8 Books for When You Need Some Hope

Most of the books I read are somewhat dark. I like murder mysteries, unlikable characters, complicated relationships, and unreliable protagonists. But sometimes, I need something light, something that will encourage me or make me smile. I’ve gravitated to more of these types of books over the past few years. (Maybe because of the global pandemic. Who’s to say?) If you’re looking for more books to uplift you, here are eight books for when you need some hope.

8 books for when you need some hope
The banned bookshop of Maggie Banks book cover

The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson

Maggie Banks is adrift and wondering what to do with her life, so when her best friend asks her to come to a small town called Bell River to manage her family’s indie bookstore for a while, Maggie says yes. However, when she gets there, Maggie realizes the bookstore is only allowed to sell classic books that most readers aren’t interested in anymore. She starts hosting secret author events and keeps a hidden inventory so the head of the literary society doesn’t stop her plans to diversify Bell River’s reading. The loveliest thing about this book is the community of characters who come together, enjoying all different types of literature and demanding change at the bookstore. Book lovers will feel warm and fuzzy inside after reading this contemporary gem.

The comfort book book cover

The Comfort Book by Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a prolific writer who’s open about his struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. He’s written about those topics in Reasons to Stay Alive and The Midnight Library, but The Comfort Book is the most recent Haig book I’ve read, so I’m going with that one for this list. The Comfort Book is what it sounds like: a collection of lists and stories about comforting things. If you’re ever in a dark place and don’t have the strength to read a full-length book, this book would be great to flip through as a reminder about the goodness that awaits you in the world. 

Dinosaurs book cover

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Like I said in my 2022 favorites postDinosaurs was a wonderful surprise. Gil is the protagonist, and the novel starts when he walks from New York to Arizona to start his life over after a devastating breakup. He moves in next door to a family and quickly gets involved in their lives, becoming their friend and mentor to their young son. Gil is independently wealthy, yet he’s consistently looking for ways to volunteer and give back. Lydia Millet deftly explores male friendship and tenderness, reminding readers how fragile but beautiful life can be. 

I hope this finds you well book cover

I Hope This Finds You Well by Kate Baer

I Hope This Finds You Well is a witty and inspiring collection of blackout poetry made from mean and nasty notes Kate Baer has received. She takes the words of anonymous internet trolls and turns them into art. Witnessing Baer take hate and turn it into beauty is good for my soul. 

The inner voice of love book cover

The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom by Henri J. M. Nouwen

The Inner Voice of Love is a collection of journal entries Nouwen wrote during a time of deep depression and doubt. His heartbreak spills onto the page, yet Nouwen ultimately rests and finds his identity as a beloved child of God. I remember a night shortly after I graduated from college when I felt adrift and afraid of what was next; I picked up this book, opened it to a random page, and the words were exactly what I needed at that moment. I always pick up this slim book when I need spiritual encouragement. 

The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done
by Kendra Adachi

The Lazy Genius Way might seem like an odd choice for a booklist about hope, but that’s precisely what this book has given me. As an enneagram one, I struggle with perfectionism. The pressure to perform, excel, impress, and have it together at all times can be exhausting and overwhelming, two symptoms of burnout. When I’m in that “I’m overwhelmed and don’t know what to do” headspace, I turn to Kendra. The Lazy Genius Way isn’t a self-help book with steps every reader must follow to achieve a perfect life. Instead, it’s an invitation to name what matters so that readers can design a life that works for them. As a result, I’ve returned to this book time and time again to find clarity and inspiration. 

Wintering book cover

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

I just recommended Wintering in my Five Winter Reads post, but I like it enough to include it on this list too. I can’t always remember specific details or plot points of the books I read, but I can usually remember how a book made me feel. This book feels like comfort itself and gives readers permission to slow down and take care of themselves during life’s challenging moments. 

You don't have to be everything book cover

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves
edited by Diana Whitney

One of the greatest joys of my reading life is reading the perfect book at the perfect time. I had that experience when I read You Don’t Have to Be Everything. I picked it up and read it on a night when I felt sad and overwhelmed, and the poems were just what I needed to feel uplifted and hopeful. In addition to the poetry, this book is full of bold colors and illustrations, reminding me that I often need beauty in my life to come out of a slump. You don’t have to be a girl or a teen to enjoy this book, even though that’s the intended audience; any poetry lover will appreciate this diverse and inspiring collection. 

Book Clubbing

I’ve been working in school libraries for about 12 years now, and one of the highlights of my career is the student and staff multicultural book club I co-lead at one of my high schools. I feel lighter and more hopeful whenever I leave one of our meetings, consistently impressed by students’ thoughtfulness and kindness. The world can seem so bleak sometimes, but being around smart, outspoken young people is a nice antidote to discouragement and disillusionment.

Book covers for The Marrow Thieves, Dear Martin, and The Night Watchman

The first session of the book club I ever hosted was in 2019. We read The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, a dystopian book no one in my group enjoyed, including me. But despite not liking the book, we had fantastic conversations. Since I work in libraries and not classrooms, I only get a little time to talk with kids; I usually only see them in passing. The book club was the first time I had a chance to get to know students and witness them engage with a text. When I hear people say that kids don’t read anymore, I want to roll my eyes and bring them to a book club meeting.

When the pandemic shut down in-person schooling, we decided to try having the book club via Zoom. I was doubtful we’d have much success, but I’m happy to say how wrong I was. We had the most participation we’d ever had as we read and discussed Nic Stone’s Dear Martin, a powerful novel about police brutality and growing up as a young Black boy in predominantly white spaces. Even though we were faces on a computer screen, we were able to have important conversations about race, policing, violence, and friendship. Those are complicated topics, but students were always patient and understanding, even when there was disagreement. We had two more rounds of online club meetings before we got to meet in person again. As much as I love the in-person meetings, I look back on the online discussions with fondness and gratitude. They provided connection and community when we were desperate for both things. 

When we returned to the school building, we read The Night Watchmen by Louise Erdrich. I don’t read much historical fiction, so this book stretched me and challenged me, which I appreciated. Erdrich is an incredibly gifted writer, deserving of the many accolades she’s received over the years. (I really love Shadow Tag and The Round House.) In our meetings, we talked about missing and endangered Native women and discussed why their cases are too often ignored. We pondered Native resettlement together and marveled at the events that inspired the book. The Night Watchmen is heavy and long, but the students consistently showed up with things to say.

Book covers for When stars are scattered and Go tell it on the mountain

We strive to read a variety of genres and viewpoints, so we decided to switch things up and read graphic novels for the next book club session. One of the books we read was When Stars Are Scattered, a middle grade book that tells the story of Omar Mohammed and his brother growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp. A local refugee came in and spoke to us about her experience in a camp. Her story was moving and powerful, and I remain grateful that students could hear someone speak who was directly affected by the subjects we’d been reading about.

Right now, we have two more meetings before we finish Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, one of my favorite novels. Having the opportunity to discuss Baldwin’s brilliant writing with a group of thoughtful readers is a joy. The theme we’ve focused on throughout the novel is identity. How does your family shape who you become? Can a person really change? What happens when someone is hungry for power? We’ve examined these questions and many others over the past few weeks.

Along with our primary texts, we pull in outside readings and media, such as poems, essays, interviews, and videos. I love doing this because it’s nice to connect different cultures and formats with the books we’re discussing. 

Over the years, many people have questioned why I like working at high schools. They think of teenagers as wild, rude, and uninterested in reading. But young people are some of the most thoughtful readers out there. They’re passionate, critical thinkers who speak their minds and ask great questions. It’s been an absolute joy being part of a community of kids and school staff who value literature and the benefits it brings to our lives. 

A group of nine book club members with their faces obscured by smiling heart emojis

Five Winter Reads

It was fall for about five minutes where I live, and then winter came. And with it came a lot of snow. Did the snow melt right away? No, of course not. Is it still around? Indeed it is. It seems like winter makes itself known every time I look out the window these days, which means it’s time to grab my blanket and head for the couch. Today I want to share five books perfect for these cold, wet days.

5 winter reads
The child finder book cover

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Naomi Cottle is a private investigator called upon to find a missing child who disappeared when she and her family searched for a Christmas tree in the forest. A former missing child herself, Naomi is specially equipped to find the missing girl. But, as she begins her search in the snowy woods, memories from her past come back in dreams and force her to face things she thought she’d forgotten. This novel is as atmospheric as they come.

The hunting party book cover

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

I love novels with a strong sense of place, and The Hunting Party delivers. The story is set at a luxurious, remote lodge where a group of friends come together to celebrate the new year. A blizzard snows in the group, ensuring no one can leave the property. When someone is found dead on New Year’s Day, everyone becomes a suspect as old memories and resentments surface.

Small things like these book cover

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These is a novella set during the Christmas season in Ireland. It’s 1985, and Bill Furlong is an honest and hardworking husband, father, and man of faith. He works as a coal merchant and makes a startling discovery when he drops off a delivery to a local convent. This is a slim book but one that will stay with you.

The snow child book cover

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Set in 1920s Alaska, The Snow Child tells the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple who builds a child out of snow. The snow child disappears, but a little girl named Faina appears in the woods. Who she is and where she came from are the questions that power this memorable story. This type of book isn’t what I usually reach for, but I’m glad I read this one. The isolation and brutal cold of winter felt palpable in these pages.

Wintering book cover

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

January and February can be difficult months. The holidays are over, your New Year’s resolutions are probably broken, and winter days can seem longer than ever. Wintering is the perfect book for times like those. Katherine May writes about difficult seasons in her own life and how she learned the importance of rest and reflection. Reading this book felt like a warm hug, but not in a creepy way. You get it.


Do you have any go-to winter reads? Are there certain books you like to pick up in the colder months?

My 2023 Reading Challenge

Some people go on vacations to have fun. Others might enjoy a night out or a party. I’ve heard about folks who go outside to hike or ski to have fun, though I don’t understand how that’s possible.

For me, fun means alphabetizing my spice drawer, using my label maker, and coming up with reading challenges for myself. The latter is what I’m sharing today. Last year, the books I read were overwhelmingly from the library. I love my local libraries, but my library usage meant I ignored the books I own. So to help me focus on the books already on my shelves, I came up with the following challenge. The only rule is that each title must be from my personal collection.

My 2023 reading challenge

Read a Presidential Biography

I enjoy reading about history, specifically presidential history, but that sort of nonfiction can take a while to get through, so I end up reading less of it than I do lighter work. This prompt will help me cross an unread book off my list and encourage me to pick up the type of longer volume I sometimes avoid.

I’m most excited to read:

  • And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle by Jon Meacham
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Read an Unread Book I’ve Owned for Years

I’ve realized that reading books and acquiring them are two entirely different hobbies. The acquiring is a lot quicker, so I get books faster than I can read them, something I know any book collector will understand. I hope to read several of these long-ignored books in 2023, but this challenge will help me make sure to read at least one.

I’m most excited to read:

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Read a Classic that Intimidates Me

I don’t read a lot of what’s considered classic literature, and I don’t think anyone needs to in order to be considered a reader. However, several classics are on my bookshelves already, so I might as well read one.

I’m most excited to read:

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Read a Poet’s Complete Collection

I read many short poetry books, but I hesitate to pick up brick-sized complete collections. That didn’t keep me from buying some, though. This year, I want to take my time and sink into one poet’s work. If nothing else, I know this would make my college poetry professor happy, and I still want to impress her.

I’m most excited to read:

  • Emily Dickinson
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Langston Hughes

Reread a Favorite

Because new books are always coming out, I put rereading on the back burner. But every time I do reread a book I love, I’m grateful and vow to do it more often.

I’m most excited to reread:

  • Stoner by John Williams
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Glaciers by Alexis Smith

Read a Book Someone Gifted Me

The last time my friend Katy saw my book collection in person, she said, “You have a crap-ton of books.” Indeed I do, yet my family and friends keep getting them for me. So whose fault is it really that I’ve run out of room on my shelves?

I’m most excited to read:

  • Surrender by Bono
  • The Night Singer by Johanna Mo
  • The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

Read a Book I Started but Didn’t Finish

There are two primary reasons why I don’t finish a book: 

  1. It’s not good.
  2. It’s good, but it’s not for me right now. 

While the books in the first category get to go on an adventure to Goodwill or a used bookstore, books in the second category stay with me until I’m ready for them again. 

I’m most excited to finish:

  • This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Read a Book in Translation

An easy way to expand your reading is to pick up titles that have been translated into English from other languages. During college, I discovered my love of Japanese literature. Last year, I decided to read more French lit. This prompt is one I’m eager to fulfill.

I’m most excited to read:

  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

Read a Children’s Classic

The reason for this category is simple: my friend Candace has been asking me to read The Little Prince for years, and I still haven’t. There are no book options for this prompt, just that little book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Read a Book Recommended by a Friend

Candace isn’t the only friend giving me recommendations. Fellow readers have recommended a lot of exciting books to me over the years, many of which I meant to pick up as soon as possible. “Meant” is the critical word in that sentence.

I’m most excited to read:

  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

My Top 10 Reads of 2022

After taking a year off from writing, I missed this space. But I’m back with new ideas and posts to share, and I want to start with my favorite books of 2022. I set a goal to read 75 books this year, and I reached that goal with a few days to spare.

Keep reading to see which titles I loved the most.

My Top 10 Reads of 2022

The butterfly house book cover

The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg

The Butterfly House is the second book of a Danish crime series following two detectives, Jeppe Kørner and Annette Werner, as they solve murders in Copenhagen. In this volume, they’re trying to find a serial killer who uses antique medical tools on their victims before leaving them in public fountains. Clues lead the detectives to a hospital and former psychiatric facility where questions arise about how patients were treated. 

The characters here are well-developed, the writing is engaging, and the setting is exactly what you’d want from a dark crime novel. If you’re a fan of the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French, don’t miss this book. 

Dinosaurs book cover

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

Dinosaurs was a wonderful surprise. I had never read Lydia Millet before, and I wasn’t even sure what Dinosaurs was about, but I picked it up anyway. I’m glad I did since it became my favorite book of 2022. 

The story follows a man named Gil who starts a new life by walking from New York to Arizona after a breakup. Independently wealthy, Gil seeks volunteer opportunities to help bring meaning to his life. He becomes close with the family next door and embraces his new role as a friend and mentor to the couple’s young son. 

If you need a lot of plot in your fiction, this isn’t the book for you. But if you want a beautifully told story full of love and hope, don’t miss this gem. 

Happy go lucky book cover

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

David Sedaris is one of my go-to authors, one whose work I know I’ll always enjoy. Happy-Go-Lucky might be my new favorite collection from him. Many essays address his time in New York during the Covid-19 pandemic and his complicated relationship with his dying father. In true Sedaris fashion, he brings humor to bleak situations. We could all use some of that after the last few years. 

If I survive you book cover

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

A debut of interconnected short stories, If I Survive You follows a Jamaican immigrant family after they settle in Miami. The protagonist is Trelawny, the family’s younger son, who can’t quite live up to the eldest. He believes he’s meant to be a scholar, but life unfolds differently than he expects. Though this book addresses topics such as racism, classism, and immigration, there’s plenty of humor and lightness to be found. I love this book and can’t wait to see what’s next for Jonathan Escoffery.

Klara and the sun book cover

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Klara of this book’s title is an AF, an Artificial Friend for a sickly 14-year-old girl named Josie. Josie saw AFs in a store’s window display and immediately felt a bond with Klara, who comes home with Josie and her mother. As Klara grows to know Josie, she comes up with a plan to end her sickness. Klara and the Sun is wise and tender with important things to say about science, friendship, and what happens when those two things are combined. 

Now is not the time to panic book cover

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

In 1996, teenage Frankie met Zeke and finally found a friend, someone who saw her and encouraged her creativity. The two designed a unique poster and hung it all over town. The cryptic, dark artwork took on a life of its own, scaring the townspeople, who were sure something deadly was coming their way. When a reporter calls thirtysomething Frankie and wants to do a story about the Coalfield Panic, Frankie has to face her past and the choices she made with Zeke. Now Is Not the Time to Panic is a perfectly nostalgic novel about two misfits and the power of art. 

This here flesh book cover

This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us
by Cole Arthur Riley

I first became aware of Cole Arthur Riley through her excellent Instagram account, @BlackLiturgies. I knew I’d love her book, and I do, but it surprised me how slowly I wanted to read it. I’m usually a fast reader, but the essays in This Here Flesh deserve to be savored. I took my time, underlining sentence after sentence. In prose that often reads like poetry, Arthur Riley explores faith, family, Christianity, and the stories that shaped her. This Here Flesh is a gorgeous book. 

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow book cover

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow follows 30 years in the lives of Sam and Sadie, two childhood friends who decide to create a video game together and ultimately become business partners. I expected this book to be lighter than it is, but its depth was a pleasant surprise. Sam and Sadie are well-developed yet flawed characters I rooted for and got frustrated with in equal measure. They love each other, but this book isn’t a love story. They play and make games together, but this book isn’t about gaming. Instead, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a thoughtful, sprawling story about how friendship can sometimes save us. 

When stars are scattered book cover

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When searching for possible book club selections for the student and staff multicultural book club I co-lead, I picked up When Stars Are Scattered. I started flipping through it and was immediately absorbed by the true story of Omar and Hassan, two brothers growing up in a Kenyan refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Somalia. Hassan has special needs, so Omar becomes his caretaker, a situation that becomes more complicated when Omar has the chance to attend school. 

I don’t read graphic novels very often, and I read middle-grade books even less, so I’m thankful to have stumbled upon this wonderful title. Kids and adults will both appreciate this one.

You don't have to be everything book cover

You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves
edited by Diana Whitney

Anthologies rarely, if ever, appear on my favorites list, but this poetry collection is special. Editor Diana Whitney chose poems from a diverse array of poets, including Amanda Gorman, Kate Baer, Andrea Gibson, Elizabeth Acevedo, and many more. The poems would be enough, but the book is also full of beautiful, brightly-colored illustrations. I read this book on a day when I felt down and discouraged, and it was just what I needed. Consider reading this next time you need some comfort and inspiration.

Honorable Mentions

Here’s a list of other books I enjoy and recommend in the order I read them:

  • And We Rise: The Civil Rights Movement in Poems by Erica Martin
  • Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese-American by Laura Gao
  • The Angel of Rome and Other Stories by Jess Walter
  • Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America by Maggie Haberman
  • The Appeal by Janice Hallett
  • The West Wing and Beyond: What I Saw Inside the Presidency by Pete Souza

The Stats

Fiction vs. nonfiction (40.8% and 59.2%)
Format (Audio 1.3%, Print 51.3%, and Digital 47.4%)
Where I got my books (Gift 2.6%, Purchased 32.9% and Library 53.2%)

In Conclusion

2022 was a great year for books, and there are already many 2023 titles I’m excited to read. I’d love to hear what books you loved this year. What books were your 2022 favorites?