Dept. of Speculation, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Atlas Shrugged, and Beartown

 Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Narrated by "The Wife", it's written in short paragraphs that felt disjointed and a sometimes a little...well...weird. She and 'The Husband" fall in love, get married, have "The Daughter", have marriage troubles, etc. Along with some astute observations about life, love and marriage. there's a lot of navel-gazing, reading less like a novel and more like a diary where the entries would mean more to the writer than the reader. 
I read it, and I'm not sorry I did, but I can't say I liked it.  

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

This sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the story of Queenie, the woman Harold was walking across England to see. Both are good, but to me this is the better book. Queenie is writing down her story while she waits for Harold to arrive: how she met him, the friendship they developed over time, and the secret she's kept from him all these years. In a nursing home now, she knows she is failing with little time left and she very much wants to confess it all if Harold will only get there in time. 
While Queenie's history is good reading, what I found most meaningful was her present day experience in the nursing home. The characters are vivid and relatable and can make you want to laugh and cry on the same page. This part of the story pulses with life; it moved me, and is still with me two months after finishing the book. The reality of life at that stage is tragic and funny and sad and wonderful all at the same time. But in this finishing time there can also be acceptance, a certain peace that comes with knowing it is done, settled, and needs nothing more from you. This book celebrates that. And it's beautiful.  

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

On my Guilt List for over 10 years, I had read reviews and figured I was in for a real good read. What a letdown. I quit a couple of times and each time went back because I thought I must not be putting enough into it to get out of it what others did. I did finish it, more or less kicking and screaming, but I do not see the "greatness" in it. The philosophies of life being offered here are shallow and meaningless to me. There is no truth, beauty or anything else that makes it worth reading. Besides that, it's boring. Flat characters, dull dialogue. To say I didn't like puts it too mildly. I actively disliked it from a few pages in, and so, wouldn't recommend it to anybody. 
Now, I realize these words will seem like blasphemy to some, and those opinions are also valid. I've been called all manner of unpleasant things for disliking highly regarded books before so I do ask one thing. If you leave comments, tell me everything that's wonderful about the book and why you love it, just, please, be civil.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Seventeen year old Kevin Erdhal is the star player of a small town hockey team, and as such gets away with a lot.  But when Kevin is accused of rape, the team and the town begin to fall apart. Truths are hidden, sides are taken, and the town's dreams of winning the championship and getting a new arena look less and less like coming true. 

The rape victim is fifteen year old Maya, daughter of the team's General Manager. While the team and management are all behind Kevin - not so much because they believe he's innocent but because they're counting on him to win the final game just days away - Maya's dad, Peter, defends his daughter. Most of the town believe Kevin's denial because they're desperate; without a win, without a new arena, it's a town without much of a future. 

My only experience with this author was A Man Called Ove so I was expecting something a little lighter. What I got was a deeper, and in some ways darker story, a more serious examination of how loyalty, commitment, and strength of character endure or falter when life gets hard.   

The only thing I didn't like was the way it was structured in the last few pages. As he was bringing everything together and wrapping up loose ends, there would be a paragraph about one of the characters followed by a profound statement. Then on to the next character and profound statement. Then another, and another, till everybody was accounted for. It was great to read the stories of what happened to each one; it's the repetitious format and the attempt to be profound on every page that I found tedious. In spite of that, I loved the book. 
And I read it during the Stanley Cup playoffs which made it that much better. 

Very, very good. 

On an entirely different subject, can anyone tell me why the spacing is so difficult to get right on this site? You can see the extra space between the two top books compared to the rest. I spaced them all equally when writing the post but it adds unwanted space once it's posted. This happens a lot and makes the formatting look sloppy, so I thought I'd ask if anyone out there has a solution they could share. I'd be grateful for your thoughts.


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