I've been on a quest for a suitable "feel-good" book selection for my book group in the past week or so, and I have to say it's been a real challenge. I receive the e-newsletters from Abebooks, and about 6 weeks ago they sent one wiith a list of 25 "feel-good" book titles, which I brought to my book club meeting in answer to one of my member's questions regarding feel-good books for her friend. These titles seemed like a hit, so I thought I could start with this list to find a selection for my group. I bought a copy of Bridget Jones' Diary from a second-hand bookstore and started to read it, but it just didn't seem suitable for my group, and I'll admit it did nothing for me, either. So that's off the list. I checked the library catalogue for Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, but there were not enough copies of that title for my group, so that's off the list. Then last week while I was out on an errand, I stopped in at another second-hand bookstore to see if the staff person could recommend any titles. I figured that, while I don't read many feel-good books, others certainly do and so I would seek help from someone else. While the staff person did not have many titles to suggest personally, I got a few ideas just seeing what was on the shelves there. I think that our August selection will be The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I read this title many years ago, and I think the stories of the mothers and daughters presented in this novel, while complex and sometimes melancholy, are generally hopeful and empowering. And there are plenty of copies available at libraries and used bookstores, so it will be easy to get a copy of the novel in time for the meeting. (I can't say that about The Razor's Edge, our July selection, as there seems to be a shortage of available copies. I hope everyone can get a copy in time to read it.)
My quest for "feel-good" titles, and my lack of personal reference for these types of books, leads me to determine that I read mostly serious or "depressing" books. I don't think of them as depressing, but some may refer to them that way. Abebooks just sent another e-newsletter, this time with a list of "More Bleak Books", a follow-up to their original list of "10 Bleak Books" that was created and sent out about a year ago. According to the newsletter, this list was so popular, with comments that these books weren't bleak enough, that they created this new, updated list. The first book on the original list, which is our September book club selection, is Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (uh-oh!!). I'll admit that I was more intrigued by this list and the original list than the list of feel-good titles. I've even read many of the titles on the lists (see link http://www.abebooks.com/books/because-you-read/bleak-books.shtml?cm_mmc=nl-_-nl-_-110707-h00-bleakbkCA-_-01cta) and found them to be worthwhile reads. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt, the first on the new list, is certainly depressing, but it's also uplifting because, as you're reading it and wondering if and how the main character is going to survive, you realize that he does in fact survive because he's writing the book! So there's almost always hope, even in the bleakest stories.
Speaking of bleak stories, I'm listening to Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman, and it's certainly bleak. Set in Germany in 1932-33, it tells the story of a detective on the hunt for a murderer who appears to also be involved in bizarre surgical experimentation, and who may or may not be a Nazi. The story is strange and disturbing enough, but set against the backdrop of Germany in the early 1930s, as Hitler and the Nazi's rise to inevitable power, this listener cringes every time the characters, the "good guys", make comments like, "When this Nazi madness blows over..." or "The Nazi party finally seems to be losing power...", because I know that not only will it not pass, but this is just the beginning. When various characters tell the main character, Kraus, who is a famous Jewish detective, to leave the country, I want to tell him to take their advice and get out while he still can. But he continues to make excuses and is convinced it will all pass once the people see what Hitler and the Nazis really represent. "Run, Kraus, run!!" I'm nearly finished listening to it, and as I read reviews of the book the other day, I was surprised to find out that this is the author's first novel, which is impressive. Yes, it has some cliched characters and scenarios, but the detailed descriptions of the pre-WWII German settings, both physical and psychological, work really well, at least for this reader. I would definitely recommend it, but not for the faint of heart or other readers who prefer "feel-good" stories. (Believe it or not, I'm really a very happy, cheerful, positive person!)
Bye for now!
PS A note about my tea this morning... I usually make a thermos of chai tea using loose tea and adding lots of warm milk to the mug before straining in the steeped tea. This morning I used my milk frother to froth up the warm milk before adding the tea, which I do occasionally, but what was different this morning was that I added a piece of cinnamon stick and some whole cloves to the loose tea in my thermos for steeping. I must say, my tea today is particularly delicious, and it even looks fancy! YUM!