You know when you have a stack of books on your bedside table but none of them feel quite right for your right now? This latest column is here to turn up a list of great reads for whatever mood you’re in. First, a handful of stories about the hard-earned feeling that comes from weathering a few downs with your positivity intact.
Exit West by Moshin Hamid
It might seem odd to put a book about war and fleeing refugees on a list of hopeful books, but that’s the magic of Moshin Hamid’s 2017 novel. The book centers around Nadia and Saeed, two young lovers who live in an unnamed, war-torn country. As their lives grow more unstable, mystical doors start opening around the world, allowing people to flow into far-flung countries in seconds. The pair hop to refugee settlements around the world—all the while discovering what it means to really be at home somewhere.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Characters die and come back to life in Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Egan’s newest novel, but that’s still less remarkable than the feat of the main character, Anna, who becomes the first female diver in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard during WWII. It’s equal parts crime story, family drama, and nostalgic tour of mid-century Brooklyn, all revolving around the iron-willed young woman at the center.
Devotion by Patti Smith
This is a funny little book—it’s a pseudo-diary of Patti Smith’s process of writing a new short story, which is also included. In mapping the minute details, weird tangents, and mundane labor that go into creating something that people might call a product of “creative genius,” it provides a fascinating window into the mind of an artist. It also makes the case that you just might be able to follow her lead!
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Don’t let the heft of this multi-generational family saga scare you off—it’s the kind of thing you’ll be glad you can keep coming back to (or have on hand for a freetime-filled vacation!). It’s a tale of perseverance, about how a young woman from rural Korea makes the best of an unplanned pregnancy, a rapidly changing post-WWII world, and life as a transplant in Japan as her family grows up around her. You’ll root for her the whole way through.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
A number of books on this list are about women coming out the other side of adolescence stronger for it, and twenty-something Brit Bennett’s debut novel is part of that club. It’s the story of Nadia, a teen in California outgrowing the world around her and navigating her complicated relationships with her sweet, churchgoing dad, her best friend, and her high-school boyfriend as her life continues forward. The most moving part isn’t just that Nadia finds a way out—it’s that she also finds her way back.