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Jenny in Florida

Books that are pleasant, but not "fluffy?"

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I'm still trying to kick off my doldrums, and I'm in search of books (both print and audio) that will help me lift the fog. I'm struggling because I don't tend to enjoy things that are often described as "light" or "fluffy." I've been known to enjoy an occasional guilty pleasure, but when I'm  in this zone, I need for things to be genuinely interesting and absorbing in order for them to be enjoyable or engaging. 

 

I'm not in a place to appreciate material that is designed to be "funny" in an overt way; it just feels over wrought and irritating. But I also notice that my mood takes a big dip when I spend any significant amount of time with storylines or characters that involve stressful or upsetting issues.

 

It's quite the balancing act.

 

Things I've enjoyed recently:

 

The Windfall  (Diksha Basu)

Crazy Rich Asians and both sequels (Kevin Kwan)

What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories (Laura Shapiro)

 

My favorite genres tend to be historical fiction, urban fantasy, memoirs and non-fiction about history and education, especially what I might describe as "niche history" (such as What She Ate mentioned above). At the moment, I have no patience with fantasy elements, and I seem to be especially drawn to novels set in non-American locales that focus on families but do not include any big, awful, upsetting events.

 

Both The Windfall and the Kwan series are comedic -- the latter more than the former, although I admit to zoning out during some of the designer name-dropping -- but not in a way I found off-putting.

 

I'm currently reading Tara Westover's Educated, which I was super excited to start. However, I'm finding the stories about her family and childhood just too harsh. Similarly, I'm listening to the audio version of Shanghai Girls (Lisa See), which I think I would love if I were in a different place, emotionally. As it is, though, it's too much. I don't think I'm going to be able to continue with either one of them.

 

I've tried using NoveList to search out read-alikes, but I can't see to figure out how to screen for some of the things that are problematic for me. For example, I found Shanghai Girls there, and the description gave me no hint about some of the content I've found most disturbing.

 

So, suggestions? Please?

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A Gentleman in Moscow?

I Capture the Castle?

 

ETA possibly Among Others by Jo Walton if urban fantasy can stretch to include a small town in Wales.

Edited by Melinda in VT
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Some non light books I've enjoyed recently:

 

Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil 

 

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

 

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough

 

Isaac's Storm by Erik Larsen (about a deadly hurricane, so it's not pleasant, but really interesting)

 

I'm currently reading Grounded by Diana Butler Bass and I am enjoying it so far

 

 

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I liked "A Man Called Ove." It certainly isn't fluffy, but it's amusing and reading it made me feel good.  

 

Have you ever tried any pop science books? The books by Mary Roach or Michio Kaku are fun to read to read and educational, but not overly taxing or depressing.

Edited by Mergath
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Have you read “Brown Girl Dreaming� It’s a memoir told in poetry, the audiobook is read by the author.

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A Gentleman in Moscow?

I Capture the Castle?

 

ETA possibly Among Others by Jo Walton if urban fantasy can stretch to include a small town in Wales.

 

I've read I Capture the Castle, and the description of Among Others makes it sound a bit dark (abusive mother, death of a sibling . . .)

 

Gentleman in Moscow seems like a possibility, though. Thanks.

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I liked "A Man Called Ove." It certainly isn't fluffy, but it's amusing and reading it made me feel good.  

 

Have you ever tried any pop science books? The books by Mary Roach or Michio Kaku is fun to read to read and educational, but not overly taxing or depressing.

 

Yes, I often enjoy those, too. These days, though, I'm liking a little more story.

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One of my favorite books last year was Together Tea by Marjan Kamali. I think it hits all your main points - it's set in a non-American locale (well, for part of the book) and focus on family but does not include any big, awful, upsetting events.  I left the book smiling.  But I would not call it fluff.  I am also a fluff-averse. ;)

 

I just finished a sweet, meditative book that is set in Japan during WWII.  I know it sounds crazy that something during that time period could be sweet and meditative, especially since the main character is Chinese, but there you go.  I had to suspend disbelief a bit about a couple of details, but I did end up liking it - The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama.

 

Celine by Peter Heller was also a very nice read.  The book is a bit of an homage to the author's mother, who was a New England Brahmin private detective specializing in reuniting families - which is also what the main character of the novel does (character is in her 70's and has emphysema, but that doesn't slow her down).  

 

Another I read recently was One Day the Ice Will Reveal All Its Dead, which is an odd title but was an interesting book, a work of historical fiction about the life of Alfred Wegener, the German meteorologist who came up with the idea of continental drift.  Told in the first person from his childhood, through family and a bunch of trips on the ice in Greenland.

 

Rabbit Cake by Annie Harnett was a great book.  The book does start with the mother's accidental death by sleep-swimming, but the 11yo narrator's voice is so great - it's about her family's (dad, her and sister's) putting their lives back together and is quirky but not in that annoying way some quirky books are, imho.  And very warmly told.

 

Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck - totally loved the main character, Madame Wang.  She turns 40 and 'retires' from her family duties to read and find herself (just in another wing of the house, but still...).  Set in rural China almost a century ago.

 

The Plover by Brian Doyle - guy gets on boat to sail away from everything, somehow ends up with boat full of people on an adventure.  And a seagull.  Way more fun than it sounds from that description! 

 

Non-fiction that was interesting and not depressing: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (so, so, so good  eta: and you totally need to listen to this on on audio - narrated by author, so good!), Hidden Figures, Girls of Atomic City, Lab Girl, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Lost City of the Monkey God, Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.

 

You should join us over at BaW.  :)  No minimum reading requirement, but so many good ideas for books!  :D

 

 

Edited by Matryoshka
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I loved Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight:  An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller.  If you like it, you can read the second one that follows it.

 

And along that theme, I also loved Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott.

 

ETA:  Just thought of another one:  Two Under the Indian Sun by Rumer Godden Jon.

 

 

Edited by J-rap

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I liked Wings of Madness. It's nonfiction about a famous balloonist mostly set in Paris. ETA: It's not my most favorite book of all time or anything, but I think it checks all your boxes better than anything else I can think of right now. It's not depressing, interesting and you feel like you learn something new, it's set mostly overseas, and it's an easy read.

 

Other books: Housekeeper and the Professor, The Drunkard's Walk, Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Station Eleven, Night and Day (Virginia Woolf)

Edited by Paige

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I liked "A Man Called Ove." It certainly isn't fluffy, but it's amusing and reading it made me feel good.

 

Have you ever tried any pop science books? The books by Mary Roach or Michio Kaku are fun to read to read and educational, but not overly taxing or depressing.

I love a man called Ove as well but I feel like it does have a fairly serious side to it.

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I've read I Capture the Castle, and the description of Among Others makes it sound a bit dark (abusive mother, death of a sibling . . .)

 

Gentleman in Moscow seems like a possibility, though. Thanks.

Among Others didn't feel dark (despite the situation), but I might have read it when I was in a dark-proof mood.

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I love a man called Ove as well but I feel like it does have a fairly serious side to it.

 

I agree that A Man Called Ove could be difficult for some (themes of suicide). However, Backman's other books are equally touching, without that issue. I would recommend Britt Marie Was Here and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry.

 

OP mentioned urban fantasy, so I must recommend the amazing book The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

 

Other light-but-not-fluffy that I've read recently --

 

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

These may bee too chick lit for the OP, especially the last one, but putting them out anyway.

 

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I agree that A Man Called Ove could be difficult for some (themes of suicide). However, Backman's other books are equally touching, without that issue. I would recommend Britt Marie Was Here and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry.

 

OP mentioned urban fantasy, so I must recommend the amazing book The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

 

Other light-but-not-fluffy that I've read recently --

 

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

 

These may bee too chick lit for the OP, especially the last one, but putting them out anyway.

 

I didn't know there were more by the same author! Off to update my hold list...

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OP mentioned urban fantasy, so I must recommend the amazing book The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

 

 

I missed that she'd said urban fantasy, because a bit later on she said she didn't have much tolerance for fantasy elements lately, but if she can hack two magical characters in an otherwise non-magical NYC, I'd also recommend that one!

 

And another favorite that I read last year might fall into that grey area - The Goblin Emperor.  It's set in a steampunk-ish society (dirigibles, clockwork), but not Earth and all the characters are either goblins or elves.  But in a lot of ways it's not fantastical.  I don't recall that there's any magic or sword and sorcery; the plot is more around political and court intrigue; the characters could easily have been humans of different races.  

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I recently listen to American Panda. It is a YA book about a Chinese American student coping with parental pressure to marry “correctly†and pursue medical school. It is light, but not terribly fluffy. It is a predictable trope, but I still enjoyed it. The Audible version was pleasant.

 

I also loved The One Hundred Year Old Man.... It’s funny without being forced.

 

I recently finished Educated and I have such a bee in my bonnet over that memoir. I meant to talk about it here but I haven’t had time to focus on that. There was also a crazy review on Amazon by Tara’s brother, Tyler, which adds to the kookery.

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I'll add my vote for A Gentleman in Moscow. It's a lovely story, historical fiction, not at all fluffy.

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