Thirteen books to lift your spirits

Early in the pandemic, some readers gravitated toward prescient sci-fi; others sought solace in self-help or transportive novels. Now, seven months in — at points unknown on the pandemic trajectory — some of us just want a happy ending.

Fortunately, books deliver. Here’s an assortment of 2020’s best feel-good reads.

REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, by Anne Tyler, Knopf, 178 pages

This little book packs a lot of subtle power. Micah Mortimer, a 40-something eccentric, thrives on routine and rigidity — to the frustration of those around him, including his girlfriend. When he’s thrown off-kilter by a barrage of surprises, he’s forced to question his structured lifestyle. It’s a sweet, simple tonic for our chaotic times.

ANXIOUS PEOPLE, by Fredrik Backman, Atria Books, 352 pages

Backman’s new novel is a satisfying remedy for pandemic anxiety. An inept bank robber accidentally interrupts an apartment open house, taking the would-be buyers hostage — which leads to hours of confusion, revelations, and connection. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and will help restore your faith in humanity.

BEACH READ, by Emily Henry, Berkley, 361 pages

The title is apt. Henry’s earnest novel is about a jaded romance author and stagnant literary writer who rotate into each other’s orbits for the summer, much to their mutual dismay. As they embark on a challenge designed to help them both banish writer’s block, the creative — and romantic — sparks fly.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY, by Matt Haig, Viking, 288 pages

A library that contains an infinite number of books: talk about the dream. But, plot twist, each is about a life that could have been, had one made different choices. Such is the premise of Haig’s whimsical novel, which introduces a young woman so miserable that she intentionally overdoses. When she wakes up, she’s in the Midnight Library, which guides her on a journey to figure out what makes life worth living.

DEAR EMMIE BLUE, by Lia Louis, Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 311 pages

Emmie Blue is just a teenager when she releases a red balloon into the sky — and, you guessed it, falls in love with the boy who finds it. Fourteen years later, they’re best friends, he’s engaged to someone else, and she’s pining. It’s a swoon-worthy British rom-com with big heart and a heroine worth rooting for.

WE ARE SANTA: PORTRAITS AND PROFILES, by Ron Cooper, Princetown Architectural Press, 156 pages

Santa Claus is coming to the bookshelf. Cooper, a photographer, has profiled 50 professional Santas, including an Orthodox Jew, a Scottish-kilted bagpiper, a veteran with a prosthetic hand, and a woman. It’s a lovely way to catch some holiday cheer — with photos as absorbing as the text.

PARTY OF TWO, by Jasmine Guillory, Berkley Books, 312 pages

Romance is a bipartisan cause, and in her fifth novel, Guillory delivers the hottest politics of the season. Olivia is a Black lawyer who starts dating a hotshot White senator, which gets complicated when their relationship goes public. Settle in for a Hallmark-esque dose of frothy fun.

KEEP MOVING: NOTES ON LOSS, CREATIVITY, AND CHANGE, by Maggie Smith, Atria/One Signal Publishers, 224 pages

Smith, who wrote the viral poem “Good Bones,” survived loss and new beginnings — and we can, too, she believes. In Keep Moving, she reflects on finding optimism in the dark days following a collapsed marriage and other struggles. “Write breathe on your to-do list,” she advises. “Write blink. Write sit and eat. Then cross everything off. How satisfying! Give yourself credit for living.” It’s all about kindness, hope, and why we need to keep moving, no matter what life hurls at us.

ALL ADULTS HERE, by Emma Straub, Riverhead Books, 356 pages

What’s so funny about a family in chaos, you ask? Well, this is Straub — queen of the entertaining, feel-good novel — so plenty. In All Adults Here, family matriarch Astrid witnesses her longtime nemesis get struck and killed by a bus, which sends her on a journey to make amends with her adult children, who are stumbling through their own issues. It’s big-hearted and warm, with relatable characters.

HEART TALK: THE JOURNAL, by Cleo Wade, Atria Books, 240 pages

In 2018, Wade — an artist-poet-activist who’s been called the “millennial Oprah” — released Heart Talk, a collection of poignant poems and affirmations. Her new, complementary journal offers a year’s worth of prompts designed to inspire self-discovery, personal growth, and creativity. Wade is like an encouraging friend checking in to help foster positivity during the pandemic.

IT’S NOT ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE, by Terry McMillan, Ballantine Books, 355 pages

McMillan — whose previous books include Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back — is adept at creating characters who feel like friends. Her new novel centers on 60-something Loretha, who has to reinvent her identity and plans after unexpectedly becoming a widow. It’s a celebration of living your best life, no matter your age, and the power of female friendships.

THE HOUSE IN THE CERULEAN SEAS, by T.J. Klune, Ballantine Books, 355 pages

Linus is a solitary caseworker in charge of making sure that a group of misfit kids with magical powers are safe at their island’s orphanage. As he meets — and falls for — their caretaker, Arthur, he realizes the beauty of choosing your family and welcoming joy and wonder. It’s a witty, wholesome fantasy that’s likely to cause heart-swelling.

CHANNEL KINDNESS, by Born This Way Foundation Reporters with Lady Gaga, Macmillan Children’s Books, 304 pages

Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, created the Born This Way Foundation to help make the world a kinder place. This new anthology spotlights 51 stories by young changemakers who created movements to teach their peers to practice self-love. Channel Kindness is a wonderful antidote to the division and despair that have tainted much of the year. 

(1) comment

Kathy Fish

Might the Pasa have mustered a text or two by a Hispanic or Native writer as your editorial team seeks to bolster the spirits of New Mexicans? I count three Black writers on this list; the rest are white. Come, come, whitewashed Pasa. Come come.

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