Best Books Ever at Project Gutenberg

I can’t say enough about the riches found in Project Gutenberg! I have found, downloaded and happily read loads of their books in Kindle format, online, or in pdf form–ALL for FREE.

Here I want to whet your appetite by pointing you to some lists of books. But before you delve into the lists below, keep in mind that you can subscribe to their monthly newsletter here, and learn some of the history of their beginnings starting in 1971.

Go ahead and dive into one of these books that you’ve heard of and always meant to read. Challenge yourself to read straight through to at least the end of the first chapter before you decide whether to keep reading or not.

I have done that challenge many, many times with classic books that I was convinced would be dry and dense, and repeatedly been pleasantly surprised by how quickly I became engaged in the story, and what an uplifting experience it was through to the end!

Whether you need a certain classic, or are just looking for your next quality read, here are the top books as of today in their “Best Books Ever” category, sorted by popularity. (Check out my recommendations after the lists!)

I concur with the recommendations of …

Pride and Prejudice (believe me, the book is far better than any of the movie adaptations!),

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (my sons laughed throughout the book as I read it out loud for bedtime),

Great Expectations (had to read it for high school and assumed it would be awful, but it turned out I just couldn’t put it down, loved it),

Treasure Island (not just for boys! this middle-aged woman loved it)

Don Quixote (see my reviews here and here)

[However, I did not enjoy reading Heart of Darkness. It was miserable and depressing and I didn’t find any redeeming qualities to make the misery worthwhile.]

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

OR

Looking for a top quality author? Or more to read by a favorite author?

Check out their Top 100 Authors listing below. Here’s the listing for the past 30 days (showing how many downloads in parentheses).

I have taken the liberty of highlighting authors I am familiar with, who–in MY opinion–are well worth checking out!
Dickens, Charles (81172)
Austen, Jane (80746)

Doyle, Arthur Conan (61764)
Rizal, José (53999)
Twain, Mark (53385)
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft (52126)
Wilde, Oscar (52108)
Carroll, Lewis (42389)
Shakespeare, William (39548)
Stevenson, Robert Louis (36602)
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (32567)
Tolstoy, Leo, graf (31347)

Wells, H. G. (Herbert George) (31254)
Garnett, Constance (30801)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott) (26219)
Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm (25917)
Stoker, Bram (25517)
Melville, Herman (25289)
Homer (24437)
Swift, Jonathan (24071)
Joyce, James (23551)
Ibsen, Henrik (23352)
Dumas, Alexandre (22586)
Verne, Jules (21986)
Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank) (21911)
Derbyshire, Charles E. (20733)
Hawthorne, Nathaniel (20472)
Poe, Edgar Allan (20391)
Plato (20198)
Conrad, Joseph (20073)
Montgomery, L. M. (Lucy Maud) (20052)
Kipling, Rudyard (19601)
Jowett, Benjamin (18832)
Poblete, Pascual Hicaro (18331)
Doré, Gustave (17892)
Maude, Aylmer (17481)
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins (17243)
London, Jack (17154)
Dante Alighieri (17126)
Kafka, Franz (16810)
Maude, Louise (16807)
Hugo, Victor (16457)
Russell, Bertrand (16273)
James, Henry (15588)
Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (15522)
Brontë, Charlotte (15493)
Lang, Andrew (15453)
Alcott, Louisa May (15174)
Christie, Agatha (15079)
Grimm, Jacob (14913)
Grimm, Wilhelm (14913)
Wyllie, David (Translator) (14731)
Pope, Alexander (14606)
Widger, David (14370)
Shaw, Bernard (14218)
Smith, George O. (George Oliver) (13910)
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de (13495)
Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich (13465)
Townsend, F. H. (Frederick Henry) (13061)
Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville) (12939)
Defoe, Daniel (12384)
Kemble, E. W. (Edward Windsor) (12317)
Barrie, J. M. (James Matthew) (12303)
Thoreau, Henry David (12279)
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von (12162)
Butler, Samuel (12038)
Balzac, Honoré de (12009)
Morley, Henry (11852)
Machiavelli, Niccolò (11814)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson (11444)
Leech, John (11381)
Thompson, Max C. (11273)
Craig, Austin (11177)
Hapgood, Isabel Florence (10761)
Hardy, Thomas (10757)
Emshwiller, Ed (10504)
Foote, Mary Hallock (10472)
Maupassant, Guy de (10459)
Marriott, W. K. (William Kenaz) (10443)
Scott, Walter (10377)
Burton, Richard Francis, Sir (10361)
Ipsen, Ludvig Sandöe (10344)
Anthony, A. V. S. (Andrew Varick Stout) (10344)
Mariano, Patricio (10191)
Bacon, Alice Mabel (10092)
Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) (10064)
Irving, Washington (10058)
Wharton, Edith (9947)
Buckley, Theodore Alois (9908)
Cary, Henry Francis (9638)
Robertson, James Alexander (9558)
Ormsby, John (9378)
Milne, A. A. (Alan Alexander) (9168)
Burgess, Thornton W. (Thornton Waldo) (9006)
Eliot, George (8998)
Ogden, C. K. (Charles Kay) (8808)
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (8770)
Blair, Emma Helen (8735)
Burroughs, Edgar Rice (8671)
Bourne, Edward Gaylord (8592)

HAPPY READING!

Calgary Book Sales May 2022

Two worthy organizations, Calgary READS and RESET Society of Calgary, are holding their fantastic book sales again!

Both are now looking for volunteers and donations.

Calgary READS

The curling rink transforms into the Calgary READS sale! (You’ll find me at the far, far bottom left part of the photo in the special VINTAGE BOOKS section!)

RESET Society of Calgary

I have found a larger selection of vintage books here, and there is the added bonus of the sale being held beside a huge farmer’s market!

About these great organizations…

RESET Society of Calgary (formerly Servants Anonymous Society), through one-on-one intensive case management in its EXIT (EXploitation, Intervention and Transition) Program, supports women as young as 16, with or without children, as they exit from sexual exploitation.

RESET provides immediate and safe supportive housing allowing women to stabilize and begin the process of healing, and supports each woman’s progress through transitional housing to independent living as the women graduate through the program. You can learn more about their impact here.

Calgary READS’ impact on Calgary’s children is enormous, as it provides help for increasing literacy through proceeds raised by selling huge quantities of joy: the joy of reading books!

The organization is committed to working with parents, educators, corporate partners, and the community at large to foster a joyful relationship with reading in all children, in Calgary and beyond. In a previous year, through the generosity of Calgarians and their amazing volunteers, they received, sorted and sold over 100,000 gently used books and raised over $300,000 for Calgary READS.

Writing advice from some of Alcott’s characters

As I was enjoying a short story by Louisa May Alcott, I found spirited conversations among the characters about reading and writing. I seriously doubt that it was the author’s intention to pass along writing tips in her story, but I got a kick out of the subtle wisdom and commentaries on the writing life included in the dialogue!

No doubt many fiction writers have received responses similar to the ones below, even from well-meaning non-authors. And maybe there’s some truth in them! You decide…

A little background to the story: Sophie’s aunt had invited her to visit for several weeks in “the wilds of Vermont”, and Sophie in turn invites some of her city friends to join her during the holiday. The friends arrive and meet Saul, who works on the farm. They invite him to share his war experiences with Randal, one of their friends from the city…

* * * *

It took you how long to write your novel?!

Saul responds politely to their request. “When I’ve foddered the cattle and done my chores I’d be pleased to. What regiment were you in?” asked Saul.

Randal replied, “In none. I was abroad at the time.”

“Sick?”

“No, busy with a novel.”

“Took four years to write it?”

“I was obliged to travel and study before I could finish it. These things take more time to work up than outsiders would believe.”

“Seems to me our war was a finer story than any you could find in Europe, and the best way to study it would be to fight it out. If you want heroes and heroines you’d have found plenty of ’em there.”

A pleasant surprise, and appreciation for novels

“Tell us about your book, we have been reading it as it comes out in the magazine, and are much exercised about how it’s going to end,” began Saul.

“Do you really read my poor serial up here, and do me the honor to like it?” asked the novelist, both flattered and amused, for his work was of the aesthetic sort, microscopic studies of character, and careful pictures of modern life.

“Sakes alive, why shouldn’t we?” cried Aunt Plumy. [For Aunt Plumy I translate from the colloquial] “We have some education…a town library…magazines…Our winter is long and evenings would be kind of lonesome if we didn’t have novels and newspapers to cheer ’em up.”

Randal replies, “I am very glad I can help to beguile them for you. Now tell me what you honestly think of my work? Criticism is always valuable, and I should really like yours, Mrs. Basset,” said Randal, wondering what the good woman would make of the delicate analysis and worldly wisdom on which he prided himself.

“Criticism is always valuable to an author”… unless…

Aunt Plumy…rather enjoyed freeing her mind at all times, and decidedly resented the insinuation that country folk could not appreciate light literature as well as city people. “I’m not a great judge…but it really does seem as if some of your men and women are dreadfully uncomfortable creatures.

It seems to me it isn’t wise to be always picking ourselves to pieces and prying into things that ought to come gradually by way of experience and the visitations of Providence. Flowers won’t bloom…if you pull them open. It’s better to wait and see what they can do alone.”

Aunt Plumy continued. “I do feel as if books would be more sustaining if they were full of every-day people and things, like good bread and butter. The books that go to the heart and aren’t soon forgotten are the kind I like. Miss Terry’s books*, now, and Miss Stowe’s, and Dickens’s Christmas pieces, they are real sweet and cheering, to my mind.”

Randal… was quite composed and laughed good-naturedly, though secretly feeling as if a pail of cold water had been poured over him.

[* Just a short note, Miss [Harriet Beecher] Stowe and Dickens we’ve heard of, but I was curious about who “Miss Terry” could be. I believe she could have been the author Rose Terry Cook (1827-1892) who lived in Connecticut, the next-door state to where Alcott lived. And Cook was related to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who Alcott’s parents knew.]

Differing opinions about making a living

Randal responds, “Many thanks, madam; you have discovered my weak point with surprising accuracy. But you see I cannot help ‘picking folks to pieces,’ as you have expressed it; that is my gift, and it has its attractions, as the sale of my books will testify. People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and as that is the only sort my oven will bake, I must keep on in order to make my living.”

Aunt Plumy adds, “So rum-sellers say, but it ain’t a good trade to follow, and I’d chop wood before I’d earn my living harming my fellow man.

I’d let my oven cool a spell, and hunt up some homely, happy folks to write about; folks that don’t borrow trouble and go looking for holes in their neighbors’ coats, but take their lives brave and cheerful; and remembering we are all human, have pity on the weak, and try to be as full of mercy, patience and loving kindness as Him who made us.

That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening and make them that read it love the man that wrote it, and remember him when he was dead and gone.”

A frustrated author, realizes he’s not writing what he wants to write

“I wish I could!” and Randal meant what he said, for he was as tired of his own style as a watch-maker might be of the magnifying glass through which he strains his eyes all day. He knew that the heart was left out of his work, and that both mind and soul were growing morbid with dwelling on the faulty, absurd and metaphysical phases of life and character.

He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more; but he loved ease and the books brought money readily; he was accustomed to the stimulant of praise and missed it as the toper [drinker] misses his wine, so that which had once been a pleasure to himself and others was fast becoming a burden and a disappointment.

The joy of unexpected support

The brief pause which followed his involuntary betrayal of discontent was broken by Ruth, who exclaimed, with a girlish enthusiasm that overpowered girlish bashfulness, “I think all the novels are splendid! I hope you will write hundreds more, and I shall live to read ’em.”

“Bravo, my gentle champion! I promise that I will write one more at least, and have a heroine in it whom your mother will both admire and love,” answered Randal, surprised to find how grateful he was for the girl’s approval, and how rapidly his trained fancy began to paint the background on which he hoped to copy this fresh, human daisy.

Saul brought the conversation back to its starting point by saying in a tone of the most sincere interest, “Speaking of the serial, I am very anxious to know how your hero comes out. He is a fine fellow, and I can’t decide whether he is going to spoil his life marrying that silly woman, or do something grand and generous, and not be made a fool of.”

How does an author know how to end the story?

“Upon my soul,” Randal said, “I don’t know myself. It is very hard to find new finales. Can’t you suggest something, Major? Then I shall not be obliged to leave my story without an end, as people complain I am rather fond of doing.”

“Well, no, I don’t think I’ve anything to offer. Seems to me it isn’t the sensational exploits that show the hero best, but some great sacrifice quietly made by a common sort of man who is noble without knowing it. I saw a good many such during the war, and often wish I could write them down, for it is surprising how much courage, goodness and real piety is stowed away in common folks ready to show when the right time comes.”

“Tell us one of them, and I’ll bless you for a hint. No one knows the anguish of an author’s spirit when he can’t ring down the curtain on an effective tableau,” said Randal.

* * * *

Thank you, Miss Alcott, for sharing your wisdom in such an entertaining way!

Louisa May Alcott

Was that helpful or inspiring? I hope if nothing else, you got a chuckle!

My favorite lines:

Now tell me honestly what you think of my work.

…Flowers won’t bloom if you pull them open.

…That sort of a book would do a heap of good; be real warming and strengthening.

People like the ‘spice-bread,’ and …that is the only sort my oven will bake…

He often threw down his pen and vowed he would write no more.

Louisa May Alcott’s characters

If you care to read the whole short story, you can find the pdf online by going here to find Alcott’s short stories, then search for “A Country Christmas”.

I was also interested to find a letter that Louisa May Alcott wrote to a fan who asked for her advice on achieving success.

And here, a blogger gleans writing lessons from Louisa May Alcott’s journal, along with secrets to her success.

Happy writing! And happy reading!

Thank you awesome photographers! Image credits:

Winter country painting: George Henry Durrie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons,

Writing Photo by Negative Space at Pexels

Girl reading Photo by Marko Milivojevic on Pixnio ,

Fireplace and book Photo by Mohamed Hassan from PxHere

Love in a Little Town by J.E. Buckrow

It’s February, the month we celebrate love, and here is a most fitting book to celebrate.

Celia Bassingdale was about to take a long journey—the longest on earth—from the unreal to the real.

First line

Celia’s romantic interest in a young man (whom her grandfather was convinced was only after the fortune she would inherit when he died) prompted a bitter argument between her mother and grandfather. Attempting to right his wrongs, and help build some strong, admirable character in his granddaughter–even at the risk of losing the affection of this beloved girl forever–Grandfather decides to tear Celia away from her sweetheart. He sends her to live with his poor relatives, the Wallerby’s, who are hardworking, respectable people. Furious, she vows never to speak to her Grandfather again.

Celia struggles to meet the challenge of being forced to leave her comfy life to live with strangers. Yet she comes to admire the devotion this family and community have for each other, and their joy in spite of the hard sacrifices they must make. The women of the town’s wealthy society spread ugly, hurtful rumors about her, and twist her good intentions into appearing to be something shameful. Celia’s heart is captured by good-hearted Robert Wayne who works with Mr.Wallerby, and the feelings are mutual. But, although he loves her, he is not wealthy enough to marry anyone, especially a woman who comes from a wealthy family. In the midst of this time, Celia grieves severing her relationship with the one dearest to her, Grandfather.

The author has a deep understanding of human motivation, weakness and strength. Her story inspires readers to focus on what matters the most in life. This beautifully written book is full of warmth, humor, suspense, determination, struggles, honor, family bonds and the most genuine kind of love.

Such a unique cover!

The previous owner wrote their own response in pencil: “Nice quiet book.” That, plus the title of the novel, made me decide to buy it. And it was nice, and quiet, and did not disappoint! Thank you, fellow book lover, for the tip!

The previous owner added her own response, and some nice little poetry clippings

I raved about Love in a Little Town to a close friend, and she–shockingly–wanted to read it for her Christmas holiday book. Even though it is a plain-looking hardcover book written in 1911, and she doesn’t usually read novels like this, she couldn’t put it down. She read it in half the time I did, and loved it, and is ready for more vintage fiction!

Surprise! A clover tucked into one page. Is it from 1911 too???

I get the feeling this is not a very well-known book. Mine is the only review for it on Goodreads , and if you’re interested, you can find a few of my other reviews there. You can get the eBook for free at Google Books , and on Amazon ($41 and up).

Another book by the author

If you haven’t delved into the increasingly popular vintage fiction, this would be a great one to start with! Happy reading, friends!

Thank you Google

A clear, simple, straightforward template for Terms of Service has been on my wish list for years. Google has just granted my wish! Their new format for January 2022 is a pleasure to read. And I see other tech companies switching their wording as well.

Kudos to all of you Technical Writers that worked tirelessly to provide the weary public with this gift. I, along with many, applaud you! The technology user’s relationship with technology companies has vastly improved.

Please, all of you organizations out there with heavy legalese filling your terms, have a look at this new concept. Jump on the bandwagon and give us something easy on the eyes and the brain, something that says we’re partners instead of on opposite sides of the desk of a looming, powerful group of attorneys.

Thank you!

Image Credits: maxpixel.net , maxpixel.net (CC0 Public Domain)

The Story of the Irritated Eagle

Me: (craning my neck to get a good shot between the branches)

Eagle: Hey! Quit buggin’ me!

Me: What, are you kidding me? How can I bug you when you’re sixty feet above me?! My zoom lens can hardly see you!

Eagle: (glares, ruffles white tail feathers, rolls his eyes)

Me: Anyway, I only got here 2 minutes ago. You know, some of your friends have posed for me for an hour.

Eagle: I’m blowing this popsicle stand. (Hops off the branch and flaps his wings, heading north)

Me: Sorry you feel that way. But hey, thanks for the “eagle-in-flight” photo ops!

Eagle: (swooping down to the river)

Me: Hey, what are you doing? Watch out for the bridge!

Eagle: Whoa! (quickly adjusts his trajectory to go UNDER the bridge)

Eagle: …er, I mean… Don’t you think I know there’s a bridge?! I was just trying to get a rise out of these ducks, heh heh.

Eagle: Look at them freaking out, scattering everywhere! I love it!

Eagle: Oops! Got my wing wet!

Eagle: (rises up from the river, executes a graceful circle and lands on the branch of a tree)

Eagle: (preening)

Me: (reaching the bridge) Thanks for landing right next to the bridge. Now we’re almost at the same level. Such a photo op!

Eagle: What the heck? You again?!

Me: (taking ten steps closer) Yes, it’s me again. Now, just stay still for a few more minutes so I can get some good shots.

Me: (snap, snap, snap)

Eagle: (posing) Actually, I do look pretty good today, I must admit.

Me: (taking ten steps closer) (snap, snap, snap)

Eagle: That’s close enough. Don’t come any closer.

Me: (taking ten steps closer) Sorry but it’s a win-win situation for me, whether you’re sitting or flying. You really are in rare form today.

Eagle: Yes, did you notice how white my tail feathers are today?

Me: I certainly did. You’re beautiful as always. I really appreciate you letting me get this close.

Eagle: Okay, don’t get sappy. I’m outa here.

I’m going back to my favorite tree. And don’t follow me this time!

Me: Very graceful take-off! I got some good shots, most appreciated. See ya next time!

Me: (Watching his unhurried glide far down the river.)

Eagle: (Lands on a top branch of the same tree as before.) (Sighs) Glad that’s over. They say it’s good for public relations. Now I can focus on those trout… here fishy fishy!

The Nativity Scene – a Reminder

Whenever you see a nativity scene, be reminded that

God wants to be closer to you.

According to tradition, the first nativity scene was built by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 to encourage the villagers to worship Christ. It was life-sized with live animals in a cave in Grecio, Italy, a small mountainside village.

Now nativity scenes are everywhere around the world, and even include live performances. What a powerful way to visualize the love of God, and his mission of reconciliation!

The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo
A section of Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam”

Jesus is called by many powerful names…

…Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

The Bible

The name most meaningful to me is Emmanuel, “God with us.” It tells me that–just like the original plan–God’s plan and desire is still to walk through life with us, providing all we need and working out all of our experiences for good.

Let’s use the simple, childlike images in a nativity scene to have some quiet moments with God.

Inspired by this beautiful article, I hope you’ll join me in contemplating the love offered in that first nativity.

Below is a collection of my own nativity scenes, with “reminders”.

Feel free to use these (and share!).

I wish for you the love, comfort and hope found

in the first Christmas, every Christmas!

Too Many Books

Is it possible for a book-lover to have too many books?

Yes. If they are making you crazy.

Otherwise, no.

Tee shirt given to me by a friend and fellow book-lover who, like me, has also run out of shelf space

While I was working in schools, it was a joy to come home and just relish the sight of all my beloved books, and the unread books that held such possibilities of enjoyment.

But something changed when I started working from home. They seem to be staring at me all day, and some even waving at me, saying, “Read me! Read me!”

Even the ones I’ve already read are getting on the bandwagon: “Write a review! Give me away!”

Because I am at home most of the time, they must think that I am now independently wealthy and have all the time in the world to lounge around!

And then there are my Kindle books, which are easier to ignore because my Kindle is out of sight behind the door of a bookshelf. And even when I do open the door, it is so deceptively thin it masquerades as a magazine or pamphlet.

Then there are virtual books on my “For Later Shelf” at my public library’s website. Now these shouldn’t present a problem, because they are really just a list of books I’d like to read in the future. But they are in the back of my mind as an item on my To Do List.

Which brings me to the point of this post:

I’ve realized that this is actually causing me anxiety.

My physical space is de-cluttered, but clearly I also need to de-clutter my mind.

So I started with the rip-the-band-aid-off method. I got on my library’s website and deleted the list of books I was planning to read. I couldn’t believe what a weight it was–and still is–off my shoulders!

By the way, I was inspired by this video by Rincey at Book Riot–she is such a ray of sunshine! Her video and the comments made me feel better as I realized that I am not the only one to have over a hundred books on my public library “For Later Shelf”.

Lesson learned: I shouldn’t start looking for books to read until I have read all the ones I own.

Continuing with the rip-the-band-aid-off method, in the morning of a day when I would be running errands, I pulled books of my shelves that I didn’t absolutely LOVE, and put them in the trunk of my car for trading/donating. That was pretty easy.

The hard part was telling myself that it really was okay to get rid of them, EVEN IF (a) I was pretty sure it would be a great reference book for an amazing article or book I was going to write “one day” (yeah, right); and (b) someone had given them to me as a present (I cherish gifts from people I love, yet got a new perspective from watching this decluttering video, starting at 14:00).

Next was the “there’s no time like the present” method. On a quiet weekend afternoon, I picked up a book off my shelf that has been catching my eye, and which I wasn’t sure I’d like. I figured once I started reading it, I’d know pretty quickly if I liked it or not, and if not, it would go into the trade/donate pile, which would be a victory.

That book was Calico Joe, by John Grisham. I read it straight through, start to finish, in one afternoon. (I only skimmed some of the play-by-play details of baseball games to get back to the plot.) This is why I pick up John Grisham novels in the first place–excellent writing and gripping plots. What a delightful way to spend a few hours! Then off it went to the trade/donate pile for someone else to enjoy.

The result?

Ahhh.

I’ve reached the balance I was sub-consciously longing for. I am now getting along well with my books, and have that joy of being surrounded by so many I love and look forward to reading.

Can you relate? I hope this been helpful. Do you have more tips? If so, speaking for all book lovers, de-clutterers and minimalists who land here at HappilyWriting, thank you for leaving your tips in the comments!

Beauty for Ashes

I revelled in the summer heat
When others fried
And sighed,
Goodbye,
And went inside.

Trusting, I smiled 
When hot became warm,
The return of summer's norm,
Simply a mild forewarn
Of climate's transform.

Too soon it seemed
Leaves turned to gold.
Yet still no cold!
Larch and aspen--behold!
Facing autumn serene and bold.

Fun while it lasted,
No keeping frost at bay,
Friendly warmth gives way,
How I shiver today.
Lord help! I pray.

I grieved, pleaded, implored:
Perfumed rose, spotted fawn,
Warbler song, emerald lawn,
All gone, all gone!
But...was that a trumpeter swan?

I'd missed the mist, 
The glitter of snow,
The hush, and the slow,
The late sunrise glow--
All my friend Winter will bestow.
The Bow River, Mallard Point, Fish Creek Park, Calgary October 31, 2021

I have to admit, I am probably the biggest baby in the world when it comes to winter, inwardly grieving, mourning, whining and complaining. But this scene today reminded me of its blessings, because without the cold, the mist wouldn’t rise up in the first rays of sunlight!

And the frosting on the cake, a few minutes after snapping this photo with frozen hands, was watching a flock of Trumpeter Swans fly overhead as they return to Calgary for the winter.

This also reminds me of one of my favorite Biblical poems:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord…
sent…to bind up the brokenhearted…
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve…
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
[from Isaiah 61:1-3]

Wishing blessings on you for every season!

When Choosing Fiction, Don’t Settle for Less

To borrow and repurpose a related quote:

The book you want exists. Don’t settle until you find it.

It’s fun to browse around the library’s “New and Notable” shelves. I read plenty of classic fiction so I appreciate it when others recommend new novels and authors. But I have noticed something in the past five years or so. Not all of them of course, but the newest books seem more often than not to be dark or depressing. 

What’s going on?

Over the past year I’ve tried to find out what is going on in the literary community to cause such a change. I haven’t found a solid answer yet, but I have some ideas.

First, entertainment–which includes literature–reflects society’s view of life and the world. I have noticed the trend toward dark, serious subjects in movies and TV shows as well. For someone like me growing up on an after-school fare of Sheriff Andy Taylor, Lucy, and Gilligan, it’s quite a switch to see innocent, unsophisticated sitcoms replaced by shows about deadly serious crimes and toxic relationships.

Different generations have different tastes in entertainment. These tastes are brought about by world events, education, morals and religious faith, the condition of the family, changes in the workplace and technology, and many other influences in life. I think the increasing speed of life alone causes boredom with the old, slower ways, which drives many to seek more stimulating, intense entertainment. 

I Wonder

And I wonder… What kinds of books are teachers choosing for their students, from Grade 1 to 12? Here is a great article by an upper school teacher, explaining why she thinks people of all ages ought read sad books, and another article by a student who has the opposite opinion.

I also wonder… What kinds of writing themes are writing teachers choosing for their students, in high school and post secondary schools? Is it a fad to write dark?

For a while, from curiosity, the need for novelty, and a bit of laziness, I SETTLED for new fiction that wasn’t really what I wanted to read. I trusted the recommendations, brought home many brand-new novels, devoted precious evening time, and waded right in. Surprisingly, many caused me to shudder and close the cover after reading a few chapters, and being completely blind-sided by the relaxed, casual mention of horrifically disturbing events, relayed as if a completely natural and common occurrence in one’s day, in the same banal tone as describing what you had for breakfast. And back they went to the library!

So these changing tastes in literature remain a bit of a mystery to me, requiring more research. But as I’ve searched for good quality, enriching fiction, I have found some sunshine! 

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Finding enriching fiction

Like me, many people are online looking for happy books. In addition to my own posts recommending upbeat books, many others who seek out positive reading experiences have compiled their own lists. Here are the ones I’ve found the most promising.

Positively Good Reads
Just reading Marianne Goss’s elegant description of her search for “hopeful literature with relatable characters,” is a delight in itself. She created a website called Positively Good Reads in answer to the many people who asked for her help in finding “positive literary books” that people “would actually enjoy reading.” What a relief to find this long list, and to detect a camaraderie with the author as I noticed many on her list that I own, have reviewed on my blog, or have read. I first found Marianne Goss in this 2020 post “When you need upbeat fiction,” which I also highly recommend. 

Goodreads

As expected Goodreads has plenty of lists to help you find the kinds of books you want to read. Here is just one example: a list pointing you to feel-good books that are “Light, but not (too) dumb“.

Your local Library

When I search my library for lists of “books that are not depressing” I find 3 lists; “books that are upbeat” gives 5 lists, including this list of Up-Lit for Book Clubs; “books that are positive” gives about 10 lists for various audiences; “books with happy endings” gives 9 lists for all ages; “gentle reads” gives 5 lists. No doubt your local library has its own recommendations or lists.

Library Thing

This website is filled with all kinds of book information, including lists such as this one, “Curious as to an upbeat literature list“.

Short Fiction

If you prefer short fiction, check out American Literature’s webpage, “50 Great Feel-Good Stories” or Project Gutenberg’s book, “The Best American Humorous Short Stories“. NPR received 7,000 votes for the books, stories and poems that make their readers laugh, and they compiled 100 of them in this categorized list. Also, Reedsy has a webpage entitled “1700+ Short Happy Stories to Read

A good story doesn’t need a devastating twist. Nor does it have to plumb the darkest depths of the human conditions. These happy short stories might be exactly what you’re looking for in these uncertain times.

Reedsy

Any thoughts or recommendations?

If you are looking for less depressing fiction, or if you like dark fiction, or if you have a book or short story to recommend, or if you just want to say hi, please leave a comment.

And may whatever you’re reading bring you hope, peace and inspiration!