Author Archives: Andrea Sigetich

The Every

Dave Eggers | Fiction, 2021

577 pages

three-hearts

I think of satire as  funny.  And some reviewers found this book hilarious.  Longtime Dusty Shelves blog readers know that I am not particularly adept at finding humor in the written word.  And I found no humor at all in The Every.  I was, well, "terrified" is perhaps too strong a word, but certainly "afraid" and "uncomfortable" fit.  Perhaps it is all my years working in and consulting to technology organizations that led me to find the scenarios in Egger's latest to be too realistic, too possible, too earth-shattering, too controlling, too depressing.

Have you read The Circle?  It isn't necessary to have read The Circle to understand The Every, but it does provide useful context.  The Every is a gigantic monopolistic organization headquartered on Treasure Island, that has bought and engulfed The Circle, along with untold numbers of other businesses.  It is a super e-commerce conglomerate.  The Every controls 82% of e-commerce, which is 71% of all commerce at this novel’s unstated date in the future.

Delaney Wells, a former park ranger, gets herself hired at The Every, with the intention it taking it down.  While she looks for ways to destroy it, she suggests technology products that she expects the company to find reprehensible, and instead, they embrace every single one.  The Every believes everything is measurable and therefore trackable and therefore goal-able and not private. Early in the book, it is technology we know well, like our smart watches and cell phones, that not only give US useful Information about our health, well-being, finances, and steps, but that transmit ALL of it to databases to analyze it and set us up to exercise, sleep, and eat on a schedule that the devices control.  But that is only the beginning.  Soon, we are able to buy our clothes only through an Every-owned project that ensures each piece is environmentally sound.  And then there is the project that tracks our personal carbon use.  Next, the Every is providing live data when you talk on the phone (or your personal cam) with someone, assessing their facial expressions, body temperature, and so forth, that tells you how honest the other person is being.  By the end of the book, every conversation in our homes Is being listened to and analyzed for certain words, phrases, or tones.  If a flagged word, phrase, or tone is heard, the police are promptly sent to your home.  This particular project is developed as a way to prevent child abuse.  And the list of Every projects goes on and on and gets more and more invasive.  Eventually the company comes to fully believe that people want neither freedom nor choice.  And Delaney's attempts to destroy The Every ramp up.

I enjoyed reading The Every, though I do not think it rises to the level of The Circle.  The Every is over-long, and the "projects" become the plot line, which isn't over-compelling.  However, I am glad I read it.  And things heat up about page 400, when Delaney decides it is time to initiate her destruction.

(For those of you who are readers from Bend, know that there is a one-sentence reference to our fair town on page 528.)

Here is the link to the meaning and types of satire.  I found this quite interesting.

https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-satire-definition-examples/

So, do I recommend It The Every?  Well, if you haven't read Eggers and his technology-driven dystopian novels, I would recommend The Circle over this book.  If you read and were moved by The Circle (a book I think about often), I recommend this.  It takes every terrifying technology abuse one (or more) steps further.

January 2022

 

Atlas of the Heart

Brené Brown

Nonfiction 2021 | 297 pages

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(My website encountered the “white screen of death.”  In recovering my site, thank goodness, I lost only one post.  So, here it is again ... my apologies if this or a similar version reaches you twice).

This may be the most difficult blog post I have written.  It is a mixed review, for sure!

I am not a fan of Brené Brown. I find her assumption offensive:  that people are broken, in need of help or assistance, even unhealthy.  This, of course, is the opposite of a coach who works from the starting point and the basic assumption that people are already strong, wise, healthy, and effective in their lives.  Plus, Ms. Brown has a love affair with the concept of shame.  I am a surprised at how often "shame" comes up even in this book ... it is a frame she returns to constantly.  And I find I disagree with her adamant claim about shame: “We all have it.  Shame is universal and one of the most primitive emotions that we experience.  The only people who don’t experience it are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection.” (pg 136)

Nevertheless, I thought Atlas of the Heart sounded intriguing and interesting.  And it is.

The further I read, the more respect I gained for this book.  It isn't really an "atlas" in the sense of a map. It is more a dictionary or an encyclopedia.  She writes two or three pages on each of 88 emotions, incorporating many research studies, stories, quotes, and art; making the descriptions of each emotion rich.  And when she makes distinctions, such as between envy and jealousy, and among discouraged, resigned, frustrated, disappointed, and regretful ... she relates quite helpful differences.

Of course, I don't always agree with her definitions or distinctions. I think she has joy and happiness 180 degrees off; I would switch the definitions around.  But wrong or right doesn’t matter much ... I appreciate her causing me to think and clarify for myself.

Since there is not a plot, nor a single unifying message, I struggle with deciphering how this book "fits" in my life. I came to this conclusion:  it is a book to have on a table in the living room, or on a side counter in the kitchen.  Any place you might wonder what emotion you are feeling or find yourself interested in a broader and deeper definition of an emotion, is where this book should live.  I have already opened it to reread about a particular emotion, maybe five times, and sent copies of pages to clients.

The detractors:  I wish she had written fewer stories from her own family and more stories of other people in the world in other circumstances.  And I wish she had posed questions to ask the reader to ponder.  Her writing style is quite didactic.  Irritatingly, she refers to her prior published works so often in Atlas of the Heart, I wonder how much  is new.  It is a long commercial for her other published works.

Nevertheless, on final analysis, even with its flaws, I do think this beautiful book (be sure to read it in hard cover to get the full experience) is quite worth your while.  Yes, I believe it is worthy of four heats.  What do YOU think of it?

Thank you, Thom, for this lovely gift.

January, 2022

 

 

A Slow Fire Burning

Paula Hawkins | Fiction, 2021

320 pages

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After a young man is found murdered in a houseboat in London, five women and one man, who have unique and complicated connections to him and to each other, and all of whom are juggling their own secrets, become embroiled in the search for the murderer.  (And we know one of these characters will emerge as the guilty party!)

I was disappointed.  I expected more from Paula Hawkins after A Girl on the Train.  All of the significant female characters in this book are dysfunctional and some are psychopathic.  I didn't like even one of them.  I thought Hawkins did such a poor job of character development that I had to make a cheat sheet to differentiate characters, one from the other. Which was the one-night stand?  Who stole which key?  Who was related to whom?  Goodreads reviewers have rated this book lower than any other book in my blog (I think), at 3.4 out of 5.0.

So, why three hearts?  It is a compelling and interesting murder.  Who-done-it readers may well enjoy the plot development, especially if you are better at keeping the characters straight than I am.  The plot is its strength. The title works well, too.

So, try this on for size if you feel drawn to it, and let us know what you think!

January 2022

 

The Best We Could Do

Thi Bui

Graphic Memoir, 2017 |328 pages

two-hearts

I am disappointed in this graphic memoir, which took Thi Bui years and years to write.  It reads more as history than a memoir or an intimate story.  It does not have the heart of the graphic memoir I recently read, They Called Us Enemy by George Takei.  The Best We Could Do tells a special, unique, and complex story about the generations who preceded Thi and her siblings in Vietnam and the United States, and does not succeed at painting a broad-brush picture to help us better understand what it was like for other families emigrating from Vietnam after the fall of South Vietnam.  That being said, I am glad I persisted to the end.  The last third explains the concept of "boat people" and depicts the reality of the first few weeks after entering this country.  I also enjoyed the graphics .... rendered completely in black, white, and orange.

January 2022

 

Klara and the Sun

Kazou Ishiguro

Fiction 2021 | 320 pages

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(re-post.  I accidentally deleted this review!)

I had no idea what I was getting into when I opened to the first page of Klara and the Sun.  A friend recommended it and I blindly set about reading it.  From the cover, I thought it was going to be about geisha girls or some such.  How surprised I was to discover it was about seeing the world through the eyes of an AF ... an Artificial Friend.  Yes, Klara is a robot who is purchased to be Josie's AF, a young teenage girl with her share of family trauma, and an illness that may take her life.

I loved this book!  What I so enjoyed is how Klara elegantly observes human behavior in order to learn what humans perceive and think ... but especially, what they feel and why they feel it.  Ishiguro especially explores love, loneliness, and hope.  He has created a simple mechanism for standing outside human consciousness and attempting to glean knowledge about what we feel and do, through the keen observation and insight of a robot.

I found Klara and the Sun not only easy to read, but delightful.  I simply enjoyed being inside Klara's observational "brain." Some reviewers say Klara and the Sun offers an exploration of how Artificial Intelligence may show up in our lives in the future. I didn’t perceive that intention from Ishiguro.  It read as a pure novel to me.

Now, for the grain of salt.  The average review in Goodreads is a 3.81. This is a fairly low rating.  As I perused the reviews, there were many five stars and many one stars.  Another book that polarizes.  So, what can I say?  I hope you read it and desire to rate it "four hearts."   But if your review is at the low end of the scale, I would love to hear that, too. Yes, clearly, I recommend this book.

December 2021

 

Breathe

Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction 2021 | 365 pages

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Astonishing.  I find this book astonishing.  I SHOULD give it three hearts, because it is clearly not for everyone who reads my blog ... but I cannot begin to tell who will love this book and who will hate it.  I inhaled it.

There is essentially no plot.  It is the story of Michaela as her husband dies in the first section, "The Vigil" and after his death, "The Post-Mortem."  Michaela and Gerard have traveled from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Santa Tierra, New Mexico, where Gerard, a distinguished academician, researcher, and professor at Harvard, accepts a guest position at the Santa Tierra Institute for Advanced Research.  While in New Mexico, Gerard is suddenly taken seriously ill, and he dies a few weeks later in New Mexico.

We witness the vigil, his death, and the early stages of widowhood side by side with Michaela, far from home and yet unable to convey herself back to Cambridge.  Reviewers describe this novel as "searing,” “disturbing,” “sad,” “chilling,” and “mesmerizing.”

What we read is an unadulterated view of intense, inexplicable, debilitating grief.  We observe as Michaela experiences and expresses her grief, but also as she loses touch with reality, and has delusions and hallucinations.  We see her physically and emotionally fall apart, unable to shower, sleeping in her clothes on top of the bed. She is buffeted by disturbing images of gods and "prank gods" associated with the ancient indigenous culture she is thrust into in this part of the country.

I experienced Oates' writing in this novel as some of the best I have ever read.  Illustrative, powerful, it has a cadence and a turn of words that I found continually drew me on to the next sentence and the next chapter.  I randomly opened to a page just now, and will share an example: “That bed – where had she seen that bed before?  Something terrifying about that (empty, stripped) bed.  Something terrifying about (re)entering this room and seeing that she was alone in this room.  For the first time, alone in this room.” (page 148).

Of course, my post would be incomplete and inauthentic if I did not report on how it affects me personally, 5.5 years a widow myself.  Yes, it draws me back into memories of Beryl and his dying.  I found Michaela’s heart-wrenching descriptions of both sorrows and delusions to be totally believable.  Her tale resonates deeply with me.

So, you must decide if you want to take on such a disturbing text as this.  I recommend you do.  I will love to hear from those you who read Breathe.  I am carrying the aura and the tenor of this book with me still.

January, 2022

 

 

The Eye of the World Graphic Novel

by Robert Jordan, Chuck Dixon, Chase Conley 

Fiction 2011, 237 pages

The Eye of the World is the first book in The Wheel of Time, an epic fantasy series, also known as “high fantasy”, that is quite famous, well-acclaimed, and well-loved.  I wasn’t certain I would be captivated by either the 16-book series or the Amazon Prime TV series of the same books, so I thought I would try my hand at the graphic novels.

I could not get through the first graphic novel.  This type of fantasy is simply not my cup of tea.

December 2021

 

 

 

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The Song of Achilles

Madeline Miller

Fiction, 2012 |377 pages

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The Song of Achilles inspires me to wonder ... "Why do I read fiction?"  At first blush: to learn something from a different perspective; to sink into characters and personalities that differ from my own; sometimes to activate my brain to solve a mystery; and finally, most important, to be entertained.  This book does none of these.  I suppose I am to care because it is a new, deeper telling of a part of the Greek Mythology that I read in high school.  But that simply isn't enough for me.

I gave my earlier Madeline Miller book, Circe, four hearts:  "This is a beautiful, intoxicating, and brilliant book, extremely well-written and a page-turner."  I am rather surprised that The Song of Achilles did not captivate me in the same way.

I enjoyed the first third or so, about the relationship between the son of the god Thetis, Achilles, and the pure mortal Patroclus, princes both, as they grow from children to young men.  Their love is solid and true, and yet saccharine and cliche.  There is no tension either in their love, or the world’s acceptance of their relationship. It is six (nine?) years before Patroclus feels any anger towards Achilles.  That is not quite like deep love to me.

Eventually they embark on a ship to fight against the city of Troy, and, along the way, we meet more famous gods, such as Apollo and Chiron, and mortals such as Agamemnon and Hector.  The war with Troy drags on for ten years.  Ten years of war?  Oh goodness, put me to sleep.  I found Miler’s writing to be rather bland and sometimes repetitive. This section is filled with pride, posturing, maiming, violent and bloody killing, and subjugation.  And an occasional very kind deed, such as the saving of the young woman Briseis from the brutal Agamemnon.

One of the discussion questions asks about The Song of Achilles as a myth .... a story that is timeless. I will be very interested to hear what others see as the meaning or message in this myth.

I do not gleefully recommend this January Casting Crew Book Club choice!

December 2021

 

The Sun is a Compass

Caroline Van Hemert

Nonfiction Memoir 2019 | 307 pages

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What a truly remarkable story!  Caroline and Pat travel 4000 miles from Bellingham in Washington State to Kotzebue, Alaska, completely under their own power ... hiking, paddling, and rowing.  It takes them six months in 2012 as they chase Alaska's short summer weather.  The astounding journey is one of wilderness, personal growth, adventure, memoir, and the cementing of a married couple's love.  Of course, there are close calls and harrowing tales, but these are far surpassed by her exquisite descriptions of what they see and hear and acknowledge, often far, far from any civilization.  Caroline Van Hemert is an extraordinary writer, and the pages fly by.

Caroline is an ornithologist, so we track an inordinate number of bird species on both their migration north and as they leave again to go south.  The hard part about taking in her immeasurable knowledge is not being able to SEE the birds she describes so eloquently.  I wanted this book to be a picture book!  I was quite moved by their travels through one of my own favorite places on the planet, The Brooks Range.  Of course, my short view, mostly from a prop plane, does not hold the smidgen of a candle to their crossing by foot and water.  If you enjoy the outdoors, you will enjoy this book.  It is so different from many other real-life adventure stories because the route is completely new and made up by Caroline and Pat. This is not another ascent of Annapurna, nor a story about traversing The Appalachian Trail.  Not only is the writing unique, but so is the territory, their path, and their shared journey.  I definitely recommend!

Thank you, Rynda!!

December 2021

 

Thye Called Us Enemy

George Takei

Nonfiction Graphic Memoir 2019 | 204 pages

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You know George Takei.  His popularity skyrocketed as Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, and then as Commander Sulu, and finally Captain Sulu, on Star Trek.  He is an actor, an author, and an activist.  And he penned this graphic memoir.  He tells the story of being interred in American concentration camps, shortly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

George was four when he was first relocated to a concentration camp with his parents, brother, and sister, along with 120,000 people of Japanese descent living in America, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, like George.  Somehow, remarkably, even though he was very young, he remembers an extraordinary amount of the trauma he endured and manages to tell us his family’s story through the eyes of a naive, innocent, and confused young boy.  He also brings us up to today, with various political and government actions since 1942.

I loved this memoir on two counts.  First, it tells an intimate candid story of a big scar on our American identity that many of us only know in passing.  You may learn some history.  For example, I didn't know about the differing levels of cruelty among the ten camps, from Tule Lake in California to Camp Rohwer in Arkansas.  Second, Takei tells his story with such a strong sense of reality, of what it was truly like to live behind barbed wire for nearly five years as a child.  I really felt and saw and witnessed his tender heart.

This is a short read, and one I recommend to all people in America.

November 2021