I read this book about 2 months ago, so again – like all these catching-up reviews – this is going to be a short review. Basically, I liked The Circle and think it is an important book. I am going to give it 4 stars on Goodreads because I think it is the most adept portrayal of the privacy issues and what it’s like to be alive and dealing with these things now, and what it’s like to work in a contemporary corporation. It is maybe not even a 4-star book; the writing and plot devices are so clumsy, obvious or predictable. But that said, it still gets what it is like to be alive now, which is an important factor.
I liked The Circle a lot more than I thought I would, but I haven’t read any of Eggers since You Shall Know Our Velocity, which I also liked. I think since then, I have read about Eggers, rather than actually reading Eggers, and he is sort of annoying to read about. He has a particular literary persona that is a bit tedious and self-aggrandizing at times, and I think that if I had read about this book, I wouldn’t have read it.
The things I liked about this book:
- It manages to be a little bit ambiguous about which side of the overall online/social-media-controls-the-world debate. It sort of imagines what a world would be like that is not that huge of a stretch beyond what we already have, and it imagines the objections to that, and it doesn’t really come down on a side. When I was reading it, I thought it was more critical of this online culture, but the ending makes you think, “Well, what is the big conspiracy? Maybe there isn’t one? So why object?” It is not that ambiguous – there’s are really heavy-handed allusions to sharks etc. But there is some ambiguity – or maybe a failure to articulate what the point of objecting is – and I like that. In balance, it comes across as if arguing that internetizing-the-world could cause something bad to happen … not that something bad is happening. (That said, this book is fairly obviously pre-Snowden, and it is hard to imagine anyone writing a book this neutral now.)
- I found the book quite effective at depicting and combining the culture of a corporate and the way the things we do online are pointless. The corporate culture (the way it makes you feel like you want to do things that please others, even when you’re never really sure why that is) was particularly good. The whole sending smiles/frowns thing was great, and the way people use it to replace real action (sending frowns to military dictatorships, and then fearing the consequences). When I read things, like this article about Lululemon, I think about this book. I couldn’t use Pinterest or Facebook for a while because of the depictions. The futility of liking and pinning things was so obvious. But of course I did go back to social media.
- I sort of think that the ending is stupid, but I am not sure.
- The sex scenes were really badly written.
What I think is interesting:
- I recently read the new Pynchon book (reviewed here) and I have a soft spot for Pynchon. That aside, it is interesting to see the contrast between these two books – both are about the internet (and apparently Franzen is throwing his hat in the ring, as it were, about the internet as well), but for Pynchon, the internet (as created by DARPA) was always corrupted by power and corrupting, whereas for Eggers, there is this idea of benevolent geeks who might get co-opted. I think that is interesting.
- I am obsessed with tunnels (did you know this?) and I like the weird tunnels that are in both this and Pynchon. In this book, the tunnel is just somewhere near where Ty ends up living/working. They’re more sinister in Pynchon.
I didn’t mark quotes this time, so I don’t remember which ones I liked. Which is a shame, but I really loved this one: “How do we get the inevitable sooner?” It is a good slogan for the book and the mindset.