Sometimes the most beautiful books are the quietest books. Maybe not all that much happens, but they paint a picture of what living really feels like.
Making coffee in the morning, watching birds fly overhead, sitting with a loved one, observing the seasons change from green to orange... the little things can be the most precious parts of life.
The humble and quiet slice-of-life books I've compiled in this post are some of my favourites about the beauty of life in all its everyday (and even mundane) details.
The best quiet slice-of-life books about everyday life
1. Stoner by John Williams
Stoner, the quiet and unassuming story about the life of a solitary English professor, has become an iconic classic.
Sent to the state university to study agronomy, William Stoner instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence of a dirt-poor Missouri family that he grew up with.
In this heartbreaking yet beautiful novel, William Stoner emerges as an unlikely existential hero.
2. Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
If you could go back in time, who would you want to meet? In this heartwarming and quirky book, a small back alley in Tokyo is home to a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years.
Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee – the chance to travel back in time.
Over the course of one summer, four customers visit the café in the hopes of making that journey. But time travel isn’t so simple, and there are rules that must be followed.
Most importantly, the trip can last only as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold.
3. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, Gilead is one of the most comforting and quietly moving novels of this century so far.
A beautifully-written book with gorgeous prose, here Marilynne Robinson illuminates life and spirituality through the point of view of an elderly priest reflecting on his life.
This is Reverend John Ame's hymn of praise and lamentation to the God-haunted existence that he loves passionately and from which he will soon part. It's not without its bittersweet elements, but overall it's an uplifting book.
4. The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
In The Samurai's Garden, a graceful novel that will remind you of the beauty and goodness of life, Stephen, a 20-year-old Chinese painter, is sent to his family’s summer home in a Japanese coastal village to recover from a bout of tuberculosis.
Here he is cared for by Matsu, a reticent housekeeper, master gardener, and samurai of the soul; above all, a man devoted to doing good and finding beauty in a cruel world.
Over the course of a year, Matsu helps him not just to recover his physical strength, but also to realise profound spiritual insights.
5. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Like my favourite Japanese writers, Banana Yoshimoto has the unparalleled ability to turn something so ordinary and everyday into otherworldly magic.
Can cooking help you to cope with the despondency of loss? Yes, this introspective and soothing story of two free-spirited young women in contemporary Japan suggests. Perhaps it can.
6. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Elizabeth Strout is one of the very best slice-of-life authors, carving stories around her characters' everyday lives and thoughts without always following much of a plot. Her books are so quietly poignant, honest, and real.
To get started with Elizabeth Strout, read her Olive Kitteridge series for some of the most down-to-earth books you can find.
As one fan on Reddit shares about this series, "as a reader, you can read without needing to expect much out of it, and so it's refreshing and thought-provoking".
7. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
The Travelling Cat Chronicles works its way into your heart as a warm-hearted and life-affirming celebration of how the smallest things can provide the greatest joy.
As a book with Studio Ghibli vibes, author Hiro Arikawa gives voice to Nana the cat and his owner, Satoru, as they take to the road on a journey with no other purpose than to visit three of Satoru’s longtime friends.
However, the plan turns out to be different than Nana was led to expect.
As they witness the changing scenery and seasons of Japan on their travels, they will learn the true meaning of courage, gratitude, loyalty, and love.
8. A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
However, in a similar way to Stoner (which also made this list), it's heartbreaking and might move you to tears, if you're anything like me.
I decided it can stay. It's a gorgeous book about the course of one man's life, lived out in solitude by the Austrian Alps.
9. The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa
One of the true masterpieces of Japanese fiction, Yoko Ogawa turns mathematics into an elegant art in this beautiful, unpretentious and clever novel.
Each morning, the Professor and the Housekeeper are introduced to one another. Although the Professor’s mind is alive with mathematical equations, his short-term memory is a mere eighty minutes after a car accident threatened his life and ended his academic career some years ago.
With the clever maths riddles he devises – based on the Housekeeper’s birthday, her shoe size, or other little details – the two are brought together in a beautifully geeky classic love story that forms a bond deeper than memory.
10. Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa
Sentaro’s life hasn’t gone to plan. His dream of becoming a writer has long been forgotten, and now he has a criminal record, drinks too much, and spends day after day in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.
However, when Tokue, an elderly woman with a troubled past, comes into his life, everything changes for both of them.
11. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
All Creatures Great and Small is a true balm for the soul. In this classic feel-good book, meet the world’s most beloved veterinarian – and his menagerie of heartwarming, funny, and tragic animal patients – as he takes up his calling and discovers the realities of everyday life in his veterinary practice in rural Yorkshire.
One reader on Reddit shares that "James Herriot has been my comfort author for my whole life, everything is so cozy, warm, and light”. I couldn't agree more: he's one of the all-time best feel-good writers.
12. The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell
If you love James Herriot's books, you might also like this joyful and lighthearted autobiographical trilogy by Gerald Durrell, the British naturalist, writer, zookeeper, conservationist, and television presenter.
The Corfu Trilogy shares Gerald's story of growing up on Corfu in the 1930s as a budding naturalist, sharing his observations of the flora and fauna surrounding his sun-soaked home as he discovered his passion for animals.
I love this review by the New York Times: "A delightful book full of simple, well-known things: cicadas in the olive groves, lamp fishing at night, the complexities of fish and animals - but, above all, childhood moulded by these things."
13. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Murakami is the master of blending slice-of-life everyday events like cleaning, cooking, drinking whisky, and doing laundry with the supernatural – think cats, deep wells, and otherworldly meetings with people who aren’t quite who they seem.
Norwegian Wood is a great starting point if you haven't read any books by Murakami yet.
14. Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
As she goes through her quiet days alone in this delicately beautiful novel, Hannah Coulter, now in her eighties and widowed twice, reminisces about the love she has had for the land, her community in a tight-knit rural town, and her time building a home and a family.
Hannah Coulter is part of the Port William series, a quietly beautiful collection of novels by the American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer, Wendell Berry.
For more gorgeous books, you might like my collections of the most beautiful books to treasure for years to come, the most beautifully written books, and the best books to remind you of the beauty of life.
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.