Tag Archives: Dept. of Speculation

What to Read: Not the New York Times Ten Best Books of 2014

Looking for something to read over the holidays? Hey, the New York Times 10 Best Books is a great place to look!

Pour yourself a nice mug of hot cocoa and get cozy to read about everything from, oh…uh, a collapsing marriage (Dept. of Speculation, Jeny Offill) or a family’s disintegration after a horrible tragedy involving a child (Family Life, Akhil Sharma), or a story collection about the devastating impacts of the Iraq War (Redeployment, Phil Klay).

Hmmm. Okay, well how about the one about the blind girl and the Nazi (All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr)? Or, uh, maybe the one about a female novelist who didn’t publish anything until she was almost 60 (Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, Hermione Lee)? Okay, okay — here’s a “spellbinding blend of memoir, science journalism and literary criticism” about….oh….vaccination (On Immunity: An Inoculation, Eula Biss). Probably don’t want to bring that up at dinner. Same goes for the one about Israel and peace in the Middle East (Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin and Sadat at Camp David, Lawrence Wright).

What about the one titled Euphoria? That sounds nice. Oh, looks like it’s about another marriage breaking up. Alright.

I guess it could be worse. We could be among the irreplaceable habitats and species whose destruction has been chillingly documented by Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction. Jeez. What else is there? Oh, perfect, Roz Chast’s graphic novel about her parents’ decline into infirmity and old age: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

I wish.

-Michael Moats

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Dept. of Speculation

FA review tag

Some writing is so small and dense it feels like sucking on a pebble. Lydia Davis is a master of this style: she scatters jarring little realizations like pebbles on a beach for readers to find and collect. But what if the pebbles weren’t scattered? What if they formed a distinct trail?

Jenny Offill’s second novel, Dept. of Speculation, is a collection of small prose fragments laid in a row, telling a long story that begins with a courtship and ends in a busted marriage. When I say small, I mean small. Like this:

This is another way in which he is an admirable person. If he notices something is broken, he will try to fix it. He won’t just think about how unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never fucking outrun entropy.

The unnamed narrator and her husband lead a familiar type of life—New York City, careers in the arts, childbirth, adultery—but Offill finds a way to make every moment feel intensely personal and specific, like a movie voiceover by someone you instantly relate to.

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HITTING SHELVES #3: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill comes out today! This is the most clever and lovable book I’ve read in a long time. It’s the story of a vulnerable marriage, told in little jabs of diamond-sharp prose by a wife whose mind wanders from bedbugs to cosmonauts, from Rilke to yoga pants. It’s a little book that feels enormous.

We asked the author one question.

How are you celebrating the publication of Dept. of Speculation?

Jenny Offill: On publication day, I am giving a reading at Bookcourt, the bookstore in Brooklyn where I used to work.

To prepare for this event, I will rise at dawn and do 192 pushups (one for each page of the novel) and then mix an elixir of Red Bull and raw eggs and powdered gold leaf. I will drink this while reciting long passages from my book in a soft, poety voice to myself.

I will put on a dress and fancy shoes and brush my long golden hair until it gleams like the fur of a wild animal.

Lipstick will be applied. Teeth will be scanned for errant lipstick lest people confuse my cheery, well put together self with my main character who is unhinged.

Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill

I will take a moment to worry that no one will come to my reading, that even if dear friends do I will not have provided enough food or wine for them. I will consider my own fraudulence and ignorance, my vast stores of pettiness and sloth.

I will vow to be less lazy, less self-indulgent, to go immediately into my room to work on my soul-killing unfinished novel instead of staring moonily into the mirror.

It will occur to me that my novel is finished, that is published even, and that I am being given a party (at Bookcourt! Bookcourt!) to celebrate this.

I will remove my fancy shoes and jump up and down on my bed.


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