dept. of speculation

Onward with my reading challenges! My latest pick for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks program was Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. From Goodreads:

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband, postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophesa colicky baby, bedbugs, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it, as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art..

Well, hmm. Perhaps I’m in a slump. I’ve heard almost nothing but awesome things about Dept. of Speculation and it just didn’t grab me the way I expected. I enjoyed it overall, but I think the subject matter is deep and complicated, but being such a short novel (only about 170 pages) I feel like some of the situations and feelings “the wife” had were glossed over. The free-flowing thought prose jumped around and I had trouble staying focused on the when/where/what. She obsessed over microscopic details in her life and marriage—can’t see the forest for the trees? I just never felt invested in the characters, or had any empathy for them. However, I did find the writing style fresh and interesting, with some very lovely, compelling phrasing, almost on a poetic level. I have had a trying few weeks here, so maybe it’s me and I’m in a slump. I think if I had been able to really concentrate and focus on this novella in one or two sittings, Dept. would have had more of an impact for me. I would definitely give it a re-read at some point.

Dept. of Speculation is my third book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from February 18 to 28, 2015.

in the house upon the dirt between the lake and the woods

After seeing it reviewed by Rory at Fourth Street Review, In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell has been on my radar. A few weeks ago, it became available on audio through my library. From Goodreads:

In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.

This is a tough book to review! I was very intrigued by the darkness of the premise, and though I felt like giving up a few times I’m glad I ultimately stuck it out. In the House has so many converging elements, including magical realism, horror, folklore… even some action and mystery thrown in. “Mythical” is just about the perfect word to describe it overall, too. The breakdown of the couple’s marriage is painful, the husband’s descent into fury is kind of frightening, even. It just made me think, how far is this man going to go? Is this even about having children anymore? It was really thought-provoking. Charlie Thurston narrated this audio version, and I had to set it to 1.5x speed—normal was just a little lethargic for me! But the clip of his voice at 1.5x made the poetic nature of the prose much more theatrical.

I don’t think In the House is for everyone—ratings on Goodreads are starkly divided. Once I let go of things making sense and just went with the dreamy quality of the story I enjoyed it a lot more.

I’m counting In the House as book two of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Listened to audiobook from January 13 to February 5, 2015.

power politics

In anticipation of the lecture on Monday, last week I squeezed in Power Politics by Margaret Atwood instead of what I had otherwise planned on reading. From Goodreads:

Margaret Atwood’s Power Politics first appeared in 1971, startling its audience with its vital dance of woman and man. Thirty years later it still startles, and is just as iconoclastic as ever. These poems occupy all at once the intimate, the political, and the mythic. Here Atwood makes us realize that we may think our own personal dichotomies are unique, but really they are multiple and universal. Clear, direct, wry, unrelenting—Atwood’s poetic powers are honed to perfection in this important early work.

I’m no expert when it comes to poetry—I usually don’t have the patience to let the words completely soak in—but I love Margaret Atwood and have heard that Power Politics is a decent place to start with her poems. She had me from the very first page:

you fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

Badass.

I didn’t quite get a sense of separate poems—it was more like one long poem. There is a very strong sense of love, pain, violence, and betrayal. The jilted lover’s intense focus on “You” is especially powerful. There were parts of the collection that resonated deeply and made me reflect on the dark, angry thoughts and feelings that I may have experienced after particularly arduous breakups. I was pretty busy last week, otherwise I’m sure I could have read the whole collection in one sitting (even less than an hour) rather than over a few days. I’m counting this as one of my reads for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from January 29 to 31, 2015.

kc library winter reads 2014

You guys! I’m so behind. I meant to write up this post more than a week ago. Well, same as always, I got distracted by real life! Last weekend my parents were in town and I had a concert, and the weekend before that I was sick (BOO) but of course that does afford one lots of reading time, so I was able to finish this year’s KC Library Winter Reads program! This year’s theme was “Stop Me if You’ve Read This One,” all in the humor genre. Last month I read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (click for review) also for the program. I was glad to read humor since it’s not normally a genre to which I naturally gravitate, but I’m glad to get into something dark and heart-wrenching this week.

In Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell delves into American history and politics with a roadtrip hopping around to different landmarks associated with the assassinations of Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield. Vowell has a quirky sense of humor and feels a little bit like she’s trying too hard to seem… I don’t know, weird or unique (or weirdly unique) or something. But I did like how much I learned from this book, and I think Vowell does a great job weaving the history with humor, especially related the past to the current (well, early 2000’s) political climate in the United States. It’s a fun, educational journey (yes, both! sneaky). Assassination Vacation was the February book for my library book group, but I missed the discussion due to being sick. [Read from February 23 to 27, 2014.]

An Unexpected Twist by Andy Borowitz was next, and I sort of feel like I cheated a little bit here (a Kindle Single, so, it was super short), but it was funny, and it still counts as reading. Comedian Andy Borowitz tells about the time not long after getting married when a painful intestinal condition leads to a couple surgeries and his almost dying. Basically, he starts feeling horrible and is diagnosed with a twisted colon, so there are cracks about poop a-plenty in this shorty. I’m not sure how much of his memories are hyperbolic, but I appreciated how Borowitz took the life-threatening edge off this retelling with lots of great humor. Laughter is the best medicine, they say! [Read on February 27, 2014.]

I’m generally not into books that spring from Twitter accounts, but Rob Delaney’s Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. is more of a memoir than straight Twitter-to-book experience, and definitely my favorite of the five humor books I read for the Winter Reads program. Mother. Wife. Sister. is a collection of essays about Delaney’s life roughly in chronological order. I loved the one about his childhood fandom for Danzig, his college year abroad in Paris, and his stance on the cats v. dogs debate. The darker passages about his alcoholism, recklessness, and depression were harrowing and fascinating at the same time—and at the end I found myself feeling really happy that Delaney made it through his struggles, finding and making good use of the help he received. There’s profanity, poop, bungee jumping off the Manhattan Bridge, hepatitis A, masturbation, and lots of food. Mother. Wife. Sister. is a great example of a comedian who has fought personal demons, which seems to be quite common. I’ve never seen or heard Rob Delaney, but he’s hilarious on paper! [Read from February 27 to March 1, 2014.]

Lastly, I had no excuse not to finally read Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. Hmmm… well, hmm. I have read Sedaris before years ago (Me Talk Pretty One Day and Barrel Fever) and I can’t remember anything about or from them. I’m afraid this collection might be the same… maybe Sedaris isn’t for me, we don’t share a similar sense of humor. I did chuckle at times, but they were for things others said or did that he observed, not his own humor. A lot of the essays just kind of came off as an old grump annoyed by everything. People are harried and wear schlumpy clothes at airports? No kidding! (eyeroll) I found myself cringing a bit through his self-absorbed, petty rants (to which he admits, to his credit). I was uncomfortable with his nonchalant attitude about his abusive childhood, the way he mentions race, and his stories about his affluence didn’t capture my attention. However, I did like the travel essays, which is a lot of the book (counting it for my Eclectic Reader Challenge!)—especially his observations on learning different languages for his travels. But still I don’t know—I feel ambivalent. I think Sedaris is a talented writer and with finely tuned observational skills, and I had a great time at his reading here last summer—he was charming in person!—but this might be my last Sedaris book. [Read from March 1 to 2, 2014.]

the rosie project

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion landed on my radar after many rave reviews across the book blogs in the last year, but in general I’m not much attracted to romantic comedies. When I saw that Katie at Words for Worms is making it one of her Fellowship of the Worms features, then the ebook version of this one came up for just a couple bucks online, and “romantic comedy” was a genre for the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge, AND the KC Library’s 2014 Adult Winter Reading program theme is humor, I thought I had to give it a try. From Goodreads:

Narrator Don Tillman 39, Melbourne genetics prof and Gregory Peck lookalike, sets a 16-page questionnaire The Wife Project to find a non-smoker, non-drinker ideal match. But Rosie and her Father Projectsupersede. The spontaneous always-late smoker-drinker wants to find her biological father. She resets his clock, throws off his schedule, and turns his life topsy-turvy.

Welp, turns out I was right about myself and romantic comedy is just not really my thing. The Rosie Project is a cute, quick read, and I enjoyed a few chuckles here and there, but overall I thought it was a bit formulaic and predictable. With the few chuckles came as many (or more) groans. I was uncomfortable with how Don seems to not be aware he has Asperger’s (or is on the autism spectrum). I found that really strange and just way too unlikely to fully suspend my disbelief. Don is 39 years old, intelligent, educated (in genetic science, no less!), seems to care about his health, has seen therapists, has researched and given lectures on Asperger’s… really? His own mental health disorder (autism or otherwise) has gone undiagnosed? The other thing that bothered me is that Don was described as being “quirky,” “wired differently,” “an expert at being laughed at.” I don’t know. I guess this kind of glib characterization of complex mental health disorders stuck in my craw.

The rest of the characters were pretty one-dimensional to me. Gene and Claudia were okay, but the portrayal of academics was sadly clichéd. Rosie, Don’s love interest, was predictably his polar opposite and ridiculously shallow to boot. I didn’t like her much. hover-over spoiler here. I have to admit I became bored around 60% in, and probably would have given up if not for the positive reviews all over the place and the challenges/discussions involved. The more I’m thinking about the book for this post, though, the less positive I feel about it 😦 I wonder if I would have liked this more if Don had been diagnosed, and having an autism disorder would have been a real part of the story rather than “Oh he’s just unusual and idosyncratic!” There was huge potential here that sadly went by the wayside.

I understand why The Rosie Project is a big hit, though—turning the typical romantic comedy on its head by featuring a male protagonist rather than a female one, the whole quest to discover Rosie’s biological father was fairly compelling, and it’s ultimately an unchallenging, feel-good novel. A fluffy rom-com film adaptation is inevitable, no doubt. Although I’m definitely in the minority on my feelings about The Rosie Project, I’m glad I read it to get out of my comfort zone for the Eclectic Reader Challenge and I look forward to discussing it more with the Fellowship of the Worms soon!

The Rosie Project is my romantic comedy for the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge, and marks 1 of 12 completed on the list.

Read from January 24 to 30, 2014.