READ: Dept of Speculation by Jenny Ofill + More

In a poetry class at college the professor told all of us that he only read poems because he was too old to read long novels. He said he could get the same impact in a few verses, so why spend days or weeks reading one book. I did not understand him then, but I think I do now.

I will probably always love a long novel that sweeps me up and leaves me unable to do anything except lay on the couch and read, however, short prose becomes sweeter all the time. Jenny Ofill’s short, short novel (or novella?) “Dept of Speculation” is crushingly beautiful and I finished it in about an hour.

I don’t like stories about infidelity. They piss me off and are usually full of tired clichés. But I am so glad I gave this story a chance. Don’t let descriptions of this indescribable book stop you from reading it! “Dept of Speculation” reads like a writing experiment with unnamed characters, odd pacing, quotes and literary morsels, and shifts between points of view, but it all comes together to create a portrait of a life with all its icky quirks and horrible junctures and the beautiful, heart-stopping moments that sustain us.

This story about love, middle age, marriage, having a kid, being an artist, living in the city, anxiety, and then the tired old story about an infidelity is hard to explain, but it is a great literary experience. Ofill scatters literary references throughout – Rilke (who I have cherished since I was 21 when the poetry professor mentioned above assigned him), Keats, Yeats, Kafka, Herodotus, Berryman…she also weaves in scientific facts and snippets of stories. She relays the love story of Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan, I’ve heard Ann’s version of their romance on Radiolab, but of course, there is more to their story than just one version.

I experienced this novel twice – I read the book, and then I listened to it on CD, where the author reads it beautifully (I had them both reserved at the library, and they came in at the same time). I recommend listening to the audio version if possible. Either way you experience it, enjoy getting swept away in the beauty of her pacing and unique writing.


Another unique piece that I can’t stop thinking about is the movie “Boyhood.” I think I have told everyone to watch the movie. It made my heart hurt over and over again.

I’m sure you’ve heard the original premise of “Boyhood” – director Richard Linklater filmed the movie over 12 years with the same actors. An incredible feat considering the young boy in the movie was only 6 when filming started, he stuck with it over 12 years and remained a talented actor throughout. The movie is edited together so that it is a collection of little moments, and the only way to tell that time is passing is from the appearance of the actors, particularly the children. The soundtrack in the movie (which is fantastic!!) also helps viewers note the passing years.

There is not a lot of plot in the movie, instead it is a collection of all of the small snapshots of time, the tiny epiphanies that shape who we become. At the end, especially after a powerful moment between the mom and her son, viewers are left shattered by the fleetingness of time and our inability to fully appreciate all the beautiful, and sometimes horrible, things that shape our lives.

“Boyhood” hits close to home – the film portrays a normal American family, which is not a so-called traditional family. Like the children in the movie, my sisters and I have two parents who loved us and wanted the best for us, but they couldn’t stay together. My sisters and I have a unique bond because we experienced these moments together, although, of course, we each remember different moments and experiences. It’s okay, it’s not the end of the world when families separate (and then re-create), but it often creates complicated situations and it shapes who we become.


 Fun links:

Top 10 Food Books of 2014

13 World Food Predictions for 2015…it includes pot pesto – fun!

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