This week I’ve finished two books of interest, the first being a classics club entry (Invisible Man), and the other a book on big data and statistics. Everybody Lies played true to its title, opening with ways that analysis of data gleaned from Google searches and such shows that people lie to both one another and ourselves (claiming one thing in surveys and demonstrating quite another in what we search for) before shifting to the uses of ‘big data’ in general. Very amusing and interesting at first, but after it shifted I wasn’t quite as enthused.
Invisible Man marked my first classic for the year, and follows an un-named narrator as he moves from a southern college for promising young black students to 1950s Harlem. He is effectively forced out of college after giving a college trustee an inexplicable tour of local areas that the school administration would prefer weren’t so close to the college, and becomes an activist in a generic movement in Harlem, which fights for the mob’s attention against a black nationalist group. The narrator is constantly being manipulated by those he interacts with, and power, or influence, drives everyone. There’s a fair bit of absurdism here, so much so that many of the characters seemed insane at times. What stood out most was the tortured relationships between blacks and whites, laden as they were with conceits and psychological games. For instance, one character urges the narrator that lies are always the best way to handle ‘white folk’ — tell them what they want to hear. It’s not difficult to imagine circumstances where whites then regard blacks as inherently treacherous and use that to justify further marginalization. It’s all incredibly unhealthy.