St. Martin’s Press, June 2015
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.
I don’t browse much in bookstores as much as I used to: the closing of Borders, having small kids, and moving to a smaller town have all thwarted my browsing time. Instead I read a lot of blogs and check in with Twitter. I’d seen a few tantalizing bits of reviews about The Book of Speculation, which itself is about an old, slightly waterlogged book that tells the story of a long-ago traveling circus, but I tried to avoid reading the reviews in their entirety because I wanted to read this blind, if you will. I’m so glad I did. It would be a much cooler story if I had come upon a physical copy of this book about coming upon an intriguing book by chance!
The Book of Speculation starts very strongly: Simon Watson, a librarian in a small coastal town is struggling in his job (budget cuts) and struggling to save his deceased parents’ home that is starting to fall off a cliff into Long Island Sound. A mysterious package from Iowa arrives on his doorstep, and the attached note says some of his ancestors’ names appear in this book. The mysterious book storyline in the past and the heap of problems in Simon’s life in the present are both compelling stories.
I have to admit that I have missed the flood of circus/carnival/magician movies in the past ten years and more. I never got around to Night Circus and Water for Elephants probably because I heard too much about the stories from friends, which is part of the reason I wanted to read Speculation without knowing too much. I’m not sure if this book treads over common ground with these books, but by itself I found it an interesting read. Swyler got the balance between past and present right for me: it didn’t turn too magical or odd in the past, which was one of my fears. The connections (common images, etc) between past and present never feel too forced or too pat either. The book leaves some things open, which I liked. The story was very involving for me, and I didn’t feel the pacing lagged, which I sometimes find in non-thriller/non-crime books.
Since I can’t place this book in the context of other circus stories, I’m trying to come up with other contexts for it. It reminds me a bit of Bee Season by Myla Goldberg in terms of a focus on an odd family with lots of drama and sort of deep themes. Finally, I have to say it felt a bit odd to read a book about the wonders of this antique book on an e-reader. It made me feel a bit guilty for not reading it in print.