This has been a blazingly busy year at Clyde Hill Publishing, as we’ve helped to bring the stories of activists, physicians, and intellectuals to the world. I’ve also had the pleasure of reading more, and more widely, than ever. These books were among my favorites from a year when taking a few hours to see the world through another person’s perspective provided more than mere escape.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family, by Robert Kolker

From its opening lines, where a young mother sews shut the eyelids of a live falcon, this nonfiction work on the mysteries of schizophrenia leaves an indelible mark. Author Robert Kolker braids the story of this shattering illness with that of the Galvin family, who seem, from the outside, like an American ideal. They are a large, boisterous brood of twelve children, raised in white suburban privilege – yet half of them develop schizophrenia.

Musing on questions of nature (genetics) versus nurture (being raised by parents who would sew a wild creature’s eyes shut to domesticate it), Kolker lands somewhere in the middle as far as an answer to the genesis of this miserable condition. That’s not a huge surprise. More unexpected is that, while bitterly sad, Hidden Valley Road is never maudlin. It achieves the aim of all great literature: replacing ignorance with empathy.

Imagine Me Gone, by Adam Haslett

I didn’t plan to spend 2020 reading about mental illness, but here we are. This fictional take is, like Hidden Valley Road, rooted in a family story. But the most frenzied action happens inside the mind of its central character, Michael, the eldest of three siblings. Musically brilliant and often hilarious, Michael also suffers from crippling anxiety and depression – “a ceaseless brain.” Adam Haslett’s great achievement as an author is his ability to convincingly depict Michael’s interior world, as well as that of his ambitious younger brother Alec, preternaturally responsible sister Celia, enabling mother Margaret, and depressive father John – creating the prism of experience common to every family.

After a year of tragedy and death like the one we’ve just endured, you may wonder if a novel that tackles suicide will be too much. Fear not. Imagine Me Gone dives as deep into fumbling human hilarity as it does into the everyday tragedies that color all of our lives.

Imagine Me Gone, by Adam Haslett
Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, An Investigation and a Manifesto, by Michelle Bowdler

Is Rape a Crime? A Memoir, An Investigation and a Manifesto, by Michelle Bowdler

Bowdler’s provocative title seems like an eminently reasonable question after you follow this firsthand account of her rape by two men during a home invasion in Boston, and the collective shrug it received from law enforcement. No assailant is ever charged in the 1984 attack – despite a rash of similar crimes in the same area, around the same time – and Bowdler is waved off whenever she timidly checks with the detective on her case. “We’ll call you when we have something,” he says.

More than three decades later, when Bowdler still hasn’t heard a thing, she discovers that her rape kit may be among the 400,000 sitting in crime labs and storage lockers across the country – their DNA samples never tested. Or it might have been lost, its evidence tossed out long ago. No one knows. Whatever feelings Bowdler has toward her original attackers is drowned out by trembling fury at her offhand treatment from the police. And Bowdler, it should be noted, is an educated white woman who was assaulted in her home by strangers – not on a date, not while drunk, not walking alone.

A first-time author whose memoir was a finalist for the National Book Award, Bowdler pulls no punches, refusing to temper her message with pretty language. Instead, she is refreshingly blunt about the relative triviality of debates over terms like “victim” versus “survivor.” She has her eye on much bigger concerns.