The Google search box is the new confessional box for a digital age. A place where deepest fears and forbidden wishes find new, unfiltered expression. In this new confessional, we don’t seek salvation— we seek information. And the questions we ask it often reveal things about us that were previously hidden, or misunderstood.
Subtitled, “Big data, new data, and what the internet can tell us about who we really are,” this book was written by a former Google data scientist who uses “confessional” search data on a vast scale to draw new insight into the human condition. It’s a fascinating and compelling work which kept me reading from cover to cover in one day.
I could quibble with the author’s overconfidence in the power of internet search data to accurately depict people’s true selves, because I believe that our relationship with the digital world is fundamentally a charade, and will one day come to be seen as such. But for now, the newness and sheer volume of this new form of data is electrifying and groundbreaking, and has great potential to shed new light on the previously dark corners of the human psyche. I eagerly look forward to the author’s planned sequel in which he intends to dive deeper into the “small data” that lives between the topline trends. 🔎
What I’m reading this week: “Zardoz,” by John Boorman. 👽📚 A gigantic stone head levitates over a futuristic grass-covered landscape, spewing guns from its cavernous mouth to its bloodthirsty followers below. Sean Connery (a.k.a. the original James Bond) is among them as Zed the Exterminator. He’s bare-chested in a red loincloth, and sports a black ponytail and 1970s handlebar moustache. A dazzling menage of bizarre scenes unfolds from there, complete with freaky caves, macrame-clad “Eternals,” psychic probes, and trippy kaleidoscopic interludes. Through it all, the gargantuan stone head floats, god-like, in and out of the action to say and do terrible things.
I picked up a pristine original pulp copy of this sci-fi oddity at Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree. I was drawn to it like a Brutal to a cache of corn and fleeces. Upon reading it, I was delighted to find that Zardoz the novel is as wonderfully weird and non-sequitur as the film is. The novel was written by the screenwriter and based on the cult classic film.
Zardoz the film is a corpulent tour de force that encapsulates everything wrong with 1970s-era filmmaking, and somehow everything that is awesome about it at the same time. The prose in Zardoz the book is just as, ahem, imaginative as the film. A seminal work from a truly strange place and time in pop culture.
What I’m reading this week: “Janesville: An American Story,” by Amy Goldstein.
A storybook American factory town suddenly loses its factory— the lifeblood and livelihood of the community. Janesville, Wisconsin is a quintessential American industrial city with a proud 90+ year history as an auto manufacturing center. The city of 63,000 had a renowned auto plant, an enviously capable workforce, a thriving middle class, and a well-earned sense of community pride.
Then in 2008, a confluence of shifting economic tides led General Motors to shutdown the massive Janesville auto plant. In an instant, the future of the city’s economy— and thousands of families whose livelihoods depended on the plant— were thrown into turmoil.
It’s one thing to say that people can retrain for new jobs, or relocate to a new place. But in practice, it’s never that easy. This astonishing book masterfully depicts the lived experiences of Janesville families as they navigate through a sea change in their lives. Through their stories, Washington Post journalist and author Amy Goldstein assembles a nuanced tale of American ingenuity, loss, grit, and reinvention.
Back to the future 😃📚 We found this groovy magazine article about Menlo Park’s “new” library in 1968. Complete with vinyl record listening stations, space-age microfilm reader, and card catalog—where one can “research any subject from aardvark to zythum.” Then, as now, Menlo Park Library is the place where past, present and future intersect. 📖
What I’m reading this week: “The Library Book,” by Susan Orlean 📚🔥 It’s every librarian’s nightmare. A devastating loss to a vibrant city’s collective culture and memory. In 1986, the same week as the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown crisis in Russia, the Los Angeles Central Library was set ablaze by an arsonist. The fire spread quickly through the old building and incinerated everything in its path, reaching temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Hundreds of thousands of books and priceless archival items were reduced to ash. Hundreds of thousands more were irreversibly damaged or severely threatened by water and smoke damage. The next day, thousands of volunteers converged on the building and formed a human chain, handing waterlogged books out of the building and rushing them to local commercial freezers to prevent mold from destroying them forever.
I’m partway through this extraordinary paean to the glory of libraries and their uniquely important place in the American social edifice. Author Susan Orlean combines a detailed journalistic style with her characteristically vivid and evocative prose to do more than simply tell the tale of a devastating fire and rebirth. Along the way, she rekindles her (and our) love for the American public library, and illustrates why this beloved institution perpetually rises from the ashes, again and again.
What I’m reading this week: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” by Matthew Desmond. 📚🌧
Housing is a basic human need. It irrevocably shapes our lives and our destinies. It also can be a lucrative and, at times, cruel and devastating business.
This landmark nonfiction work tells eight stories of families who were swept up in the process of eviction. Along the way, the book sheds new light on the myriad social currents, large and small, that have brought American society to the brink of an alarming housing crisis. The people whose stories are told within— tenants and landlords alike— are expertly brought to life though the author’s masterfully descriptive and empathetic writing.
I’m completely engrossed in this astonishing book. The stories it tells seem so familiar yet they reveal something new about who we are as a society; about power, privilege, and the meaning of home.
What I’m reading this week: “Dark Matter,” by Blake Crouch 😀📚
Nothing is real, but nothing to get hung about, goes the classic song. Who among us hasn’t wished to travel back in time and try the door not opened? I’m halfway through this sci-fi / suspense mashup that uses pop science as a vehicle to explore this notion— with a twist, naturally. And I’m hooked. Plenty of dialogue and screen-ready descriptions (the author has written several television series) render this book a quick and engaging read. Perfect for a wet winter Sunday by the fire.🔥🌧
What I’m reading this week: Darwin Comes to Town: How the Urban Jungle Drives Evolution, by Menno Schilthuizen 📖
Nature adapts and evolves in response to changes in the environment. Cities have their own ecosystems, and many species have developed unique adaptions to survive and thrive in the urban environment. From sewers to the rooftops and everything in between, this book explores the many urban worlds where nature unexpectedly thrives.
I’m bracing myself for a deep dive into this book, which is billed as an unflinching look at the dangers tech leviathans Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon pose to human freedom and self-determination. Author Franklin Foer is the former editor of the liberal New Republic magazine. He was hired in that role shortly after the magazine was bought by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in 2012. It was a time when clickbait was ascendant and few people understood (or cared about) the extent of personal data collection taking place. The book has its defenders and detractors. Bouncing around the various reviews of the book, pro and con, is not unlike wading through a contentious Facebook comment thread. I’m looking forward to reading it myself so I can form my own opinion 🤔📖
📚🌎✈️ Here’s an interesting vignette from my day at the library. Recently, a library user in Argentina sent a message to our Facebook page asking us for help with a book she had checked out from us. She had been in the US on a student visa, presumably to pursue her studies at the university. Over the holiday break, she flew back home to Argentina to be with her family. Before she left, she borrowed a library book to read while she traveled. She planned to return to the US before the book came due. But after arriving in Argentina, she learned that her student visa would not be renewed and she wouldn’t be able to return to the US as planned.
She messaged us and asked for advice how she could resolve the issue of
the library book she’d borrowed, because she couldn’t bear the thought
of not returning her library books. She offered to pay for the book.
We said, can you simply mail it back to us? She traveled to the nearest
city and inquired about shipping rates, and was told it would cost
over $200 USD to ship the book back to the US. Hearing this, she sent
us another message offering again to pay for the book, but she also
mentioned that her American host family would be meeting with her during
spring break, and suggested that her host family could bring the book
back with them. We told her that we did not want her to pay so much for
shipping, and we would rather have the book back than make her pay for
it, so we happily agreed to extend the due date of her book until
after spring break when her host family visits her. There are many
things about this vignette that provoke thought, but I won’t offer
analysis here. I will just say that this young woman’s
conscientiousness and sincerity is extraordinary and I hope she is able
to resume her studies here soon. 😀📚 #library#books#borders