The Circle

( 81 )

Overview

The Circle is the exhilarating new novel from Dave Eggers, best-selling author of A Hologram for the King, a finalist for the National Book Award.
 
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...

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Overview

The Circle is the exhilarating new novel from Dave Eggers, best-selling author of A Hologram for the King, a finalist for the National Book Award.
 
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, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

An eerie timeliness sets the tone of Dave Eggers' new novel. At its center is Mae Holland, a talented young woman who lands what seems to be an ideal job with the world's most powerful internet company. Like its vast open space offices, the Circle promises transparency, linking users' entire lives into a single universal operating system. But what begins on a dreamy utopian note becomes something vastly more sinister as Mae settles into this remote, apparently self-contained community. A subtle, ambitious work of fiction by the National Book Award finalist author of A Hologram for the King.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
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…[he] reminds us how digital utopianism can lead to the datafication of our daily lives, how a belief in the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mob rule, how the embrace of "the hive mind" can lead to a diminution of the individual. The adventures of Mr. Eggers's heroine, Mae Holland, an ambitious new hire at the company, provide an object lesson in the dangers of drinking the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid and becoming a full-time digital ninja…Mr. Eggers is such an engaging, tactile writer that the reader happily follows him wherever he's going.
Publishers Weekly
★ 09/16/2013
The latest offering from McSweeney's founder Eggers (A Hologram for the King) is 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. As Mae is absorbed into the Circle's increasingly demanding multi- and social media experience, she plays an ever more pivotal role in the company's plans, which include preventing child abductions through microchips, reducing crime through omnipresent surveillance, and eliminating political corruption through transparency courtesy of personal cameras. Soon, she's not alone in asking what it will mean to "complete the Circle" as its ultimate goal comes into view; even her closest friends and family suspect the Circle is going too far in its desire to make the world a better, safer, more honest place. 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, sneaking up on the reader before delivering its warnings of the future, a worthy and entertaining read despite its slow burn. Agent: Andrew Wylie, The Wylie Agency. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-01
A massive feel-good technology firm takes an increasingly totalitarian shape in this cautionary tale from Eggers (A Hologram for the King, 2012, etc.). Twenty-four-year-old Mae feels like the luckiest person alive when she arrives to work at the Circle, a California company that's effectively a merger of Google, Facebook, Twitter and every other major social media tool. Though her job is customer-service drudgework, she's seduced by the massive campus and the new technologies that the "Circlers" are working on. Those typically involve increased opportunities for surveillance, like the minicameras the company wants to plant everywhere, or sophisticated data-mining tools that measure every aspect of human experience. (The number of screens at Mae's workstation comically proliferate as new monitoring methods emerge.) But who is Mae to complain when the tools reduce crime, politicians allow their every move to be recorded, and the campus cares for her every need, even providing health care for her ailing father? The novel reads breezily, but it's a polemic that's thick with flaws. Eggers has to intentionally make Mae a dim bulb in order for readers to suspend disbelief about the Circle's rapid expansion--the concept of privacy rights are hardly invoked until more than halfway through. And once they are invoked, the novel's tone is punishingly heavy-handed, particularly in the case of an ex of Mae's who wants to live off the grid and warns her of the dehumanizing consequences of the Circle's demand for transparency in all things. (Lest that point not be clear, a subplot involves a translucent shark that's terrifyingly omnivorous.) Eggers thoughtfully captured the alienation new technologies create in his previous novel, A Hologram for the King, but this lecture in novel form is flat-footed and simplistic. Though Eggers strives for a portentous, Orwellian tone, this book mostly feels scolding, a Kurt Vonnegut novel rewritten by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
From the Publisher
Praise for The Circle
 
“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.”
—Dennis K. Berman, The Wall Street Journal

“Fascinating . . . Eggers appears to run on pure adrenaline, and has as many ideas pouring out of him as the entrepreneurs pitching their inventions in The Circle . . . [A] novel of ideas . . . about the social construction and deconstruction of privacy, and about the increasing corporate ownership of privacy, and about the effects such ownership may have on the nature of Western democracy . . . Like Melville’s Pequod and Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel, the Circle is a combination of physical container, financial system, spiritual state, and dramatis personae, intended to represent America, or at least a powerful segment of it . . . The Circlers’ social etiquette is as finely calibrated as anything in Jane Austen . . . Eggers treats his material with admirable inventiveness and gusto . . . the language ripples and morphs . . . It’s an entertainment, but a challenging one.” 
—Margaret Atwood, The New York Review of Books

“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. As the artist and computer scientist Jaron Lanier has done in several groundbreaking nonfiction books, Mr. Eggers reminds us how digital utopianism can lead to the datafication of our daily lives, how a belief in the wisdom of the crowd can lead to mob rule, how the embrace of ‘the hive mind’ can lead to a diminution of the individual. The adventures of Mr. Eggers’s heroine, Mae Holland, an ambitious new hire at the company, provide an object lesson in the dangers of drinking the Silicon Valley Kool-Aid and becoming a full-time digital ninja . . . Never less than entertaining . . . Eggers is such an engaging, tactile writer that the reader happily follows him wherever he’s going . . . A fun and inventive read.”
—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“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.”
—Hugo Lindgren, The New York Times Magazine

“Eggers is a literary polymath . . . The Circle is funny in its skewering of Internet culture. Holland obsessively tallies the reach of her Twitter-like Zings and enthuses about a benefit for needy children that raises not money but 2.3 million ‘smiles’ (think Facebook ‘likes’). The Circle's buildings are named for epochs, so at her first party Holland gets her wine from the Industrial Revolution . . . The ideas behind "The Circle" are compelling and deeply contemporary. Holland is an everywoman, a twentysomething believer in Internet culture untroubled by the massive centralization and monetization of information, ubiquitous video surveillance and corporate invasions of privacy.  Compare that to A Hologram for the King, in which a middle-aged man thoughtfully but powerlessly observes America's economic decline, realizing that his efforts to participate in globalization led to his own obsolescence. The two books together are saying something foreboding about America's place in the world: We have traded making physical things for a glossy, meaningless online culture that leaves us vulnerable to those who see that information — in the form of data, video feeds, or our own consumer desires — is power.”
—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times

“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.”
—Lev Grossman, Time
 
“You may find yourself so engrossed in Dave Eggers's futuristic novel, The Circle, that you forget about Facebook entirely. And by the last pages, you may think twice before logging on again.”
—John Freeman, O, The Oprah Magazine

“Bravely, audaciously . . . [Eggers] takes on the online world in The Circle, a provocative novel named for the world’s most powerful Internet firm. Set in the not-so-distant future, the novel is part satire, part corporate thriller. But mostly it’s a cautionary tale about threats to privacy, freedom and democracy.”
—Bob Minsesheimer, USA Today

“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.”
—Laura Christensen, Vanity Fair

“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.”
—G. Willow Wilson, San Francisco Chronicle

“Eggers surveys our privacy-annihilating, social media-infested world, recoils in horror at the inevitable consequences, and unleashes a primal scream: Enough! Stop! Stop liking and sharing and tweeting and texting! Stop it all! Readers who share Eggers’ concerns about the Facebook-opticon, the surveillance state that leaves no shred of daily life unscrutinized, this superficial, hollow sense of community spaned by digital connectivity will flock to stand before this brave rallying flag. . . . The world that the Circle is delivering to the online masses is very much our world. This isn’t science fiction . . . We need a legion of Dave Eggers in the world today, calling out the dangers.”
—Andrew Leonard, Salon

“Eggers’s works pulse with life . . . The Circle pushes his art even further . . . Eggers’s work, part dark comedy, part sobering glimpse into the near-future, stuns for two reasons: Mae’s humanity and compassion are apparent even as she helps erode our civil liberties; and two, it doesn’t feel like science fiction. It feels like the next horrific—but very plausible—small step for mankind.”
—Josh Davis, Time Out New York, five stars
 
“You can’t read The Circle, Dave Eggers’s novel about a powerful internet company, and not recognize the book’s dystopian vision in our own obsessions with sharing and social media. The novel, set in the near future, is an engaging mix of social satire and cautionary tale . . . captures the perils of the internet — and, in particular, the over-the-top utopianism sometimes espoused by technology executives — more than any other novel of recent years . . . both hilarious and foreboding.”
—Allan Hoffman, The New Jersey Star-Ledger
 
“Ripped from recent headlines about privacy, technology and social media . . . A book that begins as a lighthearted cautionary tale grows into a claustrophobic portrait of relentless effort to achieve the culmination of ‘closing the Circle.’”
—Richard Galant, CNN
 
“Entertaining . . . A sense of horror finally arrives near the end of the book, coming . . . through the power of Eggers’s writing . . . The final scene is chilling.”
—Ellen Ullman, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Gripping . . . Set in the not-too-distant future, Eggers' story takes us inside a shiny-happy California-based media corporation called the Circle . . . a compelling exploration of how individuals excitedly opt into a corporately-controlled culture of complete surveillance billed as a ‘community,’ transforming ‘privacy’ into a quaint notion possessed only by the nostalgic . . . The Circle's brilliance lies in convincingly taking us inside an extreme vision of what is nascent in the 21st century cyber-utopianism we all endorse, showing us how the visions of digital media moguls are championed and propagated by an overly-willing society . . . Eggers creates for us a surprisingly contemporary world that seems strangely familiar to regular social media users — a world into which all of us excitedly join without much prompting.”
—Rob Williams, PolicyMic
 
“What fuels this novel is its thunderbolt of an idea: digital culture is suffocating us and, what’s more, is doing so under the duplicitous guise of widespread human beneficence . . . This is a novel about the silence inside your head . . . a powerful argument for turning off your iPhone and going for a walk.”
—Alexander Nazaryan, Newsweek
 
“Dave Eggers is fast becoming one of our fiercest and most compelling writers on the dark side of technology. [The Circle] is a gripping and highly unsettling read.”
—Edmund Gordon, The Sunday Times (UK)

“It has taken Eggers the 13 years since his breakout memoir to give us a book that truly matched A Heartbreaking Work’s gravitas — but with The Circle, Eggers has given us everything . . . when you put down the book and go to check your email, you might just realize that we are living the fiction . . . [The Circle] takes place before a fall that we might really be approaching, and it’s this compelling sense of impending, unpredictable doom that makes this work of fiction feel very real, and very necessary.”
—Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

“Dave Eggers’ real heartbreaking work of staggering genius might be this one. The Circle is today’s version of dystopian classics such as George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Eggers’ novel is terrifying, funny, real, suspenseful and visionary . . . Always keeping the focus on Mae, Eggers brings up all the Big Brother issues of our time: privacy, democracy, memory, history and the quality of how we’re connecting.”
—Holly Silva, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Eggers has updated Orwell’s vision by inverting it. In 1984, the members of the Party are watched by Big Brother; in The Circle, it is the people who watch the government . . . Perhaps our need for privacy will erode as technology continues to develop and the world continues to change. Or perhaps humans will still occasionally cling to the need for privacy simply because it is an essential quality of being ‘human.’ Either way, the fact that these questions linger long after finishing this book is a testament to the multiple layers and potential lasting impact of The Circle.”
—Karl Hendricks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The Circle is a deft modern synthesis of Swiftian wit with Orwellian prognostication . . . a work so germane to our times that it may well come to be considered as the most on-the-money satirical commentary on the early internet age . . .  The pages are full of clever, plausible, unnerving ideas that I suspect are being developed right now . . . The book is also very funny . . . A prescient, important and enjoyable book, and what I love most about The Circle is that it is telling us so much about the impact of the computer age on human beings in the only form that can do so with the requisite wit, interiority and profundity: the novel.”
—Edward Docx, The Guardian (UK)

“Eggers’s past work has tackled sociopolitical issues such as the justice system, Sudanese refugees, and the plight of public school educators. The Circle gives him a new soapbox, and if he can convince a mass audience that Google is even a little bit evil, he’ll have produced some of the most subversive commercial fiction ever written. The novel is a pro-privacy, antitech manifesto masquerading as a Dan Brown thriller. It’s Evgeny Morozov dressed in John Grisham’s clothing.”
—Seth Stevenson, Bloomberg Businessweek

“Step away from whatever tweet you’re composing for your 484 followers. Don’t click “like” on that Facebook photo of a friend’s kids. Dave Eggers’ chilling and enormously absorbing new novel The Circle, about encroaching tentacles of the world’s most powerful Internet company, demands your thoughtful and committed attention.”
—Karen Valby, Entertainment Weekly

“A fast-moving conspiracy potboiler . . . a zippy, pulpy read that puts pressing issues into sharp relief.”
—Jessica Winter, Slate
 
The Circle is Brave New World for our brave new world . . . Now that we all live and move and have our being in the panopticon, Eggers’s novel may be just fast enough, witty enough and troubling enough to make us glance away from our twerking Vines and consider how life has been reshaped by a handful of clever marketers . . . There may come a day when we can look back at this novel with incredulity, but for now, the mirror it holds up is too chilling to LOL.”
—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

The Circle may be . . . more fable than novel, but it has all that in common with Brave New World, Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Fahrenheit 451. One hopes that it will enjoy pride of place with those books in classrooms, as a reminder that surveillance and transparency were not always judged merely by what they might do for us.”
—Stefan Beck, Daily Beast

“Eggers's writing is so fluent, his ventriloquism of tech-world dialect so light, his denouement so enjoyably inevitable"
—Alexander Linklater, The Observer

The Circle is intelligent and quirky, engaged and affecting and confirms Eggers’ place as one of the most interesting novelists currently writing.”
—Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

“Dave Eggers takes the growing inescapabilty of social media and personal technology to clever and chilling places in his new novel.”
—Patrick Condon, Associated Press

“Game-changing . . . a fast-paced and suspenseful story . . . Eggers has produced the fable for our wired times.”
—Bethanne Patrick, AARP.org
 
“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.”
Booklist (Starred)
 
“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.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred)
 
 

The Barnes & Noble Review

When we first meet Mae Holland, the naïve — or is it gullible? — protagonist of Dave Eggers's The Circle, she's agog at the campus of The Circle, the social networking giant where she's just landed a job. It's 400 acres of perfection, all rolling hills and meandering paths, with picnic groves and tennis courts and employee perks like free gourmet meals and daycare for dogs. Even the sky above is a flawless blue.

Mae thinks she's landed in heaven, but Eggers has plotted a swift trip to in the opposite direction. With a tour guide's zeal, he ushers us into the very near future, where a company that resembles the search-engine giant Google has absorbed Facebook and, as digital palate cleansers, gobbled up Twitter, Instagram, and Paypal as well.

Though The Circle's just four years old, 90 percent of all searches on earth go through it. The company owns 92 percent of all text messaging and controls 88 percent of the world's free-mail (think Gmail) market. But the killer app that secured The Circle's fortunes is TruYou, the online identity that is required of everyone who wants to use any of The Circle's array of indispensable Internet tools. Give just a smidgen of personal information — your real name, which is then tied to your bank accounts, your credit cards, your email accounts, and all of your social media profiles — and "anytime you wanted to see anything, use anything, comment on anything or buy anything, it was one button, one account, everything tied together and trackable?"

To Mae, it all makes sense. She comes to The Circle fresh from an eighteen-month stint as a cubicle drone at her hometown utility company, a job that offended her sense of self-worth. In the near- future of Eggers's tale, the deprivations of the Great Recession have ossified into a new normal. Jobs are scarce. A health care plan is a holy grail. For Mae, just twenty-four years old and carrying $250,000 of college debt, working within The Circle's utopia is the ultimate prize, a rescue she is desperate to deserve.

To that end, Mae quickly adapts to the company culture. She gives up all of her private information and, soon enough, all of her private time. It turns out that the Circle's 10,000 employees are judged not solely by their work but also by how much they participate in The Circle's internal culture. They're tracked by cameras, by GPS locators, and by their multiple social media feeds. Mae is pressured to attend the numerous after-hours events held on The Circle's campus, and unless she posts numerous photos and comments and tweets (here called "zings"), it's as though she wasn't there.

Social activism isn't volunteering with Habitat for Humanity — it's sending "smiles" (think Facebook "likes") to posts written about Habitat for Humanity. In one particularly lacerating scene, Mae and fellow Circlers take comfort in having sent thousands of smiles to the cell phone of a woman being held hostage by rebels in South America.

Soon, leaving The Circle's idyllic campus for even an hour becomes an unbearable ordeal: "There were homeless people, and there were the attendant and assaulting smells, and there were machines that didn't work, and floors and seats that hadn't been cleaned, and there was, everywhere, the chaos of an orderless world."

When one of Mae's few private pleasures, kayaking on the bay, gets her into trouble with the law, her Circle superiors are upset not with the fact that she lifted someone else's kayak but that the things she saw and thought and felt during the excursion remained known only to herself. This leads to a series of chillingly logical conversations, after which Mae coins two of The Circle's new truths: "Secrets are lies" and "Privacy is theft." Beyond the critique of a new corporate culture that leans on its users and employees to turn every lived moment into social capital, the overtly Orwellian echoes in those phrases hint at recent revelations about the NSA's incursion into citizens' digital lives.

The Circle is billed as a thriller, and Eggers has some secrets and suspense up his sleeve. The three men in Mae's life — an old boyfriend, a geeky colleague she takes up with, and a mysterious man she becomes obsessed with and who well may be quite dangerous — all star in subplots that are strange and disturbing. But Eggers, a 2012 National Book Award finalist for his novel A Hologram for the King, is too invested in his gleeful send-up of Internet culture to take the time to flesh out either his characters or the story. The broad strokes and broad wit plant The Circle firmly in the world of social satire. But in Eggers's accomplished hands, that turns out to be a good thing.

Smile.

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

Reviewer: Veronique de Turenne

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385351393
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/8/2013
  • Pages: 504
  • Sales rank: 36,781
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 8.74 (h) x 1.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Dave Eggers grew up near Chicago and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house in San Francisco that produces books, a quarterly journal of new writing (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), and a monthly magazine, The Believer. McSweeney’s publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. In 2002, he cofounded 826 Valencia, a nonprofit youth writing and tutoring center in San Francisco’s Mission District. Sister centers have since opened in seven other American cities under the umbrella of 826 National, and like-minded centers have opened in Dublin, London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Birmingham, Alabama, among other locations. His work has been nominated for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and has won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, France’s Prix Médicis, Germany’s Albatross Prize, the National Magazine Award, and the American Book Award. Eggers lives in Northern California with his family.

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Read an Excerpt

My god, Mae thought. It’s heaven.

The campus was vast and rambling, wild with Pacific color, and yet the smallest detail had been carefully considered, shaped by the most eloquent hands. On land that had once been a shipyard, then a ­drive-­in movie theater, then a flea market, then blight, there were now soft green hills and a Calatrava fountain. And a picnic area, with tables arranged in concentric circles. And tennis courts, clay and grass. And a volleyball court, where tiny children from the company’s daycare center were running, squealing, weaving like water. Amid all this was a workplace, too, four hundred acres of brushed steel and glass on the headquarters of the most influential company in the world. The sky above was spotless and blue.

Mae was making her way through all of this, walking from the parking lot to the main hall, trying to look as if she belonged. The walkway wound around lemon and orange trees and its quiet red cobblestones were replaced, occasionally, by tiles with imploring messages of inspiration. “Dream,” one said, the word ­laser-­cut into the red stone. “Participate,” said another. There were dozens: “Find Community.” “Innovate.” “Imagine.” She just missed stepping on the hand of a young man in a grey jumpsuit; he was installing a new stone that said “Breathe.”

On a sunny Monday in June, Mae stopped in front of the main door, standing below the logo etched into the glass above. Though the company was less than six years old, its name and ­logo—­a circle surrounding a knitted grid, with a small ‘c’ in the ­center—­were already among the ­best-­known in the world. There were more than ten thousand employees on this, the main campus, but the Circle had offices all over the globe, and was hiring hundreds of gifted young minds every week. It had been voted the world’s most admired company four years running.

Mae ­wouldn’t have thought she had a chance to work at such a place, but for Annie. Annie was two years older and they’d roomed together for three semesters in college, in an ugly building made habitable through their extraordinary bond, something like friends, something like sisters or cousins who wished they were siblings and would have reason never to be apart. Their first month living together, Mae had broken her jaw one twilight, after fainting, ­flu-­ridden and underfed, during finals. Annie had told her to stay in bed, but Mae had gone to the ­7-­Eleven for caffeine and woke up on the sidewalk, under a tree. Annie took her to the hospital, and waited as they wired her jaw, and then stayed with Mae, sleeping next to her, in a wooden chair, all night, and then at home, for days, had fed Mae through a straw. It was a fierce level of commitment and competence that Mae had never seen from someone her age or near her age, and Mae was thereafter loyal in a way she’d never known she could be.

While Mae was still at Carleton, meandering between majors, from art history to marketing to ­psychology—­getting her degree in psych with no plans to go further in the ­field—­Annie had graduated, gotten her MBA from Stanford and was recruited everywhere, but particularly at the Circle, and had landed here days after graduation. Now she had some lofty ­title—­Director of Ensuring the Future, Annie ­joked—­and had urged Mae to apply for a job. Mae did so, and though Annie insisted she pulled no strings, Mae was sure that Annie had, and she felt indebted beyond all measure. A million people, a billion, wanted to be where Mae was at this moment, entering this atrium, thirty feet high and shot through with California light, on her first day working for the only company that ­really mattered at all.

She pushed open the heavy door. The front hall was as long as a parade, as tall as a cathedral. There were offices everywhere above, four floors high on either side, every wall made of glass. Briefly dizzy, she looked downward, and in the immaculate glossy floor, she saw her own face reflected, looking worried. She shaped her mouth into a smile, feeling a presence behind her.

“You must be Mae.”

Mae turned to find a beautiful young head floating atop a scarlet scarf and white silk blouse.

“I’m Renata,” she said.

“Hi Renata. I’m looking ­for—­”

“Annie. I know. She’s on her way.” A sound, a digital droplet, came from Renata’s ear. “She’s actually...” Renata was looking at Mae but was seeing something else. Retinal interface, Mae assumed. Another innovation born here.

“She’s in the Old West,” Renata said, focusing on Mae again, “but she’ll be here soon.”

Mae smiled. “I hope she’s got some hardtack and a sturdy horse.”

Renata smiled politely but did not laugh. Mae knew the company’s practice of naming each portion of the campus after a historical era; it was a way to make an enormous place less impersonal, less corporate. It beat Building ­3B-­East, where Mae had last worked. Her final day at the public utility in her hometown had been only three weeks ­ago—­they’d been stupefied when she gave ­notice—­but already it seemed impossible she’d wasted so much of her life there. Good riddance, Mae thought, to that gulag and all it represented.

Renata was still getting signals from her earpiece. “Oh wait,” she said, “now she’s saying she’s still tied up over there.” Renata looked at Mae with a radiant smile. “Why don’t I take you to your desk? She says she’ll meet you there in an hour or so.”

Mae thrilled a bit at those words, your desk, and immediately she thought of her dad. He was proud. So proud, he’d said on her voicemail; he must have left the message at four a.m. She’d gotten it when she’d woken up. So very proud, he’d said, choking up. Mae was two years out of college and here she was, gainfully employed by the Circle, with her own health insurance, her own apartment in the city, being no burden to her parents, who had plenty else to worry about.

Mae followed Renata out of the atrium. On the lawn, under dappled light, a pair of young people were sitting on a manmade hill, holding some kind of clear tablet, talking with great intensity.

“You’ll be in the Renaissance, over here,” Renata said, pointing across the lawn, to a building of glass and oxidized copper. “This is where all the Customer Experience people are. You’ve visited before?”

Mae nodded. “I have. A few times, but not this building.”

“So you’ve seen the pool, the sports area.” Renata waved her hand off ­toward a blue parallelogram and an angular building, the gym, rising behind it. “Over there there’s the yoga studio, crossfit, Pilates, massages, spinning. I heard you spin? Behind that there’s the bocce courts, and the new tetherball setup. The cafeteria’s just across the grass...” Renata pointed to the lush rolling green, with a handful of young people, dressed professionally and splayed about like sunbathers. “And here we are.”

They stood before the Renaissance, another building with a ­forty-­foot atrium, a Calder mobile turning slowly above.

“Oh, I love Calder,” Mae said.

Renata smiled. “I know you do.” They looked up at it together. “This one used to hang in the French parliament. Something like that.”

The wind that had followed them in now turned the mobile such that an arm pointed to Mae, as if welcoming her personally. Renata took her elbow. “Ready? Up this way.”

They entered an elevator of glass, tinted faintly orange. Lights flickered on and Mae saw her name appear on the walls, along with her high school yearbook photo. Welcome Mae Holland. A sound, something like a gasp, left Mae’s throat. She ­hadn’t seen that photo in years, and had been happy for its absence. This must have been Annie’s doing, assaulting her with it again. The picture was indeed ­Mae—­her wide mouth, her thin lips, her olive skin, her black hair, but in this photo, more so than in life, her high cheekbones gave her a look of severity, her brown eyes not smiling, only small and cold, ready for war. Since the ­photo—­she was eighteen then, angry and ­unsure—­Mae had gained ­much-­needed weight, her face had softened and curves appeared, curves that brought the attention of men of myriad ages and motives. She’d tried, since high school, to be more open, more accepting, and seeing it here, this document of a ­long-­ago era when she assumed the worst of the world, rattled her. Just when she ­couldn’t stand it anymore, the photo disappeared.

“Yeah, everything’s on sensors,” Renata said. “The elevator reads your ID, and then says hello. Annie gave us that photo. You guys must be tight if she’s got high school pictures of you. Anyway, hope you don’t mind. We do that for visitors, mostly. They’re usually impressed.”

As the elevator rose, the day’s featured activities appeared on every elevator wall, the images and text traveling from one panel to the next. With each announcement, there was video, photos, animation, music. There was a screening of ­Koyaanisqatsi at noon, a ­self-­massage demonstration at one, core strengthening at three. A congressman Mae ­hadn’t heard of, ­grey-­haired but young, was holding a town hall at six thirty. On the elevator door, he was talking at a podium, somewhere else, flags rippling behind him, his shirtsleeves rolled up and his hands shaped into earnest fists.

The doors opened, splitting the congressman in two.

“Here we are,” Renata said, stepping out to a narrow catwalk of steel grating. Mae looked down and felt her stomach cinch. She could see all the way to the ground floor, four stories below.

Mae attempted levity: “I guess you don’t put anyone with vertigo up here.”

Renata stopped and turned to Mae, looking gravely concerned. “Of course not. But your profile ­said—­”

“No, no,” Mae said. “I’m fine.”

“Seriously. We can put you lower ­if—­”

“No, no. ­Really. It’s perfect. Sorry. I was making a joke.”

Renata was visibly shaken. “Okay. Just let me know if anything’s not right.”

“I will.”

“You will? Because Annie would want me to make sure.”

“I will. I promise,” Mae said, and smiled at Renata, who recovered and moved on.

Read More Show Less

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?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 81 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(33)

4 Star

(13)

3 Star

(20)

2 Star

(10)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 81 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2013

    I love the concept of this book: technology is wonderful... up t

    I love the concept of this book: technology is wonderful... up to a point. But the execution is ham-fisted at best. Everything is on the nose and predictable while at the same time, nothing is truly fleshed out enough to feel like a good story. We don't really get to know most of the characters and in many instances pivotal moments are skipped over only to be recounted in the past tense. Show don't tell, Mr. Eggers. I really expected more from this book. Again, very interesting concept, definitely thought-provoking. But ultimately disappointing as a novel.

    6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2013

    On par with some of the greatest visionaries of literature

    Think George Orwell too frumpy or old? Then read this current and hip look at one possible reality. Excellent read that will challange you to carefully think about technology, the ethics around technology, and why- when we have so much evidence to the contrary - humans believe they can be God. Excellent.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    A smart reader will get this book, a shallow reader will struggle.

    With all the discussions on privacy today, this book makes you squirm. It would be easy to dismiss the complications presented in the disguise of the story line but you would be doing a disservice to the intent of the novel. Every self rightous person thinks they understand privacy but it is too easy to ignore the complications. Mr.Eggers does not let you glibbly profess to be serious about the meaning of privacy. He keeps throwing fast balls directly at your biases, hitting you often as you scream foul. In fact, one should probably review Kant's discussions and definations of privacy pertaining to people and things. So if you read a review of this book which harps on shallowness of characters, remember the author knows what he is doing, it is a sophticated writing device. I give this book 5 stars because it makes you think , rethink, reposition, and review your view of privacy. A must read, but it is not a book you will walk away from saying you love it. rather you will admit we need it.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2013

    Before reading The Circle, the only other book by Eggers I have

    Before reading The Circle, the only other book by Eggers I have read was Zeitoun, and I loved it. I was expecting his writing to be similar here, but this time, he misses the mark. I bought the book because I was intrigued by its concept - essentially understanding the limits of human knowledge by drawing upon the everyday technologies we have and use and to take them to their extremes, understanding their implications on privacy, morality, free will. The book was meant to be a thought exercise, and in that sense, it succeeded. However, the protagonist, Mae Holland, was poorly developed. She was portrayed to be an unrealistically naive and malleable character, and I found this hard to relate to. However, if her character flaw was done intentionally, because her naivety was meant to represent our willingness to go along with the next new idea or device, then I might be inclined to follow along. But in general, it was frustrating to provide Mae with any sympathy - or to any of the other characters for that matter. Furthermore, some events which I thought deserved more elaboration were glossed over and never mentioned again. Ultimately, all of these things left me feeling conflicted about the book. 3 stars, no more, no less.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    I found this book tedious but I was still impressed with the tec

    I found this book tedious but I was still impressed with the technological concepts. All I can say is God help us if any part of this comes to fruition. The characters for the most part were poorly developed depriving you of really getting into the feel of the book.. Even the main character, Mae, was poorly developed preventing you from having any feelings or care about the character. The character of Annie, was just totally null and void, one dimensional.. The book rambled on page after page until you got to the point that if they added one more screen to Mae's desk you wanted to throw the book against the wall. For me its was a complete waste of my time. And yours too!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2013

    Is This Where We're Headed?

    This book makes you think about just where all the social media stuff today will eventually lead us. Kind of scary! Enjoyed reading it though.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2013

    The Circle will be a classic

    A rare gem. Dave Eggers manages to spin a cautionary tale of technological dystopia and yet make it engagingly charming and even funny. And like all great parables set in the future, he is really commenting on the word today. And it will make you think twice about that next social media post you make.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    Idea is interesting

    Execution is not. It is lacking complexity and development that makes a novel good. I do not care about any of the characters or feel engaged in the story. I did not finish reading this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014

    Horrid

    I feel like the only reason this book got published is because the author owned the publishing company. And to be honest, that was probably the reason.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2014

    wow

    U no what to do with that big fat butt Wiggle wiggle wiggle

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2014

    Hi

    Hi

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2014

    thought provoking, but not very engaging

    What if? When does technology become too controlling? What happens when our human interaction is threatened by the tools we implement in our efforts to make interaction perfect? This might be a good study for a junior high school-age group, except that the main character was too old for the level of immaturity she demonstrated, both in her personal thoughts and actions. A twelve year-old will relate to the content, but not identify with any of the characters.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2014

    TMS

    Capitilization needed. Awsome! Love it! Keep going!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2014

    Eh

    Once again eh.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2014

    BLUEKIT CHAPTER 2

    Blue kit awoke to the noise of paleflower and ryekit.
    "....Ryekit you need to play outside, you'll awake spirithearts kits." Paleflower said with anger in her voice.
    Buekit had forgotten about the new kits that had been born the night prior. Three kits were born last night, one died after being born. No one else knew about the third kit except for owlfur and spiritheart. Bluekit remembered the light brown fur around the little cats muzzle, and how the kit was the smallest of them all. Bluekit didnt know what spiritheart named the third kit. She only new that the name she had given the kit. Hawk.
    Thinking about the kit bluekit could still remember the thorns that snagged her fur as she snuck out following the medicine cat.
    "Bluekit let's go play outside together!" ryekit called bringing bluekit back into reality.
    "Race ya to the fresh kill pile!" Bluekit said trying to forget about hawk. Bluekit dashed to the fresh kill pile darting under the older warriors legs and right under foxfur, the grumpy elder, and made it to the fresh kill pile before rye kit.
    "I WIN!" Bluekit exclaims happy she won for once. she sees lichenpaw eating a sparrow and is reminded that her and ryekit are now 6 moons old.
    "Bluekit ryekit get over here!" Pale flower yowls for them to come back to the nursery. "Today you become paws!" She exclaims with excitement. Whiskerstar is standing in the nursery with yellowpatch and sliverfur.
    "Are you two ready to become apprentices?" Whisker star says as he walk towards the meeting pool. The meeting pool has shrubs growing around it with a huge boulder on the far end where the meetings are held.
    "ALL WHO CAN CATCH THEIR OWN FOOD GATHER TO HERE MY NEWS!"
    The cats gather around curious of the event. "Today ryekit and bluekit become apprentices. Ryekit you will have yellowpatch. Yellow patch pass on your wisdom and patience to the young cat." Yellowpatch and rye kit meet in the middle of the rock and lay tails on each others shoulder.
    "Bluekit you will have silverfur. Silver fur teach Bluekit the ways of a warrior and help her get through the hardest times." Bluekit meets silverfur in the middle and rest her tail on his shoulder.
    "RYEPAW BLUWPAW RyEPAW.." The clan cheers there new names. Bluekit looks at silverfur and ask to go outside. Silver without saying a word walks toward camp entrance with only a flick of his tail.

    End of chapter 2!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2014

    Well-done takedown of tech giants

    If you want to get an idea of what sites like Google and Facebook could _really_ do if they tried, this is the book to read. Eggers does a good job pointing out the dangers in carrying too far the Google philosophy of transparency (e.g. the "must use real name" aspect of Google+).

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2014

    To bluekit

    Plz go post that somewhere else just not here

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

    Get a pink ipad

    Kiss your hand three times post this on three other books and look undr your pillow.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

    Sucky

    Jk its awesome

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2014

    Books you should read

    This was a great book and i hope everyone who read this
    book enjoyed it like i did Thank u and Comment please

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 81 Customer Reviews

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