The Circle

New Price:
Used Price:

Mentioned in:

App Happy

Several recent novels — among them Dave Eggers’s The Circle and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge –tackle the effects of social media on our world. The latest, Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, may be the best of the bunch, writes Andrew Hulktrans. At Bookforum, he explains why Cohen’s depiction of an app-saturated world is unparalleled. You could also read Jonathan Frederick Post on Cohen’s novel Witz.

The Millions Top Ten: March 2015


 

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Novel: A Biography
6 months

2.
2.

Station Eleven
6 months

3.
3.

My Brilliant Friend
4 months

4.
5.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

6 months

5.
7.

The Strange Library

4 months

6.
6.

The David Foster Wallace Reader

3 months

7.
9.

Dept. of Speculation
4 months

8.
8.

All the Light We Cannot See

5 months

9.
10.

Loitering: New and Collected Essays

3 months

10.


The Buried Giant
1 month

 

Well, folks, it’s happened. The enduring success of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks has pushed the author to a Millions echelon so high that it’s never before been reached. That’s right: Mitchell is now the only author in site history to reach our hallowed Hall of Fame for three (count ’em!) different works.

And with The Bone Clocks joining his past works, Cloud Atlas and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Mitchell’s latest achievement puts him ahead of David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest,The Pale King), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her), Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), George Saunders (Tenth of December, Fox 8), and Dave Eggers (Zeitoun, The Circle), each of whom authored two Hall of Fame titles. Maybe this repeated success will be enough to coax him into a Year in Reading 2015 appearance. (ARE YOU LISTENING, PUBLICISTS?)

Joining this month’s list thanks to The Bone Clocks’s graduation is Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel, The Buried Giant. It’s a book “about war and memory,” wrote Millions staffer Lydia Kiesling in her extremely personal review of the work for this site. “But it is also about love and memory, and you don’t need to have lived through an atrocity to get it.”

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that our own Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which is poised to graduate to our Hall of Fame next month, was the recent winner of The Morning News’s annual Tournament of Books. (It beat out Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, which is also on our Top Ten.) The novel, which has earned the praise of George R. R. Martin, took the final match-up by a score of 15-2, which should be decisive enough to persuade all of you who haven’t yet bought the book to do so immediately.

Join us next month as we graduate three books and open the doors for three newcomers. Will they be among the “Near Misses” below, or will they be something new entirely?

Near Misses: My Struggle: Book 1, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, An Untamed State, The Paying Guests and The First Bad Man. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: May 2014


We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for May.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose
6 months

2.
2.

Beautiful Ruins
3 months

3.
5.

Bark: Stories
2 months

4.
3.

The Son
2 months

5.
4.

Just Kids

5 months

6.
8.

Eleanor & Park
2 months

7.
6.

Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines
2 months

8.
9.

The Good Lord Bird

2 months

9.


A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World
1 month

10.
10.

Jesus’ Son: Stories
2 months

 

In order to graduate to our Hall of Fame, books must remain on the Millions Top Ten for more than six months. The feat has only been accomplished by 82 books in the series’s five year history. Within that subset of hallowed tomes, though, eight authors have attained an even higher marker of success: they’ve reached the Hall of Fame more than once. This accomplishment is remarkable for two reasons: 1) the Top Ten typically favors heavily marketed new releases, so it means that these eight authors have more than once produced blockbusters in the past few years; and 2) because Top Ten graduates must remain on our monthly lists for over half a year before ascending to the Hall of Fame, that means their books must be popular enough to have sustained success. (In other words, marketing only gets you far.)

The names of these eight authors should be familiar to Millions readers, of course. They belong to some of the most successful writers of the past 25 years: David Foster Wallace* (Infinite Jest, The Pale King), Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, This Is How You Lose Her), Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest), David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet), Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections, Freedom), George Saunders (Tenth of December, Fox 8), and — as of this month — Dave Eggers (Zeitoun, The Circle).

(*David Foster Wallace has the unique distinction, actually, of having two of his own books in our Hall of Fame in addition to a biography written about him.)

Even money would seem to indicate that Alice Munro is poised to join this esteemed group next. Her Selected Stories graduated to the Hall of Fame shortly after her Nobel Prize was awarded in 2013, and her collection, The Beggar Maid, has been holding fast ever since. Meanwhile, the surprise re-emergence of Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, which has been hovering at the bottom of the Top Ten lists these past two months, indicates that maybe he’ll reach that group soon as well. His novella, Train Dreams, graduated in August of 2012.

Changing gears a bit: the lone new addition to our Top Ten this month in the form of Rachel Cantor’s mouthful of a novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World. The book, which was published last month, was featured in our Great 2014 Book Preview, during which time Millions staffer Hannah Gersen posed the eternal question, “It’s got time travel, medieval kabbalists, and yes, pizza. What more can you ask for?”

What more, indeed?

Near Misses: Little Failure: A MemoirAmericanahStories of Anton Chekhov, My Struggle: Book 1, and Tampa. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: April 2014


We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for April.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
6.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose
5 months

2.
9.

Beautiful Ruins
2 months

3.


The Son
1 month

4.
8.

Just Kids
4 months

5.


Bark: Stories

1 month

6.


Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines
1 month

7.
10.

The Circle
2 months

8.


Eleanor & Park

1 month

9.


The Good Lord Bird
1 month

10.


Jesus’ Son: Stories
1 month

 

Major shakeups to the April Top Ten were wrought by the graduation of six (count ’em) titles to our Millions Hall of FameThe Goldfinch, Selected Stories, The Flamethrowers, The Luminaries, Draw It With Your Eyes Closed, and The Lowland. This “March 2014” class of ascendants is noteworthy not only for being the biggest single-month Hall of Fame class ever, but also for being one of the most highly-decorated classes in series history. How decorated? Let’s run the tape: Donna Tartt’s novel won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Alice Munro won the last Nobel Prize for Literature. Rachel Kushner’s novel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Eleanor Catton was the winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize. And Jhumpa Lahiri’s work was shortlisted for that same Man Booker Prize. Objectively speaking, this is the biggest and best class to date.

Of course, here at The Millions, our readers have plenty of decorated authors on their “to be read” shelves, and as a result, our Top Ten doesn’t so much rebuild — to borrow the parlance of a college football team — as it reloads.

To wit: we’re replacing a National Book Award finalist, a Pulitzer winner, and a Man Booker winner with two National Book Award winners, a Pulitzer finalist, and Lorrie Moore.

Heading off this new crop of titles is Philipp Meyer’s The Son, which was a Pulitzer finalist this past year, and which was met with critical acclaim for weeks after it was first published. It’s a book that John Davidson described for our site as being, “a sprawling, meticulously researched epic tale set in southern Texas,” and one that “leverages” a “certain theory of Native American societies … to explore the American creation myth.” Indeed, Meyer himself noted in his Millions interview that, “If there’s a moral purpose to the book, it’s to put our history, the history of this country, into a context.”

Additionally, the April Top Ten welcomes James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, which blew past the field at last year’s National Book Awards to claim top prize overall. (The announcement of a movie deal soon followed.) For The Millions, our own Bill Morris sang the work’s praises and he sang them loudly. The book, Morris wrote in his latest Year in Reading piece, is “one of the most astonishing, rollicking, delightful, smart and sad books I’ve read in all my life.” Evidently you listened.

New(ish) releases weren’t the only new additions to our list this month, either. Sneaking into the tenth spot on our list was a classic collection from Denis Johnson, the winner of the National Book Award in 2007. It’s a pity they no longer print the version that fits in your pocket.

And what to say of Lorrie Moore, whose addition to the Vanderbilt faculty last Fall was overshadowed by news of Bark‘s imminent publication? Perhaps it’s best if I let the final paragraph from Arianne Wack’s profile of the author speak for itself:
Exploring the demands of a life is the heart of Moore’s work, and the resonate truth of her prose has fueled a fevered desire for her books. Her characters don’t so much adventure through life as they do drift and stumble through it, making it a map of emotional landmarks, places you keep finding yourself in. One suspects that Moore is not simply writing a life, but cleverly recording yours. There is a commonality linking reader with character, an elastic boundary between her fiction and our reality that both reinforces and subverts one’s own sense of uniqueness. Coming away from one of her stories, one is reminded that we are all just doing this the best we know how.
Or better yet, perhaps I should point you toward our own Edan Lepucki’s summation of Moore’s influence on a generation of American short story writers:
We all came out of Lorrie Moore’s overcoat–or her frog hospital, her bonehead Halloween costume.  If you’re a young woman writer with a comic tendency, and you like similes and wordplay, and you traffic in the human wilderness of misunderstanding and alienation, then you most certainly participate in the Moore tradition.
Lastly, the April Top Ten welcomes two other newcomers as well. Entering the field in the eighth spot is Eleanor & Park, of which Janet Potter proclaimed, “Rarely is a realistic love story a page-turner, but when I got to the end I tweeted: ‘Stayed up til 3 finishing Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. Would have stayed up forever.'” (The book is being made into a movie, by the way.) Meanwhile, a collection of portraits entitled Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines enters the list in sixth place, likely owing to its prominence on Hannah Gersen’s list of gift ideas from last year.

Near Misses: AmericanahLittle Failure: A MemoirStories of Anton ChekhovA Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World: A Novel, and Tampa. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: March 2014

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Goldfinch
6 months

2.
2.

Selected Stories
6 months

3.
3.

The Flamethrowers
6 months

4.
4.

The Luminaries
6 months

5.
5.

Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment
6 months

6.
6.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose
4 months

7.
8.

The Lowland
6 months

8.
10.

Just Kids
3 months

9.


Beautiful Ruins
1 months

10.


The Circle
1 month

 

The first six spots in the March Top Ten are unchanged from February, and only two newcomers — Beautiful Ruins and The Circle — managed to crack this month’s list. Their arrival was made possible by the ascension of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings and Thomas Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge to the hallowed ground of our Millions Hall of Fame.

It may come as a surprise to faithful Millions readers that this is the first time Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins has made our Top Ten. First published in 2012, Walter’s novel has been a mainstay in our Year in Reading series ever since. First came the estimable trio of Emma StraubRoxane Gay, and Robert Birnbaum, who by turns referred to the book as “precise, skilled, quick-witted, and warm-hearted,” “one of my favorite books of the year,” and “especially special.” More recently, Kate Milliken commented on how it seems the entire world has read the book already, and that she was late to the party when she got to it in 2013. Of course, that didn’t stop her from diving in, later confirming what others have said all along: “Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is indeed bumpin’.”

(If you still need more convincing, then know this: the book is on its way to the big screen, too.)

On the other hand, Dave Eggers’s The Circle has hovered outside of the Top Ten ever since Lydia Kiesling identified it as “occup[ying] an awkward place of satire and self-importance.” It wasn’t the most positive review she’s written, but it wasn’t altogether negative, either: “There are noble impulses behind this novel — to prophesy, to warn, and to entertain — and it basically delivers on these fronts.” And if nothing else, Kiesling notes that the book provides a reliable glossary of “awful techno-cum-Landmark Forum-cum-HR-cum-feelings-speak,” which should prove useful for anyone hoping to understand the language of blog posts on TechCrunch, ValleyWag, and other sites devoted to the latest digital secretions from Silicon Valley.

Stay tuned next month for the likely graduation of six titles to our Millions Hall of Fame. Which books will take their places? Will surprises emerge? As with March Madness, the only certainty is uncertainty, so we’ll have to wait and see.

Near Misses: Eleanor & Park, Bark: StoriesThe Son, The Unwinding, Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines, and The Good Lord Bird. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: February 2014

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for February.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Goldfinch
5 months

2.
2.

Selected Stories
5 months

3.
3.

The Flamethrowers
5 months

4.
4.

The Luminaries
5 months

5.
6.

Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment
5 months

6.
5.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose
3 months

7.
9.

The Interestings
6 months

8.
8.

The Lowland
5 months

9.
7.

Bleeding Edge
6 months

10.
10.

Just Kids
2 month

 

No new titles were added to this month’s Top Ten, and the four books in the top spots held onto their exact positions from last January. That’s to be expected, I suppose, considering the fact that The Goldfinch is everywhere these days, and was also the subject of Claire Cameron’s recent Millions piece, “How to Tweet Like Boris from The Goldfinch.”

Meanwhile, Alice Munro continues to ride her rightfully-deserved wave of post-Nobel Prize publicity, and her Selected Stories held onto her second-place spot in our list as a result. Still, it may behoove some readers to check out Munro’s other works in the coming months, and for guidance in that department, look no further than Ben Dolnick’s classic, “Beginner’s Guide to Alice Munro.” In the event that you’ve exhausted her bibliography, or you’re simply bitten by Maple Fever following Canada’s hockey sweep in the Sochi Olympics, you might also want to check out Michael Bourne’s essential “Beginner’s Guide to Canadian Lit.” (The cure for Maple Fever, incidentally, is a serving of Timbits from any Tim Horton’s establishment.)

Another item of interest for avid Top Ten fans is the recent debut of Paper Monument’s Draw it With Your Eyes Closed supplemental website of the same name, which was developed to “expand on the previously published content, allowing a broader range of teachers, students, and artists to access, share, and contribute to the project.”

Rounding out this month’s near misses is Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which surely blipped onto some readers’ radars after being nominated for the The L.A. Times Book Prize a few weeks back. That Prize will be awarded on April 11. Ozeki’s novel was also featured prominently in our recent comparison of U.S. Vs. U.K. book covers.

Lastly, I’d like to take this moment to announce that I’ll be taking the Top Ten reins from now on. My hope is that I can use my experience with the Curiosities blog to supplement each month’s list with as much recent news about the books as possible. See you in a few weeks!

Near Misses: The Circle, Eleanor & Park, The Son, The Unwinding, and A Tale for the Time Being. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: January 2014

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for January.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

The Goldfinch
4 months

2.
2.

Selected Stories
4 months

3.
3.

The Flamethrowers
4 months

4.
4.

The Luminaries
4 months

5.
6.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose
4 months

6.
7.

Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment
2 months

7.
8.

Bleeding Edge
5 months

8.
9.

The Lowland
4 months

9.
10.

The Interestings
5 months

10.


Just Kids
1 month

 

Two books graduated to our Hall of Fame in January. We’re very proud to bestow the honor on our ebook original The Pioneer Detectives by Konstantin Kakaes. The book, which debuted in July 2013, is an ambitious work of page-turning reportage, the kind of journalism we all crave but that can often be hard to find. Filled with brilliant insights into how scientific discoveries are made and expertly edited by our own Garth Hallberg, The Pioneer Detectives is a bargain at $2.99. We hope you’ll pick it up if you haven’t already. Pioneer is joined in the Hall of Fame by another ebook orginal, George Saunders’s $0.99 short story Fox 8, which returned to our Top 10 for a seventh month in January after missing the list in December and therefore qualifies for the Hall.

Other than that, the list is positively gridlocked with several books staying put, including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch atop the list. Our lone debut is unexepected: Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids. The National Book award-winning title has been popular among our readers for quite a while and was a “Near Miss” for several months on our list as recently as March 2011. The book likely got a boost thanks to Garth’s mention in his Year in Reading in December.

Incidentally, this also means that with the exception of Thomas Pynchon and the group-authored Draw it With Your Eyes Closed, our list is made up entirely of books by women.

Near Misses: The Circle, Eleanor & Park, The Son, Night Film, and Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines. See Also: Last month’s list.

The Millions Top Ten: December 2013

We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for December.

This
Month
Last
Month

Title
On List

1.
6.

The Goldfinch
3 months

2.
1.

Selected Stories
3 months

3.
2.

The Flamethrowers
3 months

4.
5.

The Luminaries
3 months

5.
3.

The Pioneer Detectives
6 months

6.
7.

The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose
3 months

7.


Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment
1 month

8.
9.

Bleeding Edge
4 months

9.
10.

The Lowland
3 months

10.


The Interestings
4 months

 

To start the new year, we’ve made some minor changes to how we calculate our list. Basically, we’ve added a slight penalty for lower-priced books because we were finding that spikes in sales of cheaper short-format books (e.g. "Kindle Singles") and aggressive promotional pricing of ebooks was skewing the list a bit. The change had no dramatic impact on the December list other than that it knocked George Saunders’s $0.99 short story Fox 8 out of our top 10.
The rest of the big changes were driven by our 2013 Year in Reading. Some books that were already popular with our readers got a lot of love in the series, including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch which surged into the top spot after three contributors named the book as a favorite read of 2013. Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings was also a popular name in the series, and that helped return the book to the Top Ten after a few months off the list. Rachel Kushner was the runaway favorite in our series for The Flamethrowers, though the book dropped a spot to number three.
Our lone debut is a very unusual title. Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment is a slim collection, the result of several art teachers being asked to contribute the best art assignments they’ve ever heard of. Hannah Gersen included the book in her list of offbeat gifts for writers last month.
Finally, the contentious Taipei by Tao Lin graduates to our Hall of Fame. The book was the subject of a famously negative review here that perhaps not so paradoxically seemed to get a lot of people interested in the book.
Near Misses: The Circle, Night Film, Eleanor & Park, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, and MaddAddam. See Also: Last month’s list.

Wrapping Up A Year in Reading 2013

Another year has flown by and so has another Year In Reading. We thank everyone who participated and all who read and shared these wonderful pieces in our series.

While we trimmed our contributor list slightly this year, they shared their thoughts on more books than our participants did a year ago. 2013 brought 68 participants (down from 74 participants in 2012) sharing 350 different books (up from 289 a year ago). We’re happy to note that 11 of those authors highlighted in our series also submitted their own pieces in the series. The books selected run the gamut from nonfiction to poetry, short stories, essays, fiction, and even a zine and an interactive story.

The oldest books selected were Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey by Kristopher Jansma. These slightly beat out (by a century or two) Michael Robbins’s selection of Confucius’s Analects.

The youngest author selected was Gabby Bess. Her book Alone with Other People was one of several selected by Roxane Gay. Bess was born in 1992. This beats out the next-youngest author, Eleanor Catton (b. 1985), whose Booker-winning The Luminaries was a selection of both Garth Risk Hallberg and Janice Clark, by quite a bit.

Finally, seven books were named by three or more Year In Reading participants, and six of those seven books were written by women. Rachel Kushner was the runaway favorite for her book The Flamethrowers, getting six mentions (picked by Garth Risk Hallberg, David Gilbert, Matt Bell, Bill Morris, Adam Wilson, and Elliott Holt.) Dave Eggers’s The Circle was picked by Choire Sicha, Hannah Gersen, and Tess Malone. Alissa Nutting’s Tampa was picked by Roxane Gay, Matt Bell, and Charles Blackstone. Renata Adler’s Speedboat was selected by David Gilbert, Matt Bell, and Emily St. John Mandel. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow was picked by Sergio De La Pava, Rachel Kushner, and Teddy Wayne. Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings was chosen by three staffers: Hannah Gersen, Edan Lepucki, and Janet Potter. And Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch was picked by Benjamin Percy, Edan Lepucki, and Janice Clark.


We hope you enjoyed we had on offer this month, and we’ll see you again next year.

P.S. Special thank yous are due to Ujala Sehgal and Adam Boretz, our tireless editors, who prepared every last one of our Year in Reading entries for publication. Also very deserving of thanks are Tess Malone and Thom Beckwith, both of whom have helped spread the word about our biggest Year and Reading to date, and to Nick Moran who oversaw their efforts and compiled the stats I used to write this very round-up. Thank you to our staff writers, whose pieces were some of the highlights of the series and who did wonderful work for us throughout 2013.

And of course, thanks to all of you, our readers, and to all a Happy New Year!

More from A Year in Reading 2013

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

A Year in Reading: Tess Malone

One thing I’ve learned in grad school is that journalists love to talk about journalism. My friends couldn’t go out to Irish dive bar near campus without discussing the latest New York Times article, so after I finished my last drink I would escape into fiction. I devoured more John Green novels this summer than I should admit (Paper Towns is my favorite) and carried around Dave Eggers’s The Circle along with my text books to sneak in a few minutes of reading between classes. Yet ironically, the best books I read this year were about journalism.

Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation tells the story of how the press shaped the Civil Rights Movement. Reading the book for a class opened my eyes to a lot of truths — how whitewashed my high school education on the Movement was, that objectivity never really existed (and that’s probably for the best), and how powerful good journalism can be. I’m not just talking about how influential good reporting can be, but how important the writing of it is, and it applies to the authors of this book as much as their subjects. Klibanoff and Roberts treat the journalists like characters in a novel, complete with what suits they were wearing when they reported the integration of the Little Rock Public Schools to what they drank afterward. The Race Beat could have been a dry list of forgotten bylines and protests, but these personal details made it a sweeping narrative with heroes and villains, tragedy and victory, and even nuance. Ultimately, Klibanoff and Roberts show that good reporting takes us back to the individuals because they are the story.

Tom Rachman follows a similar ideal in The Imperfectionists. This stories-as-novel focuses on a dwindling English-language newspaper in Rome. We learn about the newsroom through its beleaguered staff as each chapter centers on a different journalist from the paranoid copy editor Ruby Zaga to the naive Cairo stringer, Winston Cheung. Each story is so strong it could stand alone, but Rachman interweaves them in a similar fashion to A Visit from the Goon Squad with unsettling surprises revealed as the stories intersect. Eventually, we realize that the protagonist was the unnamed paper all along. Yet what unites the book is its economical but sharply observed prose. Rachman cuts to the bone like a good reporter would, but he writes to almost Joycean epiphany and parses people better than the corrections editor can parse a sentence. As one character notes, “Journalism is a bunch of dorks pretending to be alpha males;” and that’s what makes this book so striking. Although any journalist can appreciate a caricatured view of a paper (I certainly did), fundamentally The Imperfectionists is a story of loners, misplaced ambition, and what it’s like to be an underdog, which is something we can all relate to — newsroom or not.

More from A Year in Reading 2013

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

A Year In Reading: Hannah Gersen

This year the books I liked best fell into two categories: the ones I read in a rush, squeezing in pages every spare moment or staying up late to finish them; and the ones I read slowly over several months, so that the books became my faithful companions. I tend to read three or four books at a time and this year what often happened is that one book would reveal itself to be a tortoise, and would live on my nightstand for weeks, while the hares (and whatever animal is between a hare and a tortoise — a cat?) raced by. As someone who gravitates toward “slow” books and movies, my sympathies lie with the tortoises, but I have to admit it was exciting to come across so many books that I couldn’t put down.

The books that raced past were the aptly-titled This Is Running For Your Life, by Michelle Orange; See Now Then, by Jamaica Kincaid; The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud; Schroder, by Amity Gaige; Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple; The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer; and The Circle, by Dave Eggers.

Of those hares, the one that still haunts me is Schroder. (And I have to thank Kathryn Schulz, whose in-depth rave made me pick it up.) It’s a novel about a divorced father, Eric Schroder, who is so frustrated with his custody arrangements that he kidnaps his daughter, taking her on a road trip through New England. Halfway through the book I felt I had been kidnapped, too, in the way that I was won over by a narrator I didn’t completely trust.

My tortoise reads included Dear Life, by Alice Munro; Far From The Tree and The Noonday Demon, both by Andrew Solomon; and Independence Day, by Richard Ford. I am actually still reading Independence Day, and I have been reading it since September. It’s the second novel in Ford’s Frank Bascombe trilogy, after The Sportswriter, but you don’t need to have read The Sportswriter to enjoy it. (Or at least, I didn’t.) Like Schroder, Independence Day is narrated by a divorced father, concerns a road trip between a father and his child (although without the kidnapping), and takes place over just a few days. It feels a little funny to spend several months with it. A week passes by in my life, while just a few hours go by in Frank Bascombe’s. But I love the way Ford stretches time in this novel, reveling in moments of happenstance, overheard conversations, and local landscapes. Here’s the view from Frank Bascombe’s windshield in upstate New York:
“A sign by a turnout announces we have now entered the Central Leatherstocking Area and just beyond, as if on cue, the great corrugated glacial trough widens out for miles to the southwest as the highway climbs, and the butt ends of the Catskills cast swart afternoon shadows onto lower hills dotted by pocket quarries, tiny hamlets and pristine farmstead with wind machines whirring to undetectable windows…In my official view, absolutely nothing should be missed from here on, geography offering a natural corroboration to Emerson’s view that power resides in moments of transition…”
Finally, I have to mention the children’s book Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall, which I guess would fall in the tortoise category, since I’ve read to my one-year-old son at least twice a day for the past six months. It’s a simple story about a 19th-century farmer who travels from his small homestead to Portsmouth, N.H., where he can sell his harvest, his ox, and his cart at the market. My son loves it because it is full of lists and repetition. I love it because the language is plain and elegant and perfectly matched to the story. It’s so elegant, in fact, that I thought it would make a beautiful poem, and in a moment of procrastination I discovered that there is indeed a poem, “Ox Cart Man”, (by Donald Hall), which you can read in the Poetry Foundation’s archives. Now that I think of it, Ox-Cart Man is yet another book about a New England road trip, so perhaps that’s the true theme of my year in reading. Maybe I should close out the year with On The Road and head into the New Year looking west.

More from A Year in Reading 2013

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr

A Year in Reading: Lydia Kiesling

This year I read articles about the San Francisco housing market and the Oakland housing market and the rise of the tech class and the death of the middle class, and I had anxieties. But I was fortunate to have a job, so I subscribed to three magazines, two of which I read. I read trend pieces in which I recognized myself because I have student loans and no car and no house and no offspring. I read online guides for how to introduce cats to babies, in case the latter condition should change. I read laments on the death of the humanities and felt morose. I read tweets where people said they didn’t like Frances Ha and felt misunderstood. I read the numbers on the scale and learned that I am fatter than I was the last time I wrote my Year in Reading. I read warnings about sitting being the new smoking and wondered if smoking will become okay by comparison. I read the ingredients in my lotion and wondered if they are giving me a rash. I read a WebMD thing about my rash and wondered if my lotion would be harmful for a baby. I read Amazon reviews for natural flea treatments and learned that there are none.

When I wasn’t reading a bunch of depressing shit, I read some strange and wonderful things. I read Dissident Gardens and thought it was so overwhelmingly wonderful that I read The Fortress of Solitude right away, and was underwhelmed by comparison. I read half of William Vollmann’s An Afghanistan Picture Show, which was not wonderful, and then I read all of his article about not being The Unabomber, which was. I read Ross Raisin’s Waterline. I read The Kindly Ones and wanted to talk to someone about it, but it’s old news and everyone is arguing about whether The Goldfinch and The Circle are bad or good. So I read four-year-old commentaries by Garth Risk Hallberg and Andrew Seal and had an imaginary talk with them both, and I think we all felt good at the end.

I read the memoir of Donald Antrim and felt very moved by his description of an outlandish kimono constructed by his mother, and wondered what it would be like to be the mother of Donald Antrim, or to have the mother that Donald Antrim had. I read an interview with Charles Manson, but did not care to consider what it would be like to be his mother. I read Tortilla Flat. I read Cannery Row. I read the Granta collection of under-40-year-olds and felt sort of stunned and worthless at the end. A story by Tahmima Anam about Dubai and falling continues to haunt me at odd moments. I read another story about falling, by Lionel Shriver, and got the spooky feeling I always get from Lionel Shriver, that she found the diary I would never actually keep, containing all my most awful thoughts. I wondered if Lionel Shriver is a witch. I re-read Of Human Bondage for the utter joy of it.  I re-read Lucky Jim. I re-read Bridget Jones’s Diary. I got a cold and stayed home sick and re-read both memoirs of Beverly Cleary, and wished that I could stay home all week. I re-read Betsy was a Junior. I re-read The Adventures of Augie March, and wondered how it could have failed to show up on this list.

I read more things than I anticipated about Miley Cyrus. I somehow also read an interview with the woman whose husband committed infidelity with Kristen Stewart, accompanied by a picture of her nipples. I watched the music video for “Blurred Lines” and felt for a moment how very much people must hate women to come up with this shit. I realized that some of my favorite books by women are actually by men. I resolved to read more books by women. I felt obscurely annoyed at society for necessitating extra work on my part to correct its imbalance. I felt annoyed at myself for having this thought. I read The Group, which was a revelation. I read The Dud Avocado. I read The Conservationist and The Debut. I read The Affairs of Others and some good stories by Kate Milliken. Now I note that my reading list, like Ms. Cyrus, has a race problem–another thing requiring redress.

Next year I’ll do better, in this and all other matters.

More from A Year in Reading 2013

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

A Year in Reading: Choire Sicha

Unfortunately for me, I spent more time this year writing and editing than I did reading. But I did have two rewarding reading-related projects.

First, I wanted to indulge in the stakes-free popular literature. So I read all the George R.R. Martin books. Mmm hmm. They are honestly pretty great, like chocolate milkshakes, although I started Kindle-highlighting references to rape at a certain point around book three — I think that one’s the rapiest? — and it really gets ya down. What is the deal? He thinks about rape more than Andrea Dworkin! I really didn’t agree, in the end, with Daniel Mendelsohn’s fascinating essay on the topic of Game of Thrones. I mean, open that link up, and apple-F “Brienne,” and apple-F “rape,” and… nothing??? You can’t get to “remarkable feminist epic” without passing those stations of the sexist cross.

There’s also a question about the series overall that’s the “show your work” problem, as in, I don’t really care about the efforts of the math problem you had to do, I mostly want to see the solution to the math problem. In this case that means: Are we still reading prologue? Have we just read several thousand pages that actually don’t matter? Maaaybe.

In this vein I also read the James Franco book Actors Anonymous and the very silly Dave Eggers book, The Circle. That would make a really good cartoon television show maybe. With a laughtrack. What a silly book! I read it so fast, I basically couldn’t stop. Milkshake!

My other project was… Catching Up With The Kids. This is a thing you have to do consciously as you start to get older, particularly if you don’t teach. So, I read a Tao Lin book! (Taipei, obviously.) I read/engaged with the works of Amanda Hugginkiss Steve Roggenbuck and “Marie Calloway.” I am currently reading the manuscript of the forthcoming book by the proprietor of Pitchfork Reviews Reviews, who is or is not named David Shapiro, and it is pretty terrific so far. I like this vein of writing, though not as much as the other young people do. I have already read the New Narrative writers and Dennis Cooper and all that flat affectless 90s jazz and though all the youngs are certainly bringing something new to the table, I don’t think it’s particularly innovative to go all in for this mode. Also, narcissism as an art form is eminently boring. I am ready for something more than people writing I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I.

Anyway I am starting to re-read Rebecca Brown’s The Terrible Girls, which has just been reissued! It’s already the best book I’ve read all year. Every emo youngster should read this, it is where their contemporary literature came from! Every time someone clicks on Thought Catalog, a Rebecca Brown reader should auto-download!

More from A Year in Reading 2013

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

The motherlode: The Millions’ Books and Reviews

Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.

Before They Were Notable: 2013

This year’s New York Times Notable Books of the Year list is out. At 100 titles, the list is more of a catalog of the noteworthy than a distinction. Sticking with the fiction exclusively, it appears that we touched upon a few of these books as well:

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (A Virtuoso at Work: Joyce Carol Oates Turns 75)
All That Is by James Salter (All You Have Is What You Remember: The Millions Interviews James Salter, James Salter’s All That Is: From Dream to Reality)
The Circle by Dave Eggers (A Little Bit Beta: On Dave Eggers’s The Circle)
The Color Master by Aimee Bender (Childish Things: Aimee Bender’s The Color Master)
The Dinner by Herman Koch (After The Dinner: A Round Up of Newly Translated Dutch Fiction)
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem (Queens As a Metaphor for the World: On Jonathan Lethem’s Dissident Gardens)
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Everything I Know About America I Learned from Stephen King)
The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver (The Life that Develops In-Between: On Elizabeth Graver’s The End of the Point)
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (Rachel Kushner Is Well On Her Way to Huges)
A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel (The Chemistry between Fiction and Reality: The Millions Interviews Ramona Ausubel, a Millions contributor)
Half The Kingdom by Lore Segal (The Smile in the Bone: Lore Segal’s Half The Kingdom)
The Infatuations by Javier Marías (The Darkness is Deep Indeed: On Javier Marías’s The Infatuations)
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Sing It, Sister! On Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings)
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (When the Stars Align: On Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries)
MaddAdam by Margaret Atwood (The Past is What Matters: On Margaret Atwood’s Vision of the Future)
A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik (Something Stark and Essential: On Alexander Maksik’s A Marker to Measure Drift)
Schroder by Amity Gaige (Living a Lie: The Millions Interviews Amity Gaige)
The Son by Philipp Meyer (The Last of the Comanches: Philipp Meyer’s The Son, Delusion is Crucial: The Millions Interviews Philipp Meyer)
Tenth of December by George Saunders (George Saunders and the Question of Greatness)
Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (Peeling Back the Oprah Seal: Ayana Mathis’s Twelve Tribes of Hattie)
Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel (Alienation for Two: Fiona Maazel’s Woke Up Lonely, a Millions contributor)

The Best Books of the Year (2013)

Amazon released their annual Best Books of the Year: Top 100 in Print list today (as well as a free and helpful Reader’s Guide), and numerous Millions favorites made the cut. Both George Saunders’s Tenth of December and Philipp Meyer’s The Son cracked the top 10. We reviewed both here and here, respectively. Other notable books boasting extensive Millions coverage include Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings (review), George Packer’s The Unwinding (review), Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (review), Dave Eggers’s The Circle (review), James Salter’s All That Is (review), Karen Russell’s Vampires in the Lemon Grove (interview), Stuart Nadler’s Wise Men (review),  Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic (review), and Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary (review). Meanwhile, the top spot belongs to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.

Vicious Circle

Michele Filgate was so terrified by Dave Eggers’s The Circle that she quit social media for a week and wrote about the experience for Salon. “I don’t want to become like Mae, sacrificing real-life friendships for the allure of the screen. I want to be aware of the world around me. I want to write about that world. I want to feel more alive, even if that means being lonelier in the process.” Pair with: our review of the novel.

A Little Bit Beta: On Dave Eggers’s The Circle

If every book review you read about The Circle makes some reference to 1984, it is not simply because all book reviewers are creatively exhausted, overworked sheep, but because Dave Eggers practically leaps off the page of his new novel to remind us of its lineage. When one of the founders of the Circle, a technology company with designs at market and world domination, sits down for a scripted come-to-Jesus with an errant employee –our heroine, Mae–three phrases appear on the screen behind them, arranged on the page the very same way readers first encountered that other trifecta of slogans almost 65 years ago.
SECRETS ARE LIES
SHARING IS CARING
PRIVACY IS THEFT
When Mae inadvertently witnesses a modest marital handjob between her parents and simultaneously broadcasts it to an audience of thousands, her distress is soon quelled by the knowledge that “it would be only a matter of time. They would find each other, soon enough, in a world where everyone could know each other truly and wholly, without secrets, without shame…” Or, in Orwellian terms, “the place where there is no darkness.” Mae has her own Golden Country, the serene waters around San Francisco, where she kayaks among seals and prole-y old-timers who live on a barge. The social media activity of Mae and her fellow Circle employees is aggregated, and each employee receives a score, or “PartiRank.”

In 1984, the Party has dispensed with the idea that the current state of affairs has any relation to the common good. As O’Brien tells Winston Smith during the course of his re-education:
Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A word of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being tramped upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain…If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.
The rhetoric of the Circle is the reverse of this. Homelessness, pedophilia, low voter turnout, the pressing problem of not knowing how much sand is in the Sahara — the Circle is on top of all of these. Sharing is caring! However, the result is exactly that which O’Brien promises for the citizens of Oceania: “Already we have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman…in the future there will be no wives and no friends.”

Unsurprisingly, Mae’s unwitting broadcast of her parents’ sex life to the universe causes them to flee their home and suspend contact. Mae’s own re-education into a proselytizer for total transparency (read: zero privacy) puts an abrupt, grim end to her relationship with her technophobe ex-lover. Mae’s romantic life eventually devolves into watching the premature ejaculations of a fellow company striver, and then providing him with a user experience rating.

1984 is what the The Circle asks to be identified with, and I appreciated Eggers’s attempt to contextualize, his method of achieving the same end through different rhetoric. At several points, I was also reminded of Lois Lowry’s The Giver, probably one of the greatest young people books of all time. When newly employed Mae is admonished by a communications staff member for not setting up her “company social account” and fails to grasp the importance of the “extracurricular” use of social media, she expresses her contrition thus: “I’m sorry to have misstated my feelings” — this is right out of The Giver’s system of apologies for failure to use precise language, for inconveniencing classmates, for being late, for causing anguish.

The creepy nightly sharing-of-feelings, the Socratic-style instructional conversations, the ostensibly benevolent paternalism of The Giver are also a feature of The Circle, as here, during the conversation between Mae and Circle head Eamon Bailey (or “Uncle Eamon”) that marks Mae’s transformation from lone rule-breaker to proponent of collective onscreen life:
“I have a question, Mae. Do you behave better or worse when you’re being watched?”

“Better. Without a doubt.”

‘When you’re alone, unwatched, unaccountable, what happens?’

“Well, for one thing, I steal kayaks.”

The audience laughed in a sudden bright burst.

“Seriously. I do things I don’t want to do. I lie.”
The best-known dystopian novels show the horrors of society through the futile resistance of one soul, who is deviant through some quirk of temperament, a touch too much alcohol in their incubation solution, an ability to See Beyond. They don’t always have to be likable, but they have to be struggling. For the first bit of The Circle, it seems that Mae harbors some form of this leading-man deviance. She kayaks alone. Before she comes to work at the Circle, it is not her custom to Zing (Eggers’s version of Twitter) about everything that happens to her. She seems to understand that it is not in keeping with HR best practices to be called to the carpet for failing to RSVP to a “brunch for all staffers who had demonstrated an interest in Portugal.” When Mae so quickly morphs from good German to the worst German, it is jarring because it is not in keeping with the form, and because it offends our sensibilities as reasonable people.

We know some things about why Mae might go over to the dark side, namely, that she has skin in this game. Eggers has made her into the American Millenial everywoman, with everywoman’s attendant problems. She has a $234,000 education from Carleton College, and is on the hook for some not insignifacant portion thereof. Mae’s $62,000 starting salary at the Circle allows her to make loan payments and pay rent on a a dingy shared apartment. Mae’s dad, a former parking garage owner, has multiple sclerosis, and her parents spend most of their time managing his care and dealing with the insurance company, which, with the conveniently topical shittiness of insurance companies across the nation, has decided to drop his medication from its list of pre-approved drugs. When Mae is able to get her parents on the Circle’s health plan (which, it goes without saying, transcends Cadillac status; it’s the Maybach — no, the Tesla — of health plans), this plot device becomes the by-then superfluous tether tying Mae to the Circle. This is the real-life stuff that undergirds the plot of The Circle, but like other elements of this novel, it seems to have been built quickly and clunkily enough that it doesn’t quite feel load-bearing.

We are meant, I think, to relate to Mae. But by the time Mae is leading a world-wide electronic manhunt for her ex-boyfriend to demonstrate the efficacy of the Circle’s new SoulSearch program, when she is saying “Release the drones!” in “a voice meant to invoke and mock some witchy villain,” when she is proposing that every American be required to have a Circle account and transact all their civic business therewith, when this all seems to have happened within six weeks of her date of hire (serious question: is she still making $62,000 when she sketches out the annihilation of liberty?), Mae has left everywoman territory. Retroactively, her parents’ plight seems too unsatirical: if it is to scale with the excesses of the Circle’s plotting, her mother should have Type II Diabetes and be a veteran who lost her VA benefits and gave birth to octoplets after an unethical doctor implanted all of the fetuses. Her dad should have lost his garage due to a situation involving mortgage-backed securities and Islamic fundamentalism.

The Circle occupies an awkward place of satire and self-importance. What it does very well is create a catalogue of awful techno-cum-Landmark Forum-cum-HR-cum-feelings-speak. Uncle Eamon is legitimately avuncular and creepy. When Mae is chastised for failing to Zing about her hobbies, a colleague says “‘Just kayaking? Do you realize that kayaking is a three-billion-dollar industry? And you say it’s ‘just kayaking’! Mae, don’t you see that it’s all connected? You play your part. You have to part-icipate.'” And this stuff is often very funny. (These days, though, it’s hard to write a novel that can rival the comedy gold of reality. This week, Nathan Heller has a piece in The New Yorker about San Francisco’s startup culture: “The company had needed to figure out whether to spend its limited budget on beef jerky to keep around the office or 401k plans for the staff. ‘We put it to a vote: ‘Do you want a 401k or jerky?…The vote was unanimously for jerky. The thought was that well-fed developers could create value better than the stock market.'” Or this gem: “Serge was a software professional who, in his spare time, led people into deeply meditative states from which they could reëxperience earlier lives. Some people found that passing through past lives eased their fears of death, Serge told me that evening.”)

Orwell wrote 1984 from a knowledgeable position, as a person who had invested himself corporeally in the political system that he was later moved to skewer in his writing. Eggers, meanwhile, has been very open about his position vis–à–vis the facts of tech culture, a position that might be stated as IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. There is some merit to the idea that the public perceptions of a company, particularly the storied, insular, tech giants, are as good as reality, but we wonder if Eggers is the right person to explain the specifics of why technology is scary. Mae’s nighttime kayak joyride, for example, seemed a strange catalyst for her re-education as an enthusiastic Circler. San Francisco residents are very sensitive to the perceived entitlement of the tech class, and spend the days reflexively muttering “Google bus” under their collective breath; when Mae borrows the kayak, a spontaneous, independent, un-Zinged act that brings about her meeting with Uncle Eamon, I was conditioned by my resentment to see it as evidence that she was starting to become a typical tech douche, who feels entitled to “disrupt” the rules of a lowly kayak rental facility. The fact that this is perceived as a major transgression at the Circle, and the Circle’s general obsession with “finding community” and normalizing behavior, rang a little bit false. (My own position, admittedly, is equally ignorant.)

Eggers’s anxieties about technology are not new. In his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, now more than a decade old, Eggers’s affable narrator and his sidekick, Hand, met a man in Senegal who “worked in cellphones.”
Something involving GPS and cellphones and how soon enough, everyone would know–for their own safety, he insisted, with a fist softly pounding the table, in a way he’d likely done a hundred times before — where everyone else in the world was, by tracking their cellphone. But again: for good not evil. For the children. For the children. For grandparents and wives. It was the end of an epoch, and I didn’t want to be around to see if happen; we’d traded anonymity for access. I shuddered. Hand, of course, had goosebumps.
The children are invoked again in The Circle — concern for their well-being given as the motivation for a program of tagging and tracking that will eventually lead to an orgasmic union of state and corporate interests, the whole of a person’s data existing within one platform and operating system.

Eggers’s first novel is a humble tale about buddies and grief that channels a really lovely Bellovian style of joyful despair (“I look at the file, and its contents scream at me in a voice containing thousands of murders in unclean homes”). Perhaps the style of The Circle is a subversive comment on the uniformity that will be visited upon us by the tech overlords–revisiting his first novel renders the prose of his latest rushed and merely functional by comparison. “‘Hi Mae,’ a face said as it floated, gorgeous and smiling, toward her” hearkens back to Mae’s first day, when she encountered “a beautiful young head floating atop a scarlet scarf and white silk blouse.'” When Mae meets her team leader, she sees a “handsome man, compact and tidy.” Eggers’s prose has felt more alive than this.

His relationships have felt more alive, too. You Shall Know Our Velocity is founded on friendship, and friendship is likewise a central plot element of The Circle. Mae is brought on board by Annie, who has rapidly risen through the ranks of the Circle. Annie and Mae met in college and formed an “extraordinary bond, something like friends, something like sisters or cousins who wished they were siblings and would have reason never to be apart.” This turns out, though, to be a fickle sort of friendship; when Mae comes to occupy permanent Employee-of-the-Month status at the Circle, the friendship immediately falls apart. (You know. Ladies be resenting.) If this novel is meant only to serve as a savage farce, a detail like this isn’t important.  But we don’t always know where we are in this novel, what sort of expectations are reasonable. A lot of it feels farcical, but when you invoke 1984, the implications are deadly serious.

One of my favorite moments in 1984 is when Winston Smith sits down to perform the physical manifestation of his Thoughtcrime by putting pen to paper, and is overwhelmed by the prospect.
How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him, or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.
In that spirit, I will share that I write all my reviews as Gmail draft messages. While I was writing this one, my netbook finally gave up the ghost and I wailed and gnashed my teeth and hauled an eight-year-old iBook out of the closet and again wailed and gnashed my teeth when I was unable to download Google Chrome because the operating system was too old, and I actually cried because it felt like nothing in my life was working. I unwind from a busy work day by compulsively heart-ing the photos on my friends’ and acquaintance’s Instagram feeds. My PartiRank score, if I say so myself, would not be negligible. The chilling implications of this novel were not at all lost on the part of myself that asks the other part why I know that I have three fewer Twitter followers than the last time I checked, and why I care.

There are noble impulses behind this novel–to prophesy, to warn, and to entertain–and it basically delivers on these fronts. But The Circle boldly asks us to reckon it alongside one or more of the most, to use the odious word, impactful, novels of the 20th century, and it’s not bold enough to carry that weight. It seems to hedge its bets, so that it is just a little bit sad, a little bit funny, a little bit scary, and a little bit thin. A little bit beta, if you will.

This Atrium

The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt of the latest novel by Dave Eggers. The book, titled The Circle, follows Mae Holland, a woman who takes a job at a Google-esque company dubbed “the most influential in the world.” At Reuters, Felix Salmon critiques the book’s take on Silicon Valley.

Surprise Me!

BROWSE BY AUTHOR