Uncanny Valley – Anna Wiener

In her mid-twenties, at the height of tech industry idealism, Anna Wiener—stuck, broke, and looking for meaning in her work, like any good millennial–left a job in book publishing for the promise of the new digital economy. She moved from New York to San Francisco, where she landed at a big-data startup in the heart of the Silicon Valley bubble: a world of surreal extravagance, dubious success, and fresh-faced entrepreneurs hell-bent on domination, glory, and, of course, progress.

Anna arrived amidst a massive cultural shift, as the tech industry rapidly transformed into a locus of wealth and power rivaling Wall Street. But amid the company ski vacations and in-office speakeasies, boyish camaraderie and ride-or-die corporate fealty, a new Silicon Valley began to emerge: one in far over its head, one that enriched itself at the expense of the idyllic future it claimed to be building.

Part coming-age-story, part portrait of an already-bygone era, Anna Wiener’s memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into high-flying, reckless startup culture at a time of unchecked ambition, unregulated surveillance, wild fortune, and accelerating political power. With wit, candor, and heart, Anna deftly charts the tech industry’s shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment.

Unsparing and incisive, Uncanny Valley is a cautionary tale, and a revelatory interrogation of a world reckoning with consequences its unwitting designers are only beginning to understand.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

First off, I just have to say how much I LOVE the cover! It’s eye-catching and fits the subject perfectly…although to clarify just in case, know that this book is not about robots and AI (not directly, anyway), but about Silicon Valley during the growth years.

This was one of my most anticipated reads of early 2020 (can’t believe I posted that in January, seems like a lifetime ago). How’d it stack up? I was maybe a little disappointed by it overall, but it was still an entertaining and informative read.

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The Things We Cannot Say – Kelly Rimmer

In 1942, Europe remains in the relentless grip of war. Just beyond the tents of the Russian refugee camp she calls home, a young woman speaks her wedding vows. It’s a decision that will alter her destiny…and it’s a lie that will remain buried until the next century.

Since she was nine years old, Alina Dziak knew she would marry her best friend, Tomasz. Now fifteen and engaged, Alina is unconcerned by reports of Nazi soldiers at the Polish border, believing her neighbors that they pose no real threat, and dreams instead of the day Tomasz returns from college in Warsaw so they can be married. But little by little, injustice by brutal injustice, the Nazi occupation takes hold, and Alina’s tiny rural village, its families, are divided by fear and hate. Then, as the fabric of their lives is slowly picked apart, Tomasz disappears. Where Alina used to measure time between visits from her beloved, now she measures the spaces between hope and despair, waiting for word from Tomasz and avoiding the attentions of the soldiers who patrol her parents’ farm. But for now, even deafening silence is preferable to grief.

Slipping between Nazi-occupied Poland and the frenetic pace of modern life, Kelly Rimmer creates an emotional and finely wrought narrative that weaves together two women’s stories into a tapestry of perseverance, loyalty, love and honor. The Things We Cannot Say is an unshakable reminder of the devastation when truth is silenced…and how it can take a lifetime to find our voice before we learn to trust it. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If you like WWII-era historical fiction, you’ll love this book. There’s romance, political intrigue, LOTS of heartfelt emotion and heartache, and to boot, it’s well-written and fast-paced. It’s told from two perspectives: Alina as a young woman during the war, and Alice in present-day discovering her grandmother’s past, which culminates in an unexpected trip to Poland and a shocking family secret (put that way, almost sounds like Buzzfeed clickbait). The idea behind it is pretty original (to me, at least), and I enjoyed reading it.

So why is my rating so mixed?

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Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This was a fun one. After finishing, I totally understand why a lot of people couldn’t stand it and DNF’ed, but I just took it at face value and enjoyed it for the light, easy read that it was. Is Kya’s situation unrealistic? Absolutely. Are there excessive descriptions of nature alongside weak dialogue and flat characters? Definitely. But there was also enough heart in the story itself that I could suspend my disbelief and just appreciate the beauty of the marsh.

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Because Internet – Gretchen McCulloch

Rating: 3.5/5

I first heard about this book from an episode of the Ezra Klein show, but it wasn’t quite the book I expected going in – I thought it’d be more educational and that I’d learn more about how internet slang and memes and such developed, but it was more nostalgic and entertaining than anything else.

The book did a great job at putting into words things that an internet user already innately knows, but not so much at providing new information. For example, being a Full Internet Person, I already know the “anatomy” of a keysmash – usually starts with “a” or “asdf”, made up of the middle row of keys on a keyboard, doesn’t usually have the same letter repeated, if it doesn’t look genuine enough then people will often delete and do it again (that made me laugh, so real) – but I didn’t necessarily want to read about it. And the book is filled with instances like this. It was entertaining as a recap of things I totally do on the internet, but not as informative as hoped.

Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls – David Sedaris

Rating: 3.5

This was my first David Sedaris and I liked it. His sense of humor is a strange mix of weird and goofy and British and dry as bone, with a tinge of creepy and “omg you did NOT just say that”. I just love how irreverent he is, and his chapters from the perspective of various homophobic/ultraconservative/paranoid people were really funny and original, even if he does tend to get rambly and sometimes even boring when writing about his own experiences.

This anthology also had the famous (to me) colonoscopy piece and having heard about it so much from others didn’t dilute the 5-minute pleasure of reading it for myself. I’ve heard this book is a far cry from his best writing – but if that’s the case, I look forward to reading more of his works.