What I'm Reading (No. 19): Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
First off, I really want to know how author Jenny's last name is pronounced. It is like "awful"? Because that would be . . . well . . . you know.
Her book, Dept. of Speculation (194 pages, 2014) has been on my reading list since being published about 4 years ago. It made a bunch of those year-end "Best Of" lists, and reviews called it a quirky story about a modern marriage.
So last week when I saw it was on sale on Kindle for just a couple bucks, I snatched it up, and quickly got through it.
What did I think? Well, I still don't really know. The structure is rather interesting, with the text acting as sort of a journal, from the wife's perspective, of the relationship between the unnamed husband and wife. It's not entirely chronological, but we mostly move from dating, to marriage, to exciting life in New York . . . to colicky baby, to affair, and some predictable plot points thereafter (and some not-so-predictable).
Rather than conveying complete thoughts though, what the reader gets is more snippets of information. Philosophical quotes about relationships and marriage, small anecdotes, and unfinished ideas about what led this couple to this point in their lives. The narrator smoothly (and only somewhat erratically) moves from rage to humility to pity to love and longing.
Parts of it were incredibly moving and poetic and thought-provoking, and parts had me asking for more traditional narrative and dialogue. It's really a mixed bag with Dept. of Speculation, and I have a hard time broadly recommending it. Some people will like it, some won't. It's one of those books. I'm still deciding my own ultimate verdict, if I ever come to one.
Funny enough, Offill has also written a handful of children's books. Seems strange after reading this very adult-themed novel (not like x-rated, just literally dealing with grown-up topics). Not that a writer can't work in both of those worlds, it just sort of made me chuckle after learning that fact.
I'm in the middle of multiple great books right now (hence just reviewing one short one this week). That includes Anna Karenina, which I'm only a few hundred pages into. It's really a remarkable book, but I feel like I can only read it when there's peace and quiet in the house, and that's rare these days. Some books I can read in the midst of chaos, and some I can't.
I finished Lands of Lost Borders recently, and it's one of the most remarkable memoirs/travelogues I've ever read. Modern explorer/adventurer Kate Harris biked the path of the ancient Silk Road, but also traces the history and future of exploration. It doesn't come out until August, so I'll write about it in full in a few months. Quick hint: I'll be recommending it to everyone I know.
I'm also finishing up the last couple books on my list for my Western novels project for work. If you're interested in the genre, Elmer Kelton has emerged as perhaps my favorite single author. He wrote dozens of books, and was actually declared the greatest Western writer of all-time by the Western Writers Association. Two of his best are The Good Old Boys and The Time It Never Rained. I can't wait to someday read all of them. That article will be published on the Art of Manliness in a couple weeks.
That's all for this week. Let me know what you've been reading, and thanks so much for your inbox space!