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?
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.