Classic books can sometimes get a bad rep (especially if you struggled through them at school), but in reality they’re a treasure trove of life lessons, balms for the soul, and opportunities for self-care.
After contemplating my favourites, I’ve compiled a list of recommendations to prove that happy and uplifting books don’t necessarily need to be modern and recently published.
But firstly, what even is a classic book? Let’s take a quick look inside Italo Calvino’s 1991 book Why Read the Classics?, in which he outlines fourteen definitions of a “classic”. These include:
6. A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.
10. A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a par with ancient talismans.
11. ‘Your’ classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it.
My classics may well be different from your classics, but at the very least, I hope this list can inspire you to find a few mood-boosting books of your own.
From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Kenneth Grahame and Elizabeth von Arnim, these are the classic feel-good books that bring a smile to my face, help me breathe a little deeper, and let me indulge in some lighthearted relaxation.
Which ones have you already read, and which ones can you add to your to-be-read list?
The best feel-good classic novels for happy reading
1. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
What a book this is. Cider with Rosie is the classic evocative tale of an idyllic childhood in the English countryside, conjuring up evocative memories of life in a remote Cotswold village among the fields, woods, and characters of the place before industrialisation and with the backdrop of war.
“So with the family gone, Mother lived as she wished … Slowly, snugly, she grew into her background, warm on her grassy bank, poking and peering among the flowery bushes, dishevelled and bright as they. Serenely unkempt were those final years, free from conflict, doubt or dismay, while she reverted gently to a rustic simplicity as a moss-rose reverts to a wild one.”Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I can’t read Pride and Prejudice without feeling a little better about myself and the world. I know exactly what’s going to happen, but I still fall in love with the plot more every time. Fall into the world of the Bennett, Darcy, and Bingley families for dancing, ribbons, romance, and horseback rides at dawn.
I love this beautiful hardcover special edition by Fingerprint Publishing that also includes stunning endpapers.
“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh.”Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
3. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
Elizabeth von Arnim often features in my bibliotherapy recommendations, and for good reason. The Enchanted April is her uplifting story of a group of London women who find each other—and the castle of their dreams—through a classified ad in a London newspaper one rainy February afternoon.
As this lovely book continues, these four women escape the miserable English weather for an Italian castle covered in wisteria, where they rediscover their true natures and their joy.
“All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet. The sun poured in on her. The sea lay asleep in it, hardly stirring. Across the bay the lovely mountains, exquisitely different in color, were asleep too in the light; and underneath her window, at the bottom of the flower-starred grass slope from which the wall of castle rose up, was a great cypress, cutting through the delicate blues and violets and rose-colors of the mountains and the sea like a great black sword.
She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty; and she alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light.”The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
4. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
I stumbled upon a copy of Three Men in a Boat by chance when I was in my teens, reading it with no idea of what to expect. But it’s such a wonderful feel-good novel to escape into for a weekend.
Martyrs to hypochondria and general seediness, J. and his friends George and Harris decide that a jaunt up the Thames is just what they need. But when they set off, they can hardly predict the troubles that lie ahead with tow-ropes, unreliable weather forecasts, and tins of pineapple chunks – not to mention the devastation left in the wake of J.’s small fox-terrier Montmorency.
“Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. ”Three Men in a Boat
5. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Lift your mood and take some time to unwind with your pick of the four novels and fifty-six short stories about everyone’s favourite consulting detective.
6. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Leafing through the beautifully illustrated pages of The Wind in the Willows is a trip back to childhood for me. As one of the most charming pieces of English literature, let the book’s endearing protagonists – Mole, Mr. Toad, Badger, and Ratty – enchant you, no matter your age.
7. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
“James Herriot has been my comfort author for my whole life, everything is so cozy, warm, and light”, writes yeetcapsule on Reddit. Meet the world’s most beloved veterinarian – and his menagerie of heartwarming, funny, and tragic animal patients – as he takes up his calling and discovers the realities of veterinary practice in rural Yorkshire.
“At times it seemed unfair that I should be paid for my work; for driving out in the early morning with the fields glittering under the first pale sunshine and the wisps of mist still hanging on the high tops.”All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
8. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s universe isn’t always light-hearted and fun, but it’s always magical. If I need a break or change of scenery, reading the first lines of The Hobbit is always a good idea.
“Where there’s life there’s hope.”The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
9. The BFG by Roald Dahl
How can you read Roald Dahl and not feel a little brighter and happier? I wasn’t sure whether to keep it on this list of classic literature, but for me, at least, it’s a classic (and Roald Dahl had such a huge influence on children’s literature.)
10. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Reddit user Jon-Umber describes Anne of Green Gables as “a relentlessly optimistic novel full of uplifting moments.” This feel-good classic follows Anne Shirley, a precocious Canadian orphan, who’s adopted by a brother and sister who soon change their mind about sending her back.
This much-loved classic explores all the vulnerability, expectations, and dreams of a child growing up, finding a place she can belong, and stepping into herself.
“Dear old world’, she murmured, ‘you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Retreat Into The Sanctuary & Find Your Way With Comforting, Gentle Wisdom
Love books, feeling a little lost right now, and looking for some comfort and guidance forwards? I made The Sanctuary exactly for this.