This episode of the KYD Podcast is coming straight to you from our respective bunkers—though we can’t promise we look as stylish as Ira Glass while doing it.

In the episode we use tech to discuss Anna Weiner’s time in Silicon Valley as recorded in her memoir, Uncanny Valley (HarperCollins). After that we delve into what makes a good (or bad) book club and mention a few online ones you could follow along with right now.

Further reading:

Read Nathania Gilson’s interview with Anna Wiener.

After Uncanny Valley we’d recommend reading:

The Great Hack on Netflix

How To Do Nothing, Jenny Odell (Read Cher Tan’s review)

Blueberries, Ellena Savage (Read Chloë Cooper’s review and Kylie Maslen’s essay)

Trick Mirror, Jia Tolentino

Our recommendations:

Alice: Ghost Species by James Bradley and the Sex and Death web series

Alan: Watching Riverdale (or anything else) with friends on Netflix Party

Meaghan: Starting a new series (a few suggestions are Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac O’Reilly series, Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher series, Ben Aaranovitch’s Rivers of London.)

If you’re looking for an online book club and don’t want to start your own, you could try:

The KYD First Book Club (of course)

City of Melbourne’s “What are you reading?” Facebook group

Yarra Libraries’ Short Story Club

#Whatareyoureading Book Club (Every Thursday at noon on Twitter)

Text Publishing’s ‘The Common Room’

Neighbourhood Books is holding their Sunday Salons online where possible.

Theme music: Broke For Free, ‘Something Elated’.

Stream or subscribe: Apple Podcasts / Soundcloud / Google Podcasts / Spotify / Other (RSS)

Let us know what you think by rating and reviewing in your app of choice!

 


TRANSCRIPT

(Music)

Meaghan Dew: Welcome back to the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. I’m Meaghan Dew and I’m here today with Alice and Alan, and we are going to be bringing you a little more extra entertainment in this time. First off we’re going to discuss Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener. Uncanny Valley is the memoir of a 25 year-old publishing assistant who quickly moves into the world of tech, moving to San Francisco and working in customer support. It documents the things she likes about the experience, the reasons why so many people are drawn to the tech world as well as her increasing inability to ignore the structural issues that have now been projected out into the wider world. It’s described on the front cover as ‘Joan Didion at a start-up,’ as Rebecca Solnit says. So, um, my first question really to both of you is, what did you think about the topic? Did it really sing out to you from the start?

Alice Cottrell: Yeah, I was really keen to read this—I’m kind of like horrified and fascinated by Silicon Valley and the tech world so I was really interested in getting a kind of insider view on it, particularly from a young woman who came from publishing, it just sort of felt like that was an entry point that would be a similar perspective to me, I guess. And Rebecca Solnit saying that it’s like Joan Didion at a start-up is obviously a huge plug, so yeah, I was very keen to read this going in.

Alan Vaarwerk: Yeah, likewise. I’ve been kind of yeah, interested in that whole cult of Silicon Valley, kind of grotesquely interested, but also legitimately interested in that, the allure of Silicon Valley for years now. And so yeah, seeing what that was like from someone on the inside and yeah, seeing what that was like to live it was yeah, very appealing.

MD: Yeah, I kind of felt the same way you did—like, it was a topic that really made me kind of go ooh, and I think like the whole world seems a little bit like the antithesis of the book world. I mean, it’s just sounds like it’s heavily male-dominated, it’s really fast moving and untraditional, and all those things are kind of really different to publishing even if it, at its most sort of cutting-edge I suppose. So the idea of someone that I could perhaps personally identify with, someone female, someone who came from a similar work background, who could demystify the whole thing for me sounded really useful and interesting. I would be really interested to hear how people who are actually in the industry have taken it, because I think it might be quite different to the way that we’ve interpreted it.

AV: Yeah, well, there’s a lot of, in the acknowledgements section it sort of says that a lot of people that Anna Wiener spoke to for the book, and she goes into this a little bit in an interview that she did on Kill Your Darlings recently as well, that some of the people that she spoke to for the book in the industry were doing, were talking to her at a fairly significant risk to themselves, like, in terms of non-disclosure agreements and just their own sort of career progression. So, and yeah, I think it’s obviously, it’s appealing to us and it would also be appealing to a publisher as well to someone who is an outsider but also an insider in terms of being able to know how the system works, but also be able to look at it as an outsider, and especially from a literary standpoint, which is where Anna Wiener is coming from.

MD: You need someone who sees the appeal of it as well as the bits that are, like, strange or unfamiliar to outsiders. And without someone being able to see the appeal of it, which obviously Anna does at different points along the way, you don’t really understand why anyone is attracted to this world or why anyone works in this world. So definitely, I think she’s the combination of those two things. Someone who sees the reasons, like the positive aspects and the interesting aspects and the reasons for why it would be enjoyable, and also the ones that are more inherently problematic and harder to see if you’ve been in it for a long time.

AV: I, no, I disagree, I think it is very interesting from the outside. Like that’s the whole reason that it is kind of a cult in itself, like it is so alluring, this idea of this kind of utopian city, San Francisco, where all the world’s problems are solved and people, you know, move fast and break things, and there’s, you know, everyone gets rich and that’s kind of, everyone is the best version of themselves, and that’s what was appealing to the author when when she moved there. And so I think part of the… part of the appeal of the book itself is sort of breaking that, it’s like a cult, it really is, I keep coming back to that, but it really is, like it looks, you know, appealing from the outside, but then you need someone who’s able to deconstruct it as well.

AC: I slightly disagree, I think. Like, I don’t know, I had a weird experience with this book. I was really into the idea and I, I really enjoyed it at the beginning going in, but the longer I read, the more frustrated I got with Anna, and I kind of felt like, that there was a bit of a faux-naivety about what Silicon Valley was, or what the companies that she was working for were, and it felt like a bit of a literary device to me, that we were sort of meant to go on a journey with her, as the reader, from naivety about the culture and the kind of business, and into a more fuller understanding. But after I’d finished it, thinking through, it was one of those books where I finished and I was like, ‘I enjoyed reading it, but also I hated it.’ (LAUGHS) And I was trying to, like, disentangle—is it my hatred of Silicon Valley, or the book, or… but I think that was it, what I came down to was this kind of faux naivety that she didn’t know what she was getting in for, and when I was flicking back through the book to prepare for this, I just underlined… This is on page 14, so very early in: ‘My friends in publishing was sceptical when I told them where I was going to work. They had a lot of questions I felt uneasy answering. Wouldn’t a subscription model undercut author royalties? Wasn’t it basically a cynical capitalist appropriation of the public library system? Wasn’t an app like this parasitic at first? Was it all that different from the online superstore, and wouldn’t that app’s success come at the expense of the literary culture and community?’ So it’s like, it’s not like the conversation wasn’t happening, that she wasn’t part of it or or aware of it, so I sort of found the premise that she was drawn in by this optimism and didn’t really know what she was getting herself into, like, a bit disingenuous. I felt, I dunno, maybe that it was like a get-out-of-jail-free card, or I kind of felt it was trying to make the reader feel in the same scenario as her, but also it’s very hard to separate what we all know about Silicon Valley now in the aftermath of Cambridge Analytica and those kind of things, I guess, with when it would have been that she was joining this, 2013 or 2014.

MD: Alice, you’re really right with talking about the publishing industry one, like when she was going into ebooks, that was a part that I did find unbelievable. I found it believable in hindsight that she didn’t understand the privacy concerns about some of Silicon Valley, like some of the most concerning parts, the ones that have had those Cambridge Analytica issues and stuff, like, that felt very believable, because five years ago, I don’t—like, I think we were all sceptical, but not to the extent that we are today. But the publishing industry bits I was like, yeah, those are really good questions that would be normal for you to be asking as a normal person.

AV: Yeah, I agree that execution doesn’t match the premise. I think the premise, you know, in and of itself is interesting, like, someone who didn’t know what they were in for—but no, I agree that the naivety that is, you know, I’m sure she did feel, but yeah, reading it in 2019–2020, the scepticism is with us now, we sort of already know the dark side of Silicon Valley, and you touched on it in the reading, the passage that you just did their Alice, the the idea of, kind of referring to Amazon as ‘the mega store’ or the, or Google as ‘the search engine giant’, or Facebook as ‘the social network that everybody hated’, which she does throughout the book—I mean, we know what Facebook is, we know what Google is, you can just, sort of—she never refers to any companies by their name, and the first couple of times it’s a bit cute, but by the end of the book you’re like, just say Facebook, just say Google. Like…

AC: Do you think she’s trying not to get sued though? Genuinely, I thought that might be a legal issue.

AV: I feel like she’s…I feel like it’s so obvious that there’s, you know exactly who she’s talking about. Yeah, maybe, but by the end of it I kind of was like, just say the thing that you’re saying.

AC: Going back to what you were saying about it not quite living up to the premise—I guess what I wanted to ask you two is, did you feel you really learned anything new from this about Silicon Valley?

MD: In hindsight I don’t really feel like I did, I think it was more it maybe reinforced some of the impressions that I already had. How do you two feel about it?

AC: I think that’s my issue with it. And I enjoyed the book, and I think she’s a fantastic writer – it’s one of those things where it’s, I’m being very critical and it sounds like I disliked it a lot more than I did. I think I just wanted more from it. I wanted, I think the promise of ‘Joan Didion’ says there’s going to be like real interrogation, and it didn’t feel like that to me. It felt like a really long description.

AV: Yeah.

AC: It was it was sort of fly-on-the wall, which was entertaining to a point, you know, some of the like really gross kind of team building parties they go to, and that kind of thing, are kind of excruciating but funny, and she describes them really well and has a great sense of humour about them. But I wanted it to go deeper, you know, I wanted… I just I didn’t feel it sort of went far enough from her personal experience to like, what does that tell us about the culture as a whole?

MD: Definitely had moments where I wished I was reading a different book—a book that still contained all of these memoir aspects, which I did enjoy, but I felt like I wanted a cross between that and a book that then took that personal experience and drew in the wider implications to kind of draw those connections for us. Because it really, it is a book that expects that we’re making those connections, and that’s fine, but I really felt like a combination of memoir and sort of more thoroughly researched overview would have been maybe like a more groundbreaking book, or more interesting book—like, good though the book was.

AC: It felt like it kind of rushed into that in maybe the last, you know, 50 pages of the book. Like, ‘okay, so then this is what I’ve learned about Silicon Valley, and this is what I feel about it.’

AV: Yeah.

AC: The second half of the book felt way too long for me, and I discovered afterwards that this was actually, the genesis for this book was a long-form essay that then grew into the book. And in some ways I think the topic and the story is more suited to being a long essay than a book-length project, just because I felt like we kind of just kept having the same experience over and over again at different companies. I don’t know if anyone else feels that. I think…

AV: I actually, I think I found the second half of the book stronger, maybe the last third of the book stronger, because it did start to get that, when—back to that question about what did we learn—I think that was the point in which I thought it was interesting to get that insider’s look at how Gamergate and how the Cambridge Analytica scandal and that, how they played out for people inside those companies, like what it was like to be a content moderator, or what it was like to be doing customer service while, yeah, these dramas were unfolding that we sort of read about in the media, but what that was like to be on the inside. So I feel like that was where it started to, where the book started to really find its voice. But I mean, the Joan Didion comparison is kind of a poisoned chalice, isn’t it? Like, I mean partly because, yeah, any young white female essay writer is given that kind of comparison—you know, Rebecca Solnit herself who did the blurb about Joan Didion has been referred to as another, as another Joan Didion. I mean, but also by comparison, you look at recent books, like, you know, Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror or Ellena Savage’s Blueberries or any number of shorter forms, of essay writing going on about the intersections of tech and culture, which is such a, you know, fertile ground, because that’s 90 per cent of how we live our lives nowadays—and there’s so many great ways that those kind of writers interrogate sort of, what it is to be complicit in a bad system while also trying to just leave your life. And you know, Anna Wiener does that as well, but in a way that kind of suggests that she’s just kind of buffeted along by the winds of the industry, without any real agency in her own movements, and I think that’s kind of a bit of a, as you say, a get-out-of-jail-free card because it yeah, plays into her own naivety without really commenting on that and without really interrogating it and the broader culture as well.

AC: There’s a kind of passivity to it, I think that’s what I found frustrating.

MD: If we didn’t really feel like we learnt anything that was particularly new, I had the vague feeling at certain points that I should probably change the way that I engage with some of this technology, but also the knowledge that I probably wouldn’t in any way—did either of you feel like it was going to have any effect? Like Alan, did you think while reading it that it would change your behaviour in any way?

AV: I mean, we’ve known that Facebook, we’ve known that Facebook and Amazon are evil for how long, and, and still kind of have that Faustian pact of you know, we still log on every other day, and so I mean, I don’t think knowledge is the, is the issue here. But yeah, I don’t—yeah, maybe with some more of that interrogation about, sort of, how…about what it says about culture more broadly, I maybe would have been able to change my behaviour. But really, like, you know—what it did make me think about, and kind of crystallised something that I’ve increasingly thought over the past few years, like, there is something really alluring and attractive about that whole idea of maximising your productivity and life hacking and being your, being your optimised self. I think there is something really alluring about that—especially, you know, as a way of exercising control over your own life, and exercising your own agency. And that’s obviously the trap that so many people in this book have fallen into, and I think one of the things that the book does well is take that step back and show just how kind of pathetic that impulse is. And so I think that’s something that’s maybe, yeah, made me when I do feel myself, you know, there’s a million and one different to-do list apps, and journaling methods, and, you know, blog posts about how to maximise your productivity by not sleeping and only drinking sludge every day, kind of thing, you know, and living in a tiny house where every square centimetre has a purpose. And so there is something very alluring about that as a way of exercising control over your life, but I think yeah, something that the book does well is shows how false that notion of control is, especially in a capitalist system.

AC: Yeah, like Alan says, I don’t think that this would change my behaviour in comparison to something like The Great Hack on Netflix, which is about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and its kind of involvement in Donald Trump’s election, the Brexit campaign, and it’s just truly horrifying. But I’m like, if you don’t log off after that, when will you log off? But I think actually the big insight that this book did give me is how enticing optimism is, and I do totally understand that in a landscape where there are lots of things outside of our control and the whole, you know, world’s going to hell in a handbasket attitude, that the idea that like, ‘we are here to, you know, revolutionise things, fix things, make things,’ would be exciting—but I just didn’t buy the length of time from that feeling to, ‘maybe going to get out of this.’

AV: And I think that’s something that maybe a book like Jenny Odell’s How to do Nothing does better. It’s not actually a book about Silicon Valley, but it is a book about, you know, Jenny Odell lives in San Francisco and so is, just by nature of where she lives is around the tech industry and it talks more about the way that we interact with our technology and what that says about our culture and society and…I don’t know that that book necessarily, I know it made a lot of people rethink how they interact with their devices, but I don’t know that it did that for me necessarily—but I think something like that, that isn’t necessarily about what it was like on the ground is going to make that behavioural change. I think it is a fly-on-the-wall kind of narrative, but not necessarily enough of a analytical, or a critical eye.

MD: I too, I don’t think any of those have actually shifted or changed my behaviour, but I’m, I think if I was likely to, that’s even less likely now. I mean, we’re all, we’re all in Melbourne, we’re all self isolating and working from home, and technology is what is allowing us to do what we’re doing right now, like it’s allowing us to keep in contact with friends and family. And like weirdly, I had a bit of a bit more scepticism about our interaction with technology and our reliance on it, like, more of a scepticism a few weeks ago than I do today. Either that or it’s more horrifying because we’re going to question that less perhaps, but do either of you feel like your relationship to technology has changed in the last few weeks? Maybe regardless of this book?

AC: Yeah, I think I’ve definitely felt a bit more of a ‘ugh, thank god for the internet,’ whereas maybe a month ago I was like, ‘ugh, god the internet,’, you know, just for keeping you connected with people, allowing you to, you know, watch great movies, listen to podcasts and access so much culture and entertainment and speak to people across the world—In a way, like, the last couple of weeks has felt like the early days of the internet back again? It’s just that like, everyone’s on it and sort of learning to use it in a new way. So maybe that’s it, there’s kind of a renewed sense of excitement and possibility about it.

AV: Experimentation, yeah. I feel like before all of this happened we were sort of, there ways of using the internet that we had sort of become accustomed to, and yeah, that was sort of how you did it. And now that the whole world’s gone topsy-turvy and everything sort of has to be done over the internet—I mean, we’re still in you know, unfortunately pretty early days yet, and so I think how things crystallise over the next few months is going to be interesting, but at the moment yeah, people are kind of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, and that—it’s making some interesting stuff, and it’s making some stuff that you know, doesn’t work so well, but people are just trying to do whatever they can to kind of, you know, stave off the existential crisis even moreso than normal. But that’s also having downsides because yeah, I mean, I was kind of finally starting to sort of disconnect and have some time, you know, away from screens right before this happened, and now I, you know, now I’m refreshing the Guardian live blog every 10 minutes and the way that this crisis has just completely made us so reliant on our, on our screens, not to sound too Luddite about it, but we’re so, we are so reliant on our screens now that yeah, we’re going to have to, just as we were sort of learning to have a healthy relationship with technology, we now have to rethink what that means. Yeah, I think the book itself is, you know, hopefully it does as part of a greater kind of body of work that makes us rethink how we think about technology and how we think about the technology industry it does—it is, it is a valuable addition to that kind of body of work, but it’s not going to fix things all by itself.

MD: So I guess that’s our summary then we really I think all three of us enjoyed Uncanny Valley but definitely we would recommend reading it within a larger body of work. It’s a great memoir and yeah, we’d recommend you order it, but we could also recommend another five books you should order the same time. So…

AV: Yeah, if you are wanting to read more about sort of Silicon Valley and the way that we relate to technology, I would read Uncanny Valley before reading the Jia Tolentinos and some of the other more critical, like if you are looking for an entry point into this world, Uncanny Valley is probably a good entry point. But yeah, there are plenty of other books that you can go to afterwards and movies and documentaries and things like that, that will take a deeper dive and do a bit more thinking about what this means.

MD: One of the things I really enjoy about this podcast is being able to discuss a book that I’ve read with you all, but I’m curious as to where you do that in other parts of your life? I’m in a few book clubs, I was actually running late to this recording session today because of the meeting of my book club, they have not changed during this time, they’re still all going ahead. Alice, are you in any book clubs?

AC: I am in a book club, I was invited by a friend which is great, so it’s like zero organisation from me, and there was kind of a ready-made group waiting for me. And people suggest books, we vote on them. I’ve sort of been desperate to join a book club for years, and I tried to start a fledgling like WhatsApp book club with a few friends who live in  various different countries, and that kind of fell flat on its face, but I also didn’t want the effort of organising an entirely new book club. So yeah, I was very happy to be invited to an already existing one, and I’ve really enjoyed it.

MD: What about you Alan, are you in a book club at the moment?

AV: No, I’m not, no. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in a proper book club. Like I have, you know, groups of friends that I will talk about books with, but I was in a short story club for a while when I was, when I first moved to Melbourne, and we would sort of get together, we’d have dinner at a friend’s house and then someone would read a short story for the group and then we would talk about it, and that was really nice. But no, as far as an actual book club, I mean unless you can count the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club. (LAUGHS).

MD: Yeah, I think, so I’m actually probably in about three simultaneously at the moment, like all varying functionality I suppose. There’s 2 monthly ones, one of which I was invited into the same way as you were Alice, like I had one friend who was involved. And that’s one where people alternate picking the books. And I’m also in one with friends where one person has organised it and picks the book each month. So they’ve already picked the books every month for the rest of the year, really.

AC: So one person chooses all the books?

MD: One person chooses all the books.

AC: That seems a bit, you know, dictatorial to me, I’d say. (LAUGHS). The thing I like about book club is reading things I would never otherwise read, because people make such different choices. I kind of think that’s, like, one of the interesting aspects of the book club being introduced to work that, you know, you wouldn’t pick off the shelf yourself.

AV: I do like the idea of not having the pressure of choosing yourself like—because yeah, I agree, I like the idea of reading things that wouldn’t otherwise read, but then the idea of having to recommend things to a whole group of people, and then they would maybe think less of me if they didn’t like it…

AC: Oh, if you recommend something and it bombs it’s a really bad feeling.

MD: It’s really uncomfortable.

AV: Yeah, so having that removed, that sounds pretty good.

MD: I think we’ve only had one actually bomb and it was actually a really unpleasant experience because no one wanted to kind of pan it too much, but it was also really bad, not the person’s fault at all. They’d read some reviews and heard that it was good, and they picked it and they didn’t like it either, so it was kind of them apologising for a book that they didn’t write the entire time, which felt really—we felt like, it’s not your fault, really it’s not, but also yes, this was not a good book.

AC: I’ve got to say though, one of the book club discussions I’ve enjoyed most is ripping to shreds a book that we all hated There’s something quite fun about that as a group activity, being able to share your frustration or articulate why you didn’t like something or why something didn’t work for you. And you know, having your opinion reinforced by everyone else, I guess—although also, you know, always fun when there’s an outlier and two really widely differing opinions on the same book.

MD: So my day job is as a librarian and one of the jobs I’ve been involved in is making a list of a few books that would be good Book Club books coming into the new year. So the sets that different groups that are registered with us borrow. And one of the interesting things I had to keep in mind was is it wasn’t, obviously it’s not a personal, ‘here’s my hit list of books that I like the most, and think we should get as a set.’ It’s really, like, interesting trying to think of what would make a good book club book, and it’s not necessarily just a book that is fantastic, because sometimes if you’ve got a really good book, sometimes it’s just like, ‘yeah, we all liked it,’ and there’s just not a whole lot of extra discussion. Whereas a book that is more divisive can actually make for a much more interesting discussion in group sometimes.

AC: For me, I think that’s often why I prefer reading nonfiction for book clubs, just because often there’s already a kind of thematic base that the author is investigating, you know, that you are reading the book to learn about, so there’s already—I feel like that’s an easier launch pad into discussion sometimes than novels that might be a slightly more tangential discussion about you know, it can go in lots of different ways about form or character or style or writing, whereas—and obviously all of those things apply to the nonfiction titles too, but I feel like they start you off with a thematic base. I don’t know if anyone else feels that.

AV: I know you mean, it’s like we were just talking about with Uncanny Valley, even if the book itself doesn’t necessarily, you know, set your world on fire, you can still talk about the topic that the book is covering even if the writing itself doesn’t necessarily do that much for you. I’m actually interested as someone who is not in a book club, about from sort of what you’ve been talking about, what do you think makes a good or a bad book club?

AC: Book club itself or a book club title?

AV: A book club itself… (LAUGHS) I don’t know, maybe, am I like, setting you up to like rag on your friends?

AC: No, no, not at all, not at all. I think obviously you don’t want everyone to have the same opinion, but I think if people are generally interested in the same kind of books that’s useful. It’s fun to read outside your experience, but I, for instance, don’t know if anyone really cares about my opinion on sci-fi because it’s very ill informed. So I think if people have common interests in what they want to read, that allows for a kind of deeper discussion of the material. What do you think Meaghan?

MD: I agree, I think that’s a really good place to start. And maybe it’s, um… Like, I always feel like sort of the right book is a good start for the right discussion. So maybe just like clear guidelines set by the group at the start as to what the book should be. Just in the sense of yeah, making sure that it ticks everyone’s boxes in terms of a book that they want to discuss. There’s absolutely no point picking something that is so far out of what someone wants to read that they feel grumpy or annoyed at having to read it. And I guess also it’s like, ideally, I know this is a probably a divisive opinion, but I feel like everyone having read the book is a really good… (LAUGHS)

AC: I was going to say on that note, books that aren’t too long.

MD: Yes, 100 per cent.

AC: I just feel like, you know, everyone—well, not currently but often, people are really strapped for time, and asking people to read like a 600 page novel to discuss is a pretty big ask. So I think something that feels manageable for people with within their constraints is, is a good thing to do, and ensures that more people have read the book in order to discuss.

AV: Setting Ducks, Newburyport for your monthly book club might be a bit, it might be an exercise in bluffing as much as anything else. Okay, well interesting to think about then, what does make a good book club book. Because I mean sometimes, like, I think the term, you know, in inverted commas, ‘book club book’ is almost used as a as a pejorative sometimes. So what what do you guys think about that, as people who are in or who run book clubs?

AC: I think that ‘book club books’ being used as a pejorative fits within the frame of just denigrating things that groups of women are involved in, basically.

MD: Yes.

AC: In the same way that women’s fiction is often denigrated as not being serious, or you know, being lightweight or fluffy. I don’t hold any credence that book club books can’t be serious or weighty or meaty and, you know, I have had many wonderful discussions with groups of women about brilliant books. Yeah, so I don’t subscribe to that pejorative at all.

MD: I think it’s also a bit of a literary snobbishness about, if something is hugely popular then it must not be very good—which is definitely something I’ve subscribed to myself at times, but particularly when you think of big-name sort of celebrity book clubs and things like that, they’re often books that have huge jumps in popularity, and then the backlash obviously is like, ‘oh, if it’s that popular it can’t possibly be any good.’ so, which is again, it’s such, like, a shortcut for having your own opinion, and is so rarely the case. Like a lot of the time things are popular because they do what they do really well. Not all of the time, to be fair, but a lot of the time that’s the case, so that knee-jerk reaction of ‘if this many people are reading it or enjoying it then it must actually be terrible,’ is just, I don’t know, it’s the version of being a teenager who like, ‘well I only listen to Triple J, I never listen to…’ This is really going to date me isn’t it? (LAUGHS).

AC: But yeah, it’s bit of a ‘I liked this band before they were cool’ vibe. Like, I think for instance a lot of book clubs really enjoyed reading the Elena Ferrante novels, which I don’t think you could call, you know, unserious. It’s also maybe, it’s kind of used as a marketing tool and that’s something that, book club reads are as like wide and diverse as book clubs themselves, obviously, there’s millions of them—so I think maybe what is referred to as a ‘book club book’ is often just what publishers are marketing a particular type of book as, and that kind of plays into an idea of what book clubs read.

MD: So Alice, we’ve both been talking about our book clubs is if they’re still operating right now, so I’m guessing that yours is running online in some way at this point. What advice would you have for someone who’s looking to start a book club this in this point to reduce isolation?

AC: Yeah no, it’s pretty easy to adapt I’d say, we already had a Facebook group that we use to discuss when our next meetings would be, and to make selections, and now we’re just using Zoom to have the discussions. I think I would say, just have, make sure that there’s a structure that everyone understands, you know, how the club operates. Because different clubs do run quite differently. So maybe just, how often are we going to aim to meet? How are we going to choose the book? How long are we going to have to read the book? And yeah, are we going to have any prepared questions to discuss? But you know, they’re really fun, so, and they sort of evolve organically, I think, based on who’s in them.

MD: I guess from a personal point of view I’d say look into what technology you’re going to be using to manage it. One of my clubs is like, the event’s organised through Goodreads, but Goodreads’ event functionality is pretty rubbish to be honest. So definitely worth looking into like how you’re going to manage it. But ditto in terms of, most of mine are running by either like Zoom or Hangouts or something like that at the moment. From a professional point of view, I’ve been looking in the last couple of weeks at turning some of the book clubs we run in the library into like, to online delivery. So because it’s not a group of mates that I know already, it’s people that I’m getting involved through the workplace, I’d probably have advice like, make sure that everyone who is joining the book club is familiar with the technology you’re using ahead of time. So if you’ve got a scheduled time, then make sure everyone has tested out whatever you’re using, and is having no trouble with it beforehand, because otherwise that can be a pretty frustrating experience for people. And I would say also probably really good idea to make sure that the the book you’ve chosen is available in a whole bunch of different formats. So obviously everyone who can be buying it from a bookstore absolutely should be at this point in time, but everyone’s going to have different economic situations, particularly now, so making sure that there is sort of a version that’s available no matter what your situation is, or where you’re located at the moment is probably also a really good place to start.

AC: One of my top tips would be, if you’re time poor to do the reading, listen to the audio version. (LAUGHS).

MD: But the audio version takes like four times as long!

AC: Yeah, but you, you know, you can do it while you’re cleaning or making your dinner…

AV: Going for your one legally allowed walk…  AC: Going for your one walk, exactly.

AV: One thing that I would say would be, if you’re wanting to start a book club but are a bit sort of daunted by the logistics of it, there are so many ones that are, you know, that are already set up like, you know, there are celebrity book clubs or there’s the KYD First Book Club, where the kind of, the choosing and the structure and the timing is sort of already done. Another good way to do that would be also, Meaghan, through the library that you work at you have a bunch of book clubs going, and a short story club as well, where, which sort of I guess lowers that barrier to entry as well. If you could…

MD: We did actually, we had a short story book club that we had been running before everyone sort of started moving to being at home a lot more. Now, given the current situation we’ve gone to entirely online, and we’re also meeting once a week now. So if you are looking for something to bring a little bit more structure to your week at the moment, that could be a really nice option. So you, I think the first short story we’re going to be doing is ‘With the Beatles’, the Haruki Murakami one, and then we’re going to be moving on to a whole bunch of contemporary and more classic short stories, both Australian and international ones over the next few months. So…

AC: And which website can people book in for those at, Meaghan?

MD: And you can just go to the Yarra Libraries website and click on Events to find the next few ones up there, and we’re like, we’re open to suggestions on particular stories, and we’re actually going to be working with Kill Your Darlings as well to bring you some great Australian short stories you could be reading during this time, so. All right, so we’ve got some great suggestions for you, if you want to follow along with an existing book club, We’ve mentioned that we’ve got the Kill Your Darlings First Book Club. There’s the short story book club that Yarra Libraries is running, and there’s also some great online ones. I think the City of Melbourne is running, they’ve got a Facebook group that’s called What Are You Reading and I think they’re also running a Twitter one on Thursdays. So if you are looking for different ways to get involved, you can host one with your own friends, you can use Zoom or some others form of video chat program to use that, or you can join one of the other book clubs that is kind of sprouting up all over the place right now. So it’s never been a better time to discuss what you’re reading with someone else. What cultural stuff have you been engaging with recently? What have you been reading and watching in the last month, and is there anything you could recommend to our listeners?

AC: I’m reading Ghost Species by James Bradley, which is a cli-fi, climate fiction novel. I’ve never read anything that isn’t nonfiction by James Bradley, but I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s like a pacey, exciting kind of thriller with some ethical questions about tech, actually, as we’ve discussed before, what we’re doing to our planet how we might fix it, and what the ethical implications of our kind of meddling to fix it might be. So I really recommend that. And TV, I watched an amazing web series called Sex and Death which is by a Melbourne studio, and it’s just like 15-20 minutes short episodes. I think there’s six of them. It’s really kind of charming, sweet romance comedy, and a really nice kind of light relief thing to watch, if you’re looking for some escapism.

MD: They brought some fantastic—Alan, what have you been watching and reading?

AV: As much as I would love to say that I’ve been using all this, you know, alleged free time that I supposedly have on my hands now to catch up on the works of literature, my kind of attention span has been pretty fried, as I think a lot of people are experiencing at the moment. So I haven’t been doing a lot of reading, but I’ve found myself starting to watch Riverdale from the beginning, which is, myself and some friends have been doing, there’s a browser extension called Netflix Party, where you and a couple of friends will share a link to a series on Netflix and then you can watch, sync up the start time that you watch the episodes, and you can have a little, it has a little chat sidebar, and so we’ve been watching Riverdale from the beginning, which I’ve never watched before—and I’m so glad I’m watching it with friends, because if I were watching it by myself, I would hate it. Every, every character is so annoying and so frustrating in their motivations, as a sort of communal watching experience it’s kind of incredibly campy, incredibly melodramatic and it’s very good fun. And so, if you are able to, yeah, watch Riverdale with a group of friends, either in your house or through some kind of digital means I would very much recommend it, it is very good fun.

MD: I’d really recommend starting a series right now, for the same reason Alan, as you were saying, like my attention span has been shot, I wasn’t reading for a few weeks there. But I feel like if you’ve got a series, like an ongoing series of some sort, it’s relatively easy to jump into the next book, you don’t have to spend time sort of getting into it, getting used to a new writing style or a new set of characters. So whether it’s like a crime series, maybe like the…Dervla McTiernan has a few out at the moment starting with The Ruin, or I’ve been reading, I think I mentioned Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, or like, whatever your personal genre of choice is, starting a new series could be really good option right now.  Thank you for listening to this episode of the Kill Your Darlings Podcast. We’ll still be bringing you regular First Book Club episodes as well as our irregular chats. This is going to be my last podcast for Kill Your Darlings, it’s been a really fantastic experience and I’ve learnt a lot, but it’s time to let someone else cut their production teeth. Don’t worry, the rest of the KYD team are not going anywhere, and they’ll continue to bring you great commentary, criticism, interviews and general enthusiasm throughout isolation and out the other side.

AV: Thank you so much Meaghan, it’s been so good having you running our podcast for the last several years. And yeah, we love you a lot and we’re going to miss you a lot.

MD: Aw, thank you!

AC: Amen to that, and we look forward to joining your book club so that you can’t escape us. (LAUGHS).

MD: I promise not to set Ducks, Newburyport, but you never know. Well, in between our podcasts, remember, don’t forget that you can and should subscribe to the Kill Your Darlings website where you’ll find everything you usually find there, and you could also purchase a copy of New Australian Fiction, this is a great time to purchase a book from your local independent bookstore. Many of them are closed at the moment, but they are still taking your calls and your orders, and some of them will happily hand deliver something to your place. So please go forth and do that at this point in time. So, and continue your isolation reading with our website. So thank you, and everyone stay well, and you’ll hear from us again soon.

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