Want To Be Happier? Join the Happiness Project Book Club!

Because nothing boosts happiness more than a great book, last month, I announced that I was starting a book club (of sorts).  So many people have signed up–it’s thrilling!

At the end of every month, I’ll suggest three books.

  • One outstanding book about happiness.
  • One outstanding work of children’s or young-adult literature. I have a crazy passion for kidlit.
  • One eccentric pick. This is a book that I love, but freely admit may not be for everyone.

I’ve noticed that many times, after someone describes a book to me, I want to read it less. And often, weirdly, the better a book is, the worse it sounds when someone describes it. So I won’t describe these books, but I promise: I love these books; I’ve read each at least twice if not many times; and each is widely loved and respected.

I’ll post these recommendations here, or if you want to make sure you don’t miss them, sign up for the monthly Book Club newsletter.

At the end of September, I’ll ask for comments on these books. That way we can have a conversation about them.

So here are my recommendations.  Shop at the wonderful Brooklyn indie WORD, BN.com, Amazon (I’m an affiliate of all three), or your favorite local bookstore. Or go to the library!

An outstanding book about happiness: Out of Africa, by Isak Dinesen. Yes, the movie was good, but the book is better. Buy from WORDBN.com Amazon.

An outstanding children’s book: The Silver Crown, by Robert O’Brien.I love every book by O’Brien, but this is my favorite. Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

An eccentric pick: Story of a Soul, by Saint Therese of Lisieux. I love this book, and because of it, Saint Therese is my spiritual master; but it’s not for everyone. Buy from WORD; BN.com; Amazon.

If you’d like to hear me speak briefly about these books, check out this short Facebook video.

If you read last month’s recommendations…what did you think? Did you enjoy the choices?

One reader asked how Man’s Search For Meaning, about the Holocaust, could be considered a book about happiness. To me, it was about happiness–what did you think? Did people agree with me that The Midnight Fox is a “perfect” children’s book? And how about that amazing Understanding Comics–did you find that in explaining comics, McCloud explained many other things as well?

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.


  • Leslie Rieger

    Oh man, I haven’t finished last month’s selections yet! I loved the Midnight Fox – it was just a really delightful read. I finished the entire thing one night when I couldn’t sleep. I’m nearly through the first part of Man’s Search For Meaning, and haven’t really decided how I feel about it yet. The funny thing is, I had just been notified it was available (I put it on hold at the public library) when one of my friends posted on Facebook about how much he loved it. Anyway, I’m reserving judgement until I finish the whole book. 🙂 I just got a copy of Understanding Comics a couple of days ago, so I haven’t even started that one yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

    Not sure how well I’ll be able to keep up with this book club since I don’t really want to put aside my other reading to focus on it – I have over 500 books on my to-be-read list right now. Perils of reading too many writing blogs, I think. 🙂 But I am trying to expand the kinds of things I read, so I’ll try to read at least some.

    • gretchenrubin

      I know the feeling! So many books, so little time. I sometimes feel a bit panicky about all the books I want to read. Not to mention feeling overwhelmed by the stacks all around my house.

      I’m so happy to hear that you loved The Midnight Fox. The scene where Uncle Fred looks at Tom, and Tom realizes that he’s thinking back over the summer and understanding what had happened…such a beautiful, beautiful moment. That whole scene, what Tom is able to do, and the way the adults react…the scene where Hazeline shows up with the inner tubes…Petie Burkis’s newspaper stories…stop me now or I will go through the entire book.

  • Anne B

    Oooooh, Out of Africa! Love the movie, just bought the book (per your suggestion). Makes me sad just thinking about it…. (in a happy way of course). Would you call that one of the “paradoxes of happiness”?

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh you will LOVE the book. And yes, it’s true, there is that paradoxical feeling about it. Look for the beautiful passages about the antelope Lulu. Just what you’re describing.

  • Stretching Imagination

    I’m in. I was reading back on the Project blog and completely agree with your love of children’s books. Somehow they make me feel more like “me” than others, though I haven’t quite put my finger on why. Maybe they (the well done ones at least!) have more fodder for thought and can be read on many levels? Maybe they are more creative (as opposed to a strict genre/formula that one often – though not always – finds in many “adult” books)?
    But I digress. I’m really looking forward to your Sept. picks. I know nothing about Saint Therese so it’ll be a good learning experience, and can’t wait to pick up The Silver Crown again. The public library (and its ebooks) will be well used.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love books for adults and books for children – never been able to figure out quite what the difference is, but it’s definitely a different kind of pleasure. And so many fantastic books in kidlit! The Silver Crown is better with every reading.

  • Jeanmarie DiTaranto

    My ten-year-old and I both read The Midnight Fox. Her verdict? “It was good, but I’ve read better.” I enjoyed it because it didn’t conform to the “normal-life-interrupted-by-a-tragic-event-leading-to-important-lesson-learned” formula that so many children’s books seem to follow. It was just a nice story with beautiful imagery.

    I felt compelled to read the second part of Man’s Search for Meaning twice, and I rarely read anything a second time. In fact, I’m going to read it again. Am I missing something or can living life fulfilled really be that simple?

  • Elisa

    I’ve really been enjoying all the books you’ve recommended so far.
    I love children lit, and I’m now used to the strange look I get from children when they realize we’re looking at the same books.
    Can’t wait to start reading the new “Gretchen Selection” ^_^

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific! I’m so happy that you’ve liked the recommendations.

  • victoria

    I thought the midnight fox was totally genius. It made me cry, and totally captured the way an animal lover feels about seeing an animal helpless and not being able to help it because you are scared. Funny, sad. Beautiful moments of just peace and quiet in the woods. Amazing dialogue that captures what it is like to be a kid. I agree, a perfect book! I even wrote a tiny review of it on my blog http://drburnshead.tumblr.com/post/29991242796/a-review-of-the-midnight-fox-by-betsy-byars, inspired by you. Thanks for the recommendations (I’d already read the other two) and I can’t wait to read this month’s books.

    • gretchenrubin

      So happy to hear that you loved it as much as I do!

  • Vics

    I also loved The Midnight Fox, the tone feels so different from other children’s books… It feels like it’s written from a genuine kids perspective rather than what an adult would imagine, if you know what I mean…

    I’m halfway through Man’s search for meaning and finding it incredibly thought-provoking so far. Have you read ‘If this is a man’ by Primo Levi? I have it in my ‘to read’ pile after my sister-in-law recommended it – I’m going to pass ‘Man’s search for meaning’ on to her when I’m finished…

    Great choices so far, excited to get going on the October selection! ‘Out of Africa’ used to be my Mum’s favourite film, I watched it so many times when I was growing up! Can’t wait to give the book a try. Thanks for starting the group, it’s a brilliant idea!

    • gretchenrubin

      Another Midnight Fox fan!

      I think I read the Levi book, years ago, but given that I’m not sure, it should definitely be in my pile. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Cal

    I absolutely loved Man’s Search for Meaning, in that his inner strength was so inspiring in the face of such adversity. Thanks for the great recommendations, I read Out of Africa years ago and loved it, so am looking forward to Saint Therese’s Story of a Soul.

    • gretchenrubin

      Now I’m thinking of my favorite passages from Man’s Search For Meaning. One is the part when the men are all thinking of their wives, and Frankl reflects on freedom. Another is recounted here: http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2009/10/whos-in-a-starring-role-whos-in-a-walkon-role-all-of-us/

      Such a masterpiece.

      • Cal

        Gretchen, I so needed that link you referred to in your recollection of Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I hope you appreciate how remarkable you are!

        • gretchenrubin

          I’m so happy that it resonated with you.

  • kittimac

    Understanding Comics was a really good read. I thought it would take me about 5 minutes to read, but there is so much content – visual and literal, it took me a few evening’s reading to get through it. I would read it again. That the guy was so young when he wrote it was amazing as he has such insight! Of particular interest to the Happiness Project would be chapter 6, The Six Steps. This chapter shows the process of creativity and how to get it wrong….and right. Fantastic stuff & thanks for bringing it to the book club, Gretchen.

    • gretchenrubin

      That is exactly what I found fascinating about his argument – about how much information you can pack into a very small space, and how choices can carry so much meaning.

  • martina

    My comment seems to have disappeared!! Just to say that I have really enjoyed this month’s reading.

  • martina

    Aaah! That’s better.

    After too many years of teaching lit to high school students, I feared that I would be immune to the charms of The Midnight Fox. Determined to explore your recommendation and open myself more comprehensively to the list, I read this first. It was a delightful read and reminded me of how very good the best of this genre is. As JeanMarie noted, Byars’ writing is free from moralising and the too common temptation to improve her young readers. It was so fresh and poignant. A revelation.

    Frankl’s work is one I have turned away from more often than I like to acknowledge. This time, I steeled myself and found it just a superb book. It is hard to imagine that he could have written it so soon after his concentration camp experience.

    And still finishing Mc Cloud, but feeling my ageing brain being given a needed challenge and really learning so much, as you promised!!

    Look forward to the next month’s titles.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy you liked them! I often have a weird resistance to certain books, even when people insist that they’re good, so I know exactly what you’re talking about with turning away from them.

  • Sandi D.

    I just lost my entire reply….so I’ll keep this one shorter!
    I loved the Midnight Fox. I was laughing out loud in parts of it, which kept me turning the pages quickly. I related to Tom in ways that I didn’t expect – his reticence to enjoy something new and then finding out he loved being on the farm, his passion for the fox, the awkwardness of his and Petie’s reunion…so much to love. Thanks for a great (dare I say inspired!) selection.

  • bea

    I really enjoyed midnight fox and i loved the way the Aunt and Uncle understood why he freed the fox. Also found the letters back and forth between the two friends to be really authentic to how children write and feel.
    still thinking on Man’s Search for Meaning and feeling tha I need to reread the second part. I like the idea that you can’t rely on external circumstances to give your life meaning, but instead that it can from motiviation or love etc… trying to see how the ideas fit into my life – what the essentials are.

  • I just started reading “Out of Africa” this weekend and I LOVE it! I never would have picked up this book on my own. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • “Man’s Search for Meaning” is an amazing book and, yes, at times it is about happiness. The book inspires me to find moments of happiness in dark times. He brings a unique perspective to the worst of circumstances.

  • I read all three. Each one is great in its own way. Thanks for re-introducing me to them.

    • gretchenrubin

      Gold star for reading ALL THREE! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed them.