After this long hiatus, I wanted to at least do one quick roundup post of some books I read while I was away. I’m not going to do reviews of all of them – instead I’m just going to mention a few that left an impression, favourable or unfavourable. I’m splitting this post into two parts.
Dave Eggers: The Circle (2013)
In the “unfavourable impression” camp, we have this dystopian novel by Dave Eggers. You can’t even begin to imagine the disappointment, and I’m honestly still not sure why I slugged through this. Maybe because deep down at heart I’m a hopeless optimist and was waiting for it to become less predictable and condescending right up until the end? This book basically sums up all hyperventilating opinion columns about the dangers of the Internet and lack of privacy in social media etc. It’s incredibly predictable: young impressionable girl goes to work for big tech company (The Circle), has episodes of “whoa shit, this is awesome” interspersed with episodes of “whoa shit, this is getting creepy”, however sort of fails to realise the creepiness and gets drawn in deeper and deeper… you get the idea. I’d hoped for something much more surprising.
Eleanor Catton: The Luminaries (2013)
This one belongs firmly in the “favourable impression” category. I loved, loved, loved this book! It’s huge, but it had been a long time since a book gripped me the way The Luminaries did. Eleanor Catton conjures up Victorian era New Zealand in such an engaging way I found it impossible to put down. A poor drunkard is found dead in his hut with a fortune by his side, a wealthy politician is missing, and a prostitute has tried (unsuccessfully) to kill herself. What has happened? Recent arrival to New Zealand Walter Moody tries to find out… If I were to spot a weakness, I would say that I found Part I more thrilling than Part II, but nevertheless if you’re in the mood for a good thriller/mystery, this one is absolutely perfect. Especially now that autumn is coming along and you can curl up on the sofa with this book, a hot drink, and a nice blanket. This one is one for the long winter nights.
Sheryl Sandberg: Lean In (2013)
I wasn’t particularly keen on digging into Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In when it first came out, too many conflicted reviews. But then I read an article about a Lean In Circle group, and the way these women supported each other seemed so great that I thought, well, why not check out the book. So I read it, and it was awesome. For the first quarter, I was a bit disappointed because Sandberg kept repeating statistics and issues women face at work that I already knew about. But then she turns to stories from her own life and draws suggestions from them, and I felt so comforted just by reading her anecdotes and how (a) everyday sexism affects even very successful American ladies and (b) she managed to work around it and succeed despite all the adversities. Now, everyday sexism affecting everyone certainly not something to rejoice about, but I liked that while she recognises that society needs to change, she’s also very pragmatic about how to live with the world as we have it in the meantime. You know how often you receive recommendations like “whatever you do, never cry in the office, EVER”, or “if a man talks down to you in a meeting, DO THIS”? Well, in my experience these things are frequently just not feasible in real life. And so I found Sandberg’s chilled attitude about things like crying at work or responding to condescending men extremely empowering. Lean In has been widely criticised for being “elitist” by responding only to one type of woman, the kind who wants a successful career and can afford to get household help and childcare. But I don’t really see this as a flaw, especially because Sandberg clearly states that this is the case. And also because, if we are to have successful female business leaders, it’s just as legit to have a book speak just to them. You know how many books just geared towards men wanting a successful career are out there? Tons, and nobody criticises them for speaking to “just one particular type of man”. Not every feminist book has to speak to all women. I’d venture that that’s quite impossible, and I hate it when feminists self-destruct by hating on each other about things like that. We won’t get the job done like that, sisters! Phew, that turned into an almost fully-grown review there – I seem to have been very impressed by Lean In. I had so many thoughts about that book I can hardly stop.
Have you read any of these? What did you think? I’m especially intrigued by your thoughts on Lean In.
P.S.: Guys, today is Moving Day! I’ll be out for a few days without Internet, but thanks to pre-scheduling Part II of this post is coming on Monday with reviews of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, Roxane Gay’s An Untamed State, and Tom Rachman’s The Rise and Fall of Great Powers.