di·ver·ti·men·to| dəˌvərdəˈmentō | noun (plural divertimenti | -ˈmentē | or divertimentos) Music a light and entertaining composition, typically one in the form of a suite for chamber orchestra.
ORIGIN mid 18th century (denoting a diversion or amusement): Italian, literally ‘diversion’.
Here is the chain . . . My wife bought a new computer, received a year of Apple+TV for free, and then we watched The Morning Show. Simultaneously, I’ve been thinking the two books that really have lingered in my consciousness from 2020, but may not have made as big a splash as they should have because of Covid . . .
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.
There was something breathtaking about people “playing life” in Silicon Valley as related in this book. Her outsider look at the inside captured both a moment and a world that I found astounding. Also, I found the tension between money and privacy interesting—witnessing firsthand what can be done (what’s possible) versus what should be done (what’s appropriate).
A naive and idealistic twenty-two-year-old from the Midwest, Adrienne Miller got her lucky break when she was hired as an editorial assistant at GQ magazine in the mid-nineties. Even if its sensibilities were manifestly mid-century—the martinis, powerful male egos, and unquestioned authority of kings—GQ still seemed the red-hot center of the literary world. It was there that Miller began learning how to survive in a man’s world. Three years later, she forged her own path, becoming the first woman to take on the role of literary editor of Esquire, home to the male writers who had defined manhood itself— Hemingway, Mailer, and Carver. Up against this old world, she would soon discover that it wanted nothing to do with a “mere girl.”
But this was also a unique moment in history that saw the rise of a new literary movement, as exemplified by McSweeney’s and the work of David Foster Wallace. A decade older than Miller, the mercurial Wallace would become the defining voice of a generation and the fiction writer she would work with most. He was her closest friend, confidant—and antagonist. Their intellectual and artistic exchange grew into a highly charged professional and personal relationship between the most prominent male writer of the era and a young woman still finding her voice.
This memoir—a rich, dazzling story of power, ambition, and identity—ultimately asks the question “How does a young woman fit into this male culture and at what cost?” With great wit and deep intelligence, Miller presents an inspiring and moving portrayal of a young woman’s education in a land of men.
What struck me about In The Land of Men was how even without David Foster Wallace, the work stands on its own. It’s another outsider’s view inside a world (this one now gone). Magazine publishing mostly dead, and that boys club is (hopefully) gone too.
Of course there was an earlier book that bridges all of these moments and link all of this together in my mind . . .
Told in three distinct and uniquely compelling sections, Asymmetry explores the imbalances that spark and sustain many of our most dramatic human relations: inequities in age, power, talent, wealth, fame, geography, and justice. The first section, “Folly,” tells the story of Alice, a young American editor, and her relationship with the famous and much older writer Ezra Blazer. A tender and exquisite account of an unexpected romance that takes place in New York during the early years of the Iraq War, “Folly” also suggests an aspiring novelist’s coming-of-age. By contrast, “Madness” is narrated by Amar, an Iraqi-American man who, on his way to visit his brother in Kurdistan, is detained by immigration officers and spends the last weekend of 2008 in a holding room in Heathrow. These two seemingly disparate stories gain resonance as their perspectives interact and overlap, with yet new implications for their relationship revealed in an unexpected coda.
Relationships of asymmetry. In this novel’s instance, it a fictionalized account of Halliday’s relationship with Philip Roth — she in her 20s, he in his 60s . . .
—I’ve been diverted from my diversion! (too much time has passed and my theme is changing.)
Interestingly, this little run is part of a larger “memoir” theme that I just realized that I was pursuing. In fact, I actually was shooting to make a few shows out of this whole thing. (I sent the emails, but nothing. And that’s pretty unusual to get absolutely no response.)
so, there it is then. If I hear back from anyone, I’ll let you know. Until then, I guess it’s back to The Recognitions . . . .