March was a great month for reading in that I ran from one book to another, but not so good for reviewing as my interest in writing fled in the opposite direction. Which now means I have a head full of tangled plots, character confusion, and dense clusters of missing information about what I’ve read. There will have to be some rereading in my future, combined with cursing myself for not having more disciple about writing a review immediately after I finish a book. Anyone else out there have antipathy for a habit that would make your life easier?
Uncanny Valley is Anna Weiner’s memoir about leaving the world of book publishing in NYC and moves to San Francisco to work in the tech industry. Set in the early years of the boom, she begins working at a data analytics start-up. Despite having no background in computers, she works as customer support and is fascinated by the way user data can be grabbed and used by all kinds of companies. Her first years in this foreign world are largely filled with optimism about all the positive change that could be brought about, but as time passes and she goes to another company she sees the insidious influence of data collection on the consumer.
This memoir is a perfect example of my laziness because I loved it and would have liked to write a much better review of it. It has it all. There is the early 30s angst about ‘what am I doing with my life?’ playing out against immersion in an industry filled with people younger than you and predominantly male. Weiner does a marvelous job pairing the surface aspects of hungry tech start-ups, flush with venture capital cash, that gleam with purpose and caring towards employees—unlimited vacation days, vision insurance, stock options, catered meals, fully stocked kitchens—with the more insidious truths of productivity quotas, extreme hours, in-fighting, and company surveillance. Highly recommend.
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue: I wanted to love this novel because her debut was wonderful, but I could not stick with it. I’m going to try again when my brain is less finicky.
I thought Viet Nguyen’s debut The Sympathizer was marvelous. The Committed is the sequel and now the sympathizer is out of a reeducation camp and living in Paris. In an effort to earn a living and to explore the limits of his newly untethered mind (nothing like prolonged torture to split your psyche) he becomes a drug dealer. I wanted so much to love this book, but finally gave up at 60%. Paragraphs ran for pages while the plot was negligible. This read like a senior-level PoliSci course on how to debate the pros and cons of the world’s political systems. If you’re a political junkie with an academic mind this could be your jam. I’m just not that person.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro: A quiet novel about artificial intelligence and friendship. Review to follow
Wisdom is supposed to come with age, but apparently when it comes to my reading the catnip of certain premises weakens my brain. In this case it was the fact that The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a campus novel set in the girls’ dorm. Check. It begins with an invitation to a 10-year reunion that includes a warning. Check. All good, but not mentioned in the blurb? The main character Ambrosia Wellington (the name should have been a tip-off) is married to a hot, college dropout, writer-wannabe bartender. No. Not interesting to me. Anyway…
The story revolves around freshman year and Ambrosia’s need to be noticed by the alpha female in their dorm, Sully. Doing so means drinking and partying more and accepting every dare. Ambrosia has a nice, almost perfect roommate, which riles Sully to no end so she dares Ambrosia to humiliate her. Not surprisingly, things go very badly and now, after 10 years it seems someone knows the truth.
There are aspects of The Girls that resonate—the intense desire to be liked and fit in, the insecurities about sex, finding your identity, but they’re lost in the trope of dangerous young women who wreak havoc wherever they go, but escape unscathed. Fast, fluffy fiction with no substance.
Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson: Review to follow
That’s all from me. How was your March reading?
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*I received a free copy of these books from Grove Press and Simon & Schuster in exchange for an honest review.*