The brief interregnum between the mega holidays of Christmas and New Year’s has always seemed like a strange in-between time. What is to be done with this brief moment after the opening of presents and before the counting down of the old year? Some may scour the stores for end of the year deals, others might clean out the house and work on their list of New Year’s resolutions. During this short respite why not take a moment to learn about a few titles that came out in 2013 which may have slipped under your radar. These three titles are a bit quirky and hard to categorize, as befits this time of year, but they are well worth your time and attention.
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
Meet Rose Baker, a seemingly prim and proper typist who is trying to make her way in 1920s New York. Rose is tasked with typing up transcripts of interrogations at the decrepit Lower East Side police station where she works. Her life is shaken up with the appearance of a new employee, Odalie, who is everything Rose is not: outgoing, sophisticated, well-heeled, daring and prone to visiting speakeasies with shady characters. Rose knows something nefarious is going on, but what? The story and setting are intriguing but what makes this novel stand out is Rose’s unreliable narration. Everything is told from her point of view, but you are never quite sure what is real and what is a figment of her imagination. The ending with a twist will have you scratching your head for days, but in a good way.
On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz
Early on in this excellent series of essays, the author points out that our inattentiveness to detail is actually a survival mechanism. So much is going on around us, that our mind simply cannot process it all. To get around this lack of attention, Horowitz goes on a series of walks with those who can see what we often miss: the geological history of the stonework of buildings, the subconscious walking patterns of those navigating the city streets, the myriad typefaces found in signage and their meaning, and even the different ways a toddler and a dog see the same streets we traverse every day. This book is best listened to rather than read, so you can slowly absorb each chapter at a leisurely pace to get the full impact. Luckily the author, who also narrates the audiobook, is as skilled a reader as she is a writer.
Days in the History of Silence by Merethe Lindstrom
Some might consider this novel, which won the Nordic Council Literature Prize, to be a tad bleak. And in truth, it does have the feel of Bergman film. But if you can entertain the possibility that the universe might be indifferent, this work will reward you in many ways. Eva and Simon have spent most of their lives together, raised three grown daughters and live in a nice quiet suburb. But a few years after they both retire, Simon inexplicably stops speaking. It could be the onset of some form of dementia or it could also be by choice. Oddly the silence started with the abrupt dismissal of their beloved housekeeper. The novel is told entirely from Eva’s point of view in sparse but very affecting prose as she tries to grapple with Simon’s “condition.” In the end, this novel is an intense examination of what we keep hidden from ourselves and others and whether our silence is necessary or simply a destructive force.
So there you have it, a few titles for a very brief season. Revel in your time.