I think it’s safe to say we live in trying times. I really enjoy using Twitter to follow writers, publishers and fellow bloggers, but last year I ended up deleting the app from my phone because sometimes I’d find myself mindlessly scrolling through my feed and seeing spat after spat unfold.
It’s exhausting, and I’m so aware that I am in a position of privilege because I can take a step back from it and give myself a break. For a lot of people of colour or the trans community or people with disabilities, there’s often no opportunity to switch off because they never know when they might have to face their next derogatory remark when they’re just walking down the street and minding their own business.
Last year I was called a f**king c**t (I don’t usually censor swear words, but I will here because it was meant as an insult) by a stranger on the internet when I was trying to explain why diversity in children’s publishing matters. I try to see arguments from both sides, but I’m never going to be able to understand why some people are threatened by seeing anything other than themselves in media they’re probably not going to buy or consume anyway. It’s so tiring having to explain to people why they should give a shit about people who are overlooked simply because society values the white and wealthy.
So if, like me, you’re feeling a little downtrodden and just plain tired, I thought I’d recommend the perfect books to escape into when you want a warm hug and a reminder that the majority of people around the world are good…
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
This is my favourite book, and one of the many reasons for that is how incredibly hopeful it is. I always describe this book as the perfect antidote to grimdark fantasy, and I stand by that; Maia is one of the sweetest protagonists you could ever follow, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t strong or brave or capable because he is all of those things, but he is those things in his own way. He’s not a character you’ll find charging into battle or throwing dashing grins at courtly ladies, but he’s innately kind and fair. Perhaps what I love most about this book is that it completely disproves the theory that a book needs to be dark and gritty to be a good book. This is the ultimate warm hug in a book for me, I re-read it every year and it’s the book I always turn to when I’m ill.
This Hugo Award-winning novelette was such a pleasant surprise when I read it last year, and I’m so glad it won the Hugo in its category because it’s another one that’s very hopeful at its core. The clue for this one really is in the title; sometimes we can try our hardest and still fail, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let ourselves be sad then brush ourselves off, get up and try again. I feel like this novelette also has a lot to say about that gross saying, ‘no one’s going to love you until you love yourself’. Bullshit. Ultimately you do have to be the one to save yourself, but the idea that it isn’t an okay and perfectly good thing for someone else to help you get there is rubbish. Some people don’t know how to love themselves and need someone else to show them first, and that message was at the heart of this novelette for me.
The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher
This is such a delightful f/f fantasy book with a wonderful sense of humour that stomps all over internalised misogyny. Gerta’s journey is one of self-discovery and ultimately self-love when she comes to realise that the boy she loves doesn’t treat her the way she deserves. There are plenty of laughs – Kingfisher writes humour brilliantly – but it’s also a novel with a lot of heart, and the kind of book I wish had been around when I was a teenager.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
No one writes comforting, quiet sci-fi like Becky Chambers. She’s my favourite sci-fi author, and whenever a new book of hers is released I know I’ll be able to turn to it when I want to restore my faith in humanity. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by her, but The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is still my ultimate favourite. She discusses so much, from xenophobia to sexuality to war to gender to family, without ever letting her readers lose faith that the majority of people are not bad people. I feel like this novel is already a modern sci-fi classic, and it deserves all the praise it receives.
Soulless by Gail Carriger
I’d particularly recommend the audiobook for this one, narrated by Emily Gray, because it’s such an easy book to listen to, but the main thing you need to know about Gail Carriger is that her work is so much fun. It’s often silly, but because you’re in on the joke it never feels too silly to read. When I’m in a reading slump, or I want to read something that’s guaranteed to make me smile, Carriger’s the author I turn to and I still love this book for the banter between our protagonist, Alexia, and grumpy Scottish werewolf Conall. This is another book I’ve read more than once because I know it’s going to put a smile on my face.