Longtime New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast knows that the subject of her next book might not be everyone’s cup of bedtime tea: I Must Be Dreaming (Bloomsbury, Oct.) is a compendium of illustrated dreams combined with a brief survey of dream theory.
“Dreams are notorious for being this boring thing,” Chast says. “You’re not supposed to talk to people about your dreams or tell them about your aches and pains.” Chast’s 2014 memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?—a National Book Award finalist and NBCC Award winner—found humor in caring for her elderly parents in their not-so-golden years, so she was well equipped to tackle the near-impossible: making her dreams entertaining to others.
The project began as a series on her Instagram account. All her life, she’s been fascinated by the mind’s ability to entertain itself while sleeping. There are parallels, she says, between dreaming and the creative process.
“There’s definitely an overlap,” she says. “Most of the time I have no idea how my work actually gets done. I’m not saying I’m in a state of unconsciousness while I do it, but the best parts of what I do are a surprise.”
She devotes a section of the book to nightmares, but her squiggly lines plus the cold light of consciousness diffuse them. Case in point: a nightmare about a “pringle,” which she describes in the book as “a cross between a weasel and a naked mole rat.... The thing about pringles is, if you see one in your house, you have to leave and never come back.”
“The pringle dream was terrifying when I was having it,” Chast recalls. “But even as I was making notes on the little pad next to my bed, the minute I was awake, it was so funny to me. ‘Pringle,’ what the hell? That’s a potato chip or a brand of cashmere or something.”
Chast, who describes herself as “less fearful” in her dreams than in her waking life, enjoyed researching dream theory, delving into Freud, Jung, and the beliefs of ancient civilizations. Dreaming includes a recommended reading list, as well as a short, tongue-in-cheek list of non-recommended reading (e.g., Turn Your Dreams into Crypto by Ed Carpart).
Regarding the latter, Chast has an aversion to “anything where someone is telling you how to optimize something, I always think, ‘Bye. You go optimize whatever you want to optimize and leave me alone.’ It’s so exhausting and absurd. You’ve already made your life, optimized your life to the point where you’re exhausted and depressed. Why not do the same thing to your dreams!”
Of course, one could argue that making a book about dreams is a sort of optimization. She chuckles. “Uh-oh! Caught in a web!”
Roz Chast will be in conversation with fellow 'New Yorker' cartoonist Emily Flake on Tuesday, May 23, 10:30–11 a.m.
Click here to register for the U.S. Book Show, and click here for more information on the programming.