Sometimes I have these days where everything seems a little bit too much and I wish I hadn’t even bothered getting out of bed, especially in winter. The only things that ever seem to help me through are big mugs of milky tea and reading. Here is a list of novels/ authors that will help you beat the winter blues!
1. NANCY MITFORD
Why does reading Mitford make me feel better? Because she is very, very funny. Nancy Mitford’s novels, like Tatler and Boris Johnson, are rather posh and not meant to be taken too seriously. But while books like Love in a Cold Climate aren’t exactly War and Peace, their glamour and wit is offset against some seriously interesting social commentary and a heap of unconventional female characters. Also, the new Penguin covers are undeniably delightful.
2. THE BLIND ASSASSIN: MARGARET ATWOOD
Margaret Atwood is a goddess. This book is a gift unto civilisation. That is all.
PS. So, if you’ve already read the Blind Assassin you may be a bit like “this is really not what I would describe as feel-good” but, even if the ending made you sob for a solid twenty minutes (guilty as charged) you’d have to admit that it is such a thoroughly engrossing and emotional novel that it helped you forget all about your worries and your coursework!
PPS Read The Handmaid’s Tale as well!
3. THE LADIES’ PARADISE: EMILE ZOLA
So, in the middle of his lengthy Rougon-Macquart cycle, Zola decided to take a break from writing about prostitution and despair and write this uplifting, funny novel about a little orphan who starts work in a posh department store and ends up marrying the owner. Obviously there is a lot more to this novel and how it fits into the cycle but if you want an easy way in to Zola this is the book for you! It’s worth a read just for the descriptions of Paris and the plucky Denise who fights her way to the top by being nice and getting people to like her. If you want a book that will reassure you that everything will turn out for the best just by trying your best, then this is it.
4. ZAZIE IN THE METRO: RAYMOND QUENEAU
The eponymous Zazie is a slightly scary, foul-mouthed pre-teen who is sent by her mother to stay with her uncle in Paris. Predictably enough, she soon shakes off her uncle and explores the city by herself – involving herself in several scrapes, but being infallibly funny the whole way through. This is so surreal and oddly charming that it will make you instantly stop worrying! Also, it will make you glad that you are no longer twelve years old, which is always a plus.
5. IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELLER: ITALO CALVINO
This book makes very little sense. But it’s not supposed to. It trips you up in a series of different sections of different books in order to really make you think about reading, about novels and about writing. If you want a book that lifts you up and makes you happy because it helps you appreciate the magic of literature (or if you are a fan of Borges, just putting that out there) then this is definitely for you. If you are looking for something to keep you going during a long spell of solitude then it is also for you; Calvino helps you realise that if you are a reader then you are never alone.
6. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE: MURIEL SPARKS
I am from Edinburgh myself and I can say that no piece of literature evokes Edinburgh quite as well as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (despite what you Irvine Welsh fans might think). And why should that make you feel good? Because Edinburgh is the greatest. Fact.
7. BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: KURT VONNEGUT
This is another strange book (but what book isn’t strange?) on my list and it is an anti-capitalism, I-love-Marx, I-also-love-sci-fi romp that cannot fail to make you smile. And also make you happy that the contents of the book are not real.
PS. Waterstones claims this is a “cult classic” but I have never actually met anyone else who has read this. Make me feel good by giving me someone to talk to about it.
8. CANDIDE: VOLTAIRE
A plot summary in eleven words; Candide and his acquaintances go from unbelievably bad to unbelievably worse. After reading Candide you will experience an incredible feeling of calm and a rush of happiness at the knowledge that, really, it all could be so much worse. Also, this is funny! It teaches you to laugh at yourself, at your ideas and at your society which, obviously, is a lot better than crying!
9. A HUNDRED LOVE SONNETS: PABLO NERUDA
If you are looking for something to spice up your life (to quote some other lyrical genii) then you really need to read these. Neruda genuinely changes your outlook on life. One day I was walking home and I saw a tree. The next day I walked home and saw the same tree. But it wasn’t just a tree; it was so much more. It was so lush and green and it made me yearn for past lovers and the taste of my mother’s cooking. (Seriously, that happened).
Reading Neruda helps you see the vast poetic potential of everything around you and makes you alive to the beauty of the everyday. Also, some of these sonnets are pretty steamy, so if you get lonely then they can warm up your bed better than an actual human being.
10. LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA: GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ
I could talk for a hundred years (of solitude… haha) about my love for all that has been written by the great Gabriel García Márquez, and this book is no exception. The reason that this novel is so uplifting is that it teaches you that it is never too late to love and if anything is going to warm you up on a rainy day it’s keeping that in mind!