Christmas is fast approaching and the world is in shambles, so this seems like the perfect time to talk about feel-good stories. I know I’ve definitely been appreciating them a little more this year, both in book form and on film and TV. I’ve always been a fan of feel-good novels, and I’ve never liked the fact that they have a bit of a bad reputation. They’re often looked down upon for being fluffy, easy to read and formulaic, and that means that, by extension, the people who read them are sometimes confronted with condescension as well. Here’s why that’s dumb – apart from the obvious fact that looking down on things and people is just a very shitty thing to do.
Feel-good novels exist – and are popular – for a reason. People like to feel good. In a world that is full of things to worry about until you’re at your wits’ end (especially these days), what could be better than a story about happiness? A story full of love, warmth and kindness can be especially comforting when you’re feeling hopeless or sad. Even when you’re in a great mood, a feel-good story can lift you up even further. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
I might be preaching to the choir here. I know there are many people in the book community who love to read feel-good stories as much as (or more than) I do, and I also know that there’s a general consensus that everyone should read whatever they like. However, I think this tendency to think of feel-good, happy stories as ‘lesser than’ is very pervasive, and I notice it in my own way of thinking as well. When I read a fluffy romance, I tend to describe it as “just a fun romance novel”. When I’m talking about a Young Adult novel I loved, I hear myself saying: “it’s very hard-hitting, though!”. As if a novel can only be worthwhile if it includes heartbreak or hardship.
As for where this entrenched view comes from, I would dare to venture an educated guess and say: the patriarchy. You could roll your eyes at that, but it’s actually very obvious. Feel-good stories are mostly (but not exclusively!) consumed and enjoyed by women, and since women’s hobbies and interests have traditionally been looked down upon as being trivial and unimportant, it’s not that strange that feel-good stories should fall in that same category. I obviously don’t agree with that sentiment even a little bit, but it’s a good explanation, and it also explains why my instinctive reaction is to downplay my interest in these stories. I don’t want to be looked down upon.
But I’m done with that attitude. Feel-good stories are great!
Sure, there are badly written feel-good novels, just like there are badly written thrillers, fantasy novels, and – let’s be honest – so-called literary fiction novels. But crafting a feel-good novel takes just as much skill as writing any other story. You have to make sure your readers feel invested in the story and the characters even more so than with some other genres. The same goes for writing good dialogue that jumps off the page. That’s a craft, and one that I admire. As for feel-good novels being easy to read; that just means they’re well-written.
And what’s so bad about fluffy, formulaic stories anyway? I enjoy a good plot twist as much as the next person, but not every story needs one. When I pick up a feel-good novel, I want to feel good. I want to be comforted and immerse myself in a world with happy endings. For the record, that doesn’t always have to include a romance plot – I love a good story about friendship. And if that story takes a turn I didn’t expect, that’s fine, but I don’t need it to. If I want twists, turns and mysteries, I’ll pick up just that: a mystery novel.
I know that not everyone enjoys feel-good stories and that is absolutely fine. We can’t all like the same things – that would get boring anyway. But I do think that people should beware of dismissing an entire genre out of hand because of the unfair reputation it has gotten over time. Feel-good stories are fun and relaxing, and sometimes that can be just what you need. I’m very glad that these stories exist and are there for me to enjoy. Especially in trying times like these, when we could all use a little happiness.
How about you? Do you like feel-good novels, or are other genres more comforting to you? Let’s chat in the comments!