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Circle (Eggers)

The Circle 
Dave Eggers, 2013
Knopf Doubleday
504 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385351393



Summary
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency.

As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, famous musicians playing on the lawn, athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO.

Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in the world—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public.

What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—March 12, 1970
Where—Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Raised—Lake Forest, Illinois
Education—University of Illinois (no degree)
Currently—lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California


Dave Eggers is an American writer, editor, and publisher. He is known for the best-selling memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and for his more recent work as a novelist and screenwriter.

He is also the founder of McSweeney's, the co-founder of the literacy project 826 Valencia, and the founder of ScholarMatch, a program that matches donors with students needing funds for college tuition. His works have appeared in several magazines, most notably The New Yorker. His works have received a significant amount of critical acclaim.

Personal life
Eggers was born in Boston, Massachusetts, one of four siblings. His father was John K. Eggers (1936–1991), an attorney. His mother, Heidi McSweeney Eggers (1940–1992), was a school teacher. When Eggers was still a child, the family moved to the upscale suburb of Lake Forest, near Chicago. He attended high school there and was a classmate of the actor Vince Vaughn. Eggers attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, intending to get a degree in journalism, but his studies were interrupted by the deaths of both of his parents in 1991–1992—his father in 1991 from brain and lung cancer, and his mother in January 1992 from stomach cancer. Both were in their 50s.

These events were chronicled in his first book, the fictionalized A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. At the time, Eggers was 21, and his younger brother, Christopher ("Toph"), was 8 years old. The two eldest siblings, Bill and Beth, were unable to commit to care for Toph; his older brother had a full-time job and his sister was enrolled in law school. As a result, Dave Eggers took the responsibility.

He left the University of Illinois and moved to Berkeley, California, with his girlfriend Kirsten and his brother. They initially moved in with Eggers's sister, Beth, and her roommate, but eventually found a place in another part of town, which they paid for with money left to them by their parents. Toph attended a small private school, and Eggers did temp work and freelance graphic design for a local newspaper. Eventually, with his friend David Moodie, he took over a local free newspaper called Cups. This gradually evolved into the satirical magazine Might.

Eggers lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is married to Vendela Vida, also a writer. They have two children.

He was one of three 2008 TED Prize recipients. His TED Prize wish was for community members to personally engage with local public schools The same year, Utne Reader named him one of "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World."

In 2005, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from Brown University. He delivered the baccalaureate address at the school in 2008.

Literary work
• Egger's first book was a memoir (with fictional elements), A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), which focused on the author's struggle to raise his younger brother in San Francisco following the deaths of both of their parents. The book quickly became a bestseller and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

• In 2002, Eggers published his first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, a story about a frustrating attempt to give away money to deserving people while haphazardly traveling the globe. He has also published a collection of short stories, How We Are Hungry, and three politically themed serials for Salon.com.

• In 2005, Eggers published Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated, a book of interviews with former prisoners sentenced to death and later exonerated. The book was compiled with Lola Vollen, "a physician specializing in the aftermath of large-scale human rights abuses" and "a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley's Institute of International Studies and a practicing clinician." Lawyer novelist Scott Turow wrote the introduction to Surviving Justice.

• Eggers' 2006 novel What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Eggers also edits the Best American Nonrequired Reading series, an annual anthology of short stories, essays, journalism, satire, and alternative comics.

• In 2009, he published Zeitoun and, as a result, was presented with the Courage in Media Award by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Zeitoun is the account of a Syrian immigrant, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, in New Orleans who was helping neighbors after Hurricane Katrina when he was arrested, imprisoned and suffered abuse. The book has been optioned by Jonathan Demme, who is working on a screenplay for an animated film-rendition of the work. To Demme, it "felt like the first in-depth immersion I’d ever had through literature or film into the Muslim-American family.... The moral was that they are like people of any other faith."

• Eggers published A Hologram for the King in July 2012, which became a finalist for the National Book Award. The novel is the story of one man's struggle to hold himself and his splintering family together in the face of the new realities of a global economy.

• In 2013, he released The Circle, a satirical novel about the internet's subversive power over citizen privacy. The Circle is a combination of Facebook, Google, Twitter and more, as seen through the eyes of Mae Holland, a new hire who starts in customer service.

McSweeney's
In 1998, Eggers founded McSweeney's, an independent publishing house, which takes his mother's maiden name. Apart from its book list, McSweeney's also publishes the quarterly literary journal Timothy McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, the daily-updated literature and humor site McSweeney's Internet Tendency, the monthly magazine The Believer, the quarterly food journal Lucky Peach, the sports journal Grantland Quarterly (in association with sports and pop culture website Grantland), and the quarterly DVD magazine, Wholphin. The publishing house also runs three additional imprints: Believer Books; McSweeney's McMullens, a children's book department; and the Collins Library.

826 National
In 2002, Eggers and educator Nínive Clements Calegari co-founded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for kids ages 6–18 in San Francisco. It has since grown into seven chapters across the United States: Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Boston, and Washington, D.C., all under the auspices of the nonprofit organization 826 National.

In 2006, Eggers appeared at a series of fund-raising events, dubbed "Revenge of the Book–Eaters Tour," to support his educational programs. The Chicago show featured Death Cab for Cutie front man Ben Gibbard. Other performers on the tour included Sufjan Stevens, Jon Stewart, Davy Rothbart, and David Byrne.

In 2007, the Heinz Family Foundation awarded Eggers a $250,000 Heinz Award (given to recognize "extraordinary achievements by individuals"). In accordance with Eggers' wishes, the award money was given to 826 National and The Teacher Salary Project. In April 2010, under the umbrella of 826 National, Eggers launched ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that connects donors with students to make college more affordable. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 9/17/2013.)



Book Reviews
The Circle turns into a story of suspense and the publisher said the work...raises questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy and the limits of human knowledge.
Independent (UK)


[A] stunning work of terrifying plausibility, a cautionary tale of subversive power in the digital age suavely packaged as a Silicon Valley social satire.... Eggers presents a Swiftian scenario so absurd in its logic and compelling in its motives that the worst thing possible will be for people to miss the joke. The plot moves at a casual, yet inexorable pace.... [A] worthy and entertaining read despite its slow burn.
Publishers Weekly


[P]articularly relevant to our current concerns about Internet-facilitated invasion of privacy.
Library Journal



Discussion Questions
1. How does Mae’s behavior during her first days at work foreshadow what happens to her over the course of the novel? In what ways is she an “ideal” employee of the Circle and its aims?

2. The wings of the Circle are named after different regions of the world and time periods, such as Old West, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Machine Age, the Industrial Revolution. What do these names say about the company’s vision of historical innovation versus its future-looking work? Is there an inherent hierarchy in these names, despite their apparent equality?

3. In what ways does Annie inspire and motivate Mae in terms of the level of success that can be achieved at the Circle? Does Mae consider Annie’s position the product of Annie’s own ambition, or something she imbibed from the company’s ethos? How does knowing first about their professional relationship shape your understanding of their shared past?

4. For a company that thrives on order and efficiency, the Circle also seems to endorse—require, even—loose and extravagant socializing. What do these two seemingly opposite values say about what working for them entails? How does Mae’s value set evolve to accommodate these expectations? 

5. Mae’s first serious blunder on the job is failing to respond to and attend a social event, Alistair’s Portugal brunch. How does the meeting in Dan’s office set the tone for Mae’s pushing the Circle’s networks on others?

6. Among the Three Wise Men—Ty, Bailey, and Stenton—who has a vision of what the Circle can—and should—do that seems most viable? In the end, is this trifecta of power able to prevent tyranny? What might the novel’s conclusion say about man’s reaction to power—even when humanity is apparently subsumed under technology?

7. Our first encounter with a shark in the novel is when Mae sees one from a kayak, and she complacently observes, “They were hidden in the dark water, in their black parallel world, and knowing they were there, but not knowing where or really anything else, felt, at that moment, strangely right” (p.83). Later, we see another shark that Stenton brings back from the Marianas Trench, in a cage with other sea life being viewed by Mae’s watchers: “Then, like a machine going about its work, the shark circled and stabbed until he had devoured...everything, and deposited the remains quickly, carpeting the empty aquarium in a low film of white ash” (pp. 476–77). What is essentially different about these two scenarios that garners such different behavior from these wild creatures? Do the humans that watch the shark in the aquarium—“terrified...in awe and wanting more of the same”—seem to learn anything (p.477)?

8. During one of her visits home, Mae tells Mercer, “I guess I’m just so easily bored” by what he considers a normal tempo of speech, but what Mae considers “slow motion” compared with the Circlers’ communication in person and online (p.130); and later that night, going through her Circle account to answer queries and social requests, she feels “reborn” (p.135). How much of this shortened attention span is evident in our society today? In the end, are Mae’s instantaneous relationships more or less gratifying than she expects?

9. The bracelet provided by the health clinic is a remarkable technological feat and would revolutionize health care if it existed. Mae even finds it “beautiful, a pulsing marquee of lights and charts and numbers...[her] pulse represented by a delicately rendered rose, opening and closing” (p.156). But what does this additional form of self-monitoring, along with her three work screens, contribute to Mae’s true knowledge of herself? For example, does watching their pulses rise in anticipation of sex bring Mae and Francis closer together emotionally, or push them further apart?

10. It is both a curse and a blessing that Mae is able to provide her parents with health care: while her father is able to receive the MS treatment he desperately needs, Mae seems to benefit even more from her ability to share his story online through support groups and ultimately drives those groups away. Did you ever feel that her actions became more selfish than selfless, and if so, when?

11. Even though Mae meets Kalden when she is relatively enmeshed in the constant connectivity of the Circle, she is still taken in by his holographic mystery: “his retreating form...[that] she couldn’t get a hold of.... His face had an openness, an unmistakable lack of guile.... [H]aving him out there, at least for a few days, unreachable but presumably somewhere on campus, provided a jolt of welcome frission to her hours” (pp.170–71). Why does she not feel the need to pursue him more aggressively through the knowledge databases she has available? How does this compare with the way she treats Mercer online—Mercer, about whom she presumably knows much more, given their past?

12. We see Mae involved with three very different men throughout the novel: Mercer, Francis, and Kalden. While they are on the surface wildly different, what might you say are traits they share that reveal what Mae is looking for in a relationship—and how do they satisfy these needs in their own ways? Does Mae ever seem truly happy?

13. After her conversation with Dan about skirting her social responsibilities, Mae stays up all night to boost her PartiRank and “felt a profound sense of accomplishment and possibility” (p.191). She is equally ambitious with her CE satisfaction scores, getting the highest average of any employee on the first day. Why, then, is she so offended when Francis asks for a score on his sexual performance? Where is the line between public and private, analog and digital, drawn for Circlers, and what does it mean that Mae eventually gives in to his request?

14. Does the Circle seem concerned with promoting and preserving traditional family life? In what ways does it threaten to replace biological families with a wider human family, including via transparency?

15. Kayaking is for Mae a twofold form of release: not only is it a way to expend physical energy and clear her mind, but when she steals the kayak and is caught on SeeChange cameras, it also leads to a liberation of sorts within the Circle. Does this connection, and Mae’s reaction to being caught, suggest that the Circle’s intentions are well meaning after all, or do they illustrate a more sinister shift in attitude enabled by the Circle?

16. Why do you think Ty felt the need to disguise himself in order to reach out to Mae as he did? How necessary was it for him to preserve his role as one of the Three Wise Men, even as he sought to dismantle the institution he helped create?

17. Is Annie in any sense a martyr of the Circle’s mission? Did you ever feel as if you understood the motives behind her intense devotion to her job?

18. What is the impact of having Mercer’s suicide seen by Mae through cameras—that is, indirectly? Do you think she genuinely believed she was trying to be his friend by launching the drones after him?

19. Many of the technologies the author invents in The Circle seem futuristic, but they are not so far from realities that exist now: myriad social media sites are obviously omnipresent, but the government is also developing facial recognition to screen for terrorists (The New York Times, August 20, 2013) and Google Glass seems not so unlike the camera necklace that allows for Mae’s transparency. After finishing the novel, did you find this overlap between fact and fiction unsettling? Did it affect how you personally engage with technology?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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