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! 

pxfuel.com

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!