February got you down? February’s got me down. The polar vortex cold. The endless snow. (And I like snow.) The long commutes. Shoveling at 9 p.m. Shoveling again at 5 a.m. Plus if, like me, you’re doing the Star Tribune 28-Day Sugar-Free Challenge, you can’t even have chocolate to console you. We need something to lift our spirits.
Books. Books can do this.
The amazing power of books — they can crush us, devastate us, make us cry, make us laugh. At the end of one of the longest Februaries ever (despite only 28 days), here are some books to not crush you, to not devastate you, but to bring you cheer.
“Greenwillow,” by B.J. Chute. This is the book that I send to friends who are down in the dumps. Written by Minnesota-born Chute and a finalist for a 1957 National Book Award, it’s the story of the village of Greenwillow and the utterly charming people who live there: the two rival pastors (one cheerful and fat, the other dour and thin), the hired girl, Dorrie, and Gideon, the cursed boy who loves her. I have read this book many times, and it never loses its charm.
“Less,” by Andrew Sean Greer. Dark-horse winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize, this is the rare comic novel to be so honored. It’s the story of a writer on the cusp of middle age who finds out that his former lover is getting married, so he takes off on a round-the-world book tour, eventually finding the meaning of love.
“Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” by Maria Semple. Semple skewers Microsoft employees, yuppies and the granola-crunchiness of Seattle in this comic novel about a mother who disappears just as her family is planning a trip to Antarctica. (Equally funny is Semple’s second book, “Today Will Be Different.”)
“The Misfortune of Marion Palm,” by Emily Culliton. The unlikely protagonist is dowdy, boring and a master at embezzlement. And embezzle she does — and then disappears, deserting her job and her odious family.
“The Diary of a Bookseller,” by Shaun Bythell. The dark humor in this memoir comes from the crankiness of Bythell, who runs a bookstore in Scotland and who is famous for putting Kindles out of their misery in various ways. Also funny: the cluelessness of his customers, who sometimes stand in his store and look up books on Amazon, hoping for a better price. And then there’s the wackiness of his staff. Through it all glows the charm of the bookstore and the love of books.
“Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine,” by Gail Honeyman. It’s clear to every reader that Eleanor Oliphant is, in fact, not completely fine, is actually barely holding things together. But Eleanor doesn’t know this. As you read you will understand her better and better, and root for her more and more.
“Magpie Murders,” by Anthony Horowitz Yes, there are dead bodies, but no, they won’t make you feel sad. Horowitz (creator of the BBC show “Foyle’s War” and author of myriad books for kids and adults) has cleverly tucked a pseudo Agatha Christie novel inside this murder mystery. Two books in one, and both quite fun.
“Hotel Silence,” by Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir, translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon. This novel starts with grimness — the protagonist is trying to figure out where and how he can kill himself without bothering anyone — and ends with community and hope.
“Vinegar Girl,” by Anne Tyler. Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” is told with a feminist slant. Sly and funny, with vintage Tyler characters.
“The Good Lord Bird,” by James McBride. The funniest book you’ll ever read about the Civil War. Featuring a boy named Onion, and John Brown. It’s dark, but it’s very funny, and it won the National Book Award for fiction.
“I Want My Hat Back,” by Jon Klassen. It’s a picture book. It will take you 45 seconds to read. It will make you laugh and laugh.
What books do you pick up when you’re feeling blue? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll include your suggestions sometime in March (another glorious month).
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks.