Once in awhile I read a novel that stays with me. It might not be the best novel. It might be clunky in some places with a few predictable plot points and some obvious symbolism, but the overall ideas in the novel circle around in my brain like bees---or maybe vultures.
I also find myself recommending it when I talk to people. Yes, in this crazy mass media world, some people still want to talk about books. Their tone of voice suddenly becomes hushed and slightly conspiratorial. You read? I read too. What do you read? Got any good reads?
I am also resolved this year to talk more about books. I still watch movies, but I get a fiendish delight in opening a book. It's like my brain is my own, and I can revel in my own private quiet.
Privacy is at risk in Dave Egger's new novel, The Circle. When I finished the novel, I wanted to tell all my facebook friends about it. Then I realized this need to post is exactly what the novel is about. The book also asks the question: how much of our private selves are we giving up with our internet sharing. Then I realized that my thoughts about the book went far beyond a short post (read The Circle, it’s cool didn’t seem adequate), and I started to think it might warrant a longer piece of writing. A blog post perhaps?
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
When I first picked up The Circle, I grimaced at the heft of it. It was nearly 500 pages and had a salmon colored cover with a circle design in gold. What was I getting myself into? I had liked Eggers’ last novel, Hologram for the King, which was lean and tragically comic.
The Circle is about a 23 year old Mae who goes to work for a fictional internet company called The Circle. The company is a mashup of social media, ecommerce, and video with a modern campus in the San Francisco Bay area. Mae gets the job through her friend Annie who has moved up in the company and is happy to be there after her last out-of-college job at a utility company in her Northern Cali hometown.
Because the company is about social media, Mae is soon linked in to everyone she works with as she spends her day not only working on a customer service desk for advertisers (who contact her via computer not phone) but putting smiles on posts.
The greatest strength of the novel is that Eggers takes us into Mae's brain as she becomes more and more connected on the web and less connected to herself. Even though I disagree with Mae's choices, I empathize with her and follow her on her journey.
For me the most poignant scenes in the novel are with her family and ex-high school boyfriend when her phone becomes a fourth character in the room. Even though Mae has a world of collective information at her finger tips, she cannot understand that her family only wants to speak with her. With our online presences, are we losing our real world connections? Can there be a balance between both?
As the novel progresses and Mae becomes more transparent on the web, I felt I was reading a modern horror story and possible prelude to George Orwell's 1984. I also thought of Frankenstein. Be careful what you create. It could become a monster.
It also led me to think about my own relationship to social media. What are we really posting? Is anything really happening? Or are we just busying ourselves posting about the mundane as we pretend that a lot is happening when it really is just life sped up? Are we trying to turn our lives into mini-postable dramas in which we are heroes and heroines according to our own personal codes? What if I want to be the villain in my life?
Are we becoming too sincere? Is it enough to just be boring and to have a conversation without apps? Is it enough to not know everything and not have access to everything all the time?
I am delighted that I have found old friends through social media, and the kitten and doggie pictures are cute. However, I cannot spend all of my time looking at screens. I need time out in the sunshine. And yes, the sailing pictures are real.
For now, I read a book called The Circle. I liked it enough to recommend it to people and write a blog post about it. Now I will post the blog and turn off my lap top.