When is the last time you read a novel that made you laugh out loud? The pandemic blues are hitting most people hard, especially as the days get shorter. While there has been a host of incredible dramatic and heavy-content fiction and nonfiction works that have come out this calendar year, sometimes, it’s important to crack open a book that sparks more joy than sadness. The novels on this list can help provide a breath of humor for anyone who is tuckered out from stress, grief, or fear. If you need to escape the heaviness of the day-to-day, consider grabbing one of these feel-good books for your collection. We can promise they’ll leave you smiling.
‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ (2017)//Gail Honeyman
The book is uplifting from start to finish. The MC, Eleanor Oliphant, will hook your heart from page one onward. Eleanor is a socially-awkward yet vibrant young woman who struggles with insecurity and loneliness in her routine. As a former foster child with a noticeable scar on half her face, Eleanor has plenty of trauma to contend with. However, when an elderly gentleman named Sammy falls on the sidewalk, and she and Raymond, her office’s IT guy, rush to his assistance, all three of their lives are irrevocably changed. As they form deep bonds with one another, they learn the power of connection, friendship, and viewing your own value beyond social norms. Eleanor is one of the freshest, most original characters in literature today, and the authenticity with which she conducts her life is nothing short of endearing. Since the novel is told in first-person, it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with Eleanor’s voice and personality. (It’s also on its way to becoming a movie, produced by Reese Witherspoon, who called the book “beautifully written and incredibly funny.”)
An Irish Times book review by Sarah Gilmartin said, “The human need for connection, initially scorned by Eleanor, is this heart-rending novel’s central theme. Eleanor Oliphant is most definitely not completely fine, but she is one of the most unusual and thought-provoking heroines of recent contemporary fiction.”
Grab your own copy of the heartwarming ‘Eleanor Oliphant’, here.
‘The Keeper of Lost Things’ (2016)//Ruth Hogan
This narrative has a fascinating premise: What if someone kept the lost items that they found and tried to reunite them with their owners? That’s the reality in this touching novel, which centers two British assistants, one of whom works for an old man with a 40-year-old collection of lost goods. When Anthony Peardew, the keeper of lost things, passes away, his assistant, Laura, is left his house and belongings. She must assume the role of caring for the lost objects in Anthony’s place. As she attempts to learn about where the objects came from and help them find their way back to their original keepers, she becomes familiar with the people who staff the house, as well as an odd ghost, a young woman with Down Syndrome who boasts supernatural abilities, and other eccentric characters. Meanwhile, 40 years in the past, a man named Eunice becomes an assistant at a publishing house, changing the trajectory of his future. How do these two narratives link up? You’ll have to read to find out. These two storylines overlap with breathtaking whimsy, and (while the plot can feel a bit like a fever dream in some places) the characters are a catalyst for a lifetime of fascinating tales.
Carolyn Haley with the New York Journal of Books wrote, “That none of the myriad stories are allowed to remain unclosed creates the wheels-upon-wheels effect of the narrative. The turnings create a gentle tale about kindness and redemption, wherein lost souls and lost objects get rejoined in unusual ways to restore people’s happiness and even lay ghosts to rest in a feel-good debut novel that’s hard to walk away from.”
Get your copy of the touching narrative, ‘The Keeper of Lost Things,’ here.
‘The Happiness Project’ (2009)//Gretchen Rubin
Hey, it’s in the name: this book is pure happiness. ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin is a first-person account of learning to have more fun in day-to-day life. After pondering her existence on a city bus, Rubin realized that she wanted to put more emphasis on the things that mattered in life, and she committed herself to a year of a self-conducted happiness project. Across the course of 12 months, Rubin laid out a series of resolutions to help her understand and attain happiness. She put all the popular, scientific, and natural theories of happiness to the test, recording her accounts of success, confusion, and epiphany along the way. Through her experimentation and writing, she attempts to understand what truly encapsulates “happiness,” as well as highlighting the strength and stamina it takes to achieve consistent happiness in an unstable world. The pages are bursting with humor, bits of wisdom, and some great self-exploration on Rubin’s part. If you’re looking for a happiness jump-start, this book may be the perfect place for you to begin your mission.
A C.S. Monitor review by Terry Hong said, “Armed and ready, Rubin set off on her year-long journey. Superbly organized into amusing step-by-step months, ‘Happiness Project’ is a definite success – just reading it will make you happier. Rubin manages to offer plausible, solid suggestions for what worked for her; she’s great at navigating that delicate line between ‘just do this,’ and ‘you might want to try that.’”
Grab your own wonderful copy of ‘The Happiness Project,’ here, or grab one of her other self-help books, here.
‘A Walk in the Woods’ (1997)//Bill Bryson
You may not be able to make it all the way through this book in one sitting, considering that laughing until you cry might obscure your vision. This hilarious comic-memoir from author Bill Bryson details the time that the writer hiked the Appalachian Trail (all 2,100 miles of it) along with his odd companion, Katz, despite his lack of hiking experience and outdoor experience. His reason? He spent 20 years in Britain and wanted to reconnect with the American countryside. Bryson’s many blunders and flash judgments along the trail create an unimaginably funny narrative, while his fact-sharing about the history of the Appalachian Trail is uber interesting and doesn’t drag the hilarity down a bit. His descriptions of the stunning landscape are so vivid that they will have you feeling like you’re right beside him on his trek (minus the thousands of miles of walking). This book will quite literally have you laughing out loud, so if you haven’t had a good belly laugh in a while, you won’t want to miss grabbing this for your shelves.
Publishers Weekly wrote, “Bryson (The Lost Continent) carries himself in an irresistibly bewildered manner, accepting each new calamity with wonder and hilarity. He reviews the characters of the AT (as the trail is called), from a pack of incompetent Boy Scouts to a perpetually lost geezer named Chicken John. Most amusing is his cranky, crude and inestimable companion, Katz...The uneasy but always entertaining relationship between Bryson and Katz keeps their walk interesting, even during the flat stretches. Bryson completes the trail as planned, and he records the misadventure with insight and elegance.”
‘Furiously Happy’ (2015)//Jenny Lawson
Last (but far, far from least), we couldn’t let this article wrap up without celebrating our ever-amusing shop owner, Jenny Lawson. Her books, like her blog, are filled with humor, wit, and reminders of all the little wonders and oddities that exist in ordinary life. ‘Furiously Happy’ is a hysterical essay collection that explores Lawson’s experiences with mental/physical illness, furious happiness, and more personal topics. Each page will have you laughing and crying at the same time, and her scorchingly original humor will have you giggling until you can’t breathe (in a good way). With chapter titles like “How Many Carbs Are in a Foot?”, “Voodoo Vagina,” and “Death by Swans Is Not as Glamorous as You’d Expect,” the pages of ‘Furiously Happy’ are full of wonderful anecdotes complemented by bites of wisdom and hope (and plenty of belly-laugh worthy one-liners, of course). You’ll come out the tail-end of this novel grinning from ear to ear.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Lawson said that ‘Furiously Happy’ is “Irreverent humor for intellectual misfits. I usually ask people if they’ve ever wondered why Jesus wasn’t classified as a zombie since technically he came back from the dead, and if they aren’t offended, that’s usually my test to see if they’d like my writing...I am a very strange but entertaining woman who will make you feel better about yourself by comparison. I battle with depression and anxiety and a host of other disorders, but my strongest weapon is a dark and baffling sense of humor. And a chain saw. Just in case zombies turn up.”