy Budd an exception).

To revisit Possession for a minute, the fictional poets Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash in Byatt’s book were inspired by real-life poets Christina Rossetti and Robert Browning or Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Anyway, some of the poets I like most — whether read in college or when I very occasionally perused verse in the years since then — include Walt Whitman (“Song of Myself,” “I Hear America Singing,” “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” “O Captain! My Captain,” etc.), Edgar Allan Poe (“The Raven,” “To Helen,” “The Bells,” etc.), Robert Frost (“The Road Not Taken,” “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” etc.), Gwendolyn Brooks (“Paul Robeson,” etc.), Allen Ginsberg (“Howl”), Margaret Atwood (though I’m more a reader of her novels), the Brontë sisters (ditto on the novel thing), Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, W.B. Yeats, John Donne, William Blake, Rabindranath Tagore, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, Dorothy Parker, Shel Silverstein, and so on.

I realize I named some rather obvious poets and poems there! I just haven’t followed poetry enough to be aware of many lesser-known greats — though I do see some darn good poetry on a number of other WordPress blogs.

Who and what are some of your favorite poets and poems? Anything else to say about the poetry genre?

And for your poetic and musical enjoyment, here’s a vintage clip from the aforementioned band Renaissance.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

California Theming

To thank one of the most anti-Trump states in the recent presidential election, California will be the subject of this blog post.

I’ll discuss uplifting as well as depressing novels set partly or completely in The Golden State — whether it be Los Angeles, San Francisco, or less-urban locales.

Last week, I read Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, an excellent crime novel set in Los Angeles — with protagonist Easy Rawlins taking a memorable side trip to the famous Santa Monica Pier. Visiting L.A. and Santa Monica this past summer added to my enjoyment of the book, though it takes place in a much earlier 1948 California filled with disturbing racism that would warm Donald Trump’s shriveled heart.

Among many other crime novels with a California milieu are Thomas Pynchon’s spoofy Inherent Vice (set in 1970s L.A.) and Dashiell Hammett’s iconic The Maltese Falcon (set in 1920s San Francisco).

Beautiful S.F. is one of two metropolises (along with New York City) featured in Robin Sloan’s quirky Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. And the greater Bay Area is where the action happens in Philip K. Dick’s post-apocalyptic Dr. Bloodmoney and Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog, and where some of the story unfolds in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

Immigrants are a big part of the California story, and that’s reflected in Dubus’ book (an Iranian-American is one of three protagonists) and Hosseini’s novel (which features a family from Afghanistan). The Golden State is also a place where people already in America go to start anew, as is the case with Gauri in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland. Plus real estate is a “yuuge” thing in California, where a dispute over ownership of a modest home sparks the major plot explosion in Dubus’ novel. Then there’s that state’s abundant good weather…unless you start thinking about things like droughts that lead to devastating fires. And the fabled Pacific Ocean, as mentioned in Devil in a Blue Dress and many other California-set novels.

Of course, the movie business is “bigly” associated with California, too, and we see that in novels such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s absorbing but unfinished The Last Tycoon, Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust, and Charles Bukowski’s hilariously satirical Hollywood that fictionalizes the author’s experience writing the real-life film Barfly.

Other novels set partly or completely in The Golden State? Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune (California Gold Rush!), Dave Eggers’ The Circle (Silicon Valley vibe), Maria Semple’s This One Is Mine (which includes music-industry elements), Darryl Brock’s time-traveling If I Never Get Back (20th- and 19th-century scenes in San Francisco), Karl Alexander’s same-genre Time After Time (H.G. Wells and Jack the Ripper go back to 1970s S.F.), etc.!

We can’t forget that John Steinbeck used a certain state as the setting for many of his novels — including The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, The Wayward Bus, and To a God Unknown, to name a few. (He did occasionally place his fiction in other locales, such as Europe for The Moon Is Down and Long Island, N.Y., for The Winter of Our Discontent.)

Also, Jack London started The Call of the Wild and ended White Fang with scenes in California, while his Martin Eden is set mostly in Oakland and The Sea-Wolf begins on a San Francisco ferry.

Of course, there are many other California-based novels. What are some of your favorites that I have or haven’t named?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

Feel-Good Fiction Can Temporarily ‘Trump’ Bad Feelings

While many of us plan to oppose the Donald Trump presidency in all kinds of ways, we also occasionally need some escape from the awful news of his election. Toward that end, I’ve come up with a number of novels and short stories that might serve that purpose.

Those feel-good works contain happy endings and/or inspirational content and/or loving relationships and/or very funny material and/or other positive things. They may also include downbeat moments and some of the angst we feel in real life, but they leave us feeling mostly optimistic about the human condition.

Most of Fannie Flagg’s novels are pretty darn sunny (while not ignoring racism, sexism, violence, and other harsh things) — with perhaps the sunniest of all A Redbird Christmas. That book doesn’t start in an upbeat way, but, when an ill man living alone in wintry Chicago moves to a small Alabama town, things eventually get quite cheery while skirting the swamp of too much sappiness and sentimentality.

Also opening in a grim way and then making readers feel wonderful is L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, about a young woman whose life gets infinitely better after being told she’ll die soon. Some very comical scenes, too.

Finding blissful romance is a part of both The Blue Castle and A Redbird Christmas, and in other novels such as Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back. The bliss may or may not last in the unwritten future after the novels end, but it’s sure nice to see in its initial stages.

Then there’s the release of endorphins you’ll experience when laughing through the pages of Charles Dickens’ funniest novel, The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club. Also hilarious are Colette’s Claudine at School, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals, P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves/Bertie Wooster novels and stories, etc.

The pleasures of being a kid growing up in a small town are nostalgically conveyed in Ray Bradbury’s mostly heartwarming Dandelion Wine. There’s also nostalgia, and some sentimentality, in James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips and its story of a beloved teacher. Another teacher tale, E.R. Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love, has its inspirational moments, too, as the protagonist’s students eventually take to his unorthodox classroom approach. (Braithwaite is still alive at 104!)

David Lodge’s Paradise News promises nice things in its very title before telling the story of an Englishman finding love during a stay in Hawaii. The titles of John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday and Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company also accurately promise some happy happenings within.

Then there are utopian novels, such as Edward Bellamy’s time-traveling Looking Backward, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Aldous Huxley’s Island — the last book a sort of counterpoint to that author’s dystopian Brave New World.

There are also novels that mix the downbeat and upbeat, but the upbeat moments are so wonderful that readers finish the books feeling more good than bad. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one famous example (the iconic Jane-Rochester romance certainly helps), and Jane Austen’s novels are also sort of in that category.

Some feel-good novels are depressing for almost the entire book before a mostly idyllic ending helps redeem things. Such is the case with (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s exceptional So Much For That, which has a tropical-island conclusion that radiates lovely vibes.

Heck, even totally downbeat novels can leave us with some positive feelings if we see things like resilience, kindness in difficult circumstances, and so on.

Short stories? Those that would bring a smile to your face include Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Herman Melville’s “I and My Chimney,” O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” and (until the ending) Bret Harte’s “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” to name just a few.

Obviously, there are tons of other feel-good novels and stories I haven’t mentioned. What are some of your favorites?

And…Happy Thanksgiving!

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I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.