Soft tomes for hard times: ultimate literary escapism
August 17, 2019 4:27 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend the best escapist literature.

For Reasons, I find myself in need of escapism. For me, the ultimate feel-good read is the Harry Potter series, but I'm just about to finish my umpteenth re-read, and I need more books! What have you read during hard times? I'm not picky: I enjoy literary fiction, "the classics", and nonfiction (particularly history).

My favorite books are A House for Mr. Biswas and An American Tragedy, should that provide any guidance.

Thank you very much!
posted by easy, lucky, free to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
P.G. Wodehouse, The Code of the Woosters
Terry Pratchett, Discworld novels (don't start chronologically; entering at the "Tiffany Aching" arrow on this chart is a solid beginning for a Harry Potter fan)
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:37 PM on August 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, anything by Tamora Pierce. Great question!
posted by jeszac at 4:44 PM on August 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

I went through multiple volumes of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series while undergoing chemo. They were perfect escapism for me.
posted by FencingGal at 4:58 PM on August 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

On the adult Harry Potter front:The Rook by Daniel OMalley, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke, Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, On the nonfiction front: How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery, Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, Muhammad: 40 Introductions by Michael Muhammad Knight
posted by NoMich at 5:31 PM on August 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

My grandmother had a WALL of romance novels.
posted by amtho at 6:04 PM on August 17, 2019

If American Tragedy is one of your favorites, this might not work for you, but my go-to Another World series is Lord of the Rings. It's long, with many volumes, and has many interlacing stories and characters, and you can skip all the Elven songs.

I also re-read with pleasure the Jane Whitefield novels by Thomas Perry. She's a Native American woman who helps vulnerable people "disappear." The first novel in the series is Vanishing Act, although they are all stand-alone stories.

Those books have tension, although if you love Harry Potter, you can deal with some tension. For just plain enjoyment, the Dortmunder series by Donald E Westlake. The first is Hot Rock, although he doesn't hit his stride until his second, Bank Shot. Again, these are stand-alone stories, but more fun to read in order.

Have a wonderful time!
posted by kestralwing at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Vanity Fair by Thackeray

If what you liked about Harry Potter was being able to disappear into another universe, and don’t mind if that other universe itself has upsetting problems like war and rape: George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books (that were made into Game of Thrones)
posted by sallybrown at 6:25 PM on August 17, 2019

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
posted by Peach at 7:31 PM on August 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Someone here on the green recommended The Sector General series and I spent a happy few weeks with them filling that need for me.
A belated Thank You! to whoever originally told me about them.
posted by BoscosMom at 8:53 PM on August 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Son of a Trickster and Trickster Drift by Eden Robinson. They are the first two in a trilogy and the last is coming out (hopefully) soon. It's about a teenage boy dealing with family issues who discovers his biological father is a trickster (a supernatural figure in indigenous cultures) and his mother is a powerful witch.

Anything written by Laurie Colwin, but particularly Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. They are essays about food and cooking, but about more than food and cooking at the same time.

Almost anything by Elinor Lipman (but I'd skip On Turpentine Lane and her non-fiction/essays). Her novels are funny comedies of manners.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan. Lois Clary, a software engineer at a San Francisco robotics company, codes all day and collapses at night. When her favourite sandwich shop closes up, the owners leave her with the starter for their mouthwatering sourdough bread.
Lois becomes the unlikely hero tasked to care for it, bake with it and keep this needy colony of microorganisms alive. Soon she is baking loaves daily and taking them to the farmer's market, where an exclusive close-knit club runs the show.
When Lois discovers another, more secret market, aiming to fuse food and technology, a whole other world opens up. But who are these people, exactly?

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:56 AM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I found Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy so completely immersive that I had to set alarms to resurface for eating, sleeping, and getting myself to work. Some heavy politics surrounding Indian Partition, but told with enormous charm and affection.
posted by apparently at 2:03 AM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

For me, this is The Count of Monte Cristo.
posted by athirstforsalt at 7:23 AM on August 18, 2019

I like the Miss Silver novels by Patricia Wentworth. Very soothing because they are so moral and old fashioned, yet the characters are believable.
Alice in Wonderland is always good for a re-read, and the Narnia books.
A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer. Sweet Starfire by Jane Anne Krentz.
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:31 AM on August 18, 2019

Lots of good stuff above. Heres some from my lists, in the order that I thought of them:
  • His Dark Materials
  • Author Donna Tartt
  • The Stand
  • The Golem and the Jinni
  • The Thirteenth Tale
  • Author Ian Pears
  • Author Kate Morton (lots of “life circumstances obligate woman to take job at rare-books shop in small coastal town, uncovers long-buried secrets”. Caroline Lee, the reader of the audiobooks, has an especially pleasant voice)
  • If you like the idea escaping into someone elses mind rather than into a place, Bridge of Sighs
  • I dont know if Id necessarily count it as escapist, but Tara Westover’s Educated is so good I’ll recommend it even to people who arent asking for book recommendations or even want me to be talking to them at all
  • My Life in France (Julia Child’s autobiography; way more fascinating and inspiring than I had imagined)
  • The Shipping News (along with Tartt’s The Secret History, one of my most re-read books)
  • Author Robert Goddard (lots of “average joe stumbles into spy intrigue in romantic Europe”)
Short, but also good:
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 10:11 AM on August 18, 2019

Trader’s Tales by Nathan Lowell. Orphan becomes apprentice on a space ship. A coming of age story that is not very action packed but gripping and quite immersive. Very much a feel good series.
posted by mmkhd at 1:25 PM on August 18, 2019

If you can track it down, O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker.
posted by codhavereturned at 6:19 AM on August 19, 2019

You do not need to like Westerns to love Lonesome Dove. Won the Pulitzer Prize to boot, FWIW. A Visit from the Goon Squad was also great and more modern, also a Pulitzer winner if that's a plus for you.
posted by cross_impact at 12:37 PM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

You don’t mention sci fi and fantasy but you do mention Harry Potter. If fantasy is okay you might like Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series (starts a little slow, is amazing - the first one is Furies of Calderon) or Gail Carriger’s delightful Parasol Protectorate series - the Finishing School books, starting with Etiquette and Espionage are a great place to start. Both series make me feel better about humanity/the world, and are funny too!
posted by bananacabana at 4:13 PM on August 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Borrible Trilogy by Michael de Larrabeiti.
posted by poodelina at 5:15 PM on August 23, 2019

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