A few days before interviewing Dave Eggers about The whole, his new novel released at McSweeney’s Publishing next week, I had a fictional experience: while staying with friends, fresh out of sunscreen, I bought a little Dr. Jart Cicapair SPF 50, which I was once offered to soothe my rosacea-prone skin. Back at the apartment, I Google searched for the brand and learned that because Dr. Jart is sold in Mainland China, where animal testing is required by law, the brand is not. not “cruelty-free” – a qualification I try to adhere to with cosmetics. I hadn’t opened the package, so I took it back to Sephora, where a woman processed the return and threw the box in a trash can. – I didn’t open it, I say. She nodded. “Is he going back to the shelf?” No, she said, because of COVID, there was a procedure in place “to safely dispose of any returns.” I considered asking if I could buy the jar again to save it from untimely death by landfill, but there was a line behind me and I already felt like a travesty of myself. It wasn’t long before I went to CVS, bought the only “clean” zinc anti-redness sunscreen on the shelf, looked at it as I walked out the door … and learned that ‘it was also produced by a parent company which tested on animals. I’m wearing it now.
In The whole, Eggers (whom I first met in 2012 during an internship at McSweeneys, the independent publisher he founded in 1998) continues his best-selling book from 2013 The circle with a dystopian thriller stuffed with this kind of absurd encounter. In the novel, social media giant The Circle merged with an Amazon platform to form The Every and Delaney, an idealist in disguise while drinking Kool Aid, joined the company in hopes of shutting it down. Once inside, she meets the creators of apps who calculate the month and year of a person’s death and analysts who hope to “fix” novels like Jane eyre by quantifying the data generated by users. The Bay Area Every campus (called “Everywhere”; everywhere else is “Nowhere”) is eco-friendly in the extreme – bananas are banned following massive outrage over the impact of the maritime transport ; a field trip to see elephant seals on a beach causes trauma for almost everyone involved – and every nearly good idea is immediately twisted into something unmistakably damaging.
In keeping with the themes of the novel, the hardcover edition of the book will not be available for purchase on Amazon; instead, fans interested in reading should order direct from McSweeneys or visit their local independent bookstore, at least until November 16, when a paperback edition, released by Vintage, will be available for purchase. anywhere and allwhere the books are sold.
Bypassing Amazon for the hardcover isn’t the first time you’ve done it. It was the last time you did it in 2002, to You will know our speed?
It was the only other time we really did it on purpose. And it was very hard at the time. I think we had a team of two. But now we are up to five people. We are almost overstaffed. We are a juggernaut and we are ready to face Amazon. We feel like we’re pretty well suited, the five of us against 1.3 million.
I imagine between the early 2000s and now Amazon has changed, and I think the process would be more difficult.
Oh, it’s much more difficult. Each distributor has a relationship with them, so if they distribute a book, it must be distributed through Amazon. You cannot choose. They have the opposite of an exclusive, I guess, which is that nothing will come out without their participation. It took us weeks to figure out how our distributor, Baker & Taylor, would make this possible. And then you have to have all the independent bookstores involved, which have been really great with the whole arrangement so far.
If you take a lot out of how a lot of people buy books, you’re saying that in order to get this one you might need to put a little more effort outside of the Buy Online button. And I know we’re exhausted as a species; there is too much going on and it’s not like we can always avoid helping and encouraging these monopolies, especially during a pandemic. But maybe that will make a few people look around the corner and see that there’s a little store there that could benefit from a purchase or two. It’s a small gesture, but more than anything, it’s a way to partner with the bookstores that made McSweeney’s possible because without them we wouldn’t exist. I am not saying this as hyperbole. In the early days of McSweeney’s, we couldn’t get the magazine from any channel – you had to go through an invisible politburo committee in Tennessee or something. I used to bring a newspaper on the subway in Manhattan, on my lap, in a box, and I would go to any community bookstore in Brooklyn or St. Mark’s bookstore in downtown from Manhattan, or Shakespeare & Company, and I was just like, Hey, you want that? And they would say, sure, and that was it. It was this incredibly human process.
There are scenes in your book that made me so viscerally anxious, in particular, as someone with insomnia, the introduction to sleep tubes, in which Judy Dench’s voice intimidates you into peaceful slumber.
Why do you suffer from insomnia? Is this new?
He comes and goes. I don’t think my attachment to screens is helping. I have instituted a phone pot where the phone is put in a ceramic pot and then it is not allowed to take it out of the pot.
Now, think about it, just to pause on it. The devices keep us awake for sure – and I’m guilty of that too – so we don’t get enough sleep, and then we have to invent all these new tools to help us sleep and measure our sleep … because of the devices in use. first place. It’s that vicious circle and I think I’m trying to point out the absurdity of it. I mean, the other thing that’s absurd is that all the machines that measure sleep now, can’t actually measure it. They don’t measure it and they don’t know if you are sleeping, they measure if you are moving. They measure your heart rate. In fact, they can’t get into your brain and know if you are dreaming or something like that. There is always this illusion of certainty. This is where I can have fun with it. In a way, this is a new version of the snake oil that has been sold to us for hundreds of years, the false promise of data and metrics attracts us just like a miracle cure. would have done a hundred years ago: do this and you. I will be smarter, more personable and more efficient at work.
When I was working with you, I don’t think you had a smartphone. Still don’t have one?
I’m talking to you on a seven year old flip phone, it was an updated model from my previous one, which is identical. I think they designed this model in 2004.
What was your search process for the book, as someone who isn’t constantly on Twitter or Instagram or whatever on a smartphone?
So the is a smartphone at home that I share with the rest of the family. Not that I use it a lot, but I could pick it up and know how it works. I think this research is best done in a very careful and measured way when you write fiction, because as a journalist I can go too far into what is really going on. And if I had to visit a tech campus and interview people, then suddenly I would write a whole different book. In order not to understand what is really going on in the world and what is really going on on a campus or in the cafeteria, in the washroom or whatever, I have to keep a little distance and imagine what could be next, and for create a totally independent universe, as opposed to a universe too dependent on reality.