The Dreamers: A Novel, by Karen Thompson Walker
When I heard comparisons between The Dreamers and Station Eleven, I knew I had to check it out. Station Eleven is one of my favorite books—despite my somewhat baseless assertions that I don’t like “science fiction” or post-apocalyptic stories—and I loved The Dreamers almost as much.
As a mysterious sleeping sickness spreads from a college campus into a Southern California town, the residents react to the terrifying situation in various ways. I was impatient to know how the story resolved but in the end that wasn’t really the point—like most great books, the journey is the destination and The Dreamers sent me on a journey that I was reluctant to end.
Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens
It was impossible to miss this book when I worked at Penguin. It was a New York Times number one bestseller so many weeks in a row that I lost count—and every week that it stayed at number one, the sales team was rewarded with bagels (that I was never allowed to eat, sadly). It is so popular that I had to wait months to get my copy from the library, but thankfully it more than lived up to all of the hype.
Owens’s first novel is the lovely, touching story of Kya, a girl who is left to fend for herself when she is very young. She makes her home in undesirable marsh lands and is more comfortable among the wild things—where the crawdads sing—than with people or in town. There’s also a murder mystery interspersed with Kya’s life story, but it’s the marsh girl who steals the show. I sobbed through about two-thirds of this book and as much as I wanted to know the ending, I was equally sad to leave this beautiful world behind.
Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover
Like Where the Crawdads Sing, Educated was inescapable during my time working at Penguin. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down by this memoir. Westover grew up with survivalist-Mormon parents in rural Idaho. She was isolated and uneducated, violently abused by one of her older brothers and suffered more than her fair share of physical ailments including two nearly-deadly car accidents. She overcame great odds to enroll in BYU and then programs at Cambridge and Harvard, eventually earning her PhD. Those details sound like irresistible memoir fodder, but Westover’s storytelling just didn’t connect with me.
I’m alternately interested and terrified of underground spaces—I love exploring abandoned places, but I think I would have a claustrophobic freakout if I spent any real time in tunnels. Hunt has explored his share of cool places—caves, catacombs and train tunnels—and his descriptions of his adventures were gripping. He did focus on spirituality and the mental toll of darkness a bit more than I would have liked, but if it’s people you’re interested in, I would skip this and read the Mole People instead.
Edward Gorey was a fascinating and extremely talented eccentric and his life’s story is definitely worthy of a proper biography. He was also secretive and fiercely private, which means that Dery struggles to fill his book, resorting to long-winded recaps of every single thing Gorey every wrote. 200 of the 400+ pages are great—Gorey was every bit as strange as his illustrations suggest, but I very much identified with all of his quirks and lifestyle choices (and especially his love of Cape Cod and cats). But the other half, full of speculation regarding Gorey’s sexuality, feels disrespectful, exploitative and mostly just unnecessary.