It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…

I’m all for good escapist reading, and when things are going badly in the world–bad economy, high unemployment, global warming, etc.–it always seems like the books that lead the trends are those that make you forget what’s going on in your own backyard. In recent years, that’s meant a lot of paranormal/fantasy/dystopian fiction. Most of these books aren’t particularly cheerful, but they hold the distinction of being very different from our own reality. There’s something cathartic about reading about someone else’s problems, especially if they’re a vampire. Plus with books, there’s a good guarantee of a happy ending (if that’s what you’re looking for), even if you need to plow through a massive trilogy of doorstops to find it.

But sometimes I just feel like wallowing, you know? I want to read books that allow me to feel what I’m actually feeling, whether that’s sad or depressed or frustrated, so I can work the emotions out of my system. It’s like how you listen to sappy love songs after a breakup, or take yourself off to a three-hankie movie. Every once in a while, it feels good to just face reality. On days like these, I reach for books that address the real world, books that have actual events as a backdrop, or that delve inside a person’s suffering or hardship. Reading about individuals who have come through hellish circumstances and survived can be encouraging.

But everyone has their own book list for days like these. Over at The Millions, Emily St. John Mandel has a few titles up that suit her mood in these troubled times, an interesting mix of both realistic fiction and fantasy.

How about you? What types of books do your reach for when you’re feeling a tad pessimistic?

5 thoughts on “It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…

  1. Oddly enough I did a couple of posts on this subject recently. Essentially the mood and tone of a book, I think, are better indicators of if a person will find it satisfying than genre. What someone needs from a book will vary with their situation of course.

    These are the two posts I referred to if you care to look at them.

    1. Interesting. I think it’s probably a common thought given everything that’s been going on in the world. I agree that mood and tone of a book play a huge part, but you can’t really get a feel for those until you start reading, though naturally reviews and recommendations are helpful. Thanks for the links, I will check them out.

  2. Thanks for checking them out. I think I like uplifting, happy ending stories because the real world can be pretty discouraging. That’s what I like to read so that’s what I tend to write.

  3. There are plenty of sad books with uplifting or hopeful endings, but what books do I reach for if I want to remain pessimistic?

    I just reviewed a rather melancholy book that might be a good candidate for this type of thing in future morose times: THE TAKER, by Alma Katsu. It’s quite a haunting meditation on lust and obsession, but the variety of settings and characters make it good for escapism as well.

    Another recent classic of the type is NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro. There’s really nothing cheerful about that book.

    1. The Ishiguro is on my to-read pile, but given the premise I can see that it would be great candidate for this type of read. Herman Wouk is a good author for this, also. Even his happier endings have a sort of melancholy to them. MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR is one of my favorites of his; it’s not tragic or anything of that nature, but there’s a sense of giving up on childhood dreams and facing reality that I find very sad.

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