Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Mini-Reviews: The Circle by Dave Eggers and Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

The Circle
by Dave Eggers
493 pages
Published October 2013

Publisher's Summary: 
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. 

As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO.

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. 

What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

My Thoughts: 
I chose this book for my bookclub this year because I imagined it would be a book that would really make us think. I was right. There's a lot to think about in this book. While technology has done a lot to make our lives easier, we've had to be willing to give up a lot, especially our privacy, to use it. Where do we draw the line at who we will allow to have what information? Who is watching over it all to make sure no one entity becomes too big to control? How much of your personal life are you willing to give up for the company you work for, even when it seems like they are doing so much for you? Will we ever outgrow peer pressure? And has technology actually made our lives easier or more complicated, with multiple monitors to watch, multiple ways for people to get to us 24/7, and more and more ways that a failure in a system can cause chaos?

What I didn't imagine I'd find in this book was one of the most annoying characters I've come across in a book in a very long time. She's so happy to be out of her old job that it never occurred to her to question a single thing she was told to do at the Circle. Even when she'd momentarily question something she was being told to do, she'd immediately back down and do even more for the company. 

Perhaps had I read this book ten years ago, when it was first published, I would have had a different opinion about this book. But a lot of the questions this book raises are already ideas we're discussing in real life. Which makes this book not so much a dystopian novel (which, I assume, was what it was meant to be) and more a look at what life is like now. Without any answers or characters that drew me in. 

Reasons To Stay Alive
by Matt Haig
Read by Matt Haig
4 Hours, 16 Minutes
Published March 2015 by Canongate Books

Publisher's Summary:

At the age of 24, Matt Haig's world caved in. He could see no way to go on living. This is the true story of how he came through crisis, triumphed over an illness that almost destroyed him and learned to live again.

A moving, funny and joyous exploration of how to live better, love better and feel more alive, Reasons to Stay Alive is more than a memoir. It is a book about making the most of your time on earth.

"I wrote this book because the oldest clichés remain the truest. Time heals. The bottom of the valley never provides the clearest view. The tunnel does have light at the end of it, even if we haven't been able to see it . . . Words, just sometimes, really can set you free."

My Thoughts: 
At the age of 24, Matt Haig was a step away from stepping off a cliff and ending his life. This is his memoir about how he fought back his own depression and made a life that works for him. 

If you look at Goodreads, the ratings are at either end of the spectrum. This is, generally speaking, a  book that either speaks to you and helps you with what you are battling, or you feel like Haig has no business writing a book purported to help others deal with their own depression. I'm one of the few whose opinion falls somewhere in the middle. It's admirable to be willing to share your own mental health experience in order to help those who may be having similar experiences and to help destigmatize mental illness. But Haig's experience was simply that...his own experience. Although he repeatedly says he's not against using medication, he is, personally, unwilling to use it. He recommends travel as a way to overcome depression, although most people suffering from severe depression have trouble convincing themselves to shower, let along travel. Nor can most people afford to travel every time they are battling a depressive episode. He suggests that our minds are lying to us when we are depressed (can't say that I disagree with him there); but later suggests that we must need to listen to ourselves to get us through depression. 

If you suffer from depression, this might be a book that could help you recognize ways to get through it. Or it might not. Don't rely on this book to help. It's only one man's experience. 

1 comment:

  1. This will be a pass for me, thanks for your thoughts.