Has anyone mentioned that it’s been a hard year? Unprecedented times? They have? Oh well, we’ll skip that part then and instead talk about the positives that shone through this last year. While we dealt with these… never-before-seen times, most of us found comfort in art. So, we present to you not a meditation on the pandemic, but a catalogue of the media that brought us joy, that sparked true happiness over this last year. These were the works that connected us to ourselves and to others, that distracted us in isolation, and that brought sincere positivity when there was little else to focus on — enjoy this compilation of recommendations of the profound and the absurd from the Hothouse staff.
Literally All The Barbie Movies Up Until Circa 2006
Kylie Warkentin, Editor in Chief
In all times (but especially in those of distress), Barbie’s under-animated face and oddly blocky hair never fails to deliver the right amount of childhood nostalgia and genuine joy — and bangers! Though all Barbie movies in this time period (+ a select few 2007 ones) are excellent, some particular favorites are Barbie as Rapunzel and Barbie of Swan Lake. Speaking of: I have seen your silly Barbie Cinematic Universe movie ranking pyramids, Buzzfeed, and I laugh at your failure to include Barbie of Swan Lake OR Barbie as the Island Princess in the top tier.
Please enjoy this delightful compilation of noises Preminger (played fabulously by Martin Short) makes in Barbie: The Princess and the Pauper.
Backpacking Documentaries on YouTube
Christie Basson, Managing Editor & Website Editor
During the summer and through the ensuing months, my escapism has become documentaries from hikers and backpackers who complete hikes like the Pacific Crest Trial, the Appalachian Trial, and the Continental Divide Trial. When I started, was I an avid hiker, interested in dehydrating my own food, or excited by the challenge of packing multiple months’ supplies into a single backpack? Not particularly. And yet, as I watched people first venture into the wild, take their entire families on months-long hikes, and intimately capture the challenges of their journeys, I fell deeper and deeper into the world of thru-hikers. It was not only beautiful to see America’s landscape captured from various remote vantages, but it was soothing during our isolation to watch strangers connect and form bonds as they all tackled the same obstacle. These films (fantastically filmed and edited, by the way) captured the beauty of the solitary while celebrating the trust that we can build in ourselves and in our fellow humans by doing the things that scare us. While I am not yet signing up to hike from Mexico to Canada, I was inspired to plan a camping road trip this summer — we’ll see how that goes first.
Carmen Sandiego, the series on Netflix
Stephanie Pickrell, Website Editor
Partly as a result of the anxiety of the pandemic, and partly because I secretly never grew up, I’ve been watching a lot of children’s shows in the past year, including Carmen Sandiego. The series follows the life of the super-thief Carmen as she travels around the world (another Covid impossibility) undermining the Villains International League of Evil (a.k.a. VILE) by stealing priceless cultural artifacts before they can, and then returning her thefts to the communities they came from. The show was inspired by a series of video games that started coming out in 1985, and I’ve enjoyed watching the show for the story adaptations, the art style, the amazing soundtrack, and of course, the absolute power of la femme rouge herself. In addition to that, the show packs an impressively international cast, my favorite of course being Detective Chase Devineaux, the Frenchman who never fails to embarrass himself, in one way or another.
“Heel Turn 2” by The Mountain Goats
Scotty Villhard, Website Writer & Prose Board
In 2020, North Carolina-based folk rock band The Mountain Goats released four full albums of music: Songs for Pierre Chuvin, a solo album by frontman John Darnielle that throws back to the early days of The Mountain Goats when the songs were recorded straight to a boombox; Getting Into Knives, a lush and arcane album featuring nearly a dozen guest musicians; and The Jordan Lake Sessions Volumes 1 and 2, two broadcasted concerts featuring new takes on some of their older songs. The Mountain Goats are my favorite band, largely thanks to the incredible and ultra-specific songwriting of Darnielle, whose songs each tell a story with the sort of brevity and emotion that only songwriting can accomplish. This song, “Heel Turn 2,” originates on their 2015 album Beat the Champ, about the professional wrestlers that Darnielle would go and watch with his stepfather as a child. The song is about a wrestler who, finding himself at a dead end in his life and career, decides to perform a “heel turn,” and go from a good guy to a bad guy. It’s about perseverance and doing whatever it takes to get through the struggles you face. I’m not surprised it made its way onto a pandemic concert album. I’m suggesting this version as opposed to the original for the incredible emotion Darnielle conveys in the performance, as well as the amazing full-band outro (a piano solo on the album), though I recommend everyone go back and listen to all of Beat the Champ after this song. Then, if you’re like me, you’ll go and listen to every other Mountain Goats album, multiple times, and never stop.
Megan Snopik, Website Writer & Prose Board
You must be the best judge of your own happiness.Emma Woodhouse
This year was a tumultuous journey for me, but one thing you can always count on is new Jane Austen adaptations. Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 adaptation of Emma was a shining beacon and a reminder of the amazing things literary interpretation has to offer. The dazzling Anya Taylor-Joy stars as the smart heroine, Emma Woodhouse, in this brightly colored, expertly produced, charming film.
A Beautiful and Foolish Endeavour by Hank Green
Lacee Burr, Prose Board
While most people that downloaded TikTok during the pandemic are probably familiar with Hank Green from his funny yet oddly informative videos, you now have the chance to know him as a writer! A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is the sequel to his first book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (which you should definitely read first). Both books are fun, fast-paced, and genuinely interesting — they’re the type of books you’ll pick up one day and end up reading all night. *Queue Stefon voice* These books have everything: mysterious alien robots, a puzzle that needs to be solved, and the power of friendship!
Stg. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Emma Allen, Poetry Board
In August of 2020 I received a record player for my birthday and one of the first records I received — and the one I have to recommend for summer — is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Specifically for summertime car rides I would recommend the following songs on the album: “With A Little Help From My Friends,” “Getting Better,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” and “Lovely Rita.” I feel that I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t recommend Sgt. Pepper’s because I have found that the tracks on it rival sunshine itself and never get old— no matter how many times you hit replay. The album has this special way of transporting me to another fantastical world, making me forget about the extremely unfortunate one we have inhabited for the past 13-14 months. When listening to Sgt. Pepper’s, you’ll have no choice but to “admit it’s getting (*somewhat*) better”; I hope you love it as much as I do!
The Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien translated by David Hinton
Tom Jennings, Poetry Board
All this brings back such joy I forget
glittering careers. White clouds drift
endless skies. I watch. Why all thatT’ao Ch’ien
reverent longing for ancient times?
One book that brought me deep joy this year was David Hinton’s translations of the poetry of Tao Yuanming (his name is also rendered as T’ao Ch’ien or Tao Qian), a 4th-5th century Chinese poet who left his government job to be a wine-drinking poet-farmer. In doing so, he invented a new personal form of Chinese poetry, the influence of which (one only needs to look to Li Bai’s references to him) makes him a rather monumental figure. The intensely personal character of his descriptions of family and farming lifestyle shine through to form a vivid personality that survives translation. His love affair with wine flows through most of the poems, combining the philosophizing-on-impermanence with an endlessly enjoyable earthy wit and immediacy. His meditations on life and philosophy are timeless, and their depth richens with each subsequent read. I particularly enjoy the “Form, Shadow, Spirit” trio, where T’ao’s ability to cut through the delusions of attachment to both form and formlessness always makes for a beautiful read—obviously reminiscent of the Daosit literature before him and the Chinese Zen literature he would unknowingly influence after his time. His regard as something of a nature-prophet may be slightly misguided, but his closeness to nature as he describes his lifestyle always sparks thought as to our own relation to mind and biosphere.