We all have bad days. It starts raining on the way to work on the one day you’ve left your umbrella at home. The soup you made for lunch makes a break for it, leaking out of your bag, coating all your things with a mustard coloured tint and a lovely lentil aroma for days. An orange, sour-faced, racist, misogynistic, homophobic reality TV star is elected the next President of America. You know, little things like that, which tend to build up over the course the day until all you want to do is curl up in bed with a multipack of Maltesers and a cup of tea and hope that the sun will come out tomorrow (literally and metaphorically.) It is for these categorically awful days that I have compiled the below list of books, which always cheer me up without fail, and remind me that the world can be a beautiful, funny and wonderful place. And even when it’s not, you can escape into a book for a few hours and pretend that everything’s OK (the literary version of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing loudly and incoherently.) Wilful ignorance my friends! It’s the only way forward. I’ve even split the list up into various genres, in case you’re like me and enjoy a bit of variety with your escapism. Enjoy!
1) HUMOUR – FICTION: The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson
This book is maybe the funniest fictional book I’ve ever read, and definitely one of the most ridiculous. Jonas Jonasson, a Swedish writer whose work has been translated into English, is as witty as they come, creating crazy characters and scenarios that somehow link back to prominent historical and political moments in the most bizarre and outrageous ways. Would not recommend reading in public unless you want to be quietly giggling to yourself on a packed commuter train (she says, definitely NOT speaking from experience.)
The story opens on a young girl, Nombeko, born in a shack in Soweto, South Africa, to few prospects and a tough life ahead of her. Through a series of unfathomable events, however, she begins working for an engineer who should really be paying more attention to the weapons of mass destruction that have been placed in his care. Number savvy, quick-witted and ultimately quite crafty Nombeko quickly becomes involved with the control of these nuclear weapons, in a situation that quickly spirals out of control and ends up involving three Chinese sisters, a pair of twins, a potato farmer, and a partridge in a pear tree. I mean, the King of Sweden himself, and a very big secret.
I don’t want to give too much away for this book, which has a new surprise, twist and turn on each page, but I will say that it will have you shaking your head in disbelief, and rolling around laughing at the absurdity of it all. Top of this list for a reason, if you’re having a bad day, this is the book to turn to for lots of laughs and a whole lot of fun. Don’t take it too seriously, and just enjoy the ride.
Honourable mentions: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared and Hitman Anders and the Meaning of it All, also by Jonas Jonasson. Wonderfully funny and completely kooky, both of these are stand alone, really great reads.
2) HUMOUR – NON-FICTION: Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Anyone who knows me would have seen this choice coming a mile away, as I am slightly biased when it comes to any and all things Amy Poehler (queen, goddess, legend.) That being said, Yes Please is an (objectively!) hilarious read, being split into chapters on Poehler’s professional life on SNL and Parks and Recreation as well as more personal topics such as her love life and relationship with her sons. She gives advice on being confident and brave, taking risks to get where you want to be and never giving up on your dreams. I got this book for Christmas two years ago and devoured it in one sitting, and if I’m ever feeling down I like to dive back in to random chapters for some wisdom, encouragement and inspiration with a guaranteed laugh from this funny lady. If you’re like me and are borderline obsessed with Amy Poehler, or even if you’ve never heard of the woman, this is a book to have on hand for when you need a swift kick to reboot and get yourself back out into the world.
(And Liv, if you’re reading this, I do want my copy back at some point please, thanks. IT’S BEEN A YEAR. :D)
Honourable mentions: Bossypants by Tina Fey and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. Apparently American female comedians are my jam.
3) FANTASY: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
For some true escapism there’s always fantasy. Ah, fantasy. What would we do without you. I have yet to find a book that I fell for as fast and as hard as I did for The Night Circus, and the love affair continues to this day. I can’t count the number of times I’ve picked up this book, started browsing through it, only to blink and find myself halfway through my battered paperback at three in the morning.
Without giving too much away, The Night Circus tells the tale of Le Cirque des Rêves, or ‘The Circus of Dreams,’ a mysterious travelling circus which opens its doors at sunset and closes at sunrise. The circus has no schedule, and simply appears one day, only to be gone the next without a trace. Filled with the kinds of acts you might find in a dream, such as contortionists twisting into impossible shapes, mazes made of clouds, and a beautiful garden filled with flowers made of ice and snow, people travel from near and far for a glimpse of these incredible illusions.
But something dark is brewing underneath the circus’ monochromatic tents and mystical acts. Two of the protagonists, Celia Bowen and Marco Alistair, have been selected to partake in a strange competition that is linked with the very formation and structure of the circus, although the exact details are always just beyond reach. To discover exactly what is expected of them, they must dig deep into the circus’ past, learning truths that were perhaps better left untold.
Balancing on the borderline of magic realism and fantasy, The Night Circus is a phantasmagorical delight (what a truly excellent word) which slowly builds a magical, mystical world within the boundaries of our own, enveloping you completely and filling you with hopes that you might actually stumble upon the circus one day. For an incredibly immersive tale that will most definitely take your mind off of the negative things in your life, turn to this book to be reminded that magic can be found in the world, if you only take a peek behind the curtain.
Honourable mentions: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (ridiculous, funny and fantastical to boot, this book is TOP NOTCH.)
4) YA: What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne
This book is a recent addition to my list of ‘make-me-happy-please’ books, but I think a worthy addition. What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is the third in a series of YA fiction (that can be read chronologically or out of order) and centres around seventeen year-old Lottie, who’s just started her final year at secondary school and is planning what her life is going to look like post-graduation. With two wonderful best friends, an interview at Cambridge lined up, and dreams of going into politics, Lottie seems to have a rock solid plan for embarking into the ‘real world’.
That is, until, an incident on the way to school involving two builders and some seriously unwanted ‘compliments’ unnerves her. Always a proud ‘angry feminist,’ Lottie decides that enough is enough, and decides to take a stand and do something big, starting a #Vagilante vlog series to ignite her own feminist revolution against all things sexist. Her school is less than impressed. Her parents even more so, worrying about how this will impact her big interview. But Lottie’s not going to let anyone or anything stand in her way, and if the trolls start getting her down, at least she always has her Spinster Club ladies to help boost her back up again.
This is the kind of book I wished I’d had when I was fifteen, a funny, honest story about friendship, feminism and the importance of cheesy snacks when taking down the patriarchy. Sure, it isn’t perfect, as Lottie’s revolution doesn’t take such intersectional feminist matters such as race, sexuality or disability into account (although Bourne does bring this up, stating that of course not all of these can be covered in one book) but it’s a great place to start. Bourne’s teenage characters aren’t put on a pedestal or reduced to the standard tropes, they feel real, and she writes about the problems they face with care and consideration, and never condescension. They fight about stupid things, they make stupid mistakes, but they learn and grow from these and try their best to put things right, which is all you can really ask of a person.
So, for a light, funny read which deals with its serious underlying themes with thought, care, humour and cream pies, I would absolutely recommend What’s a Girl Gotta Do? and the entire rest of the series. You quickly grow to love these characters, and will be left with a reignited fire in your belly to do good in the world, and always fight for the things you believe in. And, particularly on a bad day, it serves as an excellent reminder that you shouldn’t let negative people or things bring you down, when you have a multitude of good and positive things in your life to be thankful for.
Honourable mentions: This book is a part of a series dubbed The Spinster Club books. While you don’t need to read them in order, I’d recommend doing so as it builds up the world and friendship between these three girls. Start with Am I Nomal Yet?, mosey on down to How Hard Can Love Be? turn back to What’s a Girl Gotta Do? and finish it all off with the short novella And a Happy New Year? all by the wonderful Holly Bourne, for some serious nostalgia for your high school days gone by. And speaking of nostalgia…
5) CHILDHOOD FAVOURITE: The Faraway Tree Stories by Enid Blyton
Is there anything better than being transported back to a time when the idea of tumbling down a slide inside an enormous tree with a moon-faced man and some ginger beer sounded like the most exciting thing in the world?
I loved The Faraway Tree Stories growing up, and was given my older sister’s copy as a gift when I younger (pictured to the right!), something that I will always treasure. I re-read it so many times that the back cover fell off, being replaced with a heavily decorated piece of cardboard that I can’t look at without smiling. This may be a strangely specific choice, but I always find a good ol’ dose of nostalgia helps my heart feel fuller when I’m feeling down. So if you didn’t grow up with the likes of Silky the Fairy, Saucepan Man or Mr Whazisname, go for a dig in your attic and find an old book from your childhood to get lost in for an afternoon. Not only will you love getting reacquainted with some old pals, but I maintain that it’s good for the soul to indulge in some childhood fantasies every once in a while. Or all the time, everyday. I’m wearing a cape to work tomorrow and you CAN’T STOP ME because I’m a SUPERHERO. Ahem…
Honourable mentions: The Famous Five and The Secret Seven collections by Enid Blyton, for some child-detective mystery wonders, and anything by Roald Dahl; Matilda, The Twits, The BFG, you name a Roald Dahl classic, it will instantly take you back to your childhood and cheer you up immensely.
What are some of your Happy Books? Do they fall into any of these genres? Or do you instead go full hog and dive into your dystopian fiction pile as a reminder that at least our lives aren’t as awful as Winston Smith or Katniss Everdeen’s? Let me know, as I love book recommendations, especially ones that will make me smile!
Sources for images, in order of appearance: