Friday, November 22, 2013

The Circle by Dave Eggers

Book:  The Circle 

Author:  Dave Eggers 

Grade:  B

Recommended to:  Everyone can gain something from this book.  

The Circle was recommended to me by a sorority sister via Facebook. I love that, btw.  I love getting recommendations from people that I haven't seen in a year or two and then the books turn out to be great.  The Circle is one of those books that I loved to hate.  I thought the characters were solid if somewhat flat, the story was fast moving, and Dave Eggers made his point.

This book starts by following Mae Holland through her first day of work at The Circle.  A company that the reader eventually finds out is responsible for taking over the internet.  The Circle hires only the youngest and brightest up and coming talent and Mae was recommended for a position there from her college roommate, Annie.  Mae starts off in customer control where she answers consumer complaints and questions and eventually becomes a spokes person for the company.

The story evolves in such a way that small privacy infringements are explained away under the guise of making people more safe, or are explained as sharing information with those that cannot obtain the information and experience for themselves.  For example, the leader of The Circle has a child with Cerebral Palsy and he insists that others share their experiences through video so that his son can see parts of the world that never would be possible with his disability.

Then of course the small, somewhat innocuous privacy infringements become more serious all under the overarching idea of safety and sharing information.  One worker at The Circle wants to implant a tracking device into all children so that they can be kept safe from kidnappers.  That idea evolves into tracking and profiling people with criminal backgrounds so that the "police can keep us all safe."  See where I'm going with this?  I finished this book at 4:30 in the morning and kept saying aloud "No, no. You can't do that.  What about the Fourth Amendment?  What about the Constitution!?" 

I liked this book.  I have some criticism of the main character because she just accepted everything that the her boss at The Circle said without question, presumably because she did not want to lose her job.  But, there were some things that were inconsistent.  For example, she was upset that another employee made a sex tape of her, but then decided to go "transparent" and video tape her entire life.  It is all about permission, I suppose, which opens up an entirely new commentary.

The discussions that I've had about this book make it well worth the two days I spent reading it.  I really enjoyed the book and the social commentary that Dave Eggers provides in an increasingly social media saturated world.   I absolutely recommend this book a new 1984-esq novel that is relevant today.

Happy Reading!!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013



That's right!  I did it!  I read 65 books this year and it is only November 12th!  This is very exciting stuff, especially because last year I didn't make my goal.  I contribute this to living further away and having a longer train ride.   Living in DG gives me a full hour on the train to read and enabled me to complete my goal.

I also just finished The Circle which deserves a review all to itself.  So, check back for that update coming this week!

Happy Reading.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

 Book:  The Tao of Martha:  My Year of LIVING or Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog. 

Author:  Jen Lancaster 

Grade:  C - 

Recommended To:  Previous Lancaster Fans 

Jen Lancaster was recommended to me by at least three people.  They told me that she was hilariously funny and that I would love her books.  So, I suggested that my book club read her newest book for November and the hostess for this month took me up on it.    I had high expectations for this book but they were not met.

Lancaster has written a series of memoirs about her daily life.  In this one, she writes about living within the Tao of Martha Stewart and attempting to get organized, throw parties like Martha, and create a green space that would make Martha proud.   I thought Lancaster was mostly irritating and the very very few funny parts in this book were tempered by her story telling ability which is somewhat poor.

First, I don't like Lancaster as a person.  She lives in Lake Forest, by far the ritziest of the Northshore suburbs.  She has gardeners, cleaners, she dry cleans her table linens (which I have never heard of before), she shops exclusively at Williams - Sonoma, and she complains.  Holy Hell, she complains and complains and complains.  Pro Tip:  Maybe you shouldn't have a garden if you don't like dirt and earthworms!! Or, suck it up and pay someone to do it all for you (and stop complaining about the money, you clearly make enough because you live in Lake Forest).  It is hard to like a book, especially a memoir, when you don't like the person.    It also bothered me so much that she cut down a 100 year old tree because she though it was ugly.  It was painful when she chopped it down paid someone to cut it down.  Ouch.

Second, I did not find Lancaster's writing style particularly humorous.  I haven't read her other books, but she put a duvet cover on a bed for about 3% of this book (kindle edition).  That isn't interesting.  She organized a desk drawer for 4%.  Even the funniest part of that chapter, which is when she found shards of broken wine glass in the drawer, is tempered by the fact that she writes about it for 4% of the book.   Further, some of these scenarios could have been funny but for Lancaster's writing style which came off as bitchy instead of humble.  I don't get the impression that Jen is also laughing and that is the distinction between a good humor writer and a great one.  She still seems mad that she sat in a pile of fire ants, one full book later.  I don't find that funny.

Third, living like Martha Stewart is hard, if not impossible.  I looked at a lot of Martha's ideas when planning my wedding and then my dear, sweet, bridesmaids were gluing 1/4 inch green leaves on my handmade wedding invitations.  Sorry you guys.  The thing you have to realize about Martha is that she isn't doing these things herself.  She has endless teams of gardeners, party planners, caterers, set up and tear down staff, cleaning crews etc.  She might come up with the idea, but she ain't ironing her own table linens, okay?

The best part of this book was Lancaster's writing about Maisy.  Her beloved pitbull.  Her writing was superb during these chapters and I can empathize with someone would would literally do anything for their pet. There is almost nothing I wouldn't do for out cat Moe and I totally get that Lancaster would make a pork roast and then hand feed it to her dog.  I totally understand that she would pay thousands for pet surgery and chemotherapy because I would do the exact same thing.  The real Lancaster comes through in these pages and it reflects because the writing isn't forced.

After reading this book and mostly disliking it, I wondered what on Earth I was missing.  Three people from three separate stages of my life recommended Lancaster, so I started looking up her other books and those have gotten far far better reviews than The Tao of Martha.  In fact, the Tao is getting very very few five star reviews on Goodreads and has an abundance of two and three star reviews.  Apparently Lancaster was much much funnier when she was poor; now that she's made it, she's struggling for material, according to those loyal fans.

So, although I did not like this particular Lancaster book, I likely will try another of her earlier memoirs.  Thank you for the recommendation, friends!

Happy Reading!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

Book:  Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend 

Author:  Matthew Dicks 

Grade:  A 

Recommended To:  Everyone.  This book was so good!

I finished Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend in one day. It was that good.  This book is written from the perspective of the imaginary friend of a boy with Asperger's.   This book is positive, sad, happy, and wonderful all at once.  It was recommended to my by a sorority sister and I got it at the library for free and now I am recommending it to everyone I know.

Here's the thing about reviewing books.  As I read, I start to craft a review in my head, particularly if a book is very good or very bad.  The average reviews are hard to write because I'm not passionate one way or another about those books.  While reading, it is hard not to compare books.  Books that I thought were A material move lower on the list when I read a book that I consider to be better and fully qualify for the A grade.  This makes my grading very subjective because I end up comparing books that are not in the same category.  Was this book an A?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Will this book continue to be an A if I read something even more phenomenal and unique?  I don't know.  I doubt that I will read anything else this good this year.

If you can't tell from that paragraph, I really liked this book.  It was sweet, smart and funny.  It was also unique and interesting.  It is told from the perspective of an imaginary friend of Max, a child with Asperger's, who has trouble making friends and communicating.  It was a lovely little story of how this imaginary friend must put aside his own selfishness to save his "real" friend.

This story didn't strike me as far fetched.  I know, I know, how can a book about an imaginary friend be realistic, but Max was real and deep.  His actions were those of a child with Asperger's and the author did a very good job of showing instead of telling.  I didn't know Max's condition had a name until I read the inside front cover.  I appreciate authors that can do this and Matthew Dicks is no exception.  Apparently he has other books and I intend to check those out too, if they are half as good as Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, then they will be worth the read.

You, reader of this blog, should absolutely read this book.   Happy Reading!