Modern day Frankenstein

The Circle
by Dave Eggers

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Mae has been employed by The Circle, the most happening tech company in the world. It seems almost too good to be true. What seems to be a utopian society slowly reveals itself to be our worst nightmare. In this age of digital everything, this book is terrifying as you read it, the tentacles of horror and doubt creeping their way into your brain.

Mae Holland is a normal 20 something. Finished college with a liberal arts degree. Worked at a power substation. Overeducated, bored.

She gets this job at the Circle through her friend Annie Allerton (who is in the gang 40. The top 40 minds of the company.)

We are thus introduced to the Circle. Owned and run by ‘The three wise men’, it is a technological giant, whose main focus is on innovation and using social networking and currently available technology to better lives. What looks to be a noble venture indeed.

Because, what can’t we solve together, right? Missing children? Health care? World peace?
When all the world needs is people watching to make sure it behaves, making the world a better place seems like the easiest task.
Because what does the world have in more abundance than people?

Getting people together to solve problems is what the Circle is all about. Together, we can be better. And it is. There is no job stress, no hideous desk, no boring days, no suicides out of overwork, no drowning in family problems. Because the Circle is here for you. The days are rich, the lives richer, and it seems like more than a job, almost a calling.

But this social being, it has a toll. It demands feeding. It demands socialising. It’s the strangest form of external pressure.
To be more you. To have more you. To share more you.

To participate more. But is that it really? The more we participate online, how much are we participating in real life?

Where is the line?

Mae, while being originally unaffected, maintaining a healthy distance, is slowly but surely reeled in. Unknowingly. In the ways of the best cults, thinking that their work is for the greater good. That their work is going to elevate the future. There are warning signs at every turn. It’s sort of like watching the bad horror movie and wishing the girl does not go into the basement and get killed. Of course that’s what she’s gonna do.

Slowly, we watch as one boundary after another topples, and all we have is a society that is constantly watching.
And being watched.

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Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better.

For whom? Says who?

We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? Young people are creating ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. There will be no time to reflect, to sleep to cool.

As mysterious people try to stop this juggernaut getting inside people’s lives, homes, minds, the mass fervour that has been evoked has gained too much force.

The Circle is complete.

Welcome to the Circle.

Chilling. So real. So everyday. So mundane. But chilling.
The worst kind of chilling though.
Because you can see it happening, but there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

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When Breath Becomes Air

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

One of my friends was the first person to introduce me to this book. We go through these things often. Finding the next book to read is my least favourite part of reading. So stuck in a classroom, waiting for a professor to show up, I asked her – “Have you read anything good lately?” And she said, without a moment’s thought- read this book, ‘When breath becomes air’. The title itself intrigued me. When I came home a few months later, I found one of my grandfather’s friends had said almost the exact same thing to him, and lent him the book to boot. So when I found it around the house, I leaped on the chance to finally read it.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir of sorts, by Paul Kalanithi, published posthumously. It’s the story of this neurosurgery resident, 1 year away from graduation. He’s one year away from this thing he’s worked so hard for, for so long. In one year, he can finally unpause his life, get a six figure salary, take it at a slower pace, ease his strained marriage, have kids. Then one fine day he wakes up with excruciating back pain. At age 36, his diagnosis is Stage IV lung cancer.

This book is not another cancer story. Or a doctor’s story. It’s this man’s story. It’s a story of life and death, and what is more universal than that? It’s his very fascination with this concept that’s the backbone of this book, and in fact, his life and his career in neuroscience and medicine.

He talks about his experiences, the slow transformation from civilian to medical student, student to doctor, doctor to scientist. As a medical student, with much of the same existential questions, his fascination with these concepts was especially resonant.

In our rare reflective moments, we were all silently apologizing to our cadavers, not because we sensed the transgression but because we did not.

He talks about fortunately or unfortunately, slowly losing the human touch, realising that, and trying to make amends. He talks about the incredible science behind what he does.

He talks of being a surgeon, of handling people’s brains, their very identity. He describes his first birth, his first death, these experiences so profound, you’d think anyone wouldn’t have words to describe them. He finds the words. He talks about panicking on handling his first patient by himself in an emergency, and it slowly becoming routine to the point that he was able to rescue his ice cream sandwich and finish eating it after a trauma call. The life of doctors indeed.

Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.

He also talks about his own life after his diagnosis, his further fascination with the concept of death, his understanding of what his life meant to him, his methods to deal with his sudden disability.

I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live. Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.

We see him changing from doctor to patient to human being and all the way back again. We see him as he grapples with major life decisions, talks about relationships that he forged that pulled him through this time, and things he gained because of this time.

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

This book is an intelligent, touching, telling of the story of a man. Several times, you have to stop to think about something you never thought about just that way before. Often, you have to pause to identify with the same things he’s feeling.

Strangely extremely relevant to me, as a medical student, and as a person interested in all the same things this man was interested in, this book was a must read for me. It will be for you too. Even if you don’t share these interests. This book is one of those you carry with you long after you put it down. So go pick it up as soon as you can.

Marley & Me: Life And Love With The World’s Worst Dog

In a world full of bosses, he was his own master.”

So here’s the first book review. I wanted to start with one of those classic (but not-really-classic) books that doesn’t really fit under one specific genre, and that everybody would love to read and relate to. 
The first time I saw this book, in a cupboard at my cousin’s place, I was surprised because I had watched the movie and had never known it was based on a book. I took the book and started reading as soon as I possibly could.

The book I’m reviewing today, is Marley & Me. Written by John Grogan, the book is set in the 1990s in southern Florida. Most of us know this story – we’ve watched the movie at some point of time, but take my advice, and read the written account . (I am a firm believer in the idea that a movie adaptation cannot do justice to a book, no matter how good it is).

John and his wife, Jenny, set out to buy themselves a puppy. Not for the usual reasons, but because Jenny kills a plant. (Do read the book for the actual, comic explanation.) As usual, after a lot of debate (if you’ve ever had to name a dog, you’d understand this bit so well), they settle on the name Marley, after singer Bob Marley. 

Marley is everything a pet dog shouldn’t be. He chews through everything he can set his eyes on, gets destructive when left alone for long times, and snatches anything left on the table (the author details one incident where Marley swallows his wife’s gold chain and how he retrieves it from his Retriever.)

As the book lists Marley’s flaws, it shows how he becomes an integral part of the family. The story goes on, the couple have three children, Patrick, Connor and Colleen, who love Marley and treat him like their sibling, and are the most affected when Marley eventually passes away (I know, I cried my way through that part).

The story is set in three different locations, showing us how the family shifts twice after Marley entered their life (not due to Marley though, thankfully). The simple beauty of the book lies in how the author makes Marley seem like a person, with feelings and how Marley played a role in every little thing that happened in their life – Marley shares their sorrows, multiplies their joys and makes them a complete family. Though he must have cost them a few thousand dollars in terms of repairs and medication, he was worth all of it. 

Once, when Jenny just can’t take anymore of Marley’s destructive tendencies, and asks John to take him away from their home, John realizes just how much the dog means to him. 

In his own words, 

As pathetic as it sounds, Marley had become my soul-mate, my near-constant companion, my friend. He was the undisciplined, recalcitrant, nonconformist, politically incorrect free spirit I had always wanted to be, had I been brave enough, and I took vicarious joy in his unbridled nerve. No matter how complicated life became, he reminded me of its simple joys. No matter how many demands were placed on me, he never let me forget that wilful disobedience is sometimes worth the price. In a world full of bosses, he was his own master.” 

(Jenny, of course, never did let Marley leave. How would she?!)

As the years roll, Marley becomes old, and finally, is put to sleep when he has a major complication in his stomach and surgery wouldn’t really help him at his age (he’s 13 when he dies.) Having watched the movie, you think you’ve braced yourself for the end, (I even armed myself with a large tissue), but when you see how the dog slowly gets old and dies eventually, and how each member of the family misses him, you cannot do anything but cry.

 Also, if, at some point, you’ve had a dog, you can relate to this book on an entirely different level, which is what happened to me. I currently have three dogs at my home and each one means so much to me that life without them right now seems unimaginable.

Through the pages, we see Marley attend obedience classes (and miserably fail), serve as a constant companion to Jenny through a miscarriage and three pregnancies, get a role in a movie, and learn to live with chicken at their countryside home (the dog does go through a lot!)

 We also see how he falls sick, gets ear infections (and loses his hearing eventually), is unable to climb stairs or run and has more such problems, but until the end of the story, Marley remains a mischievous, disobedient, insolent dog, and you end up loving him for it. 

Though the book tells you everything the dog does, which definitely wouldn’t merit him a place on a list of good dogs, it makes you fall in love with a flawed creature, perfect in his own way.

As the author puts it, 

A person can learn a lot from a dog, even a loopy one like ours. Marley taught me about living each day with unbridled exuberance and joy, about seizing the moment and following your heart. And as he grew old and achy, he taught me about optimism in the face of adversity.                           

Mostly, he taught me about friendship and selflessness, and, above all else, unwavering loyalty.”

Despite everything, all the disappointments and unmet expectations, Marley had given us a gift, at once priceless and free. He taught us the art of unqualified love. How to give it, how to accept it. When there is that, most of the other pieces fall into place.”

What are you even waiting for? Go get the book and read it. You’re going to thoroughly enjoy it. I did. And do tell me how you felt reading it! 🙂