Katie Cragwall

Name: Katie Cragwall
Where you live: Chicago, IL
Insta handle: @thebooklyclub
Current read: The Cuckoo’s Calling

What has been your favorite read of the past year?

This is such a tough question! I’m sure you hear that a lot. But of the forty plus books I read in the past year, six made ‘favorites’ status. As someone who only has twenty-one books on her all-time favorites list, that’s a pretty big deal! But if I’m picking just one I pick Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. At first, when I finished I thought I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Then weeks later I was still thinking about the story, its hope, desperation, love, humanity, and the ending! I completely fell in love with this book.

What is one book that you think will (or should) become a classic in the next 30 (or 50) years? Why?

The Nix by Nathan Hill. This is another one I read and loved in the past year. It jumps time and perspectives, mainly between Samuel in present(ish) day and his mother in 1960’s Chicago. It tells a story of family, politics, the paths we take, and those we don’t. It’s kind of a literary “This Is Us” with a lot more political and familial dysfunction. Not sure if it will become a classic, but it should!

Imagine this.  You and a celebrity of your choice are becoming friends.  They have asked you for a book rec.  Who is the celebrity and what book do you recommend?

In this pretend reality, Michelle Obama is my beloved mentor who sees me through the ups and downs of parenting two young daughters, balancing work and family, and being married to a cerebral husband. But what could I recommend to Michelle Obama? Maybe Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. It’s only eight-six pages so she’d have time to fit it in, the writing is beautiful, it’s a great glimpse into a complex subject matter, and it goes beyond science to bigger questions of humanity.

How do you choose your next read?

I’m entirely a mood reader who’s very affected by the seasons. That’s actually what inspired The Bookly Club. Each month we read something that’s tuned to the month we’re reading in (i.e. in February we read a love story). For Bookly we plan the year in advance, but for my other reads I’ll usually pick a stack of potential books, read the first few pages of each, and see which one grabs me. And only ever one at a time. I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to books. 

What book meant the most to you as a child?

My earliest memory as a reader is a conversation with my mom and cousin. They were trying to convince me that books could be scary. I was insistent that, yes, there were such things as scary movies, but a scary book? That’s when I was introduced to Goosebumps and Fear Street (am I aging myself here??). And if books could be scary, they could be anything! Hm, I feel like that explains a lot about my current taste in books.

What is your favorite adaptation from book to film, theater, or television?  What book do you wish would be adapted?

Game of Thrones. I read the first three books (which I loved, but I’ve been told that books four and five are meh so I haven’t gotten that far), and I’m a total fan the HBO series. The casting, the settings, the writing, is all so well done! And they’ve been able to carry the story beyond the books in such an amazing way that it seems like a truly unique adaptation. And it’s just plain good!

What’s the one book everyone loves that you just cannot stand?

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Sorry! I didn’t think it was a bad book. I can see how others would really love it, but it wasn’t for me. The pace was a bit slow, the characters weren’t too likable, but while reading it I remember thinking “whether or not I like this book all depends on how it ends.” And after reading the ending I thought, “are you kidding me?! Well that was just a stupid mistake.”

What is your favorite book set in or around the area where you live?

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It’s set in my neighborhood of Wicker Park in Chicago. It was fun reading about local streets and destinations I recognized so well, but mostly the book was just fantastically entertaining. It’s an existential study in humanity and the choices we make wrapped in a science-fiction suspense thriller that plays with physics and the multiverse. It sounds like a lot, but trust me, it’s good. 

What is one classic you think is not overrated?

It’s a toss-up between The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Reading those was like dying a slow death by page turning.

If you had to declare yourself an expert in one extremely specific genre, what would it be? 

Dark and twisty fiction with a dash of mysticism or science fiction for flavor.

What is your go-to book recommendation?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. The entire Flavia de Luce series is so charming, so fun, and Flavia is one of my favorite literary characters. In fact, she inspired the name of my eldest daughter. 

What book changed your worldview in some way?

Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. For me, this book humanized faith in a new way. It made me realize that religions aren’t right or wrong (not by our definition) it’s often just a difference of place and time.

If you could inhabit the life of one fictional character for a day, who would you choose?

Flavia de Luce so I could spend the day exploring Buckshaw on Gladys (her bicycle) and solving village mysteries. Or Daenerys Targaryen so I could ride a dragon.

Who do you think is the greatest female author?

Margaret Atwood, JK Rowling, Toni Morrison… Although I finally read The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit last year and her writing has this amazing way of capturing a complex thought or feeling in one line. I found myself being like, “yes! That’s exactly what I was thinking I just didn’t have the right words.”

Why reading?

To live in someone else’s shoes. To escape. To learn. 

What’s at the top of your TBR or wish list?

Next on my list is The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. My best friend and Bookly co-founder Katharine (of @readwithkat) and I are doing a buddy read of this one, which has been on both of our TBR’s for far too long! And next month The Bookly Club is reading If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin. Since it’s post awards season, our theme for March is books made into movies, and I’m so excited for this one!


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