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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

The Circle

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The Circle Cover

ISBN13: 9780385351393
ISBN10: 0385351399
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

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 in 2013: 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? 

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lukas, April 30, 2014 (view all comments by lukas)
But my point is, what if we all behaved as if we were being watched?" For a while, I really despised Eggers, mostly because I couldn't stand his narcissistic classic "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" (it pains me just to type that title). Perhaps aware of his hubris, he sought out to do good. He founded the micro-empire McSweeney's, he started a non-profit and his recent fiction and non-fiction has taken on serious subjects like Katrina, the Middle East and, now, the internet and the nature of privacy. This is definitely his most zeitgeist-y book, set at a Google/Facebook-like internet behemoth that benignly proclaims Orwellian sayings like "Privacy is Theft" and offers services that allow people to document every aspect of their life. Timely, no? It's not exactly sci-fi, it's not exactly satire (because satire is supposed to be funny) and it's not exactly good. His targets are obvious, his insights dull and his attempts at relevancy (Assange! Tahrir! Drones!) clumsy. Also, it's nearly 500 pages, which makes for a long, unrewarding read. This fails on nearly every level. You'd be better off watching "Silicon Valley."
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W S Krauss, December 17, 2013 (view all comments by W S Krauss)
The Circle is a tech company like Google or Facebook, where the employees young and tech savvy. Mae joins the company after working for a utility in her hometown, a job she hated. She was recruited to the Circle by her college friend Annie. Mae quickly fits into the company and her job in Customer Experience, where all of her transactions are rated immediately. She does well and begins to succeed, rising through the ranks of the company. She begins an affair with a mysterious man named Kalder, who is not on the list of company employees. She and Annie think he may be a spy. The Circle founders begins to talk about the need for "completion", where everyone is transparent and required to have a Circle account. Meanwhile, Annie gets involved in a project that uncovers some shocking news. We all see where this book is headed; it is no surprise when things go as we expect. Yet it was a good read and it does make you think about privacy and how much information is out there. We have been warned….
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Susan Bradley, December 10, 2013 (view all comments by Susan Bradley)
Orwell got some things wrong big government is not big brother it is your employer. Mae(the protagonist and the victim)could be your daughter in today's competitive world where to get ahead you need a connection to get the job you want. Where in order to keep the perfect job what is required of you no matter what the consequences. Where with cult-like precision the employer becomes the driving force dictating every thought through social media. Dave Eggers has changed my views on social media through this book.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780385351393
Author:
Eggers, Dave
Publisher:
Knopf
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20131008
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
504
Dimensions:
8.85 x 6.51 x 1.58 in 1.72 lb

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The Circle Used Hardcover
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Product details 504 pages Knopf and McSweeney's - English 9780385351393 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

In Dave Eggers's latest page-turning novel, Mae Holland is ecstatic to get a job at the Circle — an Internet company that's like Google, Facebook, and Apple combined and on steroids. Thrilling and sinister, The Circle explores issues of connectivity, privacy, and democracy that our world is hurtling toward.

"Review" by , "A vivid, roaring dissent to the companies that have coaxed us to disgorge every thought and action onto the Web….Carries the potential to change how the world views its addicted, compliant thrall to all things digital. If you work in Silicon Valley, or just care about what goes on there, you need to pay attention."
"Review" by , "Most of us imagine totalitarianism as something imposed upon us — but what if we’re complicit in our own oppression? That’s the scenario in Eggers’ ambitious, terrifying, and eerily plausible new novel....Brave and important and will draw comparisons to Brave New World and 1984. Eggers brilliantly depicts the Internet binges, torrents of information, and endless loops of feedback that increasingly characterize modern life. But perhaps most chilling of all is his notion that our ultimate undoing could be something so petty as our desperate desire for affirmation.”
"Review" by , "A stunning work of terrifying plausibility, a cautionary tale of subversive power in the digital age suavely packaged as a Silicon Valley social satire. Set in the near future, it examines the inner workings of the Circle, an internet company that is both spiritual and literal successor to Facebook, Google, Twitter and more, as seen through the eyes of Mae Holland, a new hire who starts in customer service...Eggers presents a Swiftian scenario so absurd in its logic and compelling in its motives...sneaking up on the reader before delivering its warnings of the future, a worthy and entertaining read."
"Review" by , "A parable about the perils of life in a digital age in which our personal data is increasingly collected, sifted and monetized, an age of surveillance and Big Data, in which privacy is obsolete, and Maoist collectivism is the order of the day. Using his fluent prose and instinctive storytelling gifts, Mr. Eggers does a nimble, and sometimes very funny, job of sending up technophiles' naïveté, self-interest and misguided idealism....A fun and inventive read."
"Review" by , "You can't really write a 1984 for our times, because 1984 is still the 1984 of our times. But one could think of Dave Eggers'...new novel The Circle as a timely and potent appendix to it. The crux of The Circle is that Big Brother is still haunting us, but in an incarnation that's both more genial and more insidious. We have met Big Brother, and he is us....In The Circle Eggers has set his style and pace to technothriller: the writing is brisk and spare and efficient....When I finished The Circle I felt a heightened awareness of social media and the way it's remaking our world into a living hell of constant and universal mutual observation."
"Review" by , "Page-turning....The social message of the novel is clear, but Eggers expertly weaves it into an elegantly told, compulsively readable parable for the 21st century....What may be the most haunting discovery about The Circle, however, is readers' recognition that they share the same technology-driven mentality that brings the novel's characters to the brink of dysfunction. We too want to know everything by watching, monitoring, commenting, and interacting, and the force of Eggers's richly allusive prose lies in his ability to expose the potential hazards of that impulse."
"Review" by , "The particular charm and power of Eggers's book...could be described as 'topical' or 'timely,' though those pedestrian words do not nearly capture its imaginative vision....Simply a great story, with a fascinating protagonist, sharply drawn supporting characters and an exciting, unpredictable plot....As scary as the story's implications will be to some readers, the reading experience is pure pleasure."
"Review" by , "In this taut, claustrophobic corporate thriller, Eggers comes down hard on the culture of digital over-sharing, creating a very-near-future dystopia in which all that is not forbidden is required....Eggers has a keen eye for context, and the great strength of The Circle lies in its observations about the way instant, asynchronous communication has damaged our personal relationships....A speculative morality tale in the vein of George Orwell....We go on using the social media platforms that have been used against us; we post geo-tagged photos that could lead potential criminals straight to our private homes and our children's preschools, and we do all of this with full knowledge of the possible consequences. We have closed our eyes and given our consent. Everyone else is doing it. In the digital age, it is better to be unsafe than to be left out."
"Review" by , "Entertaining....A sense of horror finally arrives near the end of the book, coming...though the power of Eggers's writing....The final scene is chilling."
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