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Games, Questions, & Challenges > Weekly Question #9: What Non-Downer Book/Classic Do You Recommend?

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message 1: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 909 comments A random thought from the 'Weekly Question #7 thread.'

It seems, at least to me, at least right now, that classics and books that make the 'everyone should read' lists tend to be serious books. In SF, they'e stories that warn us what a mess we're making of our world, like 1984, Handmaid's Tale, etc.

I've not thought this through yet. I really want thoughts from you-all.

Maybe I should ask 'what 1 book can you recommend to Every reader that is *not* all serious and sad?' But I want discussion, too, please, not just a list of titles. :)


message 2: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments Often, yes.

Many people feel that great books must include a heaping helping of gravitas, or at least of pain, suffering, anguish, and angst.

Hollywood often falls into this trap. If a movie is big and about a serious subject, even if it is tedious or just plain bad it is likely to win an Oscar, if only to prove that Hollywood is SERIOUS.

Now that I am long out of school, I read almost entirely for my own enjoyment. This may include history and other subjects that are also educational.

I do not enjoy being beat over the head with gravitas or angst and do not believe that the more a protagonist suffers, the more profound the story. And I do not read books English mavens say we ought to read, or read books that everyone else is reading, unless I think I am going to enjoy them.

For me, it's personal. The value of a book is equal to the enjoyment I got out of reading it.


message 3: by Diana (new)

Diana Gotsch | 15 comments My husband, who worked in a hospital for 40 years, gets annoyed by people who rave about a movie that is full of suffering. They would often describe it as real. His comment was "I spend 8 hours a day in that real world, why would I want to go back there for entertainment?" I feel much the same about books I read. I read for fun. If I want to see how bad things are I'll watch the news.


message 4: by Duane (new)

Duane (tduaneparkeryahoocom) | 28 comments I think it's just a matter of personal likes and dislikes. I can read a "downer" or one with a happy ending and enjoy either, as long as they are well written. If I only read "happy" books then I would have missed great classics like The Grapes of Wrath and A Tale of Two Cities, and excellent contemporaries like The Fault in Our Stars and The Book Thief. But I like a feel good story with a happy ending as well. A good balance works for me.


message 5: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin | 90 comments You often need some pain and suffering to write a good drama or fiction to make it realistic, but there is a point when too much spoils the entertainment value of the book. I did for example enjoy at first the books of the Honor Harrington series, by David Weber, but was turned off for good when the sequels became a lithany of deaths by the millions (mostly of the good or innocent people in the stories), apparently for shock effect, while the bad guys kept getting away with it and the politicians on the good side kept breaking records in stupidity and obtuseness levels in order to frustrate the main character. Those books just became too dark and frustrating to read for me. I need at least some rays of hope in a book to enjoy it.


message 6: by Reva (last edited Jul 27, 2014 06:27AM) (new)

Reva (revans) | 38 comments It seems like light and funny are usually tied to short easy to read books that I find myself reading in bed when I can't sleep. Cheaper by the Dozen, any of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, any of Peter Mayle's books like A year in Provence, Toujour Provence, and the one that always made me laugh out loud. Dave Barry Does Japan. I always liked Erma Bombeck's If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I doing in the pits? And any of Sophie Kinsella's Shopaholic series.

Not a profound tome amongst them. They just make me laugh.


message 7: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 909 comments I just don't see the need for a dichotomy between heavy and light books. I know there are smart, provocative, valuable stories that are also enjoyable and don't involve 'millions of deaths of innocents' (thank you Michel for confirming that I have no interest in Weber's series).

One example that comes to mind is Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. So, I guess a good satire can be *L*iterature and enjoyable. Any other examples, anyone?

R., I've enjoyed a few of your examples, too. I might have to check out Mayle, the name is new to me.

Diana, I totally agree with your husband. Doc, Duane, all, thank you for intelligent & helpful insights.


message 8: by Reva (new)

Reva (revans) | 38 comments Cheryl,

John Thaw starred in a good BBC rendition of A Year in Provence.


message 9: by Michele (last edited Jul 28, 2014 09:07PM) (new)

Michele | 144 comments The same reason that comedies almost never win Academy Awards. People feel like "very good" = "very serious". Which is a shame because there are very funny books that also make very profound statements about life, love, the human condition. As Cheryl in CC NV pointed out, there's Terry Pratchett -- Hogfather and Tiffany Aching books (A Hat Full of Sky, The Wee Free Men, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight) are sterling examples.


message 10: by Reva (new)

Reva (revans) | 38 comments Just finished Faroozeh Dumas' Funny in Farsi about her Iranian family's coping with immigration to America. Starts off slow but gets laugh out loud funny as you progress.


message 11: by Heather(Gibby) (new)

Heather(Gibby) (heather-gibby) | 428 comments I just finished reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson which is considered a classic piece of literature. It deals with a pretty serious subject, but in a very light hearted adventurous way. I had never read any Stevenson before as I considered them "boy" books, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one.


message 12: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 225 comments There are many classics that end happily. PRIDE & PREJUDICE, JANE EYRE, WATERSHIP DOWN -- too many to list. Perhaps you are demanding a happy and comedic tone throughout? That is a little more rare, since most stories involve conflict which necessarily leads to unhappiness and angst.


message 13: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments Heather wrote: "I just finished reading Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson which is considered a classic piece of literature. It deals with a pretty serious subject, but in a very l..."

I've loved that sort of story since childhood, when first I read The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood - Howard Pyle - ORIGINAL VERSION INCLUDES BONUS ANNOTATIONS . I've also read and enjoyed Stevenson's Treasure Island and The Black Arrow. You might also try AC Doyle's Sir Nigel and the White Company and The Complete Brigadier Gerard.


message 14: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments Brenda wrote: "There are many classics that end happily. PRIDE & PREJUDICE, JANE EYRE, WATERSHIP DOWN -- too many to list. Perhaps you are demanding a happy and comedic tone throughout? That is a little more rare..."
I don't think it's a matter of happy endings, but rather of the quantity and nature of pain and angst in the story. It is axiomatic that the protagonist(s) must face some challenges, but it is definitely possible to have too much of a bad thing. The tipping point is, of course, entirely subjective.
For me, if it is well done and essential to the story, fine. But if it seems that the writer is just using it to "salt the mine" . . .


message 15: by Amy, Queen of Time (new)

Amy | 2210 comments Mod
I had a Russian student once who complained that everything I had them read in American Literature was depressing. Really? A Russian student complaining about depressing literature? But it really made me stop and re-analyze which stories I wanted to include in the class in the future. In fact, I changed textbooks altogether once I saw the normal trend toward such depressing literature.

The sad thing is that I just looked at my list of favorites, and they're all depressing in some way. The human condition is full of change. Depressing changes can lead to happy futures. Reality is peppered with sadness. And perhaps that we find characters that we can relate to those moments of sadness is what makes depressing stories ones that are more likely to be recommended. They're raw and real.

The only things that I can really find to recommend that aren't depressing in some aspect are some funny travel books by Bill Bryson and The Faraway Tree Stories which is a whimsical children's book and perhaps The Book of Flying (although I cannot attest to absolutely no sadness in that one).


message 16: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 225 comments Tch. Every book I have ever written has had a happy ending. Sure, there are injuries and miseries, but they are happy at the end!


message 17: by Lincoln, Temporal Jester (new)

Lincoln | 1290 comments Mod
My Dad says real life has enough sorrow and misery. If you're going to write fiction why not have a happy ending.


message 18: by Duane (new)

Duane (tduaneparkeryahoocom) | 28 comments I thought Pride and Prejudice was a feel good story. Nothing really bad happens and it has a happy ending.


message 19: by Amy, Queen of Time (new)

Amy | 2210 comments Mod
Duane wrote: "I thought Pride and Prejudice was a feel good story. Nothing really bad happens and it has a happy ending."

Unless you're like me and Mark Twain and want to dig up Jane Austen and whack her over the head with her own shin bone every time we try to read it ... Talk about unpleasantness. "It's the ghost of Mark Twain t'made me do it," I always say as they cart me off in a white jacket, ancient shin bone hidden under my shirt.


message 20: by Brenda (last edited Aug 01, 2014 01:18PM) (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 225 comments But the peril of total bad is there. The ruination of Lydia, for instance -- which means that she falls into a life of prostitution, you know. And don't forget that if Mr. Bennett dies, Mr. Collins gets Longbourne. There is nowhere for Mrs. Bennett and the girls to go unless they marry; Mrs. Bennett worries rightly that they will starve if they are single. It's not major calamity, the fall of the West and the dark wing of Sauron over Middle Earth for all time, no. But for Mrs. Bennett herself it would be total bad.


message 21: by Timothy (new)

Timothy Michael Lewis (timothymichaellewis) | 101 comments Well I don't necessarily think a book needs to finish happily per se, but if there is no hope at all for the main character at the end of the book then that is a major downer in my mind. Sometimes a book or a film makes an interesting point that makes up for its gloom -e.g the Diving Bell and the Butterfly which I liked despite being naturally depressing material.


message 22: by Reva (new)

Reva (revans) | 38 comments Amy wrote: "Duane wrote: "I thought Pride and Prejudice was a feel good story. Nothing really bad happens and it has a happy ending."

Unless you're like me and Mark Twain and want to dig up Jane Austen and wh..."


Speaking of Mark Twain, I just finished A Connecticutt Yankee... Again. I figure its good every 20 years or so. I'd forgotten just how much of a revolutionary he was.


message 23: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 909 comments Great discussion; thanks all! I see quite a few adventures recommended, too. Hmmm... more to think about. Meanwhile, I've also added a couple of more books to my to-read lists, particularly Kidnapped.


message 24: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments It probably shows up in our language: “being taken seriously.” It’s cultural, but we see tragedy as instructive—full of “drama” (art, morals, and cautions) while we see comedy as frothy entertainment. It’s our response to “Invested Mental Effort,” and it’s why television—with such enormous educational potential—has never really done more than scratch the surface in America (we’ve all seen way too much TV crap to take the medium seriously).

We compartmentalize the things we enjoy, and keep them separate from the things we admire. Carole Lombard—the brilliant film comedienne—went through her (mediocre) drama period because she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. Austen transcended her juvenilia because she wanted to be taken seriously as a novelist. Don’t we think that her novels got better as they became darker? I think she did, but didn’t she also worry about losing her audience with Mansfield Park? Of course, she wrote Mansfield Park anyway.

Some writers lose faith in the discrimination of their audience (you could certainly argue that their loss of faith is justified). Suffering is caused by ignorance, but when you use a character's ignorance to make him-or-her suffer, the character sometimes just comes off as ignorant (Lydia) and I think this is what we're objecting to: darkness in the interest of pretense. Isn’t writing to a template basically an act of contempt?


message 25: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 225 comments Mmm, it is simply writing to assignment. Which, if you can do it, can be quite profitable. Go over to the Romance Writers of America web site sometime, or go to a romance publisher's page and look at their submission requirements. Some genres are very rigid indeed about what can be written; there is no such thing as a romance novel (as defined by RWA) that doesn't have a happily-ever-after ending, or at least Happy For Now. You can write whatever you want, but if you want to market it as a romance novel it had better end happy.


message 26: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments One of my favorites is an old-style historical romance from the '40s: Prince of Foxes, which tells the story of an Italian peasant who passes himself off as a noble and ends up working for Cesare Borgia, the guy who inspired Machiavelli to write The Prince.
A classic of its kind. Quite hard to find outside of libraries.


message 27: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments Brenda wrote: "Mmm, it is simply writing to assignment..."

Maybe I’m over-reacting. I did my share of cut-and-paste with technical writing (reports, specifications) but the object was to convey information efficiently, there was no need to reinvent yet another wheel, and an overly varied format/language was at least potentially confusing. I always expected more from my expository prose and more still from my narrative prose. If I had to label my expectation, I would say that it’s the freedom to clarify (internally) my thoughts and beliefs. Maybe that’s just another of my silly ideas (I’ve had more than my share).

I’ve been paid to write, without feeling too degraded to pick up the checks, but it’s never been my motivation, and (I guess) I just don’t understand the need. Before Poe and Dickens, did anyone have the reasonable expectation of a livelihood from writing narratives? If you’re not doing it for a livelihood, why would money be a factor? Wouldn’t writing toward a predefined ending just be an academic exercise (and someone else’s academic exercise at that)?


message 28: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 225 comments Well you do have to distinguish between non fiction and fiction -- they are clearly quite separate animals.

I don't ever write under compulsion. But if someone announces an anthology about vampire bunnies, and I am inspired to write a story about vampire bunnies, I will do it. I wrote a story once for CHRISTIANITY TODAY (it is still up on their web site) to assignment, simply because the proposal hit me the right way.

And, if you search out the SF anthology CARMEN MIRANDA'S GHOST IS HAUNTING SPACE STATION FIVE, you will see that it was inspired by a filk song. The editor, Don Sakers, sent a cassette tape of the song around and invited stories. (This was years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth.) At my house the mail arrives around 4 pm. I listened to the tape and had a story written by bedtime that night. It hit the mail the following morning and was the first on the editor's desk the day after.


message 29: by Susan (new)

Susan (dulcigal) I've been reading my way through YA fiction, some considered Classics. Nearly all of the stories involve either a dystopian society, a terrible illness, or a horrific crime and ALL of the primary characters experience deep personal suffering (emotional and/or physical.) Augh! I enjoyed many of them but for contrast I'm going to reread either The Innocents Abroad (Twain) or In God I Trust, All Others Pay Cash (Shepherd). Both are marvelous reminiscences and will be a welcome change from all that depressing fiction.


message 30: by David (new)

David Haws | 102 comments Susan wrote: "I've been reading my way through YA fiction, some considered Classics. Nearly all of the stories involve either a dystopian society..."

The competition between publishers is for return-on-investment; as competition becomes keener, imagination disappears and you end up with clones-of-the-formerly-successful. While imagination is a good thing for readers and writers, it increases the risk for publishers, and is not something you should expect them to promote. I think it’s more amazing that new, original stuff does occasionally get published.


message 31: by Michel (last edited Aug 04, 2014 08:19PM) (new)

Michel Poulin | 90 comments David wrote: "Susan wrote: "I've been reading my way through YA fiction, some considered Classics. Nearly all of the stories involve either a dystopian society..."

The competition between publishers is for retu..."


Maybe this would be a reason to encourage/support more self-published authors (SPA), who are not shackled by publishers in terms of what they write. The problem of those SPAs is of course to get known despite the lack of support from a big Publisher.


message 32: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments Susan wrote: "I've been reading my way through YA fiction, some considered Classics. Nearly all of the stories involve either a dystopian society, a terrible illness, or a horrific crime and ALL of the primary c..."

At an SF event, I once asked Orson Scott Card why a scene he had written in a then-recently published book was so gory. After favoring me with a less-than-happy look, he said that every protagonist has to pay a price, and pain is one of the most effective.


message 33: by Michel (last edited Aug 04, 2014 08:31PM) (new)

Michel Poulin | 90 comments Doc wrote: "At an SF event, I once asked Orson Scott Card why a scene he had written in a then-recently published book was so gory. After favoring me with a less-than-happy look, he said that every protagonist has to pay a price, and pain is one of the most effective. ..."

After reading this, I am not sure that I want to read anything by Orson Scott Card. What an awful philosophy for a writer! There are many other ways to write a good story without having to 'punish' your protagonists.


message 34: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 909 comments I agree, Michel, Card's words do not give me a good impression. Ender's Game is genius, but the darkness & pain there fits the story perfectly. It's not a handy trope, as he seems to have been implying when he was talking to Doc.

This thread seems to have been co-opted as a Weekly Question (see new subject line, not mine). It's a good question, and is the gist of my (initially vague & open-ended) enquiry. So... let's go for it. More titles for quality books that aren't heavy or downers, please!


message 35: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 225 comments All of H. Rider Haggard's books end well. Not perfectly happy for 100% of the characters (someone always has to die magnificently, usually to save the others) but he knows how to end a work. Most of the Victorians and Edwardians did. KIM (Rudyard Kipling) has the most perfect ending you can imagine on every level. Even THE JUNGLE BOOKS -- the last one is perfect.

Peter Dickinson. TULKU is the book that is the gold standard for me; some day I will write a book that good. Have a look at his KING & JOKER. He knows how to end a book not where you expect it to end, in the standard HEA, but in a better and larger place.

Of a totally different type, see EXPECTING SOMEONE TALLER by Tom Holt. British comedy fantasy, but it ends right.


message 36: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 225 comments Oh look, all those British authors. How about some Americans? Lois Bujold's novels always end magnificently. You could not improve upon CURSE OF CHALION.


message 37: by David (last edited Aug 05, 2014 09:24AM) (new)

David Haws | 102 comments I tend to respect Card’s insight; when I began reading SciFi a few years ago, he was one of the first unknown-to-me writers that I enjoyed. Ender was a great story concept stretched (maybe with a few stretch marks) into a novella, but his writing just seemed to get better and better with each of the subsequent Ender/Shadow entries.

I thought Haggard’s “potting” scene was as bad as Card’s flaying of the Pequeninos.


message 38: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments Reva wrote: "It seems like light and funny are usually tied to short easy to read books that I find myself reading in bed when I can't sleep. Cheaper by the Dozen, any of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evan..."

I hear you. PG Woodhouse does it for me.


message 39: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments David wrote: "Susan wrote: "I've been reading my way through YA fiction, some considered Classics. Nearly all of the stories involve either a dystopian society..."

The competition between publishers is for retu..."


Well said.


message 40: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 909 comments Yeah, I have a feeling that's a 'someday' book for me. I keep winding up having to read adventure and historical fiction for group reads or whatever, and I don't like them. It'll be awhile before I'm in the mood for Kidnapped.


message 41: by Doc (new)

Doc | 34 comments I love old-style historical romance, which always ends well.
My favorites include Scaramouche, Master-at-Arms, and others by Rafael Sabatini, and Prince of Foxes and Captain From Castile by Samuel Shellabarger.


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