10 of the best feel-good books to brighten your day

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“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’ve written before about the best feel-good classic novels of all time, but that leaves so many uplifting books that have been published more recently.

For this post, I thought about my favourite feel-good novels (and some memoirs) from the last few years. Some books are lighthearted and funny, others are wholesome comfort reads.

Here’s my selection of the best feel-good books to lift your spirits when you’re feeling low, remind you of the good in the world, and bring a smile to your face.

The best feel-good books for happy reading

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1. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Described by Martha Wells as “an optimistic vision of a lush, beautiful world”, Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers’s delightful new Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future (which, quite frankly, a lot of us could do with).

If you love Studio Ghibli-inspired books, I’d recommend grabbing a copy of A Psalm for the Wild-Built. In its unique world when the story begins, it’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, wandered together into the wilderness, and faded into myth and urban legend. But one day, the life of a tea monk is turned upside down by a robot at this door.

Honouring an age-old promise, the robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered… but the answer to that question isn’t so easily given. In a world where people have what they want, does having more actually matter?

2. The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Tom Michell is in his twenties, free as a bird, and seeking adventure in South America around his teaching position in a prestigious Argentine boarding school. What happens next is a little less ordinary: he rescues a penguin from an oil slick, and the penguin (who is soon named Juan Salvador) refuses to leave his side…. and returns back to school with him. It’s a delightfully uplifting and lighthearted memoir.

3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I read The Rosie Project all the way back in 2013 after it was published, and still have such fond memories of this clever, warm, and delightfully weird love story.

Don Tillman is a brilliant yet completely socially inept professor of genetics who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. So he designs the Wife Project to find his ideal candidate, starting with a sixteen-page survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, and the late arrivers.

Unfortunately, Rosie Jarman drinks, smokes, and arrives late. She should be immediately disqualified as a candidate. And yet, somehow, Don is swept into the whirlwind that is Rosie as they collaborate on her own project to find her biological father.

4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

As one of the most popular feel-good books of all time, this beautifully silly classic follows the galactic (mis)adventures of Arthur Dent, beginning one Thursday lunchtime when the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass.

5. All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot

In my selection of the best feel-good classic books, I knew I had to include All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The Yorkshire vet’s memoirs have entranced generations of animal lovers since they were published, and they’re just as heartwarming today.

In this sequel, it’s wartime and James is training as an RAF pilot in bustling London. He’s far from the rolling hills, moody cattle, and curmudgeonly farmers of his day job as a vet in the Yorkshire Dales. He misses his dog, but most of all he misses his wife, Helen, who’s pregnant with their first child.

The questions of whether he’ll go to war and when he’ll get home are serious, but with its reflections of the land he loves and of friends old and new, this lovely memoir is charming, uplifting, and characteristically funny.

6. The No. 1 One Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

In a Reddit thread about the best feel-good books, user bprflip shares: “When someone asks for a male-author-who-can-actually-write-a-female-lead, this book lands. It’s about someone getting by and making the world better, in incremental yet personal ways”.

If you enjoy following the investigations of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective, you’re in luck: this is the first in a series of twenty-three books by Alexander McCall Smith.

7. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

One of the true masterpieces of Japanese fiction, Yoko Ogawa turns mathematics into an elegant art in this beautiful, unpretentious and clever novel.

Each morning, the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to one another. Although the Professor’s mind is alive with mathematical equations, his short-term memory is a mere eighty minutes after a car accident threatened his life and ended his academic career some years ago.

With the clever maths riddles he devises – based on the Housekeeper’s birthday, her shoe size, or other little details – the two are brought together in a beautifully geeky classic love story that forms a bond deeper than memory.

8. Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune

I included TJ Klune’s most popular book, The House in the Cerulean Sea, in my list of the best wholesome books. This more recent release is a warm hug of a book for troubled times, perfect for fans of the feel-good hit A Man Called Ove or NBC’s The Good Place.

Wallace spends his life at the office, working and correcting colleagues. Then a reaper collects him, and he’s dead. Even after death, he refuses to make time for fun and friends, but as he drinks tea and eats scones with Hugo, the owner of an unusual tea shop, he wonders if he should do things differently. With just one week until he must pass through the door to the other side, Wallace sets about living a lifetime the right way.

9. Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Okay, so bear with me. This is a book about an Orc Warrior who opens a coffee shop. It’s a fun, incredibly lighthearted, and comfy read about following your dreams into new and unfamiliar places. It’s slice-of-life meets modern fantasy, and that turns out to be delightful.

Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch’s Heart, writes: “Take a break from epic battles and saving the world. Legends & Lattes is a low-stakes fantasy that delivers exactly what’s advertised: a wholesome, cozy novel that feels like a warm hug. This is my new comfort read.”

10. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Though Enzo cannot speak, he understands everything that happens around him as he bears witness to the story of his human family, observes how they nearly fall apart, and manages to bring them back together.

With humour and heartwarming dedication, and despite what he sees as his own limitations as a dog, Enzo comes through heroically to preserve the Swift family in this wholesome feel-good book.

 
 

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Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.

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