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    January 29th, 2009LISWire aggregatorLISWire

    Looking for a novel that has good writing, well-developed characters and insights about life but isn’t as grim as much serious literature? For the last several years, Chicagoan Marianne Goss has been on a quest to discover such books after realizing that many literary novels were depressing her. Thinking other readers might be interested in her findings, she created a web site named Positively Good Reads ( that now lists more than 100 novels.

    After reading a book for the site, Goss writes a brief commentary to help other people decide whether they want to read it. The novels reviewed on the still-growing site are by authors ranging from classic (Dickens, Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Willa Cather, E.M. Forster) to contemporary (Michael Chabon, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, John Irving, Elinor Lipman). There is about an equal number of American and British writers, and women outnumber men.

    "It’s not easy to find upbeat literary novels, but I've discovered I was wrong in thinking they are almost non-existent," Goss says. "Since my reading has benefited from finding these books, I hope the web site can help other people when they're looking for a novel that's worth their time but not somber."

    Goss has had conversations with people searching for novels that are both substantive and upbeat. Some just want to read a feel-good book now and then, while others are motivated by more than personal preference. They fight depression and question whether it makes sense to struggle to keep a positive attitude, then turn around and read fiction that presents life as even worse than they feared. With such people in mind — and she counts herself among them — Goss bristles when she gets the reaction that literature isn’t therapy and that happy endings aren't realistic.

    "Maybe I shouldn’t have used the words 'happy ending’ on the home page, because people tend to glom on to that," she says. "It’s not that I'm looking for novels without moral dilemmas, loss, struggle and conflict; I'm looking for novels that leave me feeling that there's reason to go on living."

    Goss found a fitting quote from British novelist Fay Weldon: "By a happy ending I do not mean mere fortunate events — a marriage or a last-minute rescue from death — but some kind of spiritual reassessment or moral reconciliation." The list on Positively Good Reads speaks for itself, Goss decided; writers such as Wallace Stegner, Eudora Welty and Penelope Fitzgerald don't need to be defended against charges of being lightweight or unrealistic.

    So far Goss has written all of the reviews, but she is open to contributions from other readers — provided their selections meet the admittedly subjective criterion of being serious literature.

    Now that Positively Good Reads has passed Goss’ initial goal of 100 books reviewed, she may also give some attention to enhancing the site visually. But for now, she expects that true readers won’t be put off by its plain-text appearance.

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