This week, read one of the best books of 2011, start a full-fledged addiction to old letters, give a “we can do it!” fist pump to real-life Rosie the Riveters, and indulge in a weighty, Pulitzer-winning southern gothic.
On Your Kindle
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
This book, which topped many a “Best of 2011” booklist, might just claim the title of my favorite book of the year. It’s captivating without being over-the-top, thought-inducing without being pretentious. Tony, the novel’s narrator, spends these quick-turning pages mulling over his life, focusing most intently on his high school and early college years and breezing over the more traditionally “substantive” ones that gave way to wife, baby, and divorce.
His reminiscences call into question the very concept of memory: Is it true? Is it reliable? What makes some things memorable and others less so? The prose is a strange blend of poetic, philosophical musings with conversational questions, and the result is a novel that very much feels like a quiet conversation with a thoughtful older man. My instinct was to assume that this type of introspective book might yield a quiet, ambiguous ending. But to my delight, the book’s title hints at the drama of the ending—which keeps the reader engaged until the very last page.
On Your Smartphone
Letters of Note, by Shaun Usher
I stumbled across this blog while on Facebook recently, and how glad I am that I did! It’s a compilation—soon to be turned into a full-fledged book—of old letters, many of which are from famous individuals. Most of the letters are scanned in their original forms, and all accompanied by clear transcripts. Clicking from letter to letter—including a pithy one from Kurt Vonnegut, a heartfelt (if erratic) one from Anne Sexton, and a hilarious one from E.B. White—is addictive and will certainly fill up your morning (and evening) commute.
On a Podcast
This brief podcast packs a girl-power punch in just under three minutes. The short video centers on the oft brushed-over story of the female mathematicians who worked for the military during WWII, lending their talents to help crack codes and creating ballistics tables for the weapons in the U.S. Army. The work they did not only aided the successful war effort—it also helped usher in the computer age. A classic story of women in tech to start the week off right.
The Optimist’s Daughter, by Eudora Welty
Like the novel that began this week’s column, this classic Southern tale’s brevity belies its weightiness. Eudora Welty, master of the Southern gothic, stays true to form in this story that uses a father’s death as a vehicle to examine a daughter’s life. Like so many books that mean so much, Welty’s novel explores greatness through the small incidents and banal memories that pepper daily life. Laurel, the titular optimist’s daughter, struggles to come to terms with her father’s new widow, who sullies the childhood home in which she mourns. Her experience, all told in Welty’s spot-on dialect, is heartwarming and truthful.