“Reading is a route out of yourself” - author Matt Haig
There are many books out there that are feel-good books. Books that just immediately sweep you into a beautiful place with lovely people and wonderful scenarios. You are tenderly wrapped in a gorgeous setting, everyone is likable, and the plot moves you from Good Thing to Good Thing. Oh, there might be a little turmoil at the end of the second act to bring us to the denouement, but by and large, your ride was roomy, comfortable, and without turbulence.
Right now, those seem like the kind of books many folks are looking forward to at the end of a long news cycle, and I don’t blame them, but this is not that blog post. I’m here to talk about Up Lit, which is a new-ish moniker used to denote "uplifting literature".
To be uplifted, however, you have to at some point be down. There will be a struggle. And that is what sets Up Lit apart from Feel Good - there is a struggle, there is everyday heroism, there are people pushing their boundaries looking for redemption and human connection. At some point, you might even encounter, well, optimism.
I recently finished reading Writers & Lovers by Lily King and by then I knew I had landed smack in the middle of some serious Up Lit. And reader, I loved it.
Casey is a 31-year-old aspiring writer working as (of course) a waitress in 1997 Boston. Reeling from the recent loss of her mother, she is struggling. Struggling to stave off panic most days, the “bees under her skin”. She is troubled about her financial straits, her failed loves, her inability to get her characters to do what she wants them to do so she can finish, and hopefully, sell the novel she’s been working on for six years. The one person she most wants to call to figure it all out is now gone forever, her father is no-one she cares to know, and her brother is 3,000 miles away, and she's cobbling together for herself the best she can.
I had heard librarian friends raving about this book, the writing in particular. (And yes, the writing was fantastic.) I’ve been struggling to read deeply so I wasn’t sure when I’d get to it, but I decided to read it with the 2nd Thursday Book Club so I’d have to finish, and I’m so very glad I did. This is some of the first literary fiction I’ve read start to finish since the beginning of quarantine. Yes - even this librarian is struggling to read right now. It’s been frustrating, but I'll admit this book really moved a boulder for me.
To me, the beauty of Up Lit is that many of us are failing to see much good around us right now. To drop us right into the middle of Sunshine and Rainbows, well, it feels like a place we haven’t seen in a long time. But people who are striving against odds, with faltering courage, those folks we can get behind.
Perhaps those folks feel like us, right now. Things aren’t perfect, hardships have happened, there has been upheaval, and yet… they strive. And the nice thing up Up Lit? They make it. We are given satisfaction and it feels pretty damn good right now, I must admit.
If the idea of quirky, downtrodden, or imperfect characters trying to find the path to something good, and right, and true is for you, then you might enjoy the following books:
-Polli Kenn is the Readers' Services Coordinator at Lawrence Public Library.