Having been generally grouchy lately (special apologies to Ms Nymeth, Ms Debi, and Amanda on that one...) I have noticed myself falling at times into an old trap - glamorising misery. It's a classic trick, as old as Greek Tragedy (and older), the tendency to believe that sorrow is greater than joy, that misery is a more real and powerful feeling than ecstasy.
Heck with that!
Happiness can be meaningful - I feel silly even having to SAY that. Happiness has it's gradations and variations, it's intensities and mysteries, it's secrets and ceremonies, just like sorrow. And sometimes, I think it's hard (especially for snotty nosed snob jerks like me) to remember that. So, here's a quick list of five books that are filled with happy, and pregnant with beauty and meaning, all at the same time:
1) Silas Marner - There are those who call this book saccharine, and it has been imitated so many times it's easy to read past. But Silas Marner has a gentle joy that suffuses it, even through a drug addled mother dying, a burglary, and an angsty secret. The book is beautiful because it accepts the sorrows of the world, accepts that there's no God waving his happy stick and making them all better, and nonetheless, in the end, shows how beautiful and joyous life really is. No book tells the healing and sanctifying power of love quite like Silas Marner.
2) Better Angel - I just read this book recently. It was written in 1931, and tells a very frank tale of what it was like to be a homosexual in the 20's. I honestly read this book fully expecting it to be a downer, and character after character was introduced that I fully expected to end up lettign me down. But Better Angel is filled with a passion and honest affection for romantic love that lets the author redeem men with sincerity and feeling. The scene in the book where the protagonist tells his best female friend (who's in love with him) that he's gay was one of the most bittersweet, but frankly love-infused moments of reading I've experienced in a long time.
3) The Arrival - Ms Nymeth just reviewed this recently, but in case you missed it, The Arrival is a graphic novel with no words, that tells a fantastical tale about emigration and immigration. The world Tan builds is a pitch perfect mixture of terrifying and exciting exoticism, where everything you meet has an equal chance of being filled with danger or filled with compassion and hope. And in the middle of the world is human beings who, through their mistakes, love each other, care for each other, take care of each other, in spite of the instinct for self-preservation. And by the end, you see some of the terrifying newness of the beginning transform almost magically into symbols of hope and joy. This is the most joyful book I read last year, I think.
5) Emily Dickinson - When I told Amanda the books I was thinking of putting on the list, I mentioned Emily Dickinson and she looked at me funny. Yes, Dickinson wrote about Death. But she also wrote some of the happiest, most soothing and gently courageous poems in the history of mankind. She also had a wicked, winking sense of humor, and a cheerful unvarnished affection for beautiful things. If you've only read the ones they give you in school, try Emily again - it's where I turn when I need to cheer up.
So! I feel better! Do you have any favorite books that show how powerful joy can be? Feel free to leave them in the comments - or make your own list if you like. It's so easy to create this false dichotomy between Happy Books and Important Books. But, to be blind to joy in the world is just as crippling as to be blind to sorrow - and just as unfair and productive of injustice to those around you, really.