Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I’ve been talking about Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill quite a bit since reading it in January. Of course anyone who has heard me go on and on about a book knows that doesn’t mean I liked it; in fact, there is a certain bestseller from last year that I still complain about. I do however, like Dept. of Speculation quite a lot.

Offill’s book is the story of a marriage that very well may be coming to its end. Told in sparse vignettes (and when I say sparse I mean some are a line or two long), some darkly comic, some anyone who has been in a dissolving relationship will identify with, and a few are simply heartbreaking.

Jenny Offill
The size of the book may easily lend itself to being read in one sitting, and you certainly could breeze through this in an hour or two, as it’s less than two hundred pages.  But come on, are you made from stone? Do you want to be like Liz? No, I didn’t think so. To breeze through this book is to really miss an opportunity to let these thoughts or notes on life and marriage marinate. Take your time with this book and I guarantee that your experience is going to be richer than those who raced through it (and I suspect it is the case with a few of the reviewers). This little book lands some punches to the gut: it's deep, it's emotional, and it's raw. I took a month to read it; I suggest you do the same. Ok, that's not exactly true (at all) but I didn't read it in one sitting and I cried twice. 

This may be a wild comparison but after reading this my mind went to an old book that I go back to every now and again when I am pining for my youth (every Thursday at happy hour), Life After God by Douglas Coupland.  Also told through vignettes, Life After God explored many of the same things: anxiety, loneliness, and the end of relationships.

Oh, and for those of you who underline or highlight books...get your pens out. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Valentine's Day Letter to Liz

Dear Liz,

My sweet jovial friend…of course I haven’t given up on helping you find love.  Why would I? You aren’t at all picky and have what I would call an almost dangerously positive outlook on life and humanity. Of course I haven’t given up on being part of making all (well, nearly all) of your romantic dreams and nightmares come true, but with Valentine’s Day fast upon us and each hour we let pass is one less hour you could be spending in a state owned trailer enjoying a romantic conjugal visit, we must hurry.

No Touching!
I’ve signed you up for what I think are two excellent dating sites. Both suit your desire for someone who will be your best friend, truest confident, and life partner. Well, I didn’t write any of that in your profile but maybe you’ll luck out.

The first dating site, and trust me it wasn’t easy to get in this one, it’s very competitive, is  I really wanted to keep these gentlemen guessing, so I only provided your full name, address,  a photo of you sleeping, and a request that  “shorties need not reply.” Hope that’s okay. I also used your work email; let me know if you get any takers. 

The second dating site, and start writing that thank you note to me now, is called Tribe Of Singles, a really great online meeting place which is marketed as “exclusively for resilient optimist who believe in great love.” The only way that could have been more perfect for you, Liz, is if it was for Yankee fans only! Anyway this site clearly combines two of your passions: Optimism and social gatherings.

All I can say is … start looking for a wedding dress!

All this talk of you and romance got me thinking about several books that remind me of your tenacity to love and take risks at any cost. Let me list a few that our readers may want to read in order to get a better understanding of what it might be like to love Liz.

How the French Invented Love by Marilyn Yalom
This book completely captures Liz’s unbridled passion for everything/one she does. She also enjoys throwing her head back when men kiss her palm.

Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano
This novel really speaks to Liz’s boundless capacity to trust people. It’s no secret that Liz is an emotional open book; it’s completely inspiring. It also speaks to Liz’s love of Italians.
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
“A time when men sold their souls for gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep.” I don’t want to give too much away but Liz was living at my house for an entire month.

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
A handsome (and physically fit) man escapes prison and kinda sorta takes a woman hostage and they fall in love. And also, he does a lot of housework. Uhh…Joyce Maynard get out of Liz’s head!!!

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
If you spent even five minutes with Liz from 2005 to 2009, all she did was talk about Eat, Pray, Love. Liz found the book transformative on every level, so it’s no surprise that Gilbert’s follow up just blew Liz away. Now all she talks about is her profound desire to marry and have babies (four: three boys and a little sister they can protect!).  

And finally...

100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

I once saw Liz whisper this to a man she barely knew, but fancied. She had to get down real low to actually whisper in his ear, but this is what I heard:

The sky folds its wings over you,
lifting you, carrying you to my arms
with its punctual, mysterious courtesy.
--from Love Sonnets

It was then and only then did I realize how very romantic Liz was. And how very, very tall. 

With every last bit of my love and dedication to your love,

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Valentine's Day Letter to Gianna

Dear Gianna,
Gianna, where has our love gone?

It's that time of year again when your girlfriend texts me looking for gift ideas for you on that day for lovers and then refuses to accept "Zorro, gift wrapped" as a legitimate suggestion. It's also a time to reflect on my state of loneliness in this cruel world. You used to at least fake-attempt to find me a companion to suffer through the world's miseries together. You don't seem to care at all anymore. And I'm so lonely! I should just give away the cat and end this struggle against my existential angst. Gianna, I know that your girlfriend says that you wouldn't want a cat for Valentine's Day, but he's a special cat.

Since you want me to suffer alone, I decided that I should embrace my solitude with the appropriate Friday night, Valentine's Day reading. I'd watch a Girls marathon on TV, but those ladies have friends. Sigh. I'm a ship adrift. Gianna, I thought you were going to set up an OKCupid profile for me. Maybe this will help inspire you.

Five books to read on Valentine's Day if you're as pathetic as Liz:

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Here's the story of a kid who graduates college, gives away all of his possessions, and wanders around the country in search of authenticity. He ends up in a broken down bus in Denali National Park. Spoiler: he dies. Happy Valentine's Day!

I loved Hotel World by Ali Smith. One reason I loved it is because the main character falls to her death in the dumb waiter shaft at the hotel where she works. Yep, she's dead for the whole book. It's similar to The Lovely Bones, but better written.

Sometimes it's good to keep things in perspective. At least this isn't a post-apocalyptic world in which it's just you and your kid wandering down a road and trying to avoid the gangs of cannibals roaming for meat (you). Thanks Cormac McCarthy. You always know how to cheer me up. For one thing, at least I don't have a kid. The Road is a feel good read if ever there was one.

Gianna, why can't you find me a soul mate like the couple in Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go? Their love is timeless, beautiful, and even though they are clones being harvested for their organs in a near future dystopia (spoiler!), they never stop loving each other.

You know what book I love? Revolutionary Road. This is the story of a perfect match. There are so many broken dreams and mounting disappointments, much like our relationship, dear Gianna, that I don't know where to start. Remember when we were happy, before you forced me to settle for motherhood and thought that one more kid, the one I didn't want, would make us happy? I am the Kate to your Leonardo, or something.

Happy Valentine's Day, dear friend.