The Circle by Dave Eggers

I have a Facebook account. A Twitter. Two Instagram accounts. A WordPress, a Pinterest, a Snapchat. I dabble in it all; share, like, post, tweet, snap, blog… I’m a typical millennial living in a tech savvy, social media driven, practically transparent world. But what if all those social accounts became one? And what if they became mandatory? And what if they could control the influence on everything that surrounds you, including the government? Enter the Circle.

Image result for the circle book

Meet Mae Holland, customer experience rep for The Circle, age 25. She’s landed the dream job working for a company that is always ahead of the curve, on the scene, and leading in technological developments. She’s thrilled to be there, and her best friend Annie made it happen. Though slightly intimidated at first, Mae is determined to prove that she belongs there, yet her home life and privacy are getting in the way of climbing the social Circle ladder. Her father is living with MS, her mother is fighting with insurance, and her ex-boyfriend Mercer is constant appearance at her home- a reminder that she’s not there now to help her parents.

When all of these issues come to a head, Mae takes off on a rental kayak (a common way for her to de-stress) in the middle of the night, and gets caught. Instead of punishment, she decides to go fully transparent, wearing a video camera and promoting the Circle, and it seems like nothing could be better. She’s becoming a prominent figure within the company, practically famous among her viewers, and actually making Annie jealous of her success. However, her private life no longer exists. Though she feels better about the choices that she makes, knowing that everyone is witnessing what she does, her family has gone into hiding to get away from the outpouring of commentary on their lives, her relationship with Annie is in tatters, and Mercer…

Mae pushes on, practically drinking the Kool Aid with the Wise Men and helping plot the completion of the Circle’s transparency quest. Ignoring warnings from Mercer and the mysterious Kalden about the repercussions of the Circle’s goal, Mae innocently suggests that Circle accounts not only become the official government voting registration center, but that it become a mandatory law that everyone in the country must have a Circle account.

I’m blown away at the prospect of such an organization, and that so many seem to opt for the monopoly of the Circle, yet I can also see that we are probably not that far from such a circumstance. Those that wish to keep their privacy are deemed “hiding something”, yet they are still under surveillance and easily convicted with “evidence”. To me, that’s like blackmail. Privacy is important- it’s why there are privacy laws, after all. The world isn’t a robotic black and white- it’s human shades of gray. And I don’t think I could trust anyone if they were “completely transparent” or under constant surveillance. Who’s to know what they are really thinking? Who’s to know if they are just acting for the cameras? In the book, the reader is allowed to see what the audience members can’t, and that shows the real Mae- however it’s terrifying to note that she completely feels that transparency is for the greater good.

Image result for the circle movie scene

Trying to grasp a complete picture, I also rented the movie based on the book, which stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Many things were skipped over and changed in the movie, and I had intended to write a movie comparison but so much was different that I decided to write the book review. Overall, I thought it was an interesting movie, but I couldn’t stop focusing on Emma’s “introspection” (which honestly came off as her trying to concentrate on her American accent…which was bad… Sorry Emma!), and how slow the movie pace was, and how many things were changed in the movie.

Overall? Completely frustrated with both mediums. There was so much hype with both and the plot was promising to be a good thrill, but the book left me disliking the main character (which I really dislike in general) and the movie fell completely flat. Is it a great look into a brainwashing, totalitarian society? Yes. Should you read it? For the premise of understanding exactly why humans have a right to privacy, yes. But would I recommend the book for a bit of light reading? Absolutely not.

 

 

Advertisements

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

I would like to take a minute before I delve into the two movies/ one book comparison, and say that by the end of Mockingjay, if I hadn’t been in a public place when I turned the last page, I would have been crying. To go through the journey of horrors that Katniss had to deal with for three books, to the relatively happy ending in which even she has to remind herself that she is still surviving… talk about heavy heart. Despite those feelings, I wanted to subject myself to seeing the movie for the obvious comparison reasons, and the maybe not-so-obvious visual representation of the action that takes place. Because there are two movies, there’s going to be a lot of things to point out, so bear with me.

  • The reunion with Gabe- there is no lead up, nor is it as emotionally charged as in the book. At this point, Katniss is still having a lot of internal conflict about who she loves more, Peeta or Gale, in the book, and yet the movie skims this.
  • Katniss’s conditions of becoming the Mockingjay are cut short. In the movie, she only asks for Peeta, Johanna, and Annie to be spared (and no mention of Enobaria) to be pardoned, and for her sisters cat to stay in the district. No mention of hunting, no mention of Gale being beside her at all times, no mention of getting to kill Snow.
  • Up to this point, no mention of Haymitch, except that he’s ‘drying out’. Effie is asked to help prep the Mockingjay, instead of who was left from the stylist team. There is no mention of the abuse to the stylist team, which is important in that it adds depth to the kind of person Coin is as a leader- the kind who hurts the innocent.
  • Prim relays the information about the District 13 epidemic and that Coin loses her husband and daughter to the epidemic, which is something that I either completely missed in the book, or was a Hollywood addition for sympathy from the audience.
  • Katniss breaks the news about the miscarriage in District 8, when in the book it was spread like a rumor by the uppers like Haymitch, Coin, and Plutarch.  Also while in 8, when the attack on the hospital happens, Katniss only shoots one plane down. There is no geese formation comment like in the book, which demonstrates the  bond between Gale and Katniss.
  • The movie does give much more coverage from other districts demonstrating the uprisings in comparison of the book, which mostly relays that information via narration from Katniss or broadcasts.
  • Hunting above ground was Gales idea and okayed by Coin in the movie, and relayed as a surprise for Katniss. In the book, this was one of the requests Katniss makes as a condition of being the Mockingjay. Also, as a hunter myself, I’m very curious as to what the map of the districts would look like, because in my mind, I was surprised to see Katniss and Gale hunting elk in District 13- I tend to think of them as more of a Rocky Mountain range animal, and in my mind, 13 was near the Appalachians (which I know have elk, but in small populations). I did a little research to see if a map existed, and this is what I found to be the “unofficial official” map of Panem:

Image result for official hunger games district map

  • The evacuation to the lower level is portrayed with way more panic and chaos than the book describes. The only dramatic part in the book is when Prim can’t be found. No idea what all the rain is about in the movie either… I don’t remember any pipes bursting underground, so I’m not sure why it’s pouring in the movie.
  • Katniss is supposed to be talking about Peeta with Finnick as a distraction during the rescue mission of Peeta and the others captured during the Quarter Quell. However, in the movie, Katniss isn’t a part of the propo.  Instead she is watching the rescue mission, a in communication with President Snow, which didn’t happen during Peeta’s rescue mission.
  • They send in Prim, not Delly, as the first introduction to Peeta after he attacks Katniss. This makes no sense to those who read the book, because Prim would be a definite trigger that would connect back to Katniss.
  • Snow poisoning the minister was definitely a show piece for the movie audience and not a part of the book- or at least, it wasn’t narrated, but more speculated by Finnick.
  • Johanna looking at Katniss’s things in the hospital, not in their room. Johanna shows no hesitance when she sees the stuff, nor gets permission from Katniss to look at the things. This doesn’t allow the movie audience to see their sort of camaraderie build.
  • Instead of earning her place on the 451 squad, and showing the effort that Johanna and Katniss put in training, the movie bypasses the situation and has Johanna cover for Katniss after Finnick and Annie’s wedding so that Katniss can sneak onto a plane headed for the Capital. This frustrated me, because there was so much character development for Johanna in that time period, and when she fails to make the team, it was meaningful to the reader as to why. And the same goes for Katniss, especially when she outwits the training simulator into thinking she can follow orders. Anyways, it was so Hollywood to see her walk into the war front and of course everyone was recognizing her, and then when she meets up with Gale, she learns that Coin is annoyed with her now that she’s gone rogue- when in the book, the mistrust from Coin is found out later. Finally, the squad is introduced while in the Capital during the movie, when in the book they are all shipped to the capital together.
  • Finnick recognizes the Holo as akin to the Hunger Games arena before Katniss- in the book it is visa versa.
  • Katniss and Gale are the only ones to head out toward the Snow mansion, and  unlike when all 5 of them head out. In the book, the significance of the remaining squad members leaving to create distractions from Katniss as she makes her way to the mansion is lost in the movie. The same goes for Gale giving his nightlock pill to Peeta, and for Peeta to want to protect Katniss. Also, when Gale is captured, it is supposed to be a chaotic moment that Katniss doesn’t even have time to hear or register what Gale was shouting at her. She is not supposed to hear Gale saying shoot me.
  • Snow isn’t locked up within the garden like in the book.
  • Katniss only gets one arrow in the book to shoot Snow, and yet she walks out in the movie with a full quiver. Also, she mentions the lack of stage space, and how close she was to Snow for the execution, and yet the movie has a huge wide area. And on top of that, Peeta is there to witness the whole event when he should actually still be in the hospital.

There you have it, as many discrepancies as I could note while watching the films. I would like to say that over all, these movies kept me on the edge of my seat, and I enjoyed the way the actors fit their roles. I have to say, my favorite in the movie was surprisingly Haymitch- haha Woody Harrelson nailed the character. I’ll definitely be rereading and rewatching this series, and am glad I finally came out from under my rock to tackle them!

 

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I’m just getting around to reading the Hunger Games series (I know, I know, but I like living under a rock!) and decided that since they were so popular and such major movies, I’d do a book/movie comparison! I mean, we all know the book is going to be much better because Hollywood likes cutting the good stuff for movie length reasons (just give us the 4 hour movie, seriously!) but I like being able to remember what really happened vs what happened in the movies.

Image result for hunger games

  • The introduction of the movie sums up the first few chapters of the book fairly well, though there is far more background in the book. And the relationship between Gale and Katniss isn’t as defined at the start of the movie as in the book.
  • How Katniss got the Mockingjay pin is far more meaningful in the book than in the movie. For a mayor’s daughter to give away a pure gold pin versus being handed it by a Hob woman without much insight on the pin doesn’t give the audience much information about the state of the district and the worth of the pin to Katniss. Though they add sentimentality in the movie- where Katniss gives the pin to Prim to protect her, and then she gives it back after the reaping- it still doesn’t do the book justice, in my opinion.
  • Katniss doesn’t put on as much of a show in the opening ceremony in the movie, and it’s Peeta’s idea to hold hands and not Cinna’s. Truthfully, this carries throughout the movie, and it makes their romantic interest in each other hard to believe in the movie. In the books, you really think there could be something mixed in from what the reader gathers from Katniss’ internal conflict.
  • Katniss’ display to the scoring panel- way more thrilling in the book than the movie- although, seeing her hit the apple was pretty cool!
  • The constant surveillance isn’t as apparent in the movies as in the book. The things that Peeta tells Katniss the eve of the Games in the movie is less censored than the book. The surveillance in general during the games is also lesser than the book portrays. Katniss doesn’t act up or hide her emotions in the movie as often as the book says. In the book, they seem to be constantly aware of the cameras.
  • The relationship between Katniss and Rue wasn’t as developed in the movie as the book. You get that they admire each other, but you don’t see Katniss’ soft side, the part that makes Rue remind her of Prim.
  • Katniss didn’t stay hidden after blowing up the cornucopia in the movie, nor did they explain her hearing loss.
  • The uprising of District 11 in the movie wasn’t talked about in the book. None of the underlying Gamemaker/Capital business is truly revealed, only speculated by Katniss, until the end of the book. Even so there wasn’t any mention of any district outside of the capital being upset about the Games ending the way that it did.
  • The love story is definitely not played up as much in the movie, making the whole “Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers” death threat at the end a lot less believable, and the whole end of the book is Katniss trying to sort out her feelings in the Games vs her reality.
  • There is no mention of the separation of the two main characters at the end of the movie, and Peeta finding out about Katniss’ not reciprocating the same feelings for Peeta. This obviously is supposed to set the reader up for the following book in the series, and therefore should also be done in the movies- but it wasn’t.

Obviously, as the first in the series, the movie left the audience curious about what might happen next, but the book left the reader rushing off to the store in search for the next one. Now, if you’re like me and haven’t read or seen the movie, I suggest you check them out, because even though I found the movie lacking in comparison, both the book and movie are thrilling and keep their respective audiences wanting more.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

Texts From Jane Eyre is another very witty and clever book that I highly recommend for a change of pace and a good laugh. The book is comprised of short “screenshots” of text conversations between some of literature’s most memorable characters and authors, including Jane Eyre (hence the title), some done in a modern style and some retaining their classic voices.

Because it’s such a short book and again, I don’t want to spoil it for you, here are just a few classic characters you will “chat” with:

  • Circe:
    • “where did the pigs come from Circe?”
    • “i don’t know, a pig farm, a pig mommy and a pig daddy who loved each other very much…”
  • Jane Eyre:
    • “I KNEW IT. DID YOU LEAVE BECAUSE OF MY ATTIC WIFE IS THAT WHAT THIS IS ABOUT”
    • “yes. Absolutely.”
  • Hamlet:
    • “darling i don’t mean to criticize but you really hurt your father’s feelings last night”
    • “hes not my real dad. why do you even like him”
  • Nancy Drew:
    • “do you think you can come get me?”
    • “are you tied up again?”
    • “i’m just over at the cave by the old mill”
    • “so you’re tied up…in a cave.”

If you giggled at any one (or all!) of these, then you’ll really enjoy the rest. It’s a perfect way to get to “connect” with some of your favorite literary characters in one place. It’s fast paced, light fare, and well worth checking out!

 

 

 

 

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

For Marie- Laure, it all starts with the Sea of Flames and the legend behind it- of one rare blue teardrop diamond with a flare of red in the center, with the power of immortality to the owner at the price of a curse: ill fate to those dearest. It was a centuries old story that Marie-Laure wasn’t quite convinced was true, but she pondered the legend anyways, imagining what the diamond would look like- for not only was she blind, but the jewel was said to be held deep in a vault with thirteen doors. After all, her father, security and keeper of the keys at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France, worked in close proximity to the vault.

For Werner, it all starts with a copy of a popular mechanics magazine and a simple radio, listening to a broadcast from who knows where of a man teaching science. An orphan living with his sister, Jutta, at Children’s House (an orphanage), Werner was eager to understand the world around him, studying conduits and gears, magnets and electricity, and eventually becoming extremely talented at fashioning simple machines and fixing even the most complex radios. When a German officer has him repair his radio, Werner is inspired by his praise and decides to attend the National Political Institute of Education at Schulpforta, in an effort to make something of himself- to go far, do well.

What these two young children aren’t expecting is the start of World War II, and how quickly it would change their lives.

For Marie-Laure, she would flee with her father to Saint-Malo, having to learn the area through her father and his handcrafted wooden replica of the town by feel and sound. Her great-uncle Etienne, who fought in World War I and still battled his demons post-war, and his housekeeper, Madame Manec, took them in, eventually becoming Marie-Laure’s guardians when her father is caught and sent to a labor camp in Germany. Determined to aid the allied war effort, Madame, Marie-Laure, and even Etienne risk their lives running operations in code through the sound waves of Etienne’s radio.

For Werner, he would become one of Hitler’s Youth, learning the cold methodology of the Nazi SS organization. Though he witnessed the cruelty of the system, there didn’t seem to be a way to stand up against it- nor was he sure that he could. Attempting to keep his nose to the grindstone, he surprises one of his teachers with his quick ability to produce simple mechanics and electronics, and becomes a favorite of his instructor. Then, when Werner tries to level the favoritism playing field between himself and his peers, the instructor turns against him and enlists him. As a soldier in Hitler’s Army, he scans the radio waves for illicit transmitters, ones that could be aiding the allied war effort.

As the two plot lines connect, the pages seem to turn faster and faster as the reader learns what is to become of the now young adults. It’s a beautiful story, and the sensual visualizations (sight, sound, even tactile) that Doerr gives the reader through his two main characters is so realistic that it’s like you are there, witnessing everything for yourself. I also enjoyed reading about World War II from yet another point of view, in which the characters are affected by the war differently than some other novels I’ve read- though it still reads heavy because no matter who is talking about the subject matter, the subject is still about the one of the darkest times in our history. I should also mention that the chapters alternate by character and are very short, so though it is a 500+ page novel, it still reads rather quick.

Overall, I’d recommend All The Light We Cannot See, but I wasn’t as enamored with it as I thought I would be. It’s a good story, and if I found the book on one of my Goodwill hauls, I’d certainly pick it up, but I’m not rushing to the store for my own personal copy. I’m glad that I did read it though, and would say that those who recommended it to me were spot on in saying that I would enjoy it!

 

 

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

As always, Jodi Picoult knows how to write a page turner, complete with uncomfortable controversy that squarely reflects current affairs. Small Great Things, published last year (2016), is her latest heavy-hitter, this time tackling the subject of race, privilege, and prejudice.

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse of twenty years, single mother of a straight-A student, and a well-educated, hard-working woman. Her mother, a domestic to a wealthy television personality’s family, gave her every opportunity she could to further Ruth’s education and independence. When Ruth found out she was pregnant while her husband was overseas fighting in the war on Afghanistan, she was determined to give her child the same opportunities to be successful and then some- anything to help overcome the imminent obstacles from being Black.

Turk Bauer is a new father to baby Davis, husband of Brittany, and son-in-law to infamous white supremacist Francis Mitchum. His childhood was rocky, to say the least. His father left the family when Turk was young, his brother was killed in a car accident, and his mother drank herself into a stupor that eventually left her dead. Lost and angry, Turk befriends followers of the Mitchums, learns the ways of white supremacists, and eventually marries into the Mitchum family. At the hospital with new baby Davis, the last thing Turk wants to see is nurse Ruth coming into the hospital room, examining his child and wife. As soon as she’s done, Davis’ file is slapped with a Post-it:

“NO AFRICAN-AMERICAN PERSONNEL TO CARE FOR THIS PATIENT.”

When baby Davis goes into cardiac arrest with only Ruth available to help, Ruth has to decide- disobey orders to try to save the baby’s life, or watch on as he’s unable to breathe and do nothing.

Following a typical Picoult plot, the situation plays out in court and the reader gets to see every facet of the argument with points of view from all the characters involved. I have always loved this about Picoult’s books, because she easily allows the reader to slip into the first person narrative from one character to the next. Reading from Ruth’s point of view, I find myself cringing at the blasé comments from Ruth’s white coworkers, and near tears when she is arrested maliciously in the middle of the night. Despite all that she has done to blend in, she still sticks out. She unknowingly surrounded herself with people in denial, not acceptance, of her color. When reading from Turk’s point of view, I absolutely despised him, even when I found that I was pitying him. His childhood was terrible, the situation with his son was terrible… but his anger and strife fueled hate, and he never sought to rise above, only to get even.

Throughout the novel, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable. I’m white, privileged, and one of those people who don’t like to ruffle feathers (so to speak), but I’m aware of the facts that others don’t have the same privileges I do because of the color of their skin. Yet, I haven’t gotten the courage to stand up against it- I’ve sat back and kept quiet in fear of sounding ignorant, naive, or racist, and that’s just as bad as encouraging it. Reading novels like this (or like this http://bit.ly/2voDbia ), makes me check my white privilege, and gives me the determination to discuss these issues, even when it makes me uncomfortable. As Picoult mentioned in her Author’s Note:

“Why was writing about a person of color any different? Because race is different. Racism is different. It’s fraught, and it’s hard to discuss, and so as a result we often don’t.”

These days, it’s easy enough to go on any social media outlet and find heated discussions on racism, but to actually discuss racism from an educational standpoint, without personal or political bias, is difficult. I applaud Picoult for encouraging these discussions in a thought-provoking manner, for writing this book, for helping others open their eyes and truly see color, rather than ignore it.

Small Great Things is absolutely a must read, and another that belongs on your bookshelves.

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Another recommendation from my friend from the stacks at the local public library.

The Nightingale took me a little time to get hooked on the story- it starts off rather slow (in my opinion). We are introduced to an unnamed elderly (but not old, as she would put it) lady who is reflecting on her life, and she eventually winds her way up to the attic and pulls out a memory box. Within the box, she finds documents dating back to World War II- specifically, identification papers of a Juliette Gervaise.

Trapped in the memory, the reader is taken back to France, 1939. We are introduced to Vianne Mauriac, a school teacher, mother, wife. On a perfectly normal day, she learns that her husband, Antoine, is being drafted to fight for France against the Germans. She is upset but permissive, believing that the talk of war is exaggerated and that he would be returning home soon. Imagining life without Antoine by her side was too much to think about for Vianne- after all, he had been there for as long as she could remember, certainly longer than her father had. Dealing with her own abandonment issues was Vianne’s younger sister, Isabelle Rossignol. Rebelling against the traditional French-woman behavior, Isabelle ran away to home far too often, causing her to be expelled from many boarding schools. After the death of her mother, her father had abandoned them by dumping them at a boarding school. Where Vianne found Antoine and befriended a girl named Rachel, Isabelle was left behind, the forgotten little sister. Now as a rebellious young adult, Isabelle is running for another reason- to survive the storm of Germans coming to occupy Paris.

As the start of the war happens, Vianne and Isabelle can’t let go of the hurt from their past. With varying views on the German occupation, Isabelle decides to join the war effort by secretly aiding the Allies, and Vianne takes a more passive route, complying with billeting soldiers in her home and abiding the German command. As the war wages on, the two seem to lead separate lives. Vianne attempts to stay her ground, doing her best to protect her daughter Sophie from the damages of war, and her neighbors when she can, all the while trying to maintain hope that the war will end soon. Meanwhile, Isabelle is running risky operations to save downed Ally airmen, a crime punishable by death, under the noses of commanding German officers. It is only when their two worlds collide again that the sisters begin to realize that they must put aside their past and hope to have a chance at a future.

Hannah took about 100 pages to get me hooked, but when she did, the hook went straight to my heart. As you all know, I have a weakness for historical fiction, and in particular those surrounding WWII. My great-grandfather was a volunteer of the Red Cross and helped liberate concentration camps in Germany in 1944-1945. We found photos that he took during that time after he passed away… and they will haunt me forever. So when I read these fictional stories, I know there is a very similar non-fictional story out there. A biography, even. And it makes me incredibly hurt and amazed that mankind would do such horrible things to each other, and yet people survived, had a will to survive….

I  also wanted to note that while somewhere in the middle of this book, I kept thinking about another novel, Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, about WWII from the French perspective. I kept mentally comparing the two, and for about 100 pages, I kept thinking that de Rosnay’s was a more gripping read… and then Hannah’s hook got into me. What I found most interesting was that de Rosnay actually worked with Hannah on this novel, a few years after her own came out. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do so, and if you haven’t read The Nightingale, the same goes for it. Just be ready to grab a box of tissues.