Guest contributor: Bill Lundgren

Lundgren’s Book Lounge: “The Circle,” by Dave Eggers

categories: Cocktail Hour / Reading Under the Influence

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From an inauspicious debut that became a publishing sensation, Dave Eggers has crafted a career remarkable for the breadth of its range across the worlds of literature, culinary arts, pop culture, politics, education and publishing. Eggers has parlayed the wholly unexpected success of his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, into a publishing powerhouse (McSweeney’s), two best-selling magazines (Lucky Peach and The Believer), a series of books focussing on the politics of incarceration and human rights abuses (Voice of Witness), a tutoring center for inner-city youth (826 Valencia) that now has an international presence and a ground-breaking series capturing the zeitgeist of literary pop culture (Best American Non-Required Reading).  And oh yes, did I forget to mention that he has continued to write (Zeitoun, What Is the What, How we Are Hungry, A Hologram for the King), garnering nominations for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award along the way?

And now he has written perhaps his most ambitious novel, The Circle, a dystopian view of the not too far off future where our societal obsession and embrace of all that is technologically new has resulted in a world where all is known and transparent and privacy has become a quaint, outmoded notion. The book’s protagonist, Mae, lands her dream job  at the Circle, a tech company clearly modeled on Google. Despite some early missteps resulting from old habits, (like enjoying solitude, time away from work and spontaneity), Mae gradually buys into the Circle philosophy that ‘all should be known’ and thus begins her meteoric rise through the ranks of the Circle community. Indeed, that rise is accompanied by a number which ranks each member of the community based upon their participation as measured by their “likes” and “friends or connections.” Sound familiar?

One of the book’s early Circle initiatives is the ‘SeeChange’ camera, a program to plant tiny, inexpensive but very technologically sophisticated cameras literally everywhere in the world. Of course there are places where these cameras aren’t viable, but not to worry, coverage of such locales can be maintained by one of President Obama’s favorite toys, the drone (while Obama is not specifically mentioned in the novel, his presence does hover). When there is nowhere left to hide and all is known, criminality becomes a thing of the past.

Although sometimes rather heavy-handed, The Circle is a dark trip down the rabbit hole that Eggers suggests we have embarked upon with our frenzied embrace of all that is new in the world of technology without regard for the repercussions. If it’s new, then it must be good, right? What Eggers is suggesting in this fascinating “digital snapshot of our times” is that we should slow down and reflect on the impact of change before rushing pell-mell forward. There are some things perhaps better left private.


[Bill Lundgren is a writer and blogger, also a bookseller at Longfellow Books in Portland, Maine (“A Fiercely Independent Community Bookstore”).  He keeps a bird named Ruby, and teaches at Southern Maine Community College.]

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