Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology is presented as a memoir but is organized as a series of essays, roughly chronological to be sure but more essays than biography. The author is a woman who started in the technology field in the early 80s, so a pioneer. My favorite parts of the book are the ones where she talks about how her work, whether it’s the byzantine hierarchy between assembly coders and application coders, the frenzy around Y2k, or the quest to find and fix a bug that eluded other programmers for years (really! and she makes it as fun as a treasure hunt, which it is).
The essays when she reflects about the consequences of technological advances are less successful, in my mind. Sure, gentrification happened in her neighborhood (she has a wonderful story of a little city park morphing from skid row to white tablecloths, and back, during the 2000 bubble, which illustrates the hubris of the time perfectly) but that does not mean that technology is bad — or good, for that matter.
Still, I would recommend this book to anyone working in the tech world today, for a historical perspective and also a strong description of what it’s like as a woman to work in a man-dominated world.
Careers for Women starts well, in the typing pool of the PR department of the New York Port Authority, the heroine a young woman who dreams of a career and is inspired by her female boss. But the story is really about another coworker, a single mother with a secret and a grudge, and a dark end. The descriptions of the 50s work environment are so good I would have liked more of it, and less of the sadly familiar single-mom struggles. And the fictional setting did not have to focus on the beginnings of the World Trade Center either, I think. Surely New York has many more stories that those around this tragic icon.
New People goes on (and on) about the doubts and second thoughts of a young woman about to be married to her college boyfriend. She seems to have everything going for her — except that she just cannot be sure he is the right persona and pursues, crazily, a poet she barely knows, in secret of her boyfriend of course. There are some funny moment, especially when she is mistaken for the babysitter of the poet’s neighbor, but only a handful. If you like to read about the (puny) inner life of a confused young New Yorker, this is the book for you.
Not for me.
The Summer Before The War is packaged as a vintage novel, with the local gentry in a small town controlling much of the institutions and everyone else barely getting by. But it is, in fact, a modern novel with a feminist twist, embodied in a brainy Latin teacher and her protector, an influential older woman who is working behind the scenes to open opportunities to women. Despite the sometimes awkward juxtaposition of the traditional style of the novel and the dogged feminist themes, it’s an engrossing story with some wonderful scenes, most starring the mayor and especially his ambitious and terminally conventional wife. Enjoy!
(Also read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by the same author.)
Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage is a memoir that’s really a reflection about time and is full of wonderfully observed details. How minute body language changes tells her that her husband is rattled by a surprise encounter, how her aunt’s china symbolizes her happy engagement, how successful people may have amassed truly awful report cards, how we can wonder about a path not taken. It will make you wonder about your own choices.
Something to Hide is an utterly unpretentious and fun story of four women whose fates are shown to intertwine after many twists and many secrets (most from one woman to the other). I was concerned at first that the four far-flung locations would be exploited with heavy descriptions of travel and local attractions, but they end up fitting completely into the story and giving it the mysteries it needs. Yes, it’s a madcap pace but the emotions of the women are real and well-rendered.
The heroine of The Widow Nash is not a widow, but an escapee of an abusive suitor and an oppressive family who, in her mid-twenties, settles in a small Montana town where she tries to rebuild a life, incognito, and even find love. What would be impossible today (disappearing without a trace) is rarely possible in 1904, at least with a determined ex-fiance, but it works, just about, and we get a story that mixes small-town gossip and violence with a life very well-traveled, since Mrs Nash has accompanied her mine-owner father around the globe. Despite a few longish and not entirely needed stories about developing Yellowstone attractions, bravo!