Self-care series: 6 positive reads to get stuck into

How are you finding 2021 so far? There’s no right or wrong answer, and it’s ok if you’re not feeling 100% ok.

Now more than ever it’s important to take care of yourself and do what feels right for you. In this ‘self-care’ series will explore some of the activities and ways you can try and improve your wellbeing and take a bit of time out for yourself.

Reading is well-known to help boost mood, re-focus the mind, and if nothing else pass the time away during lockdown. To help you get started with your reading list, Professor Dinah Birch CBE, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Cultural Engagement has put together this selection of ‘positive’ novels.

Professor Birch said “Reading a cheering book can really help to lift your spirits. Here’s a selection of upbeat novels that will do just that.  Enjoy!”

1. A Gentleman in Moscow (2016), Amor Towels

This novel tells the story of a minor Russian aristocrat who is arrested by the Bolsheviks and spends decades under house arrest in a Moscow hotel.  A delight, and much more cheerful than it sounds.  As a side-benefit, readers learn a good deal about twentieth-century Russian history.

2. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (2003), Mark Haddon

A murder mystery with a difference.  Christopher, an intelligent boy with Asperger’s syndrome, is determined to make sense of the death of his neighbour’s dog.  Written with exceptional sensitivity to Christopher’s distinctive understanding of the world and the difficulties he encounters in dealing with everyday life, the gradual unravelling of the puzzle leads to a truly heartening resolution.

3. Emma (1815), Jane Austen

If your experience of Jane Austen’s novels is limited to adaptations on film and television, this is a good moment to explore the original books.  Witty, compassionate, and completely absorbing, Emma tells the story of a series of romantic misunderstandings, all satisfactorily resolved in the novel’s buoyant conclusion.  Along the way, Austen gives an unforgettable picture of society in early-nineteenth century England.

4. Beyond Black (2005), Hilary Mantel

There’s more to Hilary Mantel than Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII.  This brilliant novel, which tells the story of Alison Hart, a psychic medium, is something of an outsider on the list, for as its title suggests it takes its readers to some dark places.  But it is very funny, and its conclusion is unexpectedly uplifting.

5. The Code of the Woosters (1938), P. G. Wodehouse

No-one excels Wodehouse in the difficult art of making readers laugh, and this is one of his best novels.  One of its many achievements (apart from its unconventional approach to fighting fascism) lies in the fact that it makes innocence, in the hapless person of Bertie Wooster, appealing.  Very few novelists manage to do that.

6. Guards! Guards! (1989), Terry Pratchett

This astonishingly inventive novel is a comic masterpiece, concealing (as Pratchett often does) serious themes under its ingenious surface.  Everyone should try Pratchett at least once.  If you enjoy this novel, the cheering news for you is that there are many more – and they are all good.