Hello. Am I a person writing this? Are you a person reading this? How can we tell what lies on the other side of this screen between us? Maybe I am Mark Zuckerberg inside the metaverse wearing the virtual costume of a bookseller. Or I’m a TikTok creator sharing book titles in the format of the latest viral booktok trend. Perhaps I’m an artificial intelligence program designed to identify what books fit a certain theme so that I can share them with the world. Just kidding—I’m Joe, a real life flesh-and-blood bookseller at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park. We’ve recently revamped our Internet and Technology section, but there are books about the Internet in every corner of the store!
Welcome to this post, which as you know lives on the internet. More and more our lives, the way we express ourselves, the nature of our connections to others, and how we engage with the world around us is tied up in the world wide web. We listen to podcasts online, write and read fan fiction. Since the beginning of the pandemic our shift towards living with one foot on solid ground and the other in digital reality has only accelerated with virtual events and remote work leaving us all in a digital limbo. Literature has got to keep up! Here’s a round up of some of my favorite books that are either explicitly about the internet or engage our shifting relationships with each other and the technology that connects us. If something catches your eye, order it online or even venture to one of our stores in person.
Social Warming: The Dangerous and Polarising Effects of Social Media by Charles Arthur
A detailed and investigative deep dive into the history of social media as we know it and how it has affected us individually, culturally, and politically. filled with information, very accessibly written, and extremely interesting, this book will make you think about how our world is shaped by the technology and media we have come to rely on. Charles Arthur, who previously served as technology editor of The Guardian, spoke about the book with the podcast Stylus about the book including social media’s powerful ability to divide people with what he termed “scissor statements: ideas that crop up and get amplified on social media which divide people... into one camp or the other. And simply by saying the word or phrase, you know which side of the discussion you're on.” In the book, he explains this and other issues that have had direct impacts on real-world events and how we connect as human beings.
Made-Up: A True Story of Beauty Culture Under Late Capitalism by Daphne B, Alex Manley (Translator)
This hybrid nonfiction book is reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s style written from a millennial perspective. Daphne B. explores the impact of beauty standards on the internet, performance of identity online and in real life, and consumerism in the beauty industry in a deeply personal way. The book is translated from the French by Alex Manley. You can hear the author and translator discuss the book on the Book Storm podcast.
theMystery.doc by Matthew McIntosh
This strange book was fairly divisive when it came out, with NPR declaring it a book that most readers will go back and forth between hating and absolutely loving. It is a thick collection of internet ephemera such as pop-up, search results, chats, stills from movies and TV, and other things on the internet that distract the main character from working on his second book as he tries to make meaning in the world. Reading this book mimics that epic journey, as it is 1664 pages. According to our managing partner Robert, who selected this as a Staff Pick, “This isn’t a book—it is an experience! The story told here feels like it could not have been communicated in any other way. It is surprisingly intimate and personal. I felt like these could have been my memories, my photographs, my dreams and experiences. I found it deeply moving and affecting.”
No One Is Talking About This: A Novel by Patricia Lockwood
A novel from acclaimed poet, memoirist, and tweeter Patricia Lockwood who told GQ that “ the internet is inside us. It's no longer an externality.” The book follows a woman who has gained fame from her social media posts as she navigates the edges between the internet and the universe. While she is immersed in the chorus of voices around her in what she has deemed “the portal,” her personal life breaks through and she reckons with the boundaries between the real, the virtual, the personal, and the public. It will make you question the nature of humanity, reality, and connection.
Search History by Eugene Lim
This novel explores grief, collective consciousness, intergenerational experience, and more as it twists between stories about a cyberdog that may or may not be a reincarnation of a deceased friend, Artificial Intelligence generated writing and art, and personal recollections and ruminations. The heart of this book? Eugene Lim told Poets and Writers, “Even if there are many things going on in it, I think at its heart this novel is a book about grief.” His writing surges forward and disorient the reader in a powerful and impactful way.
Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener
This memoir is incredibly riveting and un-put-downable. Wiener tells of her career shift to the tech industry in the midst of the Silicon Valley boom, exploring the values of that culture ten years after the events it describes when technology and the industry around it has already moved beyond that era. The perspective of time brings an interesting layer as Weiner shows us the tech industry inside its bubble, as pointed out by a reviewer in The Atlantic. It’s interesting, fun to read, and moving.
Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch
In this book, internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch investigates the way our use of technology and the internet has changed the very nature of the English language. From slang and jargon and the invention of new words to fundamental effects on the methods we use to communicate, McCulloch shows us how the Internet has our language changing faster than ever before and how that is ultimately exciting and revelatory. She thinks of internet language as “emergent,” as she told NPR. “ The old rules are about using language to demonstrate intellectual superiority, and the new rules are about using language to create connection between people."
Literally Show Me a Healthy Person by Darcie Wilder
Darcie Wilder’s novel is a cult classic at this point, and was even once photgraphed with Kendall Jenner. The book creates a portrait of its young, female, first person narrator as she documents her life and emotions in short, tweet-like statements about everything from grief, events of her day, truama, sex, and the expectations of her world. Emotionally powerful and innovative in its form, Wilder’s relatable book is full of sadness and humor.
Kim Kardashian's Marriage (Faber Poetry) by Sam Riviere
You thought we were getting through a blog post about the (famously broken) internet without multiple references to the Kardashian-Jenners? This book of poems is about more than artifice and control of image: the way the internet connects random pieces of information is inherent to the way the book was written. Sam Riviere talked to Brit + Co about the process of finding words to use in the poems via search results. The 72 poems (after the 72 days of Kim Kardashian’s first marriage) were composed of the results of algorithm-guided search inquiries and “are concerned with the borders between public and private expression. Kim’s expertise is in the way she controls that threshold, transgresses it, reinforces it, and distorts it,” Riviere says.
Coding Democracy: How Hackers Are Disrupting Power, Surveillance, and Authoritarianism by Maureen Webb, Cory Doctorow (Foreword by)
This book is a deep dive into the history of hacking and its role in political systems as a vital form of disruption and activism. Labor lawyer and human rights activist Maureen Webb explores how citizen action in the form of hacking and advancement in technology has been impactful in the past and will continue to be important for democracy in the digital age in ways that aren’t as simple as they seem at first glance. “When I began my journey through the world of hackers and hacking citizens it was my belief that the solution to our problems of concentrated power, mass surveillance, and authoritarianism was really a political question of getting enough people at a critical mass ... to adopt hacker tools and alternatives,” Webb explained in an author talk, but as she investigated further to write the book her views changed when she spent time engaging with the mindset of early digital pioneers and current day academics. The book breaks down the complicated but important role of hacking and technology in politics and society in a very engaging way.
Death & Facebook by Iphgenia Baal
Iphgenia Baal’s novel exists between the lines of fact and fiction. It’s presented as the digital archive of messages, facebook posts, and other digital communication between the narrator and her now deceased lover. In an interview with Fanzine, Baal opens up about how she used real messages, texts, and information from her life to describe events from the past and “chose what to include just by what I could find, and trying to make sense out of conversations that jumped from one medium to another.” It traces the rise and fall of their relationship on the London party scene, and leaves us wondering what exactly is true, how our perspectives on these communications shapes our worldview, and how the lines between public and private are blurred on social media.
Skin Elegies by Lance Olsen
This hybrid novel braids nine stories in a form that mimics cached memory data: A countdown to the Challenger space rocket disaster, John Lennon’s murder, a math teacher’s perspective of the Fukushima disaster, a psuedo-podcast interview with an inventor of the internet, the Columbine massacre, a Syrian boy’s journey to Berlin, and other narratives all combine to create a chaotic and fast-paced narrative that exists outside of time and begs the reader to consider what it means to pulse forward, concurrently with so many others, towards an unpredictable future. One thing that connects each of these disparate mind-uploaded stories? Olsen told JMWW that he “wanted to mine a single metaphor to see how it opened: human hands touching, which is to say human beings connecting, however fleetingly, however fragilely. In each of the stories in Skin Elegies, that happens at some point.”
You Are What You Click: How Being Selective, Positive, and Creative Can Transform Your Social Media Experience by Brian A. Primack
Primack dives into how our social media usage affects our human behaviors with special attention to its role in our new age of connection/disconnection, mental health crises, and loneliness. He suggests not that we cut out social media entirely, but reinvent the ways we incorporate it in our lives to optimize the potential it has to connect us in meaningful ways and mitigate the negative effects non-mindful usage has on our individual and collective well being. A great book to read to consider ways to incorporate internet and social media usage into your life in positive ways.
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Edited by Nicole R.