Up Lit: Positivity in an Uncertain World

by Penny Hilton

With all of the political tumult and economic uncertainty, reading trends have shifted from psychological thrillers (called Grip Lit) to wholesome books like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. This new genre has been coined Up(lifting) Lit. Up Lit books focus on humanity’s capacity for kindness and empathy. The stories are centered on relatable characters and offer a measure of empathetic escapism to readers. Since this genre is still in the process of being defined, I decided to ask my coworkers at RCLS what books made them feel hopeful and uplifted, and I have compiled a list of staff favorites as well as a few honorable mentions.

eleanor oliphantEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
As the defining book for the Up Lit genre, this book delves into the world of Eleanor Oliphant, who is completely fine, until she helps an elderly man who has fallen with the help of the IT guy from her work and finds herself pulled from her isolationist lifestyle.


up lit 2The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
This book has been cited along with Eleanor Oliphant as a defining text in the Up Lit genre and it is easy to see why.  After their neighbor disappears, two young girls tackle the case of finding out where she has gone in this whimsical coming-of-age story set in 1976 England.


up lit 3The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
A space opera my coworker David O’Flaherty describes as “Science fiction – they’re about finding a place in the universe, friendship, redemption.”


up lit 4The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.
“It’s positive without being saccharine and will definitely give readers a cathartic cry. A big plus is that the characters’ love for literature is palpable throughout, so it’s a real book-lovers’ book.” – Brittney Reed-Saltz


up lit 5Something like Happy by Eva Woods
“Annie is stuck in her boring and routine life. She suffered a trauma that left her feeling helpless and refuses to help herself. Along came Polly, with a trauma or two of her own, that makes Annie realize that hers just might not be so bad. Polly teaches Annie what the meaning of life could be, if she lets herself be daring enough to try.”  -Marlene Kupsch

up lit 6The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Witty and intriguing, the book is set in post WWII London where a writer finds unlikely inspiration on a tiny island that developed a way to avoid curfew during occupation. The book is written as a series of letters and examines human connection and a celebration for the written word (Goodreads).

up lit 7Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
“…though it talked of the tragedy of war, I was really amazed at the resilience of the human spirit and ability to survive and even thrive under difficult circumstances.” -Carol Ghattas


up lit 8The Last Message Received and Dear My Blank: Secret Letters Never Sent by Emily Trunko
I am including these together as a set because they are both very raw books that read better together than apart. These books offer a candid look at humanity and its emotions. Last Message is a compilation of last messages, some are hopeful and others are tragic, but they serve as a catalyst to remember what is important and to hold on to those that we love. Dear My Blank is similar, but filled with emotional notes addressed to friends, lovers, family, themselves, and to no one in particular.

up lit 9The Princess Saves Herself In This One by Amanda Lovelace
[CW: tackles topics of abuse, violence, depression, and eating disorders] Recommended by Brian Organa, this book of poetry presents a narrative about handling immense trauma in her life and coming out of it empowered as a queen, not a damsel in distress or a princess locked in a tower.  It is an anthem call to those who have been abused and made to feel less than they are.

up lit 10You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
A renowned comedy writer and producer who has worked on shows such as Transparent, SNL, and Inside Amy Schumer writes about her childhood as a tom-boy and growing into what she has coined as a “tom-man” with all of the comedy and social commentary in between.


up lit 11Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
“Coming of age story about a young woman seeking to define herself in war-torn Iran. Marjane Satrapi brilliantly brings to life her family’s struggle for freedom and survival. You will laugh and you will cry.” -Caleb McCloud


up lit 12Honor Girl by Maggie Trash
“In this graphic memoir, Maggie goes to summer camp and falls in love for the first time with an older girl. It’s sweet and nostalgic and heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time.” -April Smyth


up lit 13Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
In this fun and relatable coming-of-age story, a girl in deep fandom with the fictional Simon Snow (an alternate Harry Potter) tackles college and being away from her twin sister for the first time. This book promotes the legitimacy of fandoms and fan fiction while examining the importance of family and moving on.

up lit 14The Luster of Lost Things by Sophie Chen Keller
Walter Lavender is unable to speak, but he is an excellent finder. He lives in an enchanted dessert shop with his mother until the source of the shop’s magic is stolen and Walter sets off with his dog to recover it, finding not just the shop’s magic but a part of himself as well.



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