So read yourself happy with our selection of the most uplifting literature.
Granta Books, £9.99
dancing in the streets chronicles society’s built-in capacity for self-regulation—to let off steam en masse—and the parallel struggle of religion and governments to suppress it. The merry mayhem of the medieval Fool’s Festival, for example, is long gone – but in 2022, with mass gatherings still fraught with a specter of contagion, a revisit of this time-honoured pressure valve feels more important than ever.
Struggling to reconcile promise with reality, the millennial protagonists in Sally Rooney’s latest novel chart the choppy seas of self-expression in a modern world. What’s the point of being a successful creative when climate change threatens the planet? Is it immoral to bring a child into a world where life feels flimsy because of the pandemic? When connection is all that remains, a beautiful world is available for those who can bear to build it.
Faber & Faber, £16.99
In an effort to reconcile the terror of mortality with our incorrigible tendency to exaggerate, Dr. Faustus’ pact with the devil reflects the deals we make with ourselves every day. Five hundred years have passed since Marlowe wrote his infamous play, but the desire to live forever lingers. Then as now, viewers can only fantasize that one day a supernatural debt collector will come knocking.
Methuen Drama, £9.99
Written A life of my own, psychoanalyst Marion Milner examined her diaries, memories, and inclinations for clues to the eternal question: what makes us happy? The wisdom she finds is versatile, her writing as captivating as any detective story.
Psychoanalyst Esther Perel’s groundbreaking book takes on monogamy by radically reframing the boundaries within which society dictates our most intimate exchanges and paving the way to something more realistic.
Hodder & Stoughton, £9.99
Emma Cline’s 2016 debut about a Charlie Manson-esque cult ends in murder — but cults don’t start that way, of course. Cline’s teenage protagonist, Evie, searches for the meaning everyone strives for; she accidentally finds it in a commune. the girls illustrates the uncomfortable fine line between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Vintage Publishing, £8.99
Popular with adults and children alike, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novella is set in the Sahara. There, a stranded pilot meets the mysterious and lovable little prince, who tells him about his home planet and his travels across the universe since he left it. The little Prince is about love and loneliness, but – as the prince discovers to his dismay – also about the radiant clarity of childhood and the obstacles to the joy that stand in our way as we age.
The first in AA Milne’s children’s book series, 1926 Winnie Pooh introduced the world to its title character, his friends Tigger and Piglet – and Christopher Robin, based on Milne’s own son. As they weave their way through a childlike world, their adventures are framed by a penetrating pure logic. A song of praise for the joy of small things.
Written evenings and weekends while working as an arborist, Benjamin Hoff The Tao of Pooh uses original creations by AA Milne to explain the philosophy of Taoism. Hoff’s highly readable foray into happiness, which turns beloved children’s characters upside down, proves that it doesn’t have to be such a mystery – in fact, the key to its unraveling has been in our simplest stories all along.
Are joy and freedom one and the same? How can we reconcile our desire for pleasure in the present with the misery it might inflict on future generations? Packed with critical theory and pressing questions, On Freedom provides plenty of worthwhile answers.
Vintage Publishing, £20
Eleanor Oliphant has been in the same profession since graduating from university nine years ago. Her days of the week are identical (except for Wednesdays when she calls Mom) and her weekends are similarly nondescript. Therefore, it doesn’t take much to take them from existing to alive and from good to something like fulfilled. Refreshingly, Honeyman doesn’t subject her heroine to romantic love as a panacea — rather, Eleanor’s happiness comes from the kindness of others.
HarperCollins Publishers, £8.99
Structured as journal entries spanning a year, Bridget Jones’ journal ostensibly presents (un)happiness as something that can be measured on the scale each morning, in calories burned and cigarettes regretted—but don’t be fooled: before she turned to novels, Fielding was a journalist (The Diary of Bridget Jones actually started in her column for The Independent) and satirizing the tyranny of glossy magazines was always part of Fielding’s project. When we stop adding up the numbers of life (fat burned, units burned) the unquantifiable – happiness, love – comes into focus.
Measuring a life in weeks makes it seem insultingly short – which is precisely the reason for the former Guardian Columnist Oliver Burkeman has chosen exactly this in the title of his new book: Four thousand weeks. Addressing the increasingly pressing crisis of distorted work-life balance in an era of working from home and 24-hour connectivity, Burkeman offers practical solutions to problems that might otherwise seem too monolithic to dissect. Don’t worry, your to-do list will still be there tomorrow.