Friday, 25 September 2020

Books that Delight

Photo by Luca Upper on Unsplash


During a long road trip yesterday, my mind eventually wandered off into book land. One book in particular, has been on my mind a lot lately - A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. At work, in the past month or so, I've been asked more and more for books that will lift spirits, spark joy and make one feel better during these unsettling Covid times. The fiction book I always turn to for this is A Gentleman in Moscow

It has been two years since I read it, but it continues to enjoy a long warm afterglow in my memory. So much so, I believe I will now reread it, as well as give it to Mr Books to read.

What makes A Gentleman in Moscow so memorable and so perfectly delightful?

  • The Count's positive attitude and determination to make the best of his circumstances.
  • His enthusiasm and passion to keep on learning new things and exploring.
  • His ability to embrace the work available to him and to find something meaningful and purposeful to do.
  • Despite difficulties, losses, and grief, he continues to find the joy in every day events and relationships.
  • He embodies resilience.
  • He honours his past, faces forward, but lives in the present.
  • Amor Towles writing.

The story of A Gentleman in Moscow, a man sentenced to live out his life in isolation in a hotel in Moscow, has taken on a new meaning during these Covid times. Is that why it has been on my mind so much lately?

The Count's life is not a rosy, sweet journey. He has heartache, disappointments, depression. Each time he makes his way by getting outside of himself, even though he cannot actually go outside. He looks to others, to work, to books. He keeps busy, with purpose and passion. He doesn't just do a job, he does it to the best of his abilities, even the dull duties. He uses his skills and contacts and knowledge to make life better, not only for himself, for those who share his world. He is not a saint; he is quite simply a good man.

Obviously he was blessed with a happy, healthy and wealthy childhood that gave him a good education, a loving nature and a solid foundation. This could have so easily been a story about a man who descended into a morass of melancholy and despair when his life circumstances changed so dramatically. Instead, he went the other way. He decided to embrace the change. He didn't linger on what used to be or what he had lost. He didn't spend his days wishing that things would go back to the way they were. He just got on with making the best of what he had right now (eventually). As I said, he wasn't a saint. He stumbled along the way, but he always got up again.

His story is inspiring and uplifting, pre-Covid as well as right now. It sparks joy and delights in a truly genuine way.

But it got me thinking about what other books have I read that do the same. I realised that there were very few books which had that extra special spark of pure delight running through them. 

Firstly, what do I mean when I talk about delight?

For me, delight is a pure emotion that contains happiness, joy and grace. It uplifts, charms and entrances. It's pleasurable and gratifying. It can be amusing, bewitching and captivating. It makes my day brighter and better. It's a lot to ask from a book, but A Gentleman in Moscow has done that for me. The real test will lie in the reread though...!

Which books come close?

There are books like The Color Purple that makes me cry buckets of tears of joy every time I read it or watch the movie, but, golly, you really have to work hard to get to that point. Harrowing is where most of the story lives. 

Same goes for To Kill A Mockingbird. The injustice and inequality that lies at the heart of the story acts as a counterpoint for the loving kindness that Atticus displays and tries to instil in his children. The story is emotionally satisfying but not necessarily one that I would describe as full of delight. 

I also found A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth emotionally satisfying. It was utterly immersive and engaging and absorbing and a joy to read, so much so, when I finished it, I hugged it to my chest and declared that this was the book I had to be buried with!

Are there any other books that spark pure delight like A Gentleman in Moscow?

During my childhood Little Women fit the delightful bill to a tee. There was sadness and disappointment and difficulties to overcome, but there was also so much love and kindness and a determination to do good and be good. It was the kind of book I would hug to my chest in pure delight. I always finished it determined to be a better person. To be more kind, loving and generous. A recent reread confirmed that this delightful feeling has carried over into my adult years.

In my teen years and early twenties Pride and Prejudice entered my life and sparked an untold amount of youthful exuberance and delight. A story that gets better and more delightful with each reread is a thing of pure joy indeed! The witty remarks, the romance, the exquisite plotting an planning by Austen herself all add up to an abundance of delightfulness. 

However, in my thirties, my pathway to delight took a slight left turn, into the more mature, thoughtful love and happiness that is the lot of Anne Eliot in Persuasion. Her gentleness and journey of self-discovery is inspirational. From insecure young woman, persuaded by others to do 'right', she becomes a strong, resilient woman able to see through the motivations and agendas of others, to determine what is right for herself in the end. 

That's it though.

I have four books in my life that I can turn to for pure delight and joy. Four books that make me glow with good will and happiness and loving kindness. Four books that have the power to ease any heartache of my own. Four books that me feel better and warm the cockles of my heart, every single time.

Do you have any books that delight you in that special way?

12 comments:

  1. I loved Little Women and Pride and Prejudice (still do especially the latter). Then I read Inhaling the Mahatma which I've never seen on the blogs but which was a fabulous read. Shantharam was another such book - really compelling look at life, poverty and survival. Good memories.

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    1. Thanks for the tips, I love books set in India, although the size of Shantaram is very off-putting!

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  2. I agree with your conclusions on A Gentleman in Moscow. So much positivity on the outlook of life. It is a fantastic book, both the writing and the character of the Count. I am about to reread it too. Pride and Prejudice is another book that 'sparks joy'.
    One book that really delights is Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine by Gail Honeyman. It brought me so much joy, and at the same time made me reflect on life; how we interpret it, how we see it, what we expect from it and so on. One of my favourite books.

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    1. There has been lots of love for Eleanor around the traps, but curiously it is one of those books I have become very resistant to thanks to all the hype!

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  3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman is my go-to book for joy. Little Women has been a favorite for 40+ years but it is not pure joy, there are a lot of tears for me in that book.

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    1. I've only ever read Coraline by Gaimain - one of the truly most creepy books I've ever read!!

      For me if there is to be joy and delight , then some tears and disappointment have to act as the counterpoint. You can't know that you are happy if you've never been sad. The delight is the payoff for overcoming adversity. Adversity that is harrowing or unrelenting is a much tougher payoff - more bittersweet than delightful.

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  4. I completely agree with you about Gentleman in Moscow. Our book group is planning a read (for me, a reread) of that book soon.

    I've always heard it said that joyful movies and books don't win awards, and I think that is true. I think I read nothing but downer books in my 30s and 40s. When I hit 50, I decided, Enough with all that. I now focus on what some call mood-boosting books. I'm compiling books that others say are mood-boosting books for them here in a Google Doc: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1FVZxfGpG81wTsd3_InPpGGqz7Z4kDwaF6hx54IpL2FE/edit#gid=0

    I also created a list at Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/142293.The_Best_Mood_Boosting_Books

    I've added the books you mentioned and the books mentioned by others to my list.

    My number one recommendation for mood-boosting books is Anne of Green Gables. I'm also crazy about Enchanted April (the movie is wonderful, too).

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    1. Your list reminded me that I had forgotten Winnie-the-Pooh! How could I forget a book and set of characters that are pure delight. Eeyore, of course, has his moods and insecurities, but that's what makes these stories so lovely. The understanding, supportive friendship of the others is heart warming to the nth degree! And Pooh's philosophy of life is something we could all use right now :-)

      "You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think."

      “The most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”

      “Some people care too much. I think it’s called love.”

      “Do a good thing to do without thinking about it.”

      “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”

      “It never hurts to keep looking for sunshine.”

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  5. What a delightful post, Brona! A Gentleman in Moscow is one I’ve thought about reading so you’ve made up my mind. I’ve also had a copy of A Suitable Boy on the shelf for quite a while but I haven’t had the wherewithal to start - just because it’s huge.
    I’ve just started reading Jan Karon’s A Light in the Window after really enjoying the first book in the series, At Home in Mitford. They are gentle and well-written and lovely to get immersed in for a little while.

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  6. P.s I also loved The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge. A delightful read.

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    1. I've been meaning to read a Goudge for ages - a quick look at goodreads suggests that this one would be a good place to start my journey :-)
      Thanks.

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    2. PS I love your new avatar when leaving comments.

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