Meet Up Lit, The Book Genre Designed To Lift Your Spirits

Every few years, there's a book that starts a publishing craze. In the YA realm, The Hunger Games kicked off a near decade-long run of dystopias. After Fifty Shades of Grey came out, many other romance novels suddenly featured suggestive objects on their grayscale covers. Until now, dark and twisted thrillers of in the vein of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl have dominated the bestseller charts, like Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

But the reign of the suspense thriller may be over. In this demanding political era, readers are seeking something different from their fiction: To be soothed rather than titillated, to be uplifted rather than hang from the edge of their seat. And there's a whole new batch of books to satisfy these readers.


This burgeoning genre is called "Up Lit," which stands for uplifting literature. Per a 2017 article in The Guardian, publishers say the trend started in response to the current climate leading for a desire to read about "everyday heroism, human connection, and love." People can't get enough of it. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, essentially the poster child of Up Lit, was named Book of the Year at the British Book Awards and also won a number of people's choice awards, but it's hardly the first addition to the genre. Generally, Up Lit books track quirky, offbeat protagonists on their journeys to creating a fulfilling web of relationships. The books keep any possibility of saccharine sentimentality in check by offering up healthy doses of melancholy, too.

Likely, Up Lit's popularity stems from the same forces that led to the rise of the literary rom-com. These books are escapes into the goodness people know is possible — even if it's not readily apparent on the news or in the outside world. Given Oliphant's success (and forthcoming movie adaptation), this is just the start of a trend. Here are the books to read when you need the literary equivalent of a cozy fireplace, warming up your cold, jaded heart.

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A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman (2012)

Fredrik Backman's entire collection of novels will pluck those "happy-sad" heartstrings, but A Man Called Ove's charms are especially irresistible. Stubborn and self-righteous, the elderly Ove is a real curmudgeon — the kind of person you never want to have as a coworker or neighbor. But the family of immigrants who move next door don't know that yet. Through persistence, they manage to pierce his exterior. Using ample flashbacks and the melting of his prejudices, Backman manages to turn Ove into a sympathetic character. The Swedish movie adaptation is equally good.
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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin (2013)

A.J. Fikry is the curmudgeonly owner of an independent bookstore on an island off the coast of Massachusetts. While he's gifted at connecting people with the perfect book, he's less gifted at connecting with people, especially since his beloved wife passed away. Then, a package, of sorts, arrives on his doorstep — one that might turn everything around for him. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry celebrates the power of books (and independent bookstores).
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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce (2013)

Harold Fry is unhappy in retirement and unhappy in his marriage. Then, a letter from his lost love, Queenie Hennessy, arrives at his doorstep. Queenie's writing from the hospice to say goodbye. Instead of mailing a letter, Harold is seized with the urge to hand-deliver the letter to the hospice 600 miles from his hose. So long as he's walking, he thinks Queenie will live.
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The Rosie Project, Graeme Simpson (2013)

Don Tillman, a professor of genetics and keeper of strict schedules, thinks he knows what he wants in a partner. He approaches dating with stringent criteria, just like he approaches life. Rosie doesn't check any of his boxes (literally — he has a checklist). Still, he's charmed. The Rosie Project is a warm-hearted, irresistible look at what dating might be like for someone on the autism spectrum.
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Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Emma Hooper (2015)

Most Up Lit books feature one misfit, maybe two. But Emma Hopper's debut features four (though you'll have to read the book to discover James' role in the story). Etta is in her 80s when she decides to follow her dream at last: She's going to see the ocean. One morning, she sets out from her farm in rural Saskatchewan, leaving her husband, Otto, and her lost love, Russell (who lives next door), behind. After Etta sets off on her 3,232 kilometer journey, Otto and Russell reminisce about Etta's role in their lives. The book jumps through time (and occasionally bends reality) to tell its story.
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Less, Andrew Sean Greer (2016)

We should've taken it as a sign when this witty, sweet book about second chances won the Pulitzer Prize in 2017: The literary world was hungering for emotional and honest stories, told with humor. Less may be a prestige masterpiece, but it's also definitely Up Lit. When novelist Arthur Less receives an invitation to the wedding of his boyfriend of nine years, he decides to skip it. Instead, he says yes to the literary events he's been invited to around the world. So begins Arthur's odyssey.
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Whispers Through a Megaphone, Rachel Elliott (2016)

Miriam hasn't left the house in three years. Her voice, by now, is nothing louder than a whisper. At the age of 35, she's imbued with the courage to actually go outside. She runs into Ralph in the woods (literally), a man going through a moment of his own. Ralph just found his wife, Sadie, kissing another woman. Whispers Through a Megaphone weaves their lives together in surprising ways.
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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman (2017)

Ask Eleanor Oliphant how she's doing, and she'll respond the same way no matter what. As she explains in the book, "If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” The thing is, Eleanor's not completely fine. Her life is stale and predictable, and she's so socially inept that she hasn't had a genuine conversation in ages. Then, the miraculous happens: Eleanor meets Raymond, her office's new IT guy — and makes a friend.
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How to Stop Time, Matt Haig (2017)

You'll find How to Stop Time at the intersection of Up Lit and sci-fi. Tom Hazard has been around for a long time. He may look 41, but Tom is much older than that. While not quite immortal, Tom ages very slowly, along with a small sector of the population. His group has one rule: Don't fall in love. Unfortunately, Tom violated that rule — and he's been paying for it ever since.
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The Lost for Words Bookshop, Stephanie Butland (2018)

25-year-old Loveday Cardew likes books more than she likes people, and it's beginning to be a problem: She hasn't really socialized outside of the Lost for Words Bookshop, where she works, in years. The inciting incident for Loveday's change – and all Up Lit books have this moment — is when she finds a lost book on a bus and posts a sign in her store. From there, a charming poet enters into her life, showing her that it's not all over.
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Meet Me at the Museum, Anne Youngson (2018)

When Tina Hopgood writes a letter to a Danish museum about a famous antiquity, she doesn't actually expect a reply. But a while later, she receives a letter from Professor Anders Larsen. And so, the unhappy farmer's wife and the lonely widower professor begin an 18-month correspondence, during which the most meaningful conversations of their life take place. Anders and Tina examine their decisions and consider the possibility of change. The novel is uplifting, but so is the story behind the novel. Youngson became a debut novelist at age 70, after a long career in the motor industry.
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The Lido, Libby Page (2018)

For 87-year-old Rosemary Page, the community pool outside her apartment holds some of her most beloved memories. It's where she went on her first date with her late husband. It's where she swam as a little girl during the war. Now, the Lido pool is in danger of closing. Kate, a young reporter who struggles with anxiety, hopes to use Rosemary as a source for an article about the Lido. The friendship that blossoms between the women is healing to them both.
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One Day in December, Josie Silver (2018)

One Day in December will have you believing in love. More specifically, it'll have you believing in love at first sight. Laurie is a skeptic — until she locks eyes with some stranger when she's on a bus. Then, the inevitable happens: The bus drives away and she loses him. A year later, Laurie meets a man named Jack at a party, and realizes Jack is the man outside the bus. The catch? Jack is dating her best friend, Sarah. One Day In December tracks the next ten years in the characters' lives.
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When You Read This, Mary Adkins (2019)

When You Read This checks all the essential boxes of Up Lit — though-provoking, tear-jerking, funny – and adds a delectable epistolary twist. The book's action unfolds through a variety of formats, like snarky emails exchanged between enemies, the blog posts of a dying girl, text messages, and legal correspondence. Essentially, it's a book written in the pastiche of How We Communicate Now. After Iris Massey dies of cancer at the age of 33, she leaves her boss, PR professional Smith Simonyi, and her professional chef sister, Jade, adrift. Iris' last request was that Smith try to turn her blog posts into a book. When You Read This tackles a heavy subject matter — making meaning in our short lives – with poignance and humor (you'll especially laugh at the intern, Carl's, email antics).
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