Mood reading list: 18 book recommendations based on how you're feeling
Allow us to read your mind
More than Crossword and Amazon gift cards, readers need a literary pharmacist. Yes, that job exists. Only in German writer Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop though.
Reading the novel over the weekend has left a void in my heart. The protagonist Jean Perdu is a literary pharmacist who runs a literary apothecary — i.e a bookshop in a barge on the Seine, prescribing books to heal people’s unseen wounds.
We tried to moonlight as Perdu and scoured through our bookshelves and the internet to find some of the most appropriate titles for the oft-recurring emotional turbulence we find ourselves in — a reading list to cure your mood swings.
For the days we become the greatest couch potatoes and want to quit adulting, there are coming-of-age novels. They’ll remind you that growing up doesn’t end as you toss the graduation hat up in the air.
Just as you’re about to delete that dating app for the 87th time, our selection of romantic pick-me-ups will thaw your frozen heart with a burning ray of hope.
This mood reading list gently reminds you to check in on that old friend and some more to help you escape unbearable days at work and home.
The ultimate mood reading list based on how you’re feeling
When you’re in the mood for coffee and conversations with your BFF
Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney
Sally Rooney (of Normal People fame), debuted with Conversations with Friends.
Her first book, set in Dublin, is rooted in relationships – filial, platonic and romantic. At its core are 20-something BFFs — Frances and Bobbi (former lovers, presently, they collaborate on spoken-word performances). Bobbi is outspoken, fierce and rebellious; Frances isn’t. Bobbi has no filter, and Frances has almost filtered herself out of this friendship, or has she?
As the two get absorbed into the obscenely rich and complex lives of a journalist (who interviews them) and her actor husband, new friendships are formed, old ones are put to test and an unexpected romance sets the plot ablaze.
Rooney’s writing is fluid and simple – in places, shows her lack of experience – yet it’s refreshing and delightful as she weaves in prose with emails and text messages. Add it to your mood reading list now!
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Set in California, it follows six Austen fanatics who meet every month to discuss the legendary writer’s works.
Jocelyn, is a “control-freak matchmaker” (very Emma). Her best friend Sylvia is nursing the heartache of a husband plotting to leave her. Sylvia’s daughter Allegra is a thrill-seeking artist with a broken heart. Prudie is a young French teacher infatuated with one of her students. Bernadette, the eldest member, has found solace is yoga. Grigg is the only male member of the club; the girls perpetually judge him — with or without reason.
Although two-centuries apart, each seems to be living a life parallel to one of Austen’s legendary protagonists and the book follows the members across six months of life-changing decisions.
Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club is an instant mood lifter and *spoiler alert* everybody gets a happy ending, much like Austen’s heroines.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
In the summer of 1974, six smug New Yorker teenagers form a clique called The Interestings. Members include theatre aficionado Ash and her charming brother Goodman, talented animator Ethan, dancer Cathy, an introverted musician Jonah, and Jules, a confused kid who thinks he may be funny enough to try comedy.
Just as summer ends, and the leaves begin to fall off the trees, our six-member ensemble falls from grace, sheds layers of superficiality, encounters failed ambitions, burns and builds some bridges, and grows up.
Wolitzer takes us on a four-decade-long rollercoaster to remind us that life isn’t an eternal summer camp but between lost innocence and dashed hopes, The Interestings wants us to hold on to the snug memories.
When you’re in dire need of a romantic pick-me-up
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
It’s a workplace comedy where the Devil wears Ralph Lauren. In Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game, the protagonists are too familiar to be fictional. Perpetually positive Lucy Hutton and uptight Joshua Templeman are assistants to co-CEOs at a publishing company. Their work life is a constant game of one-upmanship.
As the chance of a promotion is thrown in to the mix, the rules of the HR fly out the window and cupid makes his presence felt in the most untimely fashion. As usual.
Thorne’s novel is as contemporary as it gets with sprightly venom spewed all over. It’s funny and modern, and we bet you’ll find it unputdownable too.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
The cover of Beth O’Leary’s 2019 debut says, “Tiffy and Leon share a bed. Tiffy and Leon have never met.” We are thinking out loud too, “How’s that even possible?”
The Flatshare is a contemporary, feel-good romance set in London, where our protagonists are in dire need of a roommate. Tiffy wants out of her cheating boyfriend’s apartment and Leon works a night job and needs someone to share the rent. He advertises his dingy room and Tiffy agrees to move in, because well, they’ll never see each other. And she’s desperate to move out.
Their friendship blossoms through a series of post-its they leave for each other. Tiffy’s are long and rambling. Leon is a man of few words. Both, genuinely well-meaning and funny. The book addresses relationship issues such as gaslighting and emotional abuse, but it’s heavily wrapped in congenial humour.
You have to read it to know what happens when the two finally meet.
Possession by AS Byatt
It’s been three decades since AS Byatt’s masterpiece won the Booker Prize in 1990. But the magic of this literary investigation-turned-romance lives on.
In London, two literary scholars Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell turn sleuths as they immerse themselves in their research of two Victorian poets, Randolph Ash (loosely modelled on Lord Alfred Tennyson) and Christabel LaMotte (critics claim her character is inspired by Christina Rosetti).
As the present-day academics discover old, decaying letters and poems exchanged between Ash and LaMotte, a clandestine affair comes to view. The novel feels like a Matryoshka doll with layers and layers of stories taking place across timelines.
Bailey and Mitchell, in the process, rewrite their own love stories and forge new connections. Some may criticise Byatt for being self-indulgent with the matter, but Possession rekindles a love for classic prose.
When you want to say, “f*ck it”, and escape it all
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
In the novel, the unnamed narrator (a 24-year-old Columbia graduate living in Manhattan) wants to literally sleep the year away. She executes the plan after her parents’ demise – although she reiterates that she wasn’t attached to them even when they were around.
Her laundry list of weapons include “Neuroproxin, Maxiphenphen, Valdignore, Silencior, Seconol, Nembutal, Valium, Librium, Placydil, Noctec, Miltown”.
In hilarious Dr Tuttle, who wears a neck brace and carries around a cat, she finds her acolyte. Tuttle rapidly offers prescriptions and pearls of wisdom. Between her long sleeping sprees, we see the narrator’s apathy towards almost everything, except B-grade movies, Thai food and quick coffee- and prescription-runs.
Moshfegh uses dark humour to reveal the exhaustion of modern life and makes us wonder, “Can we really sleep it off?”
Writer Eric Weiner makes it his life’s mission to track down the happiest places on earth and what makes them different from the rest of the world.
But Weiner isn’t the happiest person around. “My last name is pronounced ‘whiner,’ and I do my best to live up to the name,” he confesses. His search takes him to places known for their high happiness quotient — Bhutan, Iceland, Denmark and Qatar – and some not so – the Netherlands, India, Moldova and the United States.
He talks to the locals and finds out the magic potion of happiness. Weiner’s observations are remarkable – happiness thrives in cold climates, is found in bountiful supply when you have low expectations and when you ultimately make the conscious spiritual decision to let go.
This extensive travelogue ends on a philosophical note: our destination is never a place, it’s the way we see things.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
In Jack Kerouac’s ground-breaking 1957 novel, bromance blooms. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty (based on the author and his friend Neal Cassady), go road-tripping across the United States of America and Mexico.
And while Kerouac’s seminal work has often been criticised for glorifying substance abuse — drugs and alcohol, it’s about so much more than just excesses.
Sal and Dean’s temperaments are diametrically opposite, and the book reflects on how friendships run the risk of turning toxic and destructive, and how they can affect others around us. Kerouac also explores the themes of racism and rejection of the establishment and the authority.
A highlight on our mood reading list, Sal and Dean give us stronger friendship goals than Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
Thrillers for when you’re feeling curiouser than your cat
11/22/63 by Stephen King
America, circa 1963.
Stephen King takes a piece of history that changed world politics and throws an oft-wondered question: what if I could change that fateful day – 22nd November in 1963?
Jake Epping’s (an English teacher from Maine) terminally ill mentor Al Templeton convinces him to travel back in time to stop the assassination of former US President John F Kennedy in hope of a better world.
Epping slides through decades via a “chamber” in Templeton’s eatery to discover a cheaper America ruled by Elvis Presley, racism and beat poetry. He moves to Texas around the early ’60s, befriends assassinator Lee Harvey Oswald and meets other players in the JFK assassination.
His planned encounters raise another existential question: does changing history really make a difference?
At over 850 pages, King’s entry on our mood reading list is a well-researched behemoth, spanning decades and genres – history, crime, thriller and fiction. We get it, it takes time to rewrite history.
Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
In SJ Watson’s debut novel, Ghajini meets Groundhog Day meets 50 First Dates meets Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind.
Christine, a 47-year-old woman lost her memory in an accident 20 years earlier. She wakes up every morning to a husband called Ben and a life she has no recollections of. Her saving crutch is Dr Nash who insists that he is restoring her memory and vehemently advises her not to trust Ben.
He returns her journal where she has documented bits and pieces of the last two decades. Ben isn’t as harmless and trustworthy as he appears. But only the last quarter of the book will reveal who is actually trustworthy and where her relatives, friends and son are.
This impressive psychological thriller is a not-so-gentle reminder to never give up on your family.
Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
A fire burns down the new Globe Theatre in London where American director Kate Shelton is rehearsing for Hamlet. As Shelton discovers her mentor Roz Howard’s body in the charred remains, the Shakespearean expert-turned-director gets involved in a murder investigation that takes her from UK to the USA and back to the banks of Thames.
What follows is a series of murders which resemble popular death scenes from the Bard’s plays. But what seems like a murder mystery soon turns into a frantic search for a collection of the early works of William Shakespeare. At the centre of it all is a burning question: were all his plays actually written by him?
A must-read for fans of crime thrillers as well as Shakespeare aficionados.
When you’re not sure if you’re ready to “adult”
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Set in Texas in the ’80s, two polar opposites – Aristotle and Dante — form a close bond in the summer before high school. Dante is an only child who loves classic poetry, while Aristotle is the angriest of four siblings, with a brother in prison. Dante’s emotional and open upbringing breathes much-needed fresh air into Aristotle’s withdrawn and disconnected world.
The two spend the summer together forming a deep friendship, and then separate for a year, as Dante moves to Chicago. Saenz delicately navigates the challenges of a long-distance friendship and throws in a lesson or two that even adults can emulate.
She skilfully portrays the growing up of two very different Mexican-American boys who cope with issues such as race, culture and sexuality. Subtlety is a winner in this coming-of-age tale.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Stephen Chbosky’s epistolary novel, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower follows protagonist, ‘wallflower’ Charlie — who is either one of us or like someone we know. The freshman is naïve and sensitive, but supremely intelligent, and his letters are deeply poignant.
He writes about the seniors he befriends — Patrick and his step-sister Sam. He raves about the good times — falling in love, his first kiss. Charlie also writes about the hard times – losing his aunt, experiencing episodes of anxiety. But most of all, he writes about his transition from an invisible ‘wallflower’ in a crowd to becoming a part of the group.
Whether you’re in college or way past it, it’s never too late to include this Chbosky classic in your mood reading list.
Me and Earl and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Jesse Andrews creates a comfort zone for awkward adults and tweens in Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (set in Pennsylvania).
Protagonist Greg Gaines is the quintessential high-school nerd: socially awkward and immensely creative. He and his best friend Earl remake terrible films as home movies in their free time. He maintains a low profile — until his mother convinces him to befriend his childhood acquaintance Rachel – diagnosed with leukaemia.
Over the course of the novel, Rachel finds reasons to laugh, the boys finally find a super fan of their movies, and readers smile through their tears.
Andrews’s writing style is a mix of prose, staccato bullet points and elaborate movie scripts. It’s refreshing, hilarious and heartbreaking in equal parts.
When you’re too lazy to read prose, but want a good story nonetheless
The Snake And The Lotus by Appupen
Kerala-based graphic novelist Appupen creates a fictional universe that’s deeply rooted in reality, yet far removed. This is his fourth voyage into the alternate universe called Halahala, and his most political one yet.
He takes on much-debated topics of dictatorship, censorship and a world driven by Artificial Intelligence as we head towards an unliveable place in the future. His story follows a woman who is transported to a place run by machines to destroy the planet. Can she save the world or is she a part of the annihilation mission?
The artist uses detailed black-and-white panels to illustrate the dark world we are living in. Ultimately, the novel is too dark to be true, or is it?
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
Daniel Clowes is undoubtedly one of the most celebrated cartoonists of our times. In 2000, with his landmark graphic novel, Ghost World, he set the benchmark really high in the comics canon.
The novel strings together eight short stories that take place in the daily life of American teenagers Enid and Rebecca. They are BFFs on the cusp of adulthood, realising that they may not be on the same page of life anymore.
Clowes work is soaked in sarcasm and dark humour and the green vignette in the panels only add a dark filter to the story.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner
Joining our mood reading list, comic artist Phoebe Gloeckner sketches the tale of 15-year-old Minnie Goetze’s hatred towards school, yearning for love and acceptance and coming to terms with her precocious sexuality in this graphic novel.
Set in San Francisco in the ‘70s, Goetze’s life is replete with misadventures — from indulging in drugs with her mom to having sex with a 36-year-old man, but the beauty of the story lies in the fact that the author is unapologetic and doesn’t judge her even in the weakest of her moments.
Less sugar, more spice, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl is not your usual coming-of-age story.