11 Feel-Good Books to Instantly Brighten Your Day
There’s nothing like a good book to help improve your mood. A feel-good novel is like the literary equivalent of a big hug, a warm bath, a friend sitting down with you on the sofa with a block of chocolate and a bottle of wine for a chat.
Feel-good literature is the genre we find ourselves returning to, time and time again, and it never lets us down. From Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice to Dolly Alderton's quick-witted story, Ghosts, here are some of our absolute favourites.
11 Feel-Good Books to Instantly Brighten Your Day
1. Heartburn by Nora Ephron
She’s the queen of feel good cinema, but don’t overlook Nora Ephron when it comes to feel good writing, too. Before she was the director of You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle, she was a journalist for places including The New Yorker and a writer of novels including Heartburn. On the face of it, this tale of marriage breakdown might not seem feel good on the surface. But Heartburn is so funny and wry and human that it can’t help but put a smile on your face.
2. Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe
For us, feel good means funny, which is why we have to put Love, Nina on this list. This is the curated diaries and letters of Nina Stibbe’s years spent, in the 1980s, as a nanny for Mary-Kay Wilmers, then the editor of the London Review of Books, in a bohemian London square that also housed Alan Bennett. These books are full of childhood hijinx and scrapes and are so silly that it’s impossible not to read them without laughing.
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
There are books that we return to, over and over again, cosy and familiar classics that are feel good staples for us. Pride and Prejudice – and in fact, any Jane Austen – is one of those. This is a book that we know back to front: Mr Darcy, a single man in possession of a good fortune who must be in want of a wife, and Lizzie Bennett, the headstrong second daughter of a gentleman who won’t compromise for love. A perfect book, a beautiful love story, a happy ending for the ages.
4. Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy
A favourite of ours ever since we read it as teenagers, Circle of Friends follows three young women from a small country Ireland town who end up in Dublin for university. It’s the 1950s and everything is changing: life, love, sex, family. And this gorgeously observed and transportive novel is so empathetic about all of those things. A wonderful book that we re-read every year. (And it has a pretty great cinematic adaptation too from the ‘90s, starring a young Minnie Driver in one of her first movie roles.)
5. One Day by David Nicholls
In One Day, David Nicholls perfectly captures the fleeting and ephemeral beauty of love. This is the story of two friends from university, revisiting them on the same day through the years, as they make their way both towards and away from each other. Heartbreaking and heartwarming, One Day is a book we will never tire of re-reading.
6. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Nothing like Liane Moriarty for some comfort reading. The Australian author has a knack for pulling together strands of story to make an engrossing, complete whole. We think pretty much any of her books would fit the feel good literature bill, but we have a soft spot for What Alice Forgot, the tale of a woman who forgets the past 10 years of life and can’t work out why things haven’t gone according to plan for her.
7. Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin
We love Laurie Colwin’s writing: she has written both novels and food books. Happy All The Time might be our favourite of all her works, though, a book about a couple of couples as they figure out their lives. It’s a very simple story, elegantly told, and it’s about love, which is just about the most feel good thing out there. Plus, the New York setting is so chic, it’s hard not to love this book.
8. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton
We toyed between putting Everything I Know About Love or Ghosts on here, but we went with Ghosts because it’s just such a soothing read. The tale of food writer Nina, battling through dating apps and dealing with changing friendships and family relationships around her, this story is so relatable and so warmly detailed, it will feel like a hug from your best friend.
9. Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn
Conversations on Love goes hand in hand with Everything I Know About Love, so we don’t feel bad about leaving the latter off. (Besides, Dolly actually features in this book as one of the interviews.) Drawn from writer Natasha Lunn’s popular newsletter series, where writers and critics are questioned about different concepts of love, this book is so full of heart. Lunn writes so eloquently about her own love stories: as a young woman, as a woman in a longterm marriage, as a woman desperately longing for, and trying for, a baby. She is an empathetic and clear-eyed writer whose work is so readable.
10. The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard
A bit of a cheat as this is a series of books, and not just one, but we stand by it. These are some of the best and most uplifting things you could read: a series spanning several decades that follows four generations of the Cazalets, a big upper class English family whose lives are up-ended by social upheaval, changing times and war. These are books that you will lose yourselves in, the characters are so richly drawn and their lives so well sketched out. If what you want is a saga of one family over many, many years, The Cazalet Chronicles will deliver all that and more.
11. The Bridgerton books by Julia Quinn
Romance is the genre when it comes to feel good, and it doesn’t get more feel good than Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books. If you loved the television series, now is the chance to dive into the books, which are just as silly and enjoyable. The Viscount Who Loved Me, the second novel charting Anthony Bridgerton’s romance, is our personal favourite, but you have to start with The Duke and I, which is the first in the series and the one featuring Daphne and Simon. Enjoy!
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