As you know from the many opening lines in the many emails you’ve received, the world is a confusing and often-frightening place to live in right now. In the long tradition of turning towards stories to temporarily escape the chaos around us, the Hothouse staff has compiled some of our favorite works that provide us comfort and escape routes in times of stress.
Julia Schoos, Editor-in-Chief
The Inkworld Series
Like many, I tend to favor things I read in my childhood when I try to get away. Sitting on the lowest shelf, nestled between my other German novels, is the first book of the Inkworld series: Inkheart—or, as I know it, Tintenherz, by Cornelia Funke. I took meticulous care of it as a child, so with the exception of its yellowing pages, it shows no sign of wear, despite the fact that I must have read it at least six times when I was younger, and even modeled introductions to my earlier short stories after its first few lines. I can’t summon the chapter I used to be able to recite nowadays, but even today, the Inkworld, crafted from worlds within worlds and words within words, and its characters are a welcome home for me to burrow into.
Kylie Warkentin, Managing and Website Editor
The Princesses of Westfalin Series
Truly, nothing has brought me internal peace more than this series retelling the Twelve Dancing Princesses, Snow White, and Cinderella fairy tales. Centered around three of the three twelve dancing princesses cursed by a pact with dark magic, this series has everything: the familiar beats of fairy tales, genuinely fun characters, and knitting as an important plot point. Also, the author included the knitting patterns of the bracelets and shawls the characters made in the books to protect themselves from evil magic, which rocks on every level.
Christie Basson, Website Editor
Spud Series by John van de Ruit
Maybe comfort is not exactly the right word, but I find that when the world around me becomes increasingly sinister, I turn to the comedic for distraction. One series I can always rely on is Spud by John van der Ruit. The story (set up as a diary) follows a boy attending boarding school in South Africa in 1990 and it covers all the intricacies of boarding school life – midnight swims, fierce feuds, the frustrations of an all-boys school – and the absurdity of Spud’s own family, who could hardly be more ridiculous and hilarious. However, the books have an undercurrent of depth through them, and cover more serious issues, including the tension of a country in upheaval. I have found that I enjoy the books also a historical peephole into a South Africa I never knew, but still somehow recognise.
Alyssa Jingling, Marketing Director
Beowulf by Seamus Heaney
My go-to stress read is Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. It’s a heroic and adventurous tale masterfully told through the Irish poet’s rich wording; it’s beautifully easy to imagine myself drinking mead and going off to battle monsters right alongside the heroes. It also has the original Old English text, so when I really need to focus I like to try to decipher that version.
Sara Cline, Poetry Board Editor
Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human
In these past few weeks, I’ve been particularly swept away by two Quantic Dream video games: Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human. I’m a sucker for choice-based games, and these two are special in that you play multiple characters, with the characters’ paths inevitably crossing in the end. Heavy Rain engrossed me as I tried to identify and track down a serial killer known as the Origami Killer, and save a young boy in the process. Meanwhile, Detroit: Become Human stuck me smack dab in the middle of a rapidly growing android revolution.
Abbey Bartz, Website Staff Writer
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl has been my favorite book since I first read it in high school, and since then, I have read it more times than I can count. It’s a cute, funny story about a shy, anxious girl in her first year of college, who wants to be a writer and has to deal with family drama, school stress, and boys (relatable, no?). No matter how many times I read it, it never fails to make me smile, no matter what I’m going through at the time.
Addie Gordon, General Staff
The work I have been using to escape the current situation is the Westworld television series on HBO. The world the show creates is so detailed and fascinating that I can’t help but get lost in it. The plot and characters are also so detailed and well written, that it’s impossible to not binge. Overall, it allows me to explore human behavior, the possibility of AI takeover and the idea of time jumping all in one place.
Chloe Manchester, Website Staff Writer
“That Summer Feeling” by Jonathan Richman
There’s no better promise of escape than the summer. I wait nine months out of the year for a three month period of bliss that has never once let me down. Summer sadness and that familiar feeling of being stuck is all part of its magic – this song perfectly encapsulates the beauty, the loneliness and languidness, that lies at its heart.
Natalie Nobile, Website Staff Writer
Ah, Shovel Knight! Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Nay, for thou art more lovely and I can’t go outside anyway.
Your levels— how challenging! Your music— how eight-bit!
Your controls are so frustrating, yet I can’t seem to rage quit!
Though with you I waste innumerable hours,
I’d do it again only to unlock these powers:
Chaos Spheres and Anchors and Daggers to hurl,
and momentary escape from this terrifying world.
Sarah Fetahagic, General Staff
Inception directed by Christopher Nolan
In stressful times like these, I like to spend most of my day sleeping. Inception is all about the concept of layering and designing your dreams—most of its characters are asleep for the majority of the film, taking you along with them as they explore their carefully constructed dreams. If it ever fails to make me feel like I’m in sleep’s warm embrace, I can easily escape into Inception’s world by imagining what my own artificial dreams would look like.
Stephanie Pickrell, Website Staff Writer
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
This is my favorite comfort novel for any occasion. Ned Henry is an overworked time traveler who takes a brief vacation to 1888 to escape his boss, the ever-demanding Lady Shrapnell, only to discover that the rules of time travel have gone haywire. What follows is a humor-filled adventure of love-at-first-sight, peculiar Oxford dons, a multitude of Victorian expletives, and a cat that may single-handedly destroy the space-time continuum—what more could you ask for? It also takes place in a post-Pandemic world, making it, if not a reflection of our current times, at least a sign that there’s hope on the other side.