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Happy reads

Originally published in the Ketchikan Daily News, July 2020; written by Lisa Pearson.

Tell me a story. Not a sad story, not a scary story, not an unsettling story. Something that will take me out of myself and let me escape reality for a little bit. This is a question we have been hearing frequently from our library patrons for months now. So I have a couple of broad suggestions, as well as 3 specific titles to try. *Spoiler alert: all 3 books end happily!

As for my broad suggestions, here is the first one: try a classic author. The great works of literature may deal with weighty, serious issues but they took place such a long time ago that it’s all water under the bridge, right? Lydia Bennet’s scandalous elopement with Mr. Wickham just doesn’t seem that tragic anymore, and the workhouses of Charles Dickens have all been converted into luxury condos now. Some classic authors – like Twain, Wodehouse and Coward – were celebrated for their wit. You might want to hold off on the Bronte sisters, though.

Read science fiction or fantasy. There may still be wars, pestilence, corruption and environmental catastrophes, but when it happens on an imaginary planet – or involves imaginary creatures – it seems a little less relevant. Sharon Shinn and Anne McCaffrey add a touch of romance, Chris Holm and Jim Butcher incorporate noir, and Terry Pratchett and Christopher Moore use comedy in their novels. Even if this is a genre you don’t ordinarily read, give it a shot.

As for specific titles, these are the three that I have read most recently. If these don’t appeal to you, all of the staff at the public library are happy to connect you with a favorite of their own. We’re open 6 days a week, call 225-3331 for more details about hours and book recommendations.

“The women in black” by Madeleine St. John, is set in Sydney Australia in the 1950’s. It follows the private lives and personal difficulties of four women who work together in an upscale department store, selling dresses. As you read the book, you wonder where it is going to lead these women and you brace yourself for tragedy, but things work out in the end. They’re not fairytale endings; in fact, each woman’s story arc doesn’t really end at all. They just move into their next phase of life with more optimism and opportunity than they expected. It’s very reassuring to see these women go through troubles and come out better at the other side.

“Nine women, one dress” by Jane Rosen, is a fun, light-hearted story in which multiple people’s lives are connected through a single couture dress. With each point of view told in short chapters, reading this book is like eating a box of truffles. The title refers to nine women, but the men in their lives get their chance to shine as well. You know everything is going to work out beautifully, and the fun part is seeing how it all ties together. This isn’t ground-breaking literature, but everyone should read at least one happy book a week.

“Indian summer” by Marcia Willet has a beautiful setting: Devonshire during a hot summer. The way Willet describes the sun-drenched farm lane and collection of cottages where her characters live, it actually sounds more like southern France than southern England. Her story is a little more melancholy than the other two; it deals with lost youth and missed chances at love. But the setting is so soothing, and the characters so appealing, that you don’t mind a little bit of sadness and ‘what-might-have-been’. And since everything works out well for everyone in the end, you close the book with a smile on your face and a feeling of contentment.

So my advice for this rainy, COVID summer is to treat yourself to a little escapist reading. Take your mind to a different place, a different time. And tell yourself that – eventually – it will all work out.

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