Filling the Void - Capitalism, Emotion and Social Media

 Filling the Void by Marcus Gilroy-Ware 

Capitalism, emotion, and social media - it seemed an odd combination, but after reading this I can see the connections, and that has been both enlightening and disturbing.

"There is an awful lot invested in social media maintaining their perceptions as innocent, fun, social, and above all, harmless. We shouldn't be so sure." 

This book was published in 2017, and in the years since we have indeed learned it is not harmless, and surely not all innocent. But the author asks us now to consider not only the effect it's having on us, but also how we created the "void" that it fills, how we came to be psychologically ready to succumb to it no matter the eventual cost. 

"Rather than speculating about what it is that technology makes us feel or do, we would do well to start asking what it is in us that makes us find any given technology - or action within that technology such as 'liking' something - appealing". He suggests we are using social media to find something that is lacking in our lives, or simply to avoid those lives. "By allowing the user to encounter a stream of novel media stimuli from familiar sources, the timeline facilitates an easy way to feel something other than the emotions that the user would otherwise be experiencing at that moment in time"

This doesn't even scratch the surface of what he has to say. I could keep quoting - I think I highlighted half the book - but you'd do better to read it yourself. It's well written, citing many studies with dates and titles so you can check his stats yourself. He isn't trying to convince us not to use social media so much as to be aware that they are also using us. Social media companies are in business for profit, not our well-being no matter what their slogans may say, and "as the increasingly common saying about digital services goes, 'if it's free, you're the product'." 

It's an interesting perspective and an enlightening read.

David Copperfield

 David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The narrator, David, begins by stating his intention to recount the story of his life. This he does, from the moment of his birth, through a happy few years with his mother and his nurse, Peggity (his father died before he was born), and then painful years of neglect and abuse. His mother meets and marries Mr. Murdstone, a cold, mean, punishment of a man who will rigidly control everything they say and do.

David is sent away to school, where he is befriended by an older boy, James Steerforth, whose charming facade convinces David he has found a true friend. He hasn't. Then David's mother dies unexpectedly and Murdstone, refusing to pay for any further schooling, puts David to work in one of his counting houses. Neglected, alone, and still a child - David runs away, searching for an Aunt he's hoping will take him in. 

She does, and in his new life with her he continues his education, meets the lovely Agnes, with whom he will grow up as sister and brother, and is introduced to the unsettling Uriah Heep, surely one the of the most obnoxious of Dickens', or anyone else's, villains.  

The story is lengthy, 716 pages in my copy, but with a large cast of characters there is rarely a dull moment. Several different story lines to follow means someone is always in difficulty of some sort, keeping the reader turning pages expectantly. Well, I wasn't exactly turning pages because my copy was very poor, with lines of text so jammed together that it hurt my eyes and forced me to switch to an audio version.  

Now, let me tell you about this audio book. I do still prefer the printed page, but I've discovered in the past few years the luxury of being read to. It's true I've experienced some narration so awful I couldn't finish a book, but most of the time I feel priveleged to have someone tell me a story. This one - David Copperfield narrated by Richard Armitage - was something special. He doesn't just read it, he acts - inhabits really - every single role. Each character has his own voice, particular manner of speaking, and distinct personality. It's a one-man play. I was mesmerized.

And moved - I've never been so moved by Dickens as I was listening to this. The scene where Dora lies dying as she and David whisper their final words to each other was gut-wrenching, and the shipwreck scene was so vivid, so immediate, that I found myself pushing back in the chair to get out of the way. I've never heard anything like this. I knew Richard Armitage to be a great actor but it doesn't always follow that they'll be a good narrator and I have been disappointed with a few. But this one - this one was stunning.

Wonderful book. Superlative narration.

The Last Chance Library

 The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson

A small town library is threatened with closure by a town council looking to cash in on the interest of a property developer. Some of the library's patrons stage a "sit-in" to protest and the town rallies around them, but the council isn't backing down. Even after a council member is found to be involved in an underhanded scheme to influence the votes, the library's future is not assured. The fate of the staff and the people who love the library remains in the hands of a cash-strapped council.

The plot had potential, but the characters could have been fleshed out more and some of their interactions didn't make a lot of sense. Too many unlikely scenarios, but it's entertaining enough if you're looking for a little light reading.   

The Imperfects and My Fine Fellow

The Imperfects by Amy Meyerson

A story of three siblings, Ashley, Jake, and Beck; their estranged mother, Deborah; and their elderly grandmother, Helen. After Helen passes away they are stunned to find themselves inheriting a broach worth millions. It contains the 'Florentine Diamond', 137 carats, a jewel missing from the Austrian Empire for over a hundred years. Investigating how it came to be in Helen's possession, and who it legally belongs to now, will take them on a journey they could never have imagined and will reveal a story that just might help this dysfunctional group function as a family again.

A good story with well-constructed, relatable characters and solid writing. And - bonus - I learned a bit about Hapsburg history and how diamonds are rated.

My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen

A light - very light - tale of romance and the culinary arts. With the plot, the characters and the dialogue all seeming somewhat improbable, I didn't find it great reading. Nice cover though.

First Among Sequels


First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

This 5th novel in the Thursday Next series picks up the story fourteen years after the end of book 4, Something Rotten. Thursday works for a carpet business now that SpecOps has been disbanded, at least that's what she tells her family. Her husband, Landon, is back after being "eradicated" for a few years and they now have three children: Friday, the surly 16 yr old son; Tuesday, the brilliant 13 yr old daughter; and Jenny, the 11yr old who never seems to be anyplace you'd expect her to be. 

The carpet business is really a front for Jurisfiction: "Jurisfiction is the name given to the policing agency within books. Working with the intelligence-gathering capabilities of Text Grand Central, the Prose Resource Operatives at Jurisfiction work tirelessly to maintain the continuity of the narrative within the pages of all the books ever written." Thursday is accompanied on her assignments in Book World by a trainee she's to evaluate for suitability as an agent, an awkward job due to the trainee being a version of herself, Thursday 5, the character in the 5th book of the series written about the original Thursday and her work (that's the fictional 5th book within Book World, not the real 5th book in our real world. Confused Intrigued yet?)

Thursday 1-4, all one character because she didn't change in any way through books 1-4, is wreaking havoc in Book World, imitating the real Thursday and using her authority to accomplish her own nefarious purposes. Meanwhile another situation needs Thursday's attention: someone is attempting to replace classic literature with tv reality shows. If successful, those books will disappear forever, and with the first show already in production, something has to be done to stop them fast.

Complicating her life and her work are an alarming drop in Real World readership rates, future versions of her son appearing regularly, trans-genre taxis that are never available when she needs one to get into a book, and a minotaur who wants...and kill her. Never a dull moment.     

These books have been classified as science ficiton, comedy, fantasy, absurdist fiction, and any number of other things. For me they're just a ton of fun. Jasper Fforde has built a unique, fantastic world, a total immersion experience. Nothing I tell you will prepare you for the glorious ridiculousness that is Book World. All I can say is pick one up, and jump in.