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The Circle
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2014 Book Discussions > The Circle - General Discussion With Spoilers Added (February 2014)

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Deborah | 983 comments WARNING! WARNING! There are spoilers here. If you're not finished reading you can still turn back now.

Casceil was kind enough to give me a link to this Wired article. I think it's a great place for jumping off.

How much does tech savvy play into enjoyment of this book? How relevant is the article to what you did or did not enjoy about the book?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Here is Margaret Atwood's review of the Circle from the NY Times. I'm putting it here because it does have things that some might consider spoilers.
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi...


Daniel Linda wrote: "Here is Margaret Atwood's review of the Circle from the NY Times. I'm putting it here because it does have things that some might consider spoilers..."

I can't remember where I read this review before, but it was interesting to read it again from a more informed perspective. As much as I have to respect Atwood, some of her descriptions come across as a bit forced. Menippean satire? Socratic dialogue? Really? Brings to mind something about sow's ears and silk purses...

I also found this quote rather interesting:

"But don’t look to The Circle for Chekhovian nuance or thoroughly rounded characters with many-layered inwardness: it isn’t “literary fiction” of that kind. It’s an entertainment, but a challenging one: it demands that the reader think its positions through in the same way that the characters must."

Doesn't that last sentence describe the purpose of fiction in general? I didn't agree with Atwood when she tried to make a distinction between science fiction and speculative fiction, and I am of the opinion that she is creating another false dichotomy here. Then again, perhaps I misunderstood her intent. Could this just be a gentle way of saying that The Circle isn't "literary fiction" at all?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Daniel wrote: "Could this just be a gentle way of saying that The Circle isn't "literary fiction" at all?"

Yes, I do. I think she was wishing the "challenging entertainment" was challenging "literary fiction." But I also think she has identified the issues that The Circle can a springboard for discussing, but I do wish it did have the "Chekhovian nuance or thoroughly rounded characters with many-layered inwardness" that she correctly notes is not there.


Deborah | 983 comments If I were to translate that (see here: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/...) this is what I would say that says:

I like Eggers. He's a smart guy. Someone something nice about his book. Crap. What can I say? Um... yeah. It's um... about his views on society and internet and the way we have become dependent on it. Oh and lots of people are dumber than me and him. Ha ha. Oh and um yeah. Dumber than you too. Cause you're reading my review. Thanks,
Marge.

Or maybe her taste in books is very different than mine. And maybe she really means all that crap. Um... stuff.


message 7: by Deborah (last edited Feb 03, 2014 04:50PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Deborah | 983 comments Disclosure - I have a real love hate relationship with Atwood. I think she's brilliant, but too emotionally distant in her work. And I think if she doesn't want to be known as a fantasy writer, she should stop writing it, instead of calling it something else so she can feel superior to everyone else who writes fantasy.

I suppose as a discussion leader I should make some pretense and being impartial, but I have a full time job and bad manners.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Deborah, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I liked Atwood's review (and I'm not put off by the emotional distance in her writing, which may say more about me than her).

I'm not finding The Circle to be particularly literary. It's damn superficial on the character side. In my opinion, Eggers has regressed on the literary front since his (to me) startling debut work - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. But The Circle has something to say and I've read worse.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments This New Yorker piece about The Circle comes pretty close to describing what disturbs me. I like to "window shop" online but it's a bit distressing that when I read the NY Times online, all the merhandise I've viewed recently - shoes, luggage, cars -- appears at the top of the page.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs...


Daniel Linda wrote: "This New Yorker piece about The Circle comes pretty close to describing what disturbs me. I like to "window shop" online but it's a bit distressing that when I read the NY Times online, all the me..."

I'll agree that the subject matter has some relevance to troubling technological trends. The real life analogue is quite terrifying in its own right, but the story which Eggers wraps around the issue comes across as more risible than disturbing to me.

In some ways, it reminds me of a Canadian prize-winning book that seemed to have everyone gasping in mild horror (that would be Will Ferguson's 419). The whole plot was driven by Nigerian e-mail scams, and these were presented as something new and terrifying. I might have had a different opinion if jokes about those very scams had not been part of my cultural cernacular for the past decade or so, but I was stunned to realize how many people were not even aware that such scams existed. In the same way, my own "circle" is very much aware of the insidious online threat posed by seemingly benign corporate overlords.

I guess my biggest let-down with The Circle is that nothing appears to be new or innovative. Apart from being a complete rip-off of 1984 in many respects, the issues being raised by Eggers seem like Web 101. A bigger horror to me is the idea that people are using the web without even a basic knowledge of the potential dangers. Yikes...


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Daniel wrote: "A bigger horror to me is the idea that people are using the web without even a basic knowledge of the potential dangers. Yikes..."

Perhaps that's the audience Eggers is after - the clueless. I think they are the majority. Otherwise, how do you account for the (1) posting of pictures of oneself nude, drunk, etc. and then wondering why you cannot get a job teaching K-12? (2) sending e-mails disparating your employer and wondering why you seem to be unable to advance or are let go? (3) posting your vacation schedule on your Facebook page and wondering why your house is broken into while you are gone?

What I think we all quickly realized is that The Circle doesn't seem to meet any of our somewhat varied criteria for a literary read. Or at least I don't think I've seen posts to date indicating that.

If I'm correct (and realize I may be premature), there does not seem much reason to continue discussing why it isn't literary, unless we are looking to better understand why we thought it was literary and voted to read it!!


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments What Daniel said! With the additional note that real world discussion of these issues doesn't really benefit from reducing them to black and white and reducing one or the other side to cartoon characters. Also, far as I've read (about halfway), the government seems like a passive victim in all this, while in real life they are neither powerless nor blameless in these matters. (And no, the writer does not get a pass for having written this before Snowden released all of those NSA papers, as Snowden is only the latest in a long series of NSA whistle-blowers.)


Daniel Linda wrote: "Perhaps that's the audience Eggers is after - the clueless. I think they are the majority..."

Depressing as it is, I think you are right (although I still have to hold out some [possibly misguided] hope that your examples represent the minority rather than the majority).

Also, point taken about beating the dead literary horse. I'm just at a loss in how else to approach any discussion on this book. As for understanding why a plurality of our group votes went to The Circle? Well, perhaps that's a can of worms better left unopened...


Deborah | 983 comments By that line of thinking it's hard to understand his motivation. I would rather believe he was aiming for something grander but fell short.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Deborah, I certainly do not know what motivated Eggers but I don't see waking the clueless as an unworthy goal. Eggers seems to have tried to do that on human rights topics, with his books Zeitoun and What's the What.

Peter, I agree that so far (I'm about 40% through) the government has not received the attention it should, especially if he's alerting the clueless.


Deborah | 983 comments Educating is certainly a worthy goal. I have some doubt about this book as a vehicle to better awareness


Daniel Linda wrote: "Eggers seems to have tried to do that on human rights topics, with his books Zeitoun and What's the What."

Ahhh. Now there is a comment I can appreciate. That at least helps frame the intent for me, and gives some notion of why people were so excited about this book. I've always avoided Eggers because he seemed...I'm not sure if "flashy" is the right word, but he always seemed too invested in some current cause-célèbre or crise du jour. Reinterpreting that as an ongoing effort to draw attention to human rights imbues The Circle with at least some modicum of respect for the effort, even if I'm of the opinion that it falls flat.


Daniel I don't think anyone has linked to this review from Slate yet, which poses some of the same questions we've been asking here: http://www.slate.com/articles/technol... (and my apologies if I somehow overlooked an earlier post).

I also really want to rant about the ending, but I'll keep calm and simply state that Kalden's plan was...well, it wasn't really mentioned at all, but what was implied was patently absurd. I nearly broke my e-reader in frustration...


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
One respect in which e-readers are just not as satisfying as paper books. Throwing a book across the room or against the wall was so therapeutic.


Daniel Casceil wrote: "One respect in which e-readers are just not as satisfying as paper books. Throwing a book across the room or against the wall was so therapeutic."

:)


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Deborah wrote: "By that line of thinking it's hard to understand his motivation. I would rather believe he was aiming for something grander but fell short."

I sincerely hope this was the case. Because there are some good points raised. In particular I was interested in rights to privacy and the amount of people who waive them away, without a second thought - until it's too late.


Deborah | 983 comments I know the title says spoilers allowed, but I'd like to make sure I don't ruin anything for anyone who hasn't read it all.

(view spoiler)


message 23: by Casceil (last edited Feb 09, 2014 09:47AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Deborah, I wondered about that, too. Would firing that particular gun have taught Mae something, slowed down her enthusiastic march toward "transparency," or would it have just been another "teachable moment" that would cause her to cave faster?


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Given that she was easily persuaded to give up her request to have the video of her parents "erased," I believe Mae would have been persuaded. Although, if it had happened early -- before she became "transparent," maybe not. But it seems Eggers intended her that be easily persuaded out of all her misgivings.


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
She might have been harder to persuade earlier. I think the constant barrage of messaging, and monitoring nine screens at work, had a sort of deadening effect. She never had time to reflect, or feel any strong emotion.


Sophia Roberts | 1324 comments Maybe that's what Eggers is saying: that constant online interaction is inevitably about reacting not reflecting.


Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Maybe so. Thanks for pointing that out. Now I feel a little better about there maybe being some point to this book.


Deborah | 983 comments Linda wrote: "Given that she was easily persuaded to give up her request to have the video of her parents "erased," I believe Mae would have been persuaded. Although, if it had happened early -- before she bec..."

That is an interesting parallel I completely missed.


message 29: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Linda wrote: "Here is Margaret Atwood's review of the Circle from the NY Times. I'm putting it here because it does have things that some might consider spoilers.
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archi......"


Like Deborah, I'm not a particular fan of Atwood, but I enjoyed this review thoroughly. It fascinated me to watch an author of such a reputation so valiantly try to put a deeply literary spin on The Circle.

Among the lines I enjoyed:

"It traces the rise and rise within this company of its female protagonist, Maebelline, a name that closely resembles that of a brand of mascara, thus hinting at masks and acting."

".... There is no real war holiday called MaeDay, but 'Mayday'—from the French m’aidez—is a venerable distress signal. May Day was once a pagan springtime celebration, but was adopted in the nineteenth century as a workers’ holiday. It was then appropriated for military parades during Stalinism, a period noted for its hyperactive secret police, and satirized in Orwell’s 1984, a work that is echoed more than once in The Circle. Maebelline, Zing-christened as MaeDay: a makeup accessory, a distress signal, a totalitarian power-show."

"The second Wise Man is Eamon ('rich protector') Bailey (as in Barnum)."

"...Artists, both starving and otherwise, are brought in to entertain, like the troubadours in the Middle Ages or Voltaire at the court of Frederick the Great; for such corporations are the modern equivalent of kingdoms and Renaissance dukedoms..."

"The Circlers’ social etiquette is as finely calibrated as anything in Jane Austen: how fast you return a Zing or your tone of voice when saying 'Yup' can matter deeply, and missing someone’s themed party is a lethal snub...."

Eventually, I started to ask, did Eggers draft this under the tutelage of an Atwood writing seminar?


message 30: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

Otis Chandler's review is here, at least tonight. (a Goodreads founder)


message 31: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Another worthwhile review:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/da...

"The Circle is Dave Eggers’s newest novel. Its subject — big data collection, surveillance, transparency — is in the ether and on our collective mind these days. Jonathan Franzen published an essay in The Guardian that uses the work of Austrian satirist Karl Kraus to rant about the increasingly dystopian prospects of a connected world." (Link is in the article.)

"Deadpan, paced like a thriller, and with a straightforward plot unhindered by complexity in its characters..."

"Ty started it with TruYou..." How did I miss that naming convention? Thx, Susannah Luthi.

"Even as satire, The Circle is disappointing as a novel: the plot is too easy, the prose simple, the characters flat and undistinguishable. Due to these same qualities, however, The Circle succeeds as commentary on the era of big data and transparency. The scary part is that the Silicon Valley of The Circle barely seems like a caricature..." Not totally certain about the success as a commentary, but anyway...

"... transparency continues to gain traction as a perceived force for good (read Eric Schmidt’s gospel he’s spreading to politicians and the Davos crowd.) The Circle’s dystopian take on the transparency movement is refreshing."

Susannah refers to a few other commentators and movements which may be of interest.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Lily wrote: "Another worthwhile review:

https://lareviewofbooks.org/review/da...

"The Circle is Dave Eggers’s newest novel. Its subject — big data collection, surveillance, transparency — is..."


Thanks, Lily, for the link to this review, which I much enjoyed. While The Circle is not so good literature, it does address a subject we do need to pay attention too, I think.


Derrick (noetichatter) Reading through the various discussions, I found several Ben Stein-esque requests for something good about the book. It's tricky to find it, since I tend to agree with just about every criticism of the characters and the plot.

Still, I rated the book 4 stars (well, really 3.5, but you know how it is). I did so because it's having an effect on my thinking. I am certainly no sheep when it comes to using online services. I recognize the need for privacy -- at one point, I even maintained two "ID's" online to allow myself some freedom from the 'real' world. (this site was originally part of the non-real ID)

But I am thinking extra hard now about my online life. (and yes, I grasp the irony of posting about this topic on a social network) Looking at the way I mindlessly keep everything out there. Google Drive. Facebook. Amazon cloud. Paypal. G+ and Gmail and Youtube. Just about everything there is about my life and identity has been freely donated to third parties who may or may not have my best interests at heart.

And then it has me thinking about Mercer's speech concerning Mae's need to share everything and feel like she's a part of something - when really she's just observing. And that it all makes her feel important.

This morning, I hopped on twitter and made a comment about the Beethoven symphony I was hearing. I felt this need to tell the world my opinion. As if the world instantly became a better place because I said what I did. I did it without thinking, really. It's almost a compulsion -- or at least a habit.

Mae's constantly getting in trouble for not Zinging about her kayak excursions reminded me of when I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last fall. I had to take pictures of what I was seeing and post them to Instagram and Facebook. And then eagerly look to see who "smiled" and commented. Why? Because it makes me feel important?

So, as a literary novel, it's generally agreed that the book fails. But as a thought-provoking piece of propaganda that is actually making me consider aspects of my life, it's a rousing success.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Our discussion about this book was triggered when a couple of members of the selection committee for selection of possible books for the One Book program for 2015 were excitedly commenting on how much they liked The Circle (it was not among the contenders for OBOC, but we also like to talk about what we are reading) and its consciousness-raising about social media. They are probably baby boomers by age and are great readers, but probably not users of social media.


message 35: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Linda wrote: "it was not among the contenders for OBOC, but we also like to talk about what we are reading..."

Blessings! [g] Not a book good enough to impose on "everyone" in a One Book program, is my biased opinion, despite the relevance of its subject matter.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments Not suggested for the One Book program, although literary books are rarely chosen - the primary criteria are that the book have discussable issues and be accessible to those with a 10th grade reading level. It also cannot be similar to recent choices in subject or author. We are regularly accused of picking books that are too dark! A last three choices were -- The Cellist of Sarajevo;The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl; and Zeitoun.


message 37: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Linda wrote: "Not suggested for the One Book program, although literary books are rarely chosen - the primary criteria are that the book have discussable issues and be accessible to those with a 10th grade readi..."

Do I dare ask how the program defines "literary" and whether that is a local condition or one that applies to such programs across the country? (I know one Pennsylvania group used The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, which I think of as "literary.")

I see Zeitoun is by Dave Eggers. It looks interesting.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments No definition of "literary" attempted. It is not one of the rules and typically is shorthand for the book being beyond the emerging reader that the libraries are keen on attracting. This is the local view of the program. Many programs have a requirement that the book be related to their area in some way -- subject, place, author. It is one of guidelines, but rarely met! The books that we've read that I think would likely be "literary" in most eyes was People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, although I'd argue that The Book Thief by Markus Zusak should fall in that category as well.

I thought Zeitoun was Eggers best effort to date. It is non-fiction and tells a compelling story. The after story of the family is rather sad.


message 39: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily (joy1) | 2498 comments Linda wrote: "No definition of "literary" attempted. It is not one of the rules and typically is shorthand for the book being beyond the emerging reader that the libraries are keen on attracting. This is the l..."

Thx for your response, Linda. (I noted elsewhere that Deborah made a distinction between "popular" fiction and "literary" fiction, leaning towards "popular" for The Circle. Ah, the fun of words, marketing, and ....)


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2354 comments I thought some of you might be interested in this review of The Circle. I had never thought of the book as dystopian, but this review looks at in that way.
http://smorgasbook.blogspot.ca/2014/0...


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