They Know What You Do: Data Mining on the Internet

TIME columnist Joel Stein learns just what data mining companies know about him. Turns out, it's a lot

id vs. Goliath, adventure epic, literary song of the South — into his stuffed turducken of a plot. Too many characters speechify like they're auditioning for a community-theater mash-up of Sling Blade and To Kill a Mockingbird, and a narrative shift that comes in halfway through overstays its welcome. A present-day coda adds paragraphs but few epiphanies.

Still, it's not hard to see why the book has earned early praise and an impressive first-run print order of 100,000 copies. Secret has lovely sensory moments, and it strives to tell the type of story that many contemporary novelists find too old-fashioned, or too sincere: one about family and community, good guys and bad guys, love and loss and spiritual redemption. Like Medgar, it's flawed and sprawling and a little bit unmoored, but its aim is true. B

]]> THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH Christopher Scotton]]> EW.com-20883941 <![CDATA[Something Rich and Strange]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:00:00 EST There's something in the specificity of Rash's writing, the way he can pinpoint time (from the Civil War through modern times) and place (mainly his beloved Appalachia) and drag them improbably into the universal. He isn't as well-known as he should be — although his 2008 novel, Serena, has recently been turned into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. This anthology of Rash's earthy, often eerie short stories is like a forest you can get lost in for hours, small but affecting tales of poverty, addiction, pride, love, and despair threaded with life-altering acts of violence and a firm sense of humanity. The title is from one of the stories, but there's no better description for what's inside. A-

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There's something in the specificity of Rash's writing, the way he can pinpoint time (from the Civil War through modern times) and place (mainly his beloved Appalachia) and drag them improbably into the universal. He isn't as well-known as he should be — although his 2008 novel, Serena, has recently been turned into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. This anthology of Rash's earthy, often eerie short stories is like a forest you can get lost in for hours, small but affecting tales of poverty, addiction, pride, love, and despair threaded with life-altering acts of violence and a firm sense of humanity. The title is from one of the stories, but there's no better description for what's inside. A-

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SOMETHING RICH AND STRANGE Ron Rash]]>
EW.com-20883935 <![CDATA[When Books Went to War]]> Wed, 17 Dec 2014 15:00:00 EST Did you know that during WWII, the U.S. War Department and most major New York publishers banded together to create a line of wallet-size paperbacks that could fit in a soldier's breast or pants pocket? The initiative, which started out small, eventually grew to 120 million copies of some 1,200 titles — novels, science books, humor collections, histories, biographies, and more. It was a huge hit with the troops, for whom books were often the only source of entertainment. One soldier told A.J. Liebling, then the war correspondent for The New Yorker, ''These little books are a great thing. They take you away.'' The GIs, sailors, and airmen scrapped over the most popular titles when shipments arrived at the PX. They could not get enough of the potboiler Forever Amber, likely because of the sex scenes; Rosemary Taylor's Chicken Every Sunday, which made them nostalgic for their mothers' home cooking; and Katherine Anne Porter's haunting short stories, with their stark renderings of love and loss. The men peppered Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with some 1,500 letters a year (she answered almost all of them). And they loved The Great Gatsby so much that critics, who had more or less ignored the novel since its 1925 publication, took another look.

When Books Went to War may be a slim read, but it packs a wallop. Whether or not you're a book lover, you'll be moved by the impeccably researched tale. Manning not only illuminates a dusty slice of WWII history that most of us know nothing about but also reminds us, in the digital era of movies and TV, just how powerfully literature once figured in people's lives. A

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Did you know that during WWII, the U.S. War Department and most major New York publishers banded together to create a line of wallet-size paperbacks that could fit in a soldier's breast or pants pocket? The initiative, which started out small, eventually grew to 120 million copies of some 1,200 titles — novels, science books, humor collections, histories, biographies, and more. It was a huge hit with the troops, for whom books were often the only source of entertainment. One soldier told A.J. Liebling, then the war correspondent for The New Yorker, ''These little books are a great thing. They take you away.'' The GIs, sailors, and airmen scrapped over the most popular titles when shipments arrived at the PX. They could not get enough of the potboiler Forever Amber, likely because of the sex scenes; Rosemary Taylor's Chicken Every Sunday, which made them nostalgic for their mothers' home cooking; and Katherine Anne Porter's haunting short stories, with their stark renderings of love and loss. The men peppered Betty Smith, the author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, with some 1,500 letters a year (she answered almost all of them). And they loved The Great Gatsby so much that critics, who had more or less ignored the novel since its 1925 publication, took another look.

When Books Went to War may be a slim read, but it packs a wallop. Whether or not you're a book lover, you'll be moved by the impeccably researched tale. Manning not only illuminates a dusty slice of WWII history that most of us know nothing about but also reminds us, in the digital era of movies and TV, just how powerfully literature once figured in people's lives. A

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WHEN BOOKS WENT TO WAR Molly Guptill Manning]]>
EW.com-20877256 <![CDATA[Into a Raging Blaze]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST Diplomat Carina Dymek is a rising star in Sweden's foreign-affairs ministry, handling her duties with ruthless efficiency until the day a skittish stranger hands her a flash drive at a European Union meeting in Brussels. Turns out it contains classified information about a terrifying new European intelligence agency, one that will operate without regard to law. Suddenly Carina's in danger, clambering out a fourth-floor window in her apartment and leaking the document to a British newspaper. Norman spent 10 years as a diplomat, and his knowledge of espionage fuels the high-octane pace. You'll fall for his complex plot and characters — not just Carina but also her Egyptian-born boyfriend and the agent who's tracking her. Finally, a thriller for the WikiLeaks era. B+

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Diplomat Carina Dymek is a rising star in Sweden's foreign-affairs ministry, handling her duties with ruthless efficiency until the day a skittish stranger hands her a flash drive at a European Union meeting in Brussels. Turns out it contains classified information about a terrifying new European intelligence agency, one that will operate without regard to law. Suddenly Carina's in danger, clambering out a fourth-floor window in her apartment and leaking the document to a British newspaper. Norman spent 10 years as a diplomat, and his knowledge of espionage fuels the high-octane pace. You'll fall for his complex plot and characters — not just Carina but also her Egyptian-born boyfriend and the agent who's tracking her. Finally, a thriller for the WikiLeaks era. B+

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INTO A RAGING BLAZE Andreas Norman]]>
EW.com-20877258 <![CDATA[Lives in Ruins]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST As Johnson points out at the beginning of Lives in Ruins, the chronicle of her adventures in the world of archaeology, there are no dinosaurs here — that is the purview of paleontologists. Instead she concentrates on the people sifting through the sand for clay pots and exploring shipwrecks for treasure. Her excavation experiences are relatively mundane, so she smartly keeps the focus on the characters, who get fiercely emotional talking about the possibility of reconstructing the Chinatown in Deadwood or preserving the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers. As she did in her previous books about librarians and obituary writers, Johnson finds that the line between inspirationally nutty and actually crazy is measured in the joy of the work. B+

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As Johnson points out at the beginning of Lives in Ruins, the chronicle of her adventures in the world of archaeology, there are no dinosaurs here — that is the purview of paleontologists. Instead she concentrates on the people sifting through the sand for clay pots and exploring shipwrecks for treasure. Her excavation experiences are relatively mundane, so she smartly keeps the focus on the characters, who get fiercely emotional talking about the possibility of reconstructing the Chinatown in Deadwood or preserving the remains of Revolutionary War soldiers. As she did in her previous books about librarians and obituary writers, Johnson finds that the line between inspirationally nutty and actually crazy is measured in the joy of the work. B+

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LIVES IN RUINS Marilyn Johnson]]>
EW.com-20877255 <![CDATA[Missing Reels]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST For hardcore film obsessives, there's no movie so thrillingly obscure as one that doesn't exist. ''Lost movies appeal to our sense of doomed artistry,'' a film scholar tells our heroine, Ceinwen Reilly, in the absorbing debut novel Missing Reels. ''We build up heroic concepts of certain directors. Then, when their work is lost, we imagine what we're missing as even better than the movies we have.''

That sums up Missing Reels' romantic view of cinema nicely, although these words might be hard for Ceinwen to hear. She's living in New York during the 1980s, when the revival-house scene is booming. And when she's not dressing up like Jean Harlow to work as a shopgirl at Vintage Visions, or forcing her gay roommates/BFFs to watch Shanghai Express, she's hunting for her own lost classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho, a silent film that may or may not star her downstairs neighbor Miriam. When Ceinwen meets Matthew, a dashing British mathematician, Missing Reels starts to feel like a classic movie itself: There's a dramatic screwball romance and an exciting hard-boiled mystery, as well as one too many monologues. There's also enough trivia to delight any cinephile. Glancing at Ceinwen's outfit, Miriam says that if she really wanted to look like Jean Harlow, she wouldn't wear underwear.

The film-snob debates in this book will remind you why so many great relationships are built upon shared passions. That's true for Ceinwen and Matthew, and maybe also for Farran Smith Nehme and you, if you're a movie buff. Once named GQ's Film Blogger of the Year for her classic-film criticism site, Self-Styled Siren, Nehme knows how to mix real-life history with fictional directors, actors, and films, making the true stuff just as compelling as the imagined. By the end, you'll be desperate to see The Mysteries of Udolpho. So maybe it's a good thing that like all the best movies, it doesn't exist. A-

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For hardcore film obsessives, there's no movie so thrillingly obscure as one that doesn't exist. ''Lost movies appeal to our sense of doomed artistry,'' a film scholar tells our heroine, Ceinwen Reilly, in the absorbing debut novel Missing Reels. ''We build up heroic concepts of certain directors. Then, when their work is lost, we imagine what we're missing as even better than the movies we have.''

That sums up Missing Reels' romantic view of cinema nicely, although these words might be hard for Ceinwen to hear. She's living in New York during the 1980s, when the revival-house scene is booming. And when she's not dressing up like Jean Harlow to work as a shopgirl at Vintage Visions, or forcing her gay roommates/BFFs to watch Shanghai Express, she's hunting for her own lost classic, The Mysteries of Udolpho, a silent film that may or may not star her downstairs neighbor Miriam. When Ceinwen meets Matthew, a dashing British mathematician, Missing Reels starts to feel like a classic movie itself: There's a dramatic screwball romance and an exciting hard-boiled mystery, as well as one too many monologues. There's also enough trivia to delight any cinephile. Glancing at Ceinwen's outfit, Miriam says that if she really wanted to look like Jean Harlow, she wouldn't wear underwear.

The film-snob debates in this book will remind you why so many great relationships are built upon shared passions. That's true for Ceinwen and Matthew, and maybe also for Farran Smith Nehme and you, if you're a movie buff. Once named GQ's Film Blogger of the Year for her classic-film criticism site, Self-Styled Siren, Nehme knows how to mix real-life history with fictional directors, actors, and films, making the true stuff just as compelling as the imagined. By the end, you'll be desperate to see The Mysteries of Udolpho. So maybe it's a good thing that like all the best movies, it doesn't exist. A-

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MISSING REELS Farren Smith Nehme]]>
EW.com-20877267 <![CDATA[Revival]]> Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST King dedicates his latest novel to a laundry list of horror-genre influences — foremost, annalist of the weird H.P. Lovecraft — but Revival ends up being one of the author's quieter, less scare-heavy works. It's primarily the story of Jamie Morton, whose life ineluctably intertwines with that of the not-so-good Rev. Charles Jacobs, a small-town man of God whose experiments with electricity turn disturbing when he loses his wife and child in an accident. The early chapters are honeyed with King's well-established brand of coming-of-age nostalgia, and the story quickly settles into a cozy groove — before long you're reading pages almost faster than you can flip them. B+

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King dedicates his latest novel to a laundry list of horror-genre influences — foremost, annalist of the weird H.P. Lovecraft — but Revival ends up being one of the author's quieter, less scare-heavy works. It's primarily the story of Jamie Morton, whose life ineluctably intertwines with that of the not-so-good Rev. Charles Jacobs, a small-town man of God whose experiments with electricity turn disturbing when he loses his wife and child in an accident. The early chapters are honeyed with King's well-established brand of coming-of-age nostalgia, and the story quickly settles into a cozy groove — before long you're reading pages almost faster than you can flip them. B+

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REVIVAL Stephen King]]>
EW.com-20874132 <![CDATA[The Unspeakable]]> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST Sometimes our feelings — and our reactions to the things that happen to us — go rogue. Emotions are the messy, unpredictable part of being human. It's those murky corners of the heart that are hardest to acknowledge, let alone talk about. That's the unnamed place where Meghan Daum's sharp collection of essays lives. This book, as she writes in her introduction, ''is about the ways that some of life's most burning issues are considered inappropriate for public or even private discussion. It's about the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor — that we might not love our parents enough, that life's pleasures sometimes feel more like chores — but can only talk about in coded terms if at all. It's about the unspeakable acts that teach no easy lesson and therefore are elbowed out of sight.''

Daum, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tackles personal topics large and small with a staunch gaze. ''This book also recounts some pretty unflattering behavior on my part, not to mention a few disclosures about my interior life that some readers will probably find depressing or even alarming,'' she warns early on before going there while examining her feelings on marriage, her ambivalence about having children, and her mother's death.

But there are lighter moments: She writes about dating inappropriate men (think Burning Man and astrology), what it was like meeting her lifelong hero Joni Mitchell, and the period in her life when everyone assumed she was a lesbian. If you've been missing Nora Ephron — and who hasn't? — Daum's tale about playing charades at Ephron's house is so well observed and funny it could have been written by the great lady herself.

Look, life is difficult — and so is dealing with all the unpleasantness that comes along with it. Thank goodness The Unspeakable exists to keep you company. A

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Sometimes our feelings — and our reactions to the things that happen to us — go rogue. Emotions are the messy, unpredictable part of being human. It's those murky corners of the heart that are hardest to acknowledge, let alone talk about. That's the unnamed place where Meghan Daum's sharp collection of essays lives. This book, as she writes in her introduction, ''is about the ways that some of life's most burning issues are considered inappropriate for public or even private discussion. It's about the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor — that we might not love our parents enough, that life's pleasures sometimes feel more like chores — but can only talk about in coded terms if at all. It's about the unspeakable acts that teach no easy lesson and therefore are elbowed out of sight.''

Daum, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tackles personal topics large and small with a staunch gaze. ''This book also recounts some pretty unflattering behavior on my part, not to mention a few disclosures about my interior life that some readers will probably find depressing or even alarming,'' she warns early on before going there while examining her feelings on marriage, her ambivalence about having children, and her mother's death.

But there are lighter moments: She writes about dating inappropriate men (think Burning Man and astrology), what it was like meeting her lifelong hero Joni Mitchell, and the period in her life when everyone assumed she was a lesbian. If you've been missing Nora Ephron — and who hasn't? — Daum's tale about playing charades at Ephron's house is so well observed and funny it could have been written by the great lady herself.

Look, life is difficult — and so is dealing with all the unpleasantness that comes along with it. Thank goodness The Unspeakable exists to keep you company. A

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THE UNSPEAKABLE Meghan Daum]]>
EW.com-20874145 <![CDATA[All My Puny Sorrows]]> Wed, 19 Nov 2014 15:00:00 EST ''She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.'' That's how Yoli describes her relationship with her sister, Elf, in this wrenchingly honest, darkly funny novel. A concert pianist with everything to live for — a doting husband, an illustrious job, a close-knit family — Elf wants to commit suicide, while Yoli, struggling with her career and a divorce, will do anything to keep her sister alive. The saddest thing about this book is that we already know how it ends: It was inspired by the true story of Miriam Toews and her sister, Marjorie, who ended her life in 2010 by jumping in front of a train, 12 years after their father killed himself the same way. (Toews wrote about his suicide in the award-winning memoir Swing Low: A Life.) But somehow, even as Toews works toward an inevitable conclusion, the pacing is gripping, leaving you — like Yoli — desperate to predict what Elf will do next, and helpless to stop it.

Told in Yoli's raw voice, which swings from sympathy to rage to wry humor, All My Puny Sorrows isn't just another volume in the sad-novel genre. In one scene, Yoli's mother even rants about novels where ''the whole book is basically a description of the million and one ways in which the protagonist is sad.'' Sorrows may be a fierce dissection of loss, but it's also an unflinching look at family and failure and self-interest and how great literature can help shape your view of these things. (The title comes from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem about losing his sister; Elf and Yoli often discuss favorite poets.) This book certainly does that too. Early on, Elf tells Yoli how to play the piano. You must first establish tenderness, she says. Then the excitement will build, as you put ''the violence and agony of life into every note'' until you must make an important decision: Either return to tenderness or ''continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.'' It's an apt description of how Toews has constructed this novel, too, with one exception: In the end, she chooses tragedy. But the tenderness was there all along. A

Memorable Line:
''...the day before my father killed himself he took my hand in his and said Yoli, it feels to me as though the lights are going out.''

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''She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.'' That's how Yoli describes her relationship with her sister, Elf, in this wrenchingly honest, darkly funny novel. A concert pianist with everything to live for — a doting husband, an illustrious job, a close-knit family — Elf wants to commit suicide, while Yoli, struggling with her career and a divorce, will do anything to keep her sister alive. The saddest thing about this book is that we already know how it ends: It was inspired by the true story of Miriam Toews and her sister, Marjorie, who ended her life in 2010 by jumping in front of a train, 12 years after their father killed himself the same way. (Toews wrote about his suicide in the award-winning memoir Swing Low: A Life.) But somehow, even as Toews works toward an inevitable conclusion, the pacing is gripping, leaving you — like Yoli — desperate to predict what Elf will do next, and helpless to stop it.

Told in Yoli's raw voice, which swings from sympathy to rage to wry humor, All My Puny Sorrows isn't just another volume in the sad-novel genre. In one scene, Yoli's mother even rants about novels where ''the whole book is basically a description of the million and one ways in which the protagonist is sad.'' Sorrows may be a fierce dissection of loss, but it's also an unflinching look at family and failure and self-interest and how great literature can help shape your view of these things. (The title comes from a Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem about losing his sister; Elf and Yoli often discuss favorite poets.) This book certainly does that too. Early on, Elf tells Yoli how to play the piano. You must first establish tenderness, she says. Then the excitement will build, as you put ''the violence and agony of life into every note'' until you must make an important decision: Either return to tenderness or ''continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.'' It's an apt description of how Toews has constructed this novel, too, with one exception: In the end, she chooses tragedy. But the tenderness was there all along. A

Memorable Line:
''...the day before my father killed himself he took my hand in his and said Yoli, it feels to me as though the lights are going out.''

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ALL MY PUNY SORROWS Miriam Toews]]>