The Handmaid’s Tale

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood


Summary

Offred is a direct product of before and after the establishment of the new Republic of Gilead. Once a free woman who could do as she pleased, Offred wakes up in a world of nightmares where her life has drastically changed in a short span of time. After the leaders of Gilead have decreed all capable women must dedicate their lives to reversing the country’s fallen birthrates, Offred is nothing more than a vessel waiting to be filled. Women who cannot give birth are given other roles and assigned a spot of the totem pole. Those who are old and unruly are sent to the dreaded Colonies.

Offred’s duty as a handmaid is to respect her Commander, serve the Commander’s wife, and deliver the family a baby after a successful ceremony. But Offred can’t help wonder, is all female automony really gone, or is there a resistance flickering in the distance?


Memorable Quotes

“We learned to whisper almost without a sound. In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed: Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June,” (4).

“I once had a garden. I can remember the smell of the turned earth, the plump shapes of bulbs held in the hands, fullness, the dry rustle of seeds through the fingers. Time could pass more swiftly that way. Sometimes the Commander’s Wife has a chair brought out, and just sits in it, in her garden. From a distance it looks like peace,” (12).

“There are no more magazines, no more films, no more substitutes; only me and my shadow, walking away from the two men, who stand at attention, stiffly, by a roadblock, watching our retreating shapes,” (22).

“The chances are one in four, we learned that at the Center. The air got too full, once, of chemicals, rays, radiation, the water swarmed with toxic molecules, all of that takes years to clean up, and meanwhile they creep into your body, camp out in your fatty cells. Who knows, your very flesh may be polluted, dirty as an oily beach, sure death to shore birds and unborn babies. Maybe a vulture would die of eating you. Maybe you light up in the dark, like an old-fashioned watch. Deadwatch. That’s a kind of beetle, it buries carrion,” (112).

“They [men] aren’t a patch on a woman except they’re better at fixing cars and playing football, just what we need for the improvement of the human race, right?” (121).

“How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation,” (146).

“Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Yet if you look east, at sunset, you can see night rising, not falling; darkness lifting into the sky, up from the horizon, like a black sun behind cloud cover. Like smoke from an unseen fire, a line of fire just below the horizon, brushfire or a burning city,” (191).

“There are more important things. For instance: keep the others safe, if they are safe. Don’t let them suffer too much. If they have to die, let it be fast. You might even provide a Heaven for them. We need You for that. Hell we can make for ourselves,” (195).

“There is something powerful in the whispering of obscenities, about those in power. There’s something delightful about it, something naughty, secretive, forbidden, thrilling. It’s like a spell, of sorts. It deflates them, reduces them to the common denominator where they can be dealt with. In the paint of the washroom cubicle someone unknown had scratched: Aunt Lydia sucks. It was like a flag waved from a hilltop in rebellion. The mere idea of Aunt Lydia doing such a thing was in itself heartening,” (222).

“I don’t want her to be like me. Give in, go along, save her skin. That is what it comes down to. I want gallantry from her, swashbuckling, heroism, single-handed combat. Something I lack,” (249).


Thoughts

It’s been awhile since I’ve picked up a book that is a page-turner yet difficult to read. Somehow I think this is what Atwood intended, but it still startled me. I figured it would be shocking and a call-to-action, but in some ways I guess didn’t really expect how much the topic matter would affect me. I picked up this book a couple of months ago on Independent Bookstore Day at the Green Apple on Clement Street. I had heard of it and had wanted to buy it for awhile but for whatever reason I held off until that day. Currently The Handmaid’s Tale is surging in popularity due to the release of the new Hulu series (which I have yet to watch, but I’m sure it’s great) and the current political climate.

About 25 pages or so into the book I updated my progress on Goodreads and noted: “I love the way Margaret Atwood keeps me on my toes. At times the atmosphere will feel idyllic. She illustrates soft pastels of the wives’ clothing, neat gardens, and gentle whispers. And then suddenly, she brings the tension back with one unsettling line. It’s a striking balance.” When I think about the beginning in particular, this is something which makes The Handmaid’s Tale feel unique so I’m glad I wrote down my first impressions.

The setting Atwood creates is meant to be disquieting, but parts of it are familiar. In my mind this vague familiarity helps orient the reader while also keeping them off-kilter long enough to know something about this world is very wrong. Offred lives in what appears to be some kind of town but it’s a community (of sorts) nonetheless. She lives in a house, shops for groceries (with a partner for supervision of course), takes baths, and eats meals. There are blooming gardens in the background and cars to be washed on the driveways. But life is not anywhere close to normal. Often Offred will go from being treated as a prized farm animal to a slave and there isn’t too much in between.

Offred’s situation isn’t revealed in the beginning, but there are hints along the way. About halfway through I got a good sense of what was going on but it was also mysterious enough to keep me reading. I appreciated these small unveilings throughout the book because they sustained a web of tension and prompted character development. Most of all, I felt a sense of patience reading each clue which really made me respect Margaret Atwood as an author. When I’m writing I always want to give away the punchline, but Atwood does an amazing job of holding off until she’s ready to reveal her secrets.

The ending wasn’t quite what I pictured, but it was everything I could hope it would be. Even though I finished this book a couple of days ago I still find it hard to think about. Maybe it’s because there’s never a definite conclusion about how to reverse the wrongs. How do we re-orient ourselves after everything has turned upside down?  In a world where women have been stripped of their rights and turned into objects only good for housework and babies, it’s a terrifying future to conceptualize. The power in The Handmaid’s Tale is it extends beyond a grim prediction into a warning. What that warning is may be up to you. For me, this may be a book I need to re-read because it just hits so close to home.

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick


Summary

Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter on a dying planet. It is the year 2021 and war has nearly decimated the entirety of Earth’s population. With issues from radioactive dust flying through the air to “kipple” overtaking houses, most of Earth’s residents have already sought shelter on Mars while the rest still remain on Earth. However, the environment is not the only aspect of Earth that has changed. Androids who have been enslaved by the new people of Mars now roam the streets of Earth hoping to camouflage themselves as humans.

Rick’s job is to hunt down these “andys” and retire them for good. After all, an android doesn’t feel empathy the way humans do, do they?


Memorable Quotes

“‘You androids,’ Rick said, ‘don’t exactly cover for each other in times of stress.’

Garland snapped, ‘I think you’re right; it would seem we lack a specific talent you humans possess. I believe it’s called empathy,'” (124).

“‘There’s something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that.’ She glanced icily at Phil Resch. ‘It wouldn’t have occurred to him; as he said, never in a million years,'” (133).

“‘You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe,'” (179).


Just to preface this post let me quickly tell you: I am not usually a hearty fan of Science Fiction. It’s not that I dislike or purposely avoid Sci-Fi, but more so that it is such an intimidating genre I have never known where to start. The honest reason I chose to read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? boils down to the simple fact that it happened to be on sale at Green Apple and I had heard friends rave about it before. And as I may have previously mentioned, I do want to branch out find some science fiction I enjoy.

Long story short, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is a fantastic book for anyone from someone who is just starting to delve into science fiction to a sci-fi addict. It’s fast-paced, not too hard to visualize (although it is a bit strange in the first few pages), and extremely engaging. When I first sat down to read, I became sucked into the world of Nexus 6 robots and the people who hunt them.

This review is coming months after I read this book, but something which still sticks with me is the idea of alien creatures and whether or not they have values. One of the key issues of the book is the takeover of robots on a now vacant Earth. However, the biggest motive for “retiring” these androids is because they have become too humanoid, but cannot process human values such as empathy. But as the book goes on, the reader begins to wonder, is this the real reason androids must be retired, or is there something else going on?

Read more to find out!

The Devil in the White City

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The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson


Summary

The Devil in the White City centers around the grit and grime of Chicago during 1893 right before the famous World’s Fair. Despite being rampant with grime and crime, many people moved to Chicago in hope of growing their fortunes and pursuing the excitement of the city. Illustrated as a diamond in the rough, Chicago becomes a beacon of hope for  the few hopeful architects who dreamed of creating a fair that would rival the previous World’s Fair in Paris and alight Chicago with national and international glory. However, while the city’s architects pour their blood, sweat, and tears into the project, a dangerous serial killer runs loose in the streets. As the title suggests, The Devil in the White City recounts the “murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America” for good.


Memorable Quotes

“No matter where you were on the ship, you felt the power of the Olympic’s twenty- nine boilers transmitted upward through the strakes of the hull. It was the one constant that told you—even in the staterooms and dining chambers and smoking lounge, despite the lavish efforts to make these rooms look as if they had been plucked from the Palace of Versailles or a Jacobean mansion—that you were aboard a ship being propelled far in to the bluest reachers of the ocean,” (page 6).

“In Minneapolis there had been only silence and the inevitable clumsy petitions of potato-fingered men looking for someone, anyone, to share the agony of their days,” (page 64).

“He entered a bright green coach, one of George Pullman’s Palace cars, where the air hung with the stillness of a heavy tapestry. A bell clanged and continued clanging in a swinging rhythm as the train surged at grade level into the heart of the city at twenty miles an hour, despite the presence at arm’s reach of grip-cars, carriages, and pedestrians. Everyone on the street paused to watch as the train leaped past crossing gates waving a raccoon’s tail of white and black smoke,” (page 75).

“McKim had opened this meeting with a wandering talk about the fair and its prospects. Hunt cut him off: ‘McKim, damn your preambles. Get down to facts!'” (page 79).

“Half a century later, in his path-breaking book The Mask of Sanity, Dr. Hervey Cleckley described the prototypical psychopath as ‘a subtly constructed reflex machine which can mimic the human personality perfectly…. So perfect is his reproduction of a whole and normal man that no one who examines him in a clinical setting can point out in scientific or objective terms why, or how, he is not real,'” (page 88).

“The lake was gray, darkening to a band of black at the horizon. The only color in the vicinity was the frost rouge on the men’s cheeks and the blue of Burnham’s and Olmsted’s eyes,” (page 95).

“Closer at hand a far stranger creature raised his head in equally intent anticipation. ‘I was born with the devil in me,’ he wrote. ‘I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing,'” (page 109).

“As the light began to fade, the architects lit the library’s gas jets, which hissed like mildly perturbed cats. From the street below, the top floor of the Rookery seemed aflame with the shifting light of the jets and the fire in the great hearth,” (page 115).

“He [Olmsted] wanted the lagoons and the canals strewn with waterfowl of all kinds and colors and traversed continually by small boats. Not just any boats, however: becoming boats. The subject became an obsession for him. His broad view of what constituted  landscape architecture included anything that grew, flew, floated, or otherwise entered the scenery he created. Roses produced dabs of red; boats added intricacy and life. But it was crucial to choose the right kind of boat. He dreaded what would happen if the decision were left to one of the fair’s many committees. He wanted Burnham to know his views from the start,” (page 116).

“Atwood had a secret, as it happens. He was an opium addict. It explained those eyes and his erratic behavior. But Burnham thought him a genius,” (page 121).

“Eiffel had done it first and best. More than merely tall, his tower was grace frozen in iron, as much an evocation o the spirit of the age as Chartres had been in its time. To build a tower would be to follow Eiffel into territory he already had conquered for France,” (page 135).

“As he sat among his peers, an idea came to him ‘like an inspiration.’ It arrived not as some half-formed impulse, he said, but rich in detail. He could see it and touch it, hear it as it moved through the sky,” (page 156).

“The countryside itself, however, charmed him: ‘there is nothing in America to be compared with the pastoral or with the picturesque beauty that is common property in England. I cannot go out without being delighted. The view before me as I write, veiled by the rain, is just enchanting,'” (page 171).

“She [Harriet Monroe] watched with pride as an actress read it [her poem] to the few thousand people close enough to hear it. Unlike the majority of the audience, Monroe believed the poem to be rather a brilliant work, so much so that she had hired a printer to produce five thousand copies for sale to the public. She sold few and attributed the debacle to America’s fading love of poetry,” (page 182).

“Men working on the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building heard the shriek of failed steel and ran for cover. In a great blur of snow and silvery glass the building’s roof—that marvel of late nineteenth-century hubris, enclosing the greatest volume of unobstructed space in history—collapsed to the floor below,” (page 196).

“They saw the first moving pictures on Edison’s Kinetoscope, and they watched, stunned, as lightening chattered from Nikola Tesla’s body. They saw even more ungodly things—the first zipper; the first-ever all-electric kitchen, which included an automatic dishwasher; and a box purporting to contain everything a cook would need to make pancakes, under the brand name Aunt Jemima’s,” (page 247).

“The electric launch carrying Burnham, Dora Root, and the foreign dignitaries cut silently through the lagoon, scattering the white city reflected upon its surface. The setting sun gilded the terraces on the east bank but cast the west bank into dark blue shadow. Women in dresses of crimson and aquamarine walked slowly along the embankments. Voices drifted across the water, laced now and then with laughter that rang like crystal touched in a toast,” (page 253).

“The ball ended at four-thirty A.M. The exotics walked slowly back to the Midway. The guests climbed into their carriages and slept or softly sang ‘After the Ball’—the hit song of the day—as their liverymen drove them home over empty streets that echoed with the plosive rhythm of hooves on granite,” (page 315).

“Elihu Root had said the fair led ‘our people out of the wilderness of the commonplace to new ideas of architectural beauty and nobility.’ Henry Demarest Lloyd saw it as revealing to the great mass of Americans ‘possibilities of social beauty, utility, and harmony of which they had not been able to even dream. No such vision could otherwise have entered into the prosaic drudgery of their lives, and it will be felt in their development into the third and fourth generation.’ The fair taught men and women steeped only in the necessary to see that cities did not have to be dark, soiled, and unsafe bastions of the strictly pragmatic. They could also be beautiful,” (page 374).


Thoughts

Other than the typical bouts of horror that come from reading about a serial killer, this book is a joy through and through. It’s elegantly written and engaging from beginning to end. If you get ahold of the book and look at the reviews you’ll find that many of them mention how it reads like fiction and I too found that to be a striking feature of Larson’s writing. As I’ve probably mentioned before I’m not a huge nonfiction reader. Normally I only test out something nonfiction if it revolves around a subject I’m really interested in. Originally I bought this book because the story of America’s first serial killer sounded equally creepy and interesting. I hadn’t heard of H.H. Holmes before so that part of the book piqued my interest, but the longer I read the more I began to realize I was reading the book for the fair.

Larson begins his story at the end, and this is something I’m a sucker for as I love coming full circle. He describes the lasting impacts of the fair on Burnham (one of the main architects involved in planning and organizing the fair) as he’s aboard the RMS Olympic and then connects the tale of Holmes’ well-deserved demise. I was captured, but I needed to know more. Who was Burnham? Why is he reflecting on the fair? What did Holmes really do? Larson’s choice to provide a vague closure to beginning of his book is strange but immediately effective. After that I couldn’t put the book down.

My favorite quote from this entire book is the quote from page 253 (third up from the bottom) and I think this is very representative of Larson’s writing style. It’s gorgeous and concise; every word feels genuine and magical. I could see the fair in front of me and I felt proud of the architects who worked so tirelessly to build it. And not only does Larson do an amazing job of describing the fair, but his other great strength lies in his persuasive powers. Larson’s description of the Chicago World’s Fair was enough to make me want to travel back in time to see it. I can hardly imagine having to live the life of a woman in 1893, but Larson made me feel very at home in the city and in the time period. (Of course Holmes is another matter, but we’ll get to that.) Part of this comes from how Larson paces the book. As I mentioned before, everything begins at the end, but he takes his time mapping out the scenery and setting the stage. I never felt confused about who was who and what was going on which is amazing given I hardly knew anything about the World’s Fair, let alone who built it.

Larson’s masterful characterization also shines through in his portrayal of Holmes. It must have been tricky to write about him at times, but it’s clear Larson did his homework. He begins from Holmes’ childhood to his life as a physician, his many marriages and scams, all the way to his arrest. His story is difficult to read at times as he was a horrendous person, but Larson makes sure to switch back and forth from the fair’s history to Holmes. At the back of the book he notes:

“The thing that entranced me about Chicago in the Gilded Age was the city’s willingness to take on the impossible in the name of civic honor, a concept so removed from the modern psyche that two wise readers of early drafts of this book wondered why Chicago was so avid to win the world’s fair in the first place. The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck me as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions. The more I read about the fair, the more entranced I became. That George Farris would attempt to build something so big and novel—and that he would succeed on his first try—seems, in this day of liability lawsuits, almost beyond comprehension,” (page 393).

The Devil in the White City is a fantastic book. Although it’s a bit of a cliche, I felt the story come to life. Definitely would recommend.

What’s Next?

I realize I should probably just wait and post this tomorrow because I don’t think I’ll be finishing my current book tonight, but I’m really impatient and motivated today. This is a pretty personal post, so if you don’t mind that then feel free to read ahead. At the beginning of this summer I had my fourth knee surgery so I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. (It’s a fairly intense surgery, but since I’ve had it in the past I had good idea of what I was getting into beforehand. I’m also doing a lot better now so no it’s no biggie.)

My biggest hope has always been to express myself in some way and this blog feels like one of the only ways I can do so.  The only stipulation is I don’t post as nearly as much as I would like to. In general, one of my biggest continual goals is working on self-discipline. This goal is aimed towards every facet of my everyday life, but in general, I want to apply it to the way I read and write. One thing my writing professor said that stuck with me was the people who become writers are the ones who sit down and make themselves write every single day. The people who have self-discipline and push themselves to keep going are the ones who survive, and I intend on being one of those people. I guess I just need some sort of starting point.

But at the same time, do starting points ever reveal themselves? Maybe not. For example, I have this idea for a short story I want to write. I know exactly how I want it to feel and the atmosphere I want to create, but I haven’t really sat down to write it and I’m afraid that if I keep putting it off I’ll lose the inspiration to write it. It’s whiny, but hey, it’s true.

The same writing professor I mentioned a little bit ago marked up my short stories I turned in and wrote some great comments, but I can’t help but feel what I’ve written is pretty average. But maybe that’s the point? Maybe feeling over-critical about your own work is the best way to push forward because you know you care that much. That every syllable of every word and each sentence you write will face a certain direction and move in a specific way. There are a lot of things I’ll never be, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I think the first time I thought of writing as something I could be good at was in fifth grade. I had always loved reading about the Titanic* (*not because of the movie, but because the idea of being on a sinking boat in a freezing ocean horrified me) and I wrote about it for a fiction assignment. I don’t remember exactly what I wrote word-for-word, but I remember the feeling of writing it and seeing the picture of the boat I had colored in next to it. It was displayed on the wall for back to school night and it was the first piece of writing I was truly proud of.

Then came the eighth grade poetry writing assignment. I composed a portfolio of poems, each in a different style, for a class assignment. One day before lunch my teacher called me to her desk. I’m not exactly sure how she asked it, but she pulled me aside and said, “how did you come up with the ideas to write these [poems]?” I explained to her that my dad was a great writer. She then perked up and asked, “so your dad helped you?” I then replied no, he hadn’t. I had written them myself. The knack for writing had come from him.

I miss my writing class a lot. It wasn’t perfect, but every day the professor expected us to send her a daily notebook of 100 words Monday through Sunday. A lot of people hated the assignment, but I adored it. Writing at least 100 words every day kept me accountable and I loved venting to someone I knew probably wouldn’t read what I had written. The fact that my homework was something I loved to do made the class that much more exciting (although a bit soul-sucking at times). However, I was my own worst enemy last semester in a lot of ways. I closed myself off because I felt like I was protecting myself by doing so, but writing (and C of course) was my cure. This summer I hope to find the benefits of that cure once again. I’m a lot happier now, but I have my moments. I want to satisfy every version of myself—whether it be the ten-year-old me or the thirteen-year-old me. I like to do these check-ins where I imagine myself in the future and reach out to whoever that is. And then when the moment comes, I reach back to the past version of myself like some sort of weird parallel universe thing. Yes, I made it. We’re here and we’re okay. I mostly use it for high-anxiety situations, (i.e. presentations, big tests, interviews, etc.) but sometimes I use it to check-in with my goals. I think that trying to nail down aspirations is a big part of life, but I wonder if the life of a creator or artist (not sure if I am either, but I’d like to be) has to be so dramatic and unstable. I don’t want my life to feel like that, but I want to create some form of art. I want my voice to be heard, and I want to feel some shift from the world around me; some response that says what I’m doing is right and I’m heading in the right direction.

Anyways, my goal starts with this blog. We’ll see what happens. I’ve made a lot of unfulfilled promises in the past so I won’t stress myself out or self-flagellate over a couple of missed posts, but I can’t keep sitting by. I don’t think I could live with myself if I didn’t start writing. So here’s to trying to be a better version of myself.

On a lighter note, I’ve put up some lights on my new bookcase and I couldn’t be happier!

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Kafka on the Shore

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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami


Summary

On the eve of his fifteenth birthday Kafka Tamura prepares to run away from his home in Nakano, Tokyo. Plagued by the absence of his mother and older sister as well as a cursed prophecy, Kafka dreams of running away in order to escape both his destiny and a form of himself. With every bit of courage he has, Kafka gathers all the money he can manage, packs his things, and jumps aboard a night bus headed for Shikoku.

Meanwhile, Nakata is an elderly man living in Nakano Ward on a meager subsidy from the government. Permanently disabled by a strange accident that occurred during his schooldays around the middle of the second World War, Nakata is unable to communicate clearly with other people. However, he finds solace in looking for family cats that have gone missing from around his neighborhood. What no one knows is Nakata spends most of his days talking (yes, talking) to the these cats in order to discover the whereabouts of the families’ missing pets. But when one day a certain cat goes missing from its beloved family, Nakata finds himself wrapped up in a dark situation that forces him to leave Nakano for good.

Through fleets of destiny too great to be simple coincidence or chance, Kafka and Nakata’s paths wind together to create a brilliant story full of mystery, misplaced time, magic, love, loss, and self-discovery.


Memorable Quotes

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step, There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine,” (page 3).

“All the students dress neatly, have nice straight teeth, and are boring as hell. Naturally, I have zero friends. I’ve built a wall around me, never letting anybody inside and trying not to venture outside myself. Who could like somebody like that?” (page 7).

“Your heart is like a great river after a long spell of rain, spilling over its banks. All signposts that once stood on the ground are gone, inundated and carried away by that rush of water. And still the rain beats down on the surface of the river. Every time you see a flood like that on the news you tell yourself: That’s it. That’s my heart,” (page 9).

“Some time in the middle of the night a hard rain begins to fall. I wake up every once in a while, part the chintzy curtain at the window and gaze out at the highway rushing by. Raindrops beat against the glass, blurring street lights alongside the road that stretch off into the distance at identical intervals as if they’d been set down to measure the earth,” (page 10).

“‘Gosh, what a long trip,’ she says tiredly. ‘I thought my lower back was going to give out. And my neck’s killing me. You aren’t going to catch me on an all-night bus again. I’m taking the plane now on, even if it’s more expensive. Turbulence, hijackings—I don’t care. Give me a plane any day,'” (page 32).

“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out from between their pages—a special odour of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers,” (page 39).

“‘Your father sounds like an alien from outer space or something,’ Sakura says. ‘Like he came from some far-off planet, took on human form, kidnapped an earth woman and then had you. Just so he could have more descendants. Your mother found out, got frightened and ran away. Like in some film-noir science-fiction flick.’

I have no idea what to say,” (page 95).

“Most things are forgotten over time. Even the war itself, the life-and-death struggle people went through, is now like something from the distant past. We’re so caught up in our everyday lives that events of the past, like ancient stars that have burned out, are no longer in orbit about our minds. There are just too many things we have to think about every day, too many new things we have to learn. New styles, new information, new technology, new terminology… But still, no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things we can never assign to oblivion, memories we can never rub away. They remain with us for ever, like a touchstone. And for me, what happened in the woods that day is one of those,” (page 104).

“Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear,” (page 148).

“‘Speaking of contradictions,’ Oshima suddenly says, ‘when I first met you I felt a kind of contradiction in you. You’re seeking something, but at the same time you’re running away from all you’re worth,'” (page 164).

“The fish struck people, cars and roofs, but not apparently, from such a great height, so no serious injuries resulted. It was more shocking than anything else. A huge number of fish falling like hail from the sky—it was just positively apocalyptic,” (page 181).

“‘Narrow minds devoid of imagination. Intolerance, theories cut off from reality, empty terminology, usurped ideals, inflexible systems. Those are the things that really frighten me. What I absolutely fear and loathe. Of course it’s important to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Individual errors  in judgement can be corrected. As long as you have the courage to admit mistakes, things can be turned around. But intolerant narrow minds with no imagination are like parasites that transform the host, change form and continue to thrive. They’re a lost cause, and I don’t want anyone like that coming in here,” (page 196).

“I look for the 15-year-old girl in her and find her straight away. She’s hidden, asleep, like a 3-D painting in the forest of her heart. If you look carefully though, you can spot her. My chest starts pounding again, like somebody’s hammering a long nail into the walls surrounding it,” (page 267).

“My second day on the mountain passes leisurely, seamlessly. The only thing that distinguishes one day from the next is the weather. If the weather were the same I couldn’t tell one day from another. Yesterday, today, tomorrow—they’d all blur into one. Like an anchorless ship, time floats aimlessly across the broad sea,” (page 393).

“Even so, as I walk I get the feeling that something, somewhere, is watching me, listening to me, holding its breath, blending into the background, watching my every move. Somewhere far off, something’s listening to all the sounds I make, trying to guess where I’m going and why. I try not to think about it. The more you think about illusions, the more they’ll swell up and take on form. And no longer be an illusion,” (page 413).

“‘It all really happened, so you can’t undo it,’ Crow tells me. ‘She shouldn’t have abandoned you then, and you shouldn’t have been abandoned. But things in the past are like a plate that’s shattered to pieces. You can never put it back as it was, right?’

I nod. ‘You can never put it back as it was.’ He’s hit the nail on the head,” (page 430).


Thoughts

**First note: I’d like to address the quotes I chose to include in my “Memorable Quotes” section. If you read through every quote I included, (which I understand is a lot so no judgement from me if you didn’t) you may end up with the impression that this book is extremely long-winded and too caught up in itself to be enjoyable; maybe even cheesy in a sudo hyper-intellectual way. And while there are brief bits of overwhelming themes present in this specific book, that would be a misplaced impression overall. I want to stress that I chose those specific quotes because they stood out and were some of the most meaningful lines of text to me as a reader. But overall, the book is about five hundred pages so those quotes aren’t exactly representative of the writing style of the entire book. In fact, Kafka on the Shore is incredibly easy to read as it’s engaging and written beautifully.

This is my third Murakami book I’ve read and it certainly won’t be my last. Thinking back on my experience reading Kafka on the Shore I can confidently say its strongest point is the atmosphere it creates. When I think about Murakami’s books in general I mentally correspond them with colors. This may sound a little weird, but in my mind color and atmosphere are very much linked. And to give a better example of what I mean, I thought it would be fun to include some pictures of the places the characters visit in Kafka on the Shore. 

So to start, below I’ve pasted a general map of Japan I found online so you can see the distance between Tokyo and Shikoku.

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Map of Japan (credit: shutterstock)

Next is a picture of some buildings in Nakano Ward where both Kafka and Nakata begin their journeys.

 

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Buildings in Nakano Ward (credit: all photos by koji fujii  / nacasa & partners inc.
images courtesy of takeshi yamagata architects) Link: http://www.designboom.com/architecture/takeshi-yamagata-architects-chojyabashi-building/

The next set of pictures capture the beauty of the Great Seto Bridge leading into Shikoku. When Nakata and Hoshino drive to Shikoku, Nakata describes a breath-taking bridge and I believe this is the one he is referencing.

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View of the Great Seto Bridge (credit: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/kagawa/greatsetobridge)
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View from the top of the Great Seto Bridge (credit: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/destinations/kagawa/greatsetobridge)

 

Lastly, here is a picture I found of Takamatsu City on Shikoku Island. This is one of the main destinations for both Kafka and Nakata.

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Takamatsu City (credit: http://americanruruoni.weebly.com/kanonji.html )

One thing that delights and frustrates me is the simple fact that I can’t explain to you what this specific book means. I have ideas about certain allusions or themes, but it would take too long to explain and I highly doubt I could. Whenever I try everything just becomes a jumbled mess in my mind. As with After Dark, there are many things left unsaid and circumstances which ripple in the wake of the main plot. This used to bother me, but I think I’m slowly getting used to it. To me, this is the magic of Murakami and Kafka on the Shore. I love Haruki Murakami’s writing, although at times I think he overuses metaphors a little too much. (But hey, he writes them elegantly af so I think I can forgive him.) There is a mystical feeling I get whenever I read something he’s written even if it’s just a scene describing someone hitchhiking.

The characters all have distinct personalities which makes you fall in love with them and cry for them when the time comes. Kafka is interesting, but I think my favorite character is Nakata. In a way, I want to think Murakami meant for his readers to fall in love with Nakata. I love him not just because he talks to cats, (although that in itself is strangely endearing) but because he is able to let go of time and live in the moment in the most simple and heartwarming of ways.

Kafka on the otherhand, is complicated. He’s broken inside, and haunted by a dark prophecy. Although he does manage to somewhat find his way, he becomes even more lost and confused as he begins to work at a library and fall in love with the older woman who runs it. I won’t spoil too much, but the identity of the woman also plays into part of Kafka’s confusion.

I’m not sure what else I can say about Kafka on the Shore without spoiling it. The story seems simple at first; a runaway and an old man whose life turns upside down, but it becomes much more than that. Fish fall from the sky, cats lead humans to new discoveries, people face sexual awakenings, and a young boy runs through a forest that represents the complexities of his inner psyche. All I can say is you’ll have to read this book to discover what I’m talking about.


Extra Resources

http://modernist-magazines.org/?q=node/808 (A cool page I found that basically maps out the locations described in Kafka on the Shore.)

http://www.harukimurakami.com/q_and_a/questions-for-haruki-murakami-about-kafka-on-the-shore (A link to Murakami’s website where he answers some questions about Kafka on the Shore and his writing.)

The Winter People

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The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon


Summary

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea and her husband Martin were found dead at the edge of the woods behind their home. This is the beginning and end of their stories.

Meanwhile in the present, Ruthie wakes up one morning and discovers her mother has disappeared without a trace. With the responsibility of an entire farm to run and two young daughters to look after, Alice’s disappearance is shocking and uncharacteristic. While Ruth and her younger sister look for their mother, we meet another woman named Katherine who is still recovering from the shock of discovering her husband, Gary, has been killed in a fatal car accident not just two months after their son’s death. As she sorts through his lasting memories and oddly enough, bank statements, she notices a bill for a meal at a restaurant hours away from her home. Immediately she senses something is wrong. As Katherine seeks the truth of Gary’s whereabouts before his death, she too, becomes woven into the fatal tapestry of Alice’s disappearance.

Set in wintry Vermont, The Winter People, jumps in time and shifts between three main narrators who separately explore the chilling prospect of life beyond death.


Memorable Quotes

“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”

 

“If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?”

“She was his great adventure; his love for her had taken him places he’d never dreamed of going.”

“I think people see what they want to see… But think about it: if you’d lost someone you love, wouldn’t you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?”

“We all do what we think is best. Sometimes we make terrible mistakes, sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we never know. We just have to hope.”


Thoughts

I picked this book up on a whim back in January. I haven’t read many mysteries/thrillers/horror novels, (I would think this book could fit into all three categories) so I decided to give this book a shot. Given the title and the nature of the plot, I immediately decided it would be a perfect book to read in the gray months of winter. While I wasn’t wrong, I also didn’t really finish the book until February. (It seems my lack of apt scheduling has done me in once again. And yes, this review is out of order and very late. Not quite sure what happened to my queue, but I’ll go along with it.) 

In the beginning of the book the biggest inconvenience is the constant shift between characters and it’s something I would do myself while writing. When you are just starting to read and are not quite situated into the plot, it can be difficult to keep track of who is who. I know I complained about this in my last review, so at least I’m being consistent. However, if you encounter this issue, I would encourage you to just keep reading. It may take awhile, but (if you’re like me) you will become more aware of the characters and have an easier time keeping track of what’s going on within thirty pages or so.

There were no characters in the book I was drawn to or found myself thinking about after I finished, and I think this is the book’s weakest point. However, I appreciated that the story itself was spooky, but nothing so horrifyingly awful that I couldn’t sleep at night (which is a definite plus in my book). The plot is entertaining and will keep you reading. There’s lots of suspense and twists, but there are parts that seem pretty improbable so it’s best to keep an open mind while reading. Likewise, there are still some questions that remain unanswered in the end which can be slightly disappointing for some readers. Overall, I would give this book three stars. Fairly entertaining plot, but not the best horror/thriller novel of the year.

(I cheated a little by meshing a part of my review from Goodreads with the review I wanted to write on here… sorry not sorry. To anyone reading, thank you! Hopefully I’ll have a new post up by tomorrow or the next day. I just finished a Murakami novel a couple of days ago and I’m still sorting out my feelings about it so I can finally write a review.)

Into the Water

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins


Summary

Like any small town, Beckford has its share of strange residents and even stranger secrets. When Nel Abbott is found dead in the river that intersects the town, her estranged sister Julia returns to look after her teenage daughter and pick up the pieces following her tragic death. However, while some residents claim Nel’s death must have been a suicide given her obsession with the historic part of the river known as the “Drowning Pool,” Jules is not convinced.

Why would Nel throw away everything; her daughter, her forthcoming book about the river, her life, just to become a part of the town’s gory history of drownings? Into the Water jumps between various perspectives of Beckford’s diverse occupants to paint a picture of a town haunted by misconstrued memories and monsters hidden in plain sight.


Memorable Quotes

“To the untrained eye, it might seem you were a fan of bridges: the Golden Gate, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct. But look again. It’s not about the bridges, it’s not some love of these masterworks of engineering. Look again and you see it’s not just bridges, it’s Beachy Head, Aokigahara Forest, Preikestolen. The places where hopeless people go to end it all, cathedrals of despair,” (page 15).

“Opposite the entrance, images of the Drowning Pool. Over and over and over, from every conceivable angle, every vantage point: pale and icy in winter, the cliff black and stark or sparkling in the summer, an oasis, lush and green, or dull flinty grey with storm clouds overhead, over and over and over. The images blurred into one, a dizzying assault on the eye. I felt as though I were there, in that place, as though I were standing at the top of the cliff, looking down into the water, feeling that terrible thrill, the temptation of oblivion,” (page 15).

“But appearances are deceptive, for this is a deathly place. The water, dark and glassy, hides what lies beneath: weeds to entangle you, to drag you down; jagged rocks to slice through flesh. Above looms the grey slate cliff: a dare, a provocation,” (page 41).

“She insisted there was nothing wrong, that it hadn’t been an argument at all, that it was none of my business anyway. A bravado performance, but her face was streaked with tears. I offered to see her home, but she told me to fuck off,” (47).

“‘So, two women have died in that river this year?’ I said. ‘Two women who knew each other, who were connected…’ The DI said nothing, he didn’t look at me, I wasn’t even sure he was listening.

‘How many have died there? I mean, in total?’

‘Since when?’ he asked, shaking his head again. ‘How far back would you like to go?’

Like I said, fucking weird,” (page 50).

“I wanted to touch you again, to feel your skin. I felt sure I could wake you up, I whispered your name and waited for you to quiver, for your eyes to flick open and follow me around the room,” (page 53).

“Julia stood very still, turning her head towards the window as though she were listening for something. ‘What?’ she asked, but she wasn’t looking at me. It was like she was looking at someone else or at her reflection. ‘What did you say?'” ( page 57).

“Something about that image jarred, made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a while. Shame. The dirty, secret shame of the voyeur, tinged with something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and didn’t want to,” (page 65).

“I could feel it [the river] pushing against the walls, seeping into the cracks of the brickwork, rising. I could taste it, muddy and dirty in my mouth, and my skin felt damp. Somewhere in the house, I could hear someone laughing, and it sounded just like you,” (page 66).

“Something got missed though, didn’t it? Like one of those con tricks, when you take your eye off the ball for a second and the whole game changes,” (page 97).

“Seriously, how is anyone supposed to keep track of all of those bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head,” (page 129).

A/N** I have a few more quotes I could include, but I didn’t want to risk including any spoilers as this book is still fairly hot off the press.


Thoughts

I’m not exactly sure where to start, but I will say I did have high expectations for this book and I think this alone really contributed to the way I read it. If you saw my post from earlier this year, you know I reviewed Paula Hawkins previous novel The Girl on the Train and loved the psychology that went into the consideration of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. I know in a lot of ways it’s unfair to judge a book by its previously adored sibling, but I ultimately couldn’t help wistfully thinking about Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train as I read Into the Water. 

From the first batch of reactions I saw online I expected this book to be different from TGOTT, but excellent in its own way. I read reviews claiming ITW was similar in style to TGOTT but further developed in both plot and character development. After reading I can say I strongly disagree with this sentiment.

Now let me quickly say (or rather, type) I am not writing this review to bash ITW. There were a lot of things I loved about this book and will mention later, but I can’t honestly tell you that it was my favorite book to read and if nothing else, my reviews are honest. When I started reading I was still in school preparing for finals, so I didn’t have much time to spend on anything other than studying and writing essays. However, there would be brief periods of time, whether on the bus or waiting in line at the cafeteria, I would crack open this book in hopes of being sucked away to the quaint little town of Beckford. The beginning was promising. A small town, a shady cast of characters, a history of mysterious deaths. What’s not to love? But for some reason, the more I read the more disenchanted I became. After some time I pushed ITW aside to finish If We Were Villains. When I had finished IWWV, I begrudgingly turned my attention back to ITW.

My lack of interest in Into the Water was disappointing because I really wanted to love it just as much, or more than The Girl on the Train. (Not to mention I payed $30 for a hardcover copy.) But alas, I guess some things in life are meant to be. So to make what I liked and disliked about this book a bit clearer, I’ve decided to ditch my usual format and compose my thoughts into a bulleted list.

What I Disliked

  • The constant switching between narrators—Although this complaint seems a bit silly given I usually love switching into the headspace of different characters, this book has over fourteen different narrators which can be somewhat disorienting. I got used to it by the end, but in the beginning I would have much preferred learning the plot through one narrator instead of five.
  • The simplicity of the plot— There were a lot of twists scattered throughout the book, but both the writing and the plot felt rushed. I didn’t feel the book was as carefully thought out as it’s predecessor.
  •  The overall resolution— Again, felt a bit rushed and awkward.

What I Liked

  • The use of the river as a character—The imagery of the river was absolutely gorgeous. As I read I could picture myself looking down into the dark water or watching the kids swim in the summertime. Overall, the river was the most interesting character as it’s an omnipresent force that propels the story forward.
  • The plot twists— This somewhat contradicts to what I said about the plot in the dislikes section, but even thought the plot was simple there were still some good plot twists. (I think the simplicity comes from the fact I was able to guess most of them early on.)
  • The cover— Yep, I’m really going there. Judge me as the aesthetic trash I am.
  • Family histories and complexities— I think this is a strong point of the book as the plot focuses on Beckford’s dark history which influences many of the families in the story.
  • Experimentation— Despite disliking the array of narrators, I admired Hawkins’ bravery in experimenting with something a lot of readers may not like, and I hope to follow suit as I embark on my own writing process.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Did any of you read Into the Water? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts. Did you love it? Hate it? Feel neutral? Are you reading anything else this summer? Let me know in the comments!

-L

If We Were Villains

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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

“If We Were Villains is written with the intention of paying homage to William Shakespeare—who has had more than enough defamers, detractors, and deniers. (Lord, what fools these mortals be.)”


Summary

Oliver Marks is finally getting out of prison. For what, we don’t know. What we do know is that in the September of 1997 Oliver roamed the halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory with six other thespians, friends, and fellow lovers of Shakespeare for the fourth and final year. Through intensive classes, grueling rehearsals, and long study sessions, the seven spent nearly every waking moment together. But as they prepare for their upcoming performance of Julius Caesar, something in the group’s dynamic begins to slowly shift.

Through Oliver’s captivating narration the reader follows the lives of Dellecher’s top theatre students as they navigate their roles on and offstage. But when the drama begins to follow its way offstage, the curtain call is only the beginning.


Memorable Quotes

“The number of auditions under my belt didn’t matter; the anxiety never left me,” (page 14).

“I, on the other hand, was average in every imaginable way: not especially handsome, not especially talented, not especially good at anything but just good enough at everything that I could pick up whatever slack the others left,” (page 16).

After a slightly awkward pause in which I exchanged quick baffled glances with Filippa and Alexander, Meredith said, ‘Did that just happen? For God’s sake, it’s just a play.’

‘Well.’ Frederick sighted, removed his glasses, and began to polish them on the hem of his shirt. ‘Duels have been fought over less,'” (page 52).

“There had always been small rivalries between us, but never such an open display of hostility. With a sip of tea I persuaded myself that we were all simply overreacting. Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster,” (page 53).

“Silence settled, and I was struck by the senseless idea that we and everything around us were made of glass. I was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid something might break,” (page 77).

“The lake, the broad black water, lurked in the background of every scene we played after that—like a set from a play we did once shuffled to the back of the scene shop where it would have been quickly forgotten if we didn’t have to walk past it every day. Something changed irrevocably, in those few dark minutes James was submerged, as if the lack of oxygen had caused all our molecules to rearrange,” (page 79).

“Though the timeline is clear in my head, explaining it to someone else is a curious task, simple in theory but painstaking in practice, like assembling a long line of dominoes. One event inevitably leads to the next,” (page 145).

“I gaze across the lake at the top of the Tower. A large bird—a hawk, maybe—soars in long lazy circles over the trees, an elegant black boomerang against the silvery sky,” (page 147).

“She folded her arms and said, ‘I’m going to bed unless you’ve got something to say.’

I didn’t. I desperately wanted to, but my mind was blank. For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me,” (page 211).

“‘Anything can feel like punishment if it’s taught poorly,'” (page 267).

“I shifted and my shoes squeaked on the mirror, James turned and caught my eye. But I stayed where I was, afraid to move toward him, afraid I might lose my footing on solid ground, detach from what had anchored me before and drift out into the void of space—a vagabond, wandering moon,” (page 305).


Thoughts

My boyfriend bought me this book for my anniversary and I don’t think he could have done a better job. Usually he’ll buy a book I’ve talked about, but this time he decided to find something new and I was pretty impressed by his choice. I’ve read quite a few Shakespeare plays, although I’m no expert by any means, so he figured I’d enjoy the way Rio integrates lines from various plays into the text. He was very right.

From the very beginning, I was hooked. From the way the characters use Shakespeare’s words in their everyday conversations to the fast-paced plot, I couldn’t stop reading. The characters are witty and fun to follow, but also extremely intelligent and cunning. In addition, their use of conversational Shakespeare not only helped characterize them, but it was incredibly fun to read. And again, the book overall is M.L. Rio’s tribute to Shakespeare, so expect to see lots of lines, quotes, and small easter eggs throughout the story. However, if you’re not a Shakespeare buff, don’t worry. I think as long as you’re willing to step into the minds the young actors you can catch on fairly quickly.

I appreciated the extent Rio characterizes her leading characters. There were a few I thought remained somewhat underdeveloped, but the majority of the characters are distinctly illustrated from their physicality to their innermost thoughts. The book is narrated by Oliver which only gives us a narrow perspective, but there are many ways in which we are able to get a deeper look at the other characters’ fears and motivations. Oliver himself is at times mysterious in his intentions, but overall he’s an insightful narrator as he’s the most removed from the group of friends.

This last semester I took my first fiction writing course as I’m an English major (and in the Dual-Degree Teaching Program at my university) with an emphasis on Creative Writing. The reason I mention my class is because I noticed myself reading this book through the lens of someone who wants to be a writer. My professor consistently advised us that when we read books we should search for what appeals to us and what doesn’t because it can be extremely useful when we begin writing. While I was reading If We Were Villains I couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful metaphors. I included a couple of ones I loved in the memorable quotes section, but there were so many gorgeous lines scattered throughout the book. M.L. Rio’s writing is not only very meticulous and engaging to read, but her way of describing landscapes and characters is very three-dimensional. I could see the lake at the school and the characters seemed to jump off the page.

To sum it up, this book was a joy to read. When I thought I knew where the plot was going it twisted and kept me reading. I became invested in the characters, and I grew to love theatre even more with each page. The book hits so many marks because it’s hard to write a great plot with quality writing, but Rio checked off every box.


Extra Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, I’ve included a link to her website and Goodreads page below.

https://mlrio.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14954351.M_L_Rio

The Circle

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

(Title image credit goes to The Daily Beast.)


Summary

Mae, as many twenty-somethings do, finds herself stuck in the mechanical ebb and flow of everyday life. With each passing day, she becomes increasingly troubled by her mundane office job and the overall lot she’s been given in life. One day, an old college friend named Annie contacts Mae and advises her to apply for a job at an up-and-coming tech company known as “The Circle”.  Mae is immediately taken with the idea of fully realizing her potential and quickly applies.

The Circle is a utopia in every way Mae could have ever hoped for. With dozens of passionate employees (known as “Circlers”) and a combined drive for world peace, Mae discovers a sense of solace in this new hub of progression. The Circle represents the best technology and an even more promising and innovative future with each new program it implements. However, the longer Mae works, the more unsettling the company’s ethos becomes. With eerie mantras promoting complete transparency over personal privacy, the Circle slowly transforms from a company of promises to one filled with secrets.


Memorable Quotes

“She couldn’t stand it. Every day of that job, the eighteen months she worked there, she wondered if she could really ask Annie for a favor. She’d never been one to ask for something like that, to be rescued, to be lifted,” (page 11).

“‘I like your voice,’ he said. ‘Was it always that way?’

‘Low and scratchy?’

‘I would call it seasoned. I would call it soulful. You know Tatum O’Neal?'” (page 35).

“‘You like bowl cuts.’

‘No. Your voice. So far it’s the best thing about you.’

Mae said nothing. She felt like she’d been slapped.

‘Shit,’ he said. ‘Did that sound weird? I was trying to give you a compliment,'” (page 35).

“‘Folks, we’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment. And I’m not talking about a new building on campus. I’m talking about an era where we don’t allow the majority of human thought and action and achievement and learning to escape as if from a leaky bucket. We did that once before. It was called the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. If not for the monks, everything the world had ever learned would be lost. Well, we live in a similar time, when we’re losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not with these cameras, and not with the mission of the Circle,'” (page 68).

“‘Mae, we would finally be compelled to be our best selves. And I think that people would be relieved. There would be this global sigh of relief. Finally, finally, finally we can be good. In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice but to be good. Can you imagine?'” (page 292)


Thoughts

Truthfully I hadn’t heard of this book until I happened to see one of the first movie trailers for its film adaptation. I figured that I hadn’t read any dystopian-leaning fiction in awhile and the plot looked fascinating, so I was immediately drawn to the book and purchased it as soon as I could. This being said, before I even picked up the book I had a sense of the material I would be working with. I figured the layout would look a little something like this: Tech company looks great at first glance, a hopelessly naïve girl applies for her dream job, aforementioned girl is lured into the jungles of the company’s promises, and then everything suddenly turns sour in a matter of chapters until the girl realizes her first mistake working for the company. The magic of this genre, primarily paved by noteworthy novels such as 1984 and Brave New World, is that the plot’s ever-present anxiety and tension is built into the very foundation of the book just as much as it is in its text. This tension is a definite strength in The Circle. Dave Eggers does a wonderful job of suspending the reader in an atmosphere feels both hostile and warmly inviting. In my mind, this juxtaposition creates a thrilling electric tension.

In addition, one of the greatest characteristics about this book is how mysterious it is about revealing the company’s true intentions. As I was reading, I felt like I was running through page after page hoping to arrive at an obvious climax, but each time I became more ensnarled in the Circle’s web. The beauty and the insanity of this book is that you’re constantly presented with unfulfilled questions despite the spiking tension. In time, this either becomes enticing or frustrating depending on the reader.

Without spoiling anything I’ll give you a quick example. Mae’s job includes many components which seem ridiculous, but no one (not even Mae herself) ever confirms how ridiculous they are or questions why she’s being put up to all of this work. She starts off with two computer screens which seems somewhat normal, but then her manager begins adding one monitor after another. After that she’s answering surveys, conducting more tests, coaching newbies, and still completing her regular workload. The company also continually harasses Mae into staying late for events and clubs and interrogates her if she doesn’t comply. But again, this is left for the reader to gauge as the Circle is only as horrifying as the reader makes it.

In totality, I think the book’s biggest weakness lies in the fact that it somewhat trivializes the social commentary it hopes to invoke with over-simplified and reused technological cliches and criticisms. The message of The Circle is one the general public has already heard time and time again, so it’s really nothing new. (I like to think of it as more of a call to action rather than a direct claim about the way technology is integrated into society for better or for worse.) Furthermore, sometimes it felt like Eggers was trying too hard to write the next 1984 so that turned me off a bit. However, on the flip side I think there is something to be said for the pacing of the plot and the overall character development (**or lack thereof). The Circle is similar to many other dystopian movies and books in content and structure, but different as its conclusion leaves multiple questions hanging and challenges the genre in an interesting way. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this book is revolutionary, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.

Lastly, I haven’t seen the movie but if my sources are correct, there are many differences between movie and book so I think it’s definitely worth reading.

Modern Romance

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Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari


Summary

Although the concept of courtship has been around for decades, for someone struggling to keep up with the times, the ways of modern romance can seem disorienting. With the rise of smartphones and cutting-edge technology, basic tasks are now easier than ever. Everything from ordering takeout to calling a cab simply require just the click of a button. However, how does this new technology influence dating?

Modern Romance attempts to answer the most pressing questions about love in the 21st century. Written by comedian Aziz Ansari with the help of NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Modern Romance, covers subjects like how dating sites and apps affect singles to how different countries view infidelity.


Memorable Quotes

“As I hit thirty, I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of those nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes. When you hit that point, you realize how fruitless trying to find love by barhopping can be; you have enough data to know that statistically the smartest thing for you to do when you walk into a bar is go to the bathroom, jerk off, and leave,” (page 210).

“I also started losing single friends. One day i stood alone at a barbecue at my house and saw nothing but couples around me. It seemed like I was the only single dude in the mix. Everyone else was splitting their racks of ribs into halves and sharing. Meanwhile, I had to eat a whole rack by myself like some kind of lonely fatso. I felt like it was time for a change,” (page 210).


Thoughts

Okay, just to clarify, I know I don’t have many quotes from this book. Why? Well, it’s not that there weren’t any I didn’t like, it’s more that I was reading so quickly I barely had to time to mark down my favorites. What initially drew me to the book was its title and its author. I assumed it would be hilarious because it was written by a comedian. And as I started to read, I immediately loved the small touches of humor Ansari provided. However, if I am being honest, I did feel a bit mislead.

When I began to read this book in the bookstore, it was immediately presented as a book where Aziz would talk about his own funny dating stories and then explore the world of modern dating. However, what it actually turned out to be is a guide book to mastering modern dating. Of course, if I had read a bit more of the book from the start, I might have realized this sooner.

As I was reading I could definitely pick out Aziz’s humor, but there were also sections that were much more serious because he does try to ground his findings with facts and/or anecdotes. A good portion of the book explores social media’s impact on modern courtship and the ways it benefits or harms relationships. It’s a hard topic to tackle, but Ansari did a wonderful job of making it more manageable.