The best uplifting books and feel-good reads

Escaping into a book has never seemed as appealing as it does right now. Here’s our edit of inspiring, funny, uplifting books to make you smile.

by Izzie Price
04/02/2021
3 minutes to read

We don’t know about you, but we’re finding ourselves turning to books ever more frequently to get us through the long weeks spent at home. So we’ve compiled a list of the happiest, cosiest, most uplifting books we can think of to lift the spirits and raise a smile in these strange times. Whether you want hilariously relatable misadventures in Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k Up, to be moved by Eddie Jaku’s inspiring memoir The Happiest Man on Earth, or simply want to share a laugh with Bridget Jones, we’ve got you covered. Read on for our selection of uplifting books that are guaranteed to cheer, exhilarate and hearten. 

For even more uplifting reading inspiration, don't miss Book Break's playlist of videos full of uplifting reading recommendations. 

The best uplifting fiction books

Confessions of a Forty-Something F**k-Up

by Alexandra Potter

Book cover for 9781529022780

This hilariously uplifting book is a must-read for anyone whose life plans have been derailed over the last year. When Nell’s happy ever after in California falls apart, she moves back to London single and jobless to find a lot has changed. Here friends have all settled down, she can’t afford her own place and the perfect lives she sees on Instagram make her feel like a f**k up. But then she meets Cricket, a fabulous eighty-something widow, and together they help each other heal broken hearts and chase new adventures.

Dear Mrs Bird

by AJ Pearce

Book cover for 9781509853922

The year is 1941, London is at war, and to say wartime spirit is alive and kicking is a radical understatement. The story centres on Emmeline Lake, who – contrary to her desire to become a ‘Lady War Correspondent’ – unwittingly takes up a position at the Woman’s Friend magazine, answering heartfelt letters from women seeking advice. The book is saturated in positivity but manages to steer clear of saccharine: a warmer, jollier, more uplifting book you will struggle to find.

Bridget Jones's Diary

by Helen Fielding

Book cover for 9781529057072

If ever a mood-lifter was needed, it’s now. Accompany Bridget Jones as she pours her thoughts and feelings about dating, friendship, work and family into her much-loved diary – and chortle throughout. Whether it’s Bridget crashing home after one too many glasses of Chardonnay at her favourite haunt Cafe Rouge, or attempting to keep things cool with the enigmatic Daniel Cleaver by leaving a would-be seductive message on his answering machine which she then frantically attempts to delete, this uplifting book is guaranteed to leave readers in stitches.


The best uplifting classic fiction

A Little Princess

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Book cover for 9781509827985

This is a heartfelt ode to the transformative power of kindness. Young Sara Crewe is born in India into wealth and riches, and when she becomes a pupil at Miss Minchin’s girls’ boarding school in London she is treated as a princess. Sara is not spoilt, though. On the contrary, she shows unfailing kindness and generosity towards those less fortunate than herself, be it her fellow pupil – awkward, ungainly Ermengarde – or Becky, a servant at the school. When Sara’s beloved father dies, leaving her penniless and at the mercy of the unforgiving Miss Minchin, the girl’s character is put to the test like never before. This classic uplifting book is a testament to love and goodness.

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

Book cover for 9781509827930

“Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!”

There never was a more beautiful ode to the simple pleasures of life than this. The book centres on Rat, Mole, Badger and – of course – the iconic Mr Toad as they form unlikely yet unshakeable bonds of friendship and navigate their particular swathe of the river bank, their adventures culminating in a momentous battle with the more sinister inhabitants of the spooky Wild Wood.

‘Home’ is a dominant theme throughout, as Mole demonstrates when he confesses his unbearable homesickness to Rat. “I know it’s a – shabby, dingy little place . . . not like – your cosy quarters – or Toad’s beautiful hall – or Badger’s great house – but it was my own little home – and I was fond of it.”

Pollyanna

by Eleanor H. Porter

Book cover for 9781509852246

At the heart of this uplifting book is the ‘Glad Game’ – which tells readers all they need to know about what’s in store. Young Pollyanna is sent to live with her formidable Aunt Polly following the passing of her beloved father. Aunt Polly lives a strict, meagre life, very different to the riotous, colourful world Pollyanna enjoyed with her father. But Pollyanna brings with her the game she and her father invented together – a game that involves finding joy in every situation, no matter how bad – and consequently lights up Aunt Polly’s house in a way that never before seemed possible.


The best uplifting poetry

Poems for Happiness

by Various

Book cover for 9781509893812

We don’t usually advise judging books by their cover, but in this instance the aesthetics speak for themselves. Part of the exquisite Macmillan Collector’s Library, this pocket-sized treasure comes complete with gold-foiled edges and ribbon markers, making it a source of delight before it’s even been opened. And the contents don’t disappoint – read on for famously soul-affirming works such as ‘How Do I Love Thee?’ by Elizabeth Browning and ‘My Heart Leaps Up’ by William Wordsworth, as well as lesser known texts for readers to enjoy.

She is Fierce

by Ana Sampson

Book cover for 9781529003154

Anyone seeking a little inspiration should turn to this thoughtful, rousing anthology of poems collected by Ana Sampson. Divided into sections such as ‘Friendship’, ‘Love’ and ‘Freedom, Mindfulness and Joy’, this is an uplifting collection of poems by inspiring women. Maya Angelou, Carol Ann Duffy, Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood are just some of the contributors, with many more female writers offering wisdom and countering the patriarchy – all in the form of lyrical, melodious poetry.


The best uplifting non-fiction

Dear Reader

by Cathy Rentzenbrink

Book cover for 9781509891528

Cathy Rentzenbrink grew up with her nose in a book, they brought her joy, excitement and endless escapism. Then, when her family was struck by tragedy, books kept her afloat, and eventually they lit the way to a new path. Dear Reader is a moving, funny and joyous exploration of how books can change the course of your life, packed with recommendations from one reader to another.

The Joy of Walking

by Suzy Cripps

Book cover for 9781529032642

 If, like us, you’re struggling to find the joy in your daily walk now we’re in the depths of winter, this is the book for you. The Joy of Walking takes you on a journey through classic writing which shows how the simple act of walking goes to the heart of life itself. You’ll find a wealth of essays, poetry and fiction celebrating and exploring the joy of walking, from E. M. Forster, William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman among many others.

The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective

by Susannah Stapleton

Book cover for 9781509867325

Any fans of Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes or inspiring true stories will enjoy this fascinating account of the life of Maud West, a female detective who ran her own London-based detective agency for over 30 years during the ‘Golden Age of Crime’. Author Susanna Stapleton includes stories by Maud herself about her many and varied cases, which are so astoundingly salacious and outlandish that they beg the question: could they possibly be true? Especially bearing in mind the necessity for Maud of keeping her identity secret in what was a vastly male-dominated business. Stapleton tries to uncover who Maud was, and what she really did, with twists and cliffhangers galore making this the perfect go-to for readers seeking distraction.

Wilding

by Isabella Tree

Book cover for 9781509805105

True stories don’t get much more inspiring than this: written by the aptly named Isabella Tree, it’s the tale of what was once an economically unsustainable farm run by her and her husband. In a project now known as the “Knepp Experiment”, they gave nature free rein and stepped back to let it take its course, whilst utilising free-roaming animals (including cattle, ponies, pigs and deer). Their land is now a home to rare species, such as turtle doves and purple emperor butterflies, and is a buzzing, joyful ecosystem in and of itself. This uplifting book is a transformative tale of hope, determination and the magical, strengthening power of nature.

Queer Intentions

by Amelia Abraham

Book cover for 9781509866175

Owen Jones called Queer Intentions a book that will ‘not just resonate with a new generation of queer people, but with all those who seek to be their allies.’ Combining journalism and personal experience, Amelia Abraham seeks answers to the challenges facing LGBTQ+ people today. Are the options available to LGBTQ+ people all they’re cracked up to be? And what happens to those left behind, in parts of the world where LGBTQ+ rights aren’t so advanced? This thought-provoking and often funny book takes the reader on a exploration of what it means to be queer in 2019.


The best uplifting biographies

The Happiest Man on Earth

by Eddie Jaku

Book cover for 9781529066333

This heartbreaking yet ultimately uplifting memoir shows us how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. In November 1938, Eddie Jaku was beaten, arrested and taken to a German concentration camp. He endured unimaginable horrors for the next seven years and lost family, friends and his country.  But he survived. And because he survived, he vowed to smile every day. He now believes he is the ‘happiest man on earth’. This is his story.

Me

by Elton John

Book cover for 9781509853311

If you want to be taken on a rollicking and entertaining ride: look no further. The first and only official autobiography by one of the most iconic singer-songwriters of all time, Me packs a significant punch. Elton evocatively describes his childhood in the London suburbs when he dreamed of becoming a pop star; his drug addiction, kept secret for over a decade; and finally, what it was like to come clean, find love with David Furnish and become a father. In amongst the brave confessions and frank revelations are glimpses into the glittering, electric, star-spangled world of the music industry, making this wonderful book a source of escapism as well as inspiration.

Gotta Get Theroux This

Book cover for 9781509880362

Louis Theroux is one of our most entertaining and well-loved public figures. In his revealingly honest memoir – dubbed ‘absorbing and surprisingly candid’ by the Telegraph Magazine – he paints a vivid picture of his quirky, varied and eclectic career, from a childhood riddled with anxiety to his phenomenally successful documentaries.

The book draws on his natural observational skills and dry wit, whilst also shining a light on the darker areas of his career, such as the moment when the revelations surrounding Jimmy Savile – one of Theroux’s former subjects – were brought to light.