The last book I finished reading in 2013 was The Circle by Dave Eggers. The title refers to a fictional company that is quite obviously an amalgam of Google and Facebook. The book is a dystopian view of a near-future, a nightmarish outcome of current trends like living our lives via social networks, and the resulting monetization of our every share, the loss of privacy, and ultimately, loss of freedom.
While Eggers’ symbolism becomes quite heavy-handed, this is a chilling, sinister book that made me immediately want to disconnect my Facebook account. It was also an exciting book to read, because it depicts the world we are living in right now. This book may quickly become dated, but right now, it feels very current. The issues that it raises are issues we should all be thinking about and debating, and the point The Circle makes is that people have a tendency to accept what is new and exciting and convenient without really questioning the unintended consequences.
At its essence, I think The Circle is about indoctrination into a cult, how people can easily be persuaded that giving up fundamental freedoms is actually a good and necessary thing. Except in this case, the cult is global.
I’m not going to call The Circle great literature. But I think it is a thought-provoking read.
Here’s an excerpt from the book published in the New York Times Magazine.
Image by thefoxling via Flickr
Like most people who have read 1984, it profoundly affected my way of thinking about power and political systems. Orwell introduced concepts and language into the general consciousness, such as “doublethink” and “Big Brother.” The struggle against political oppression and the tyranny of the powerful few over the many seems to be a never-ending one, but I think Orwell’s masterpiece has become a great weapon in that struggle, by making us more aware of the forms oppression can take and helping us recognize when it may be happening in our own society.
Certainly, Orwell’s full bleak, dystopian vision hasn’t come to pass. Perhaps total control of the people through surveillance and torture isn’t very realistic. Yet, it frightens me to recognize how pervasive propaganda, misinformation and historical revision have become in our current political climate, just as Orwell depicted it. I can turn on my TV and see it happening every day. I see people blithely accepting fabrications even in the face of contradictory evidence and eagerly supporting measures that run contrary to their self-interests. I wonder if Orwell would laugh at the irony of the propagandists twisting his words into their own form of double speak.
Even more than 50 years later, Orwell’s 1984 is as relevant as when it was first published. We should never stop reading Orwell or learning lessons from it.
I have been following all of the conversations about the future of publishing, particularly with regard to e-books, going on over the past few months with interest. I thought I’d share some of the more interesting conversations I’ve found, as well as some of my still-nascent thoughts on the whole kerfuffle.
I have a bit of an inside view of publishing — 10 years out of date, but it’s not an industry that changes very quickly — and it’s not a positive one. I love books and writers, but publishing, as it exists today, seems like a necessary evil. It is too big, too cumbersome, too costly and too reluctant to change. Their business practices, which didn’t make any sense years ago, seem woefully out of date, wasteful and expensive today. The industry is ready for upstarts with new ideas to come in and turn things upside down.
When the world is changing around you, you either adapt or die. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know someone will come up with it. And that’s likely who we’ll be buying books from in the future.
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I don’t like to write down my thoughts about a book or draft a review immediately after I’ve finished the book. Instead, I like to let the book sit with me for a few days, or even a few weeks. That’s because one of the most important qualities for me in deciding how much I liked the book is “stickiness.”
“Stickiness” is a fairly ineffable quality that I am sure differs from one reader to another. It has to do with how much I thought about the book after I closed it for the last time. How often I replayed certain scenes in my mind. How frequently I found myself talking about the book with others. How much my understanding of the book’s characters or themes deepened after I had finished reading it.
It often surprises me which books are “sticky” for me. Kazuo Ishiguro‘s When We Were Orphans is one recent example — I can’t stop thinking about one haunting scene that occurs near the end. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is another; my husband and I discuss it often, and I even find myself quoting it, much to my surprise.
A “sticky” book will almost certainly receive a four- or five-star review from me and find its way into my collection. I read a lot of books that I find to be just average, which really means that they are not sticky. I might enjoy them during the actual reading of them, but once I close them, I find it difficult to recall exactly what happened or who the characters were. While such a book may have earned a better review immediately after I finished reading it, once I let it sit for a while, I think I am better able to judge whether it had any lasting impact on me. If it’s not sticky, it generally only earns three stars and a place in my BookMooch pile.
Do you find that certain books you read tend to stick with you? Does your opinion of them change over time?