I love books about dreams. There are a few reasons for that, one of which is the not so fun fact that I struggle with nightmares, and have for pretty much my entire adult life. I wake up in a panic at least once a week (although it used to be at least once a night) and these days I don’t actually remember my nightmares all that often, but there used to be recurring themes. There was a period of time when I dreamed about spiders almost every night, and then there was the classic ‘being stuck in a room with no way out until I die’. That one involved a lot of screaming in the middle of the night, and still happens occasionally.
I’ve never fully gotten a grip on my nightmares, but my troubled relationship with dreaming did awaken in me a certain fascination with the topic. Dreaming is such a strange phenomenon and it’s just plain weird that our brains do it every night. Weird, but cool. That’s also why I decided to write about it myself. In 2019, I finished the first draft of a novel about a girl who has a lot of nightmares (sound familiar?) and eventually gets sucked into a dream world (don’t have any experience with that aspect, personally). I’ve tentatively started working on the second draft, which is something I hope to continue in 2022.
Obviously, my interest in dreams also translates to the books I’m reading. I love books about dreams and I’ve read a few of them this year that I’d really like to share with you. So, let’s get into them!
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
As I’m typing this, I’m actually remembering that I wrote a full review on this novel, so if you’d like to read my extensive thoughts on it, click here. This is a book I read more or less by surprise in January; I needed a book with the word ‘dream’ in it for a year-long reading challenge I’m participating in, and on my search for the right book, I found The Dreamers. It’s a novel about a college town in Northern California where people start to fall asleep and don’t wake up again – they just keep on sleeping. Doctors and scientists are trying to figure out what’s wrong with these people and they find out that the sleepers have unusual levels of brain activity: they’re dreaming heightened dreams.
The Dreamers doesn’t just delve into the mysteries of dreaming and sleeping, but as the novel progresses, it also deals with the unstable nature of reality, which is something I loved. I ended up adoring this book, and I’ve wanted to read more by Karen Thompson Walker ever since. The writing is hauntingly beautiful, and the themes of dreams and reality were right up my alley. Also, the discussion on what is the right course of action to take when an unknown virus starts spreading was very topical indeed.
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
I read The Lathe of Heaven over two or three days when I was on holiday in France in September and I absolutely loved it. In fact, there’s a good chance it’ll end up being my favourite book of 2021. This book tells the story of George, who is an entirely average man, apart from the fact that he can alter reality through his dreams. At the start of the book, George finds himself in a sticky situation and he ends up having to go through mandatory therapy with a man called Dr. William Haber. As Dr. Haber discovers the full scope of George’s strange ability, he decides to take advantage of it in order to make the world a better place to live in. Of course, that has its consequences.
At 175 pages, this is only a short novel, but it truly packs a punch. I loved the sci-fi element of George’s strange ability, and the discussion of dystopia vs. utopia as well as the commentary on climate change. All that in such a small amount of pages! The writing is wonderful as well, and I really enjoyed the fact that the story is told through both George’s and Dr. Haber’s perspectives. It’s quite a psychological novel because of that. This was my first Le Guin, and it seems like a hard one to top, but I am excited to read more by her now.
Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater
This year, the second book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Dreamer Trilogy came out, bearing the in my opinion unfortunate title Mister Impossible. It’s the sequel to Call Down the Hawk, which came out at the end of 2019, and the entire trilogy is a spin-off series to The Raven Cycle; Stiefvater’s most famous series. The Dreamer Trilogy follows Ronan Lynch, his two brothers Declan and Matthew, and a few new characters how weren’t in The Raven Cycle. Ronan has a special ability, which we learn about in the original series: he’s a dreamer. This means that he can take stuff from his dreams into the real world, from small objects to mind-bendingly strange phenomena. This was quite an important part of The Raven Cycle, but it’s the main topic of the Dreamers Trilogy, which I love, of course.
Whenever I describe the Dreamer Trilogy, I say it’s like The Raven Cycle on steroids. The stakes are higher, the action is more intense and the strange things are even stranger. Out of the three stories I’ve described in this blog post, this is the one that falls most squarely into the fantasy realm (although it is set in ‘our’ world). There are twists and turns at every corner, and the ending of Mister Impossible had me gasping, but the thing I love most about this series is the dreaming. It’s all so imaginative and magical, and Stiefvater’s magificent writing is like the cherry on top.
Those were the three books on dreams that I’ve read and loved this year! If you have any recommendations for me in terms of books about dreams, nightmares, sleeping – things like that – I’d love to hear them. The same goes for non-fiction; I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but if you have any non-fiction dream books to recommend, please let me know!