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.

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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.

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 Fun links:

Top 10 Food Books of 2014

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

WATCH: The Last Goodbye


From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents̓ strife.

“Romeo and Juliet”, William Shakespeare

My introduction to Shakespeare came at eight or nine years old when I was flipping through TV channels and found the Franco Zeffirelli movie version of “Romeo and Juliet.”  It is a pretty fantastic way to fall in love with the Bard. Over the next few years I read the play in middle school, watched Baz Luhrman’s 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, and went to see “West Side Story” at the theater. My senior year of college I studied at Oxford for three weeks and was able to  watch Shakespeare plays every night for three weeks. During that time I watched at least two adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” (and four of “Hamlet”!). I never get tired of new versions of Shakespeare, especially “Romeo and Juliet.” It is an enduring tale of young love, tragedy and innocence lost and it speaks to me in a different way each time that I see it.

Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet
Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet

Yesterday I went with a group of friends to see “The Last Goodbye,” the latest incarnation of “Romeo and Juliet,” at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. The play is set to the music of Jeff Buckley and involves a combination of verse, song, and guitar riffs. Going to the theater always makes me feel like a full-blown adult – it is probably the cost of the tickets and the fact that the majority of theater audiences are over fifty years old. This version of “Romeo and Juliet” really made me feel old because I found myself shocked at the graphic, oh-la-la, parts of the performance. Especially the marriage consummation scene.

I’ve never been a fan of Romeo because he is humorless, impulsive, childish, and fickle. What did Juliet (who is one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare characters, probably because she gets all the best lines in the play) see in the immature, brooding boy? “The Last Goodbye” changed my mind about him. Romeo just needed to belt out some music, and it didn’t hurt that the actor in this version looked like Ryan Phillipe.

Photo Courtesy of the Old Globe. Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo and Talisa Friedman as Juliet in The Last Goodbye, a new musical fusing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the songs of rock icon Jeff Buckley, Sept. 22 - Nov. 3, 2013 at The Old Globe. The Last Goodbye is conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, with music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley, orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul, choreography by Sonya Tayeh and direction by Alex Timbers. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Photo Courtesy of the Old Globe. Jay Armstrong Johnson as Romeo and Talisa Friedman as Juliet in The Last Goodbye, a new musical fusing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the songs of rock icon Jeff Buckley, Sept. 22 – Nov. 3, 2013 at The Old Globe. The Last Goodbye is conceived and adapted by Michael Kimmel, with music and lyrics by Jeff Buckley, orchestrations, music direction and arrangements by Kris Kukul, choreography by Sonya Tayeh and direction by Alex Timbers. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

“The Last Goodbye” is not set in a specific time period which highlights the timelessness of the story. The costumes are a mixture of leather jackets, hoodies, and renaissance-inspired dresses. Mercutio, always a scene-stealer in productions of this play, wears a glamorous, over-the-top fur coat (I hope it is a fake) in the party scene and it attracts the attention of the viewer over and over. The scenery is like a medieval castle, and my vertigo kicked in a few times as I watched the actors gracefully maneuver the towers and higher portions of the walls. Many times I thought they would fall off of the stage and it made me nervous. I also worried that someone was going to get hurt in the sword-fighting scenes – they are spectacular and a highlight of the production. The lighting is key in contributing to the mood of the music in the scenes. At certain points it feels like a rock concert, and at other points it feels like you are in a church.

I was waiting for the Buckley classic “Hallelujah,” and it does not disappoint when the song arrives in the final scene. It is a powerful way to end the play, and I noticed quite a few people around me wiping tears. Throughout the play I discovered poetic, soulful songs by Buckley that I had never heard before like “All Flowers in Time” and “The Last Goodbye.” Buckley had a pure voice, and the actors in this production honor his memory and voice beautifully.

Back to the Zeffirelli film….apparently the actors playing Romeo and Juliet dated in real life. Check out this youtube video of them doing an interview. It’s adorable and disturbing at the same time — kind of like “Romeo and Juliet.”