Book club is this Friday at Gunbarrel Brewing. Address: 3506, 7088 Winchester Cir, Boulder, CO 80301
Here are Jim’s picks:
by Edward Snowden
In 2013, twenty-nine-year-old Edward Snowden shocked the world when he broke with the American intelligence establishment and revealed that the United States government was secretly pursuing the means to collect every single phone call, text message, and email. The result would be an unprecedented system of mass surveillance with the ability to pry into the private lives of every person on earth. Six years later, Snowden reveals for the very first time how he helped to build this system and why he was moved to expose it.
Spanning the bucolic Beltway suburbs of his childhood and the clandestine CIA and NSA postings of his adulthood, Permanent Record is the extraordinary account of a bright young man who grew up online—a man who became a spy, a whistleblower, and, in exile, the Internet’s conscience. Written with wit, grace, passion, and an unflinching candor, Permanent Record is a crucial memoir of our digital age and destined to be a classic.
Those curious about why and how he disclosed top secret information may be most interested in the second and third parts of the book, which cover his years working in the intelligence community.
The first part of “Permanent Record” is the most personal. He recounts his early years, much of which he spent behind a computer. He writes of his discovery and reporting of a vulnerability in the website of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the country’s nuclear research facility, as a teen. Often staying up late exploring uncharted online territories during the internet’s earliest days, he struggled to stay engaged with school and failed to complete assignments. “You have so much potential, Ed,” said one teacher, who pulled him aside after class. “You have to start thinking about your permanent record.”
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
by Jia Tolentino
Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die.
The strongest pieces in Trick Mirror have to do with the commodification of the self. Tolentino recalls appearing in a short-lived reality TV show when she was 16. (She really is a case study in mediated identity, a fact she concedes—sometimes cheerily, sometimes not so much.) The cameras satiated her ravenous teenage desire “to be seen” and at the same time capsized her into a boundless ocean of self-consciousness that ceased to bother her simply because it had swallowed the whole world. Rewatching some of the episodes, in which she was cast as the priggish smart girl who refused to make out with anyone, Tolentino “can’t tell if, on the show, I was more concerned with looking virtuous or actually being virtuous—or if, having gone from a religious panopticon to a literal one, I was even capable of distinguishing between the two ideas.”
It was, in short, “useful, if dubious, preparation for a life wrapped up with the internet.” In her big opening essay on that inexhaustible subject, “The I in the Internet,” Tolentino’s insights are sterling. Dissecting the profile as the basic building block of social media, she writes, “The everyday madness perpetuated by the internet is the madness of this architecture, which positions personal identity as the center of the universe.” The ubiquity and fury of trolls, she believes, is in response to the internet’s exultation of the ever-appealing, overexposed self, the creation of which is a skill central
to traditional femininity—in other words, an ability women have been trained in from an early age. “This legitimately unfortunate paradigm, inhabited first by women and now generalized to the entire internet, is what trolls loathe and actively repudiate.” While Tolentino’s depiction of the earliest days of the internet as a wholesome band of helpful Usenet newsgroups is overly rosy (trolls have always been with us), she pinpoints why the transition from the internet as a kind of communal tool to Web 2.0’s marketplace of personality has been plagued by such a torrent of online misogyny.
by Stanisław Lem,
When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.
Fleishman Is in Trouble
by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured.
Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.
But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.
Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.