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What the critics liked

The Every by Dave Eggers 

When Dave Eggers released his new book, he wouldn’t let it be sold on Amazon. No surprise, says Kerri Arsenault in The Boston Globe. The Every (Hamish Hamilton £12.99) is a brilliant takedown of all things tech, “a book that reflects our culture. Predicts our future. Worm-holes into our subconscious.”

The plot is straightforward. Delaney Wells, a 32-year-old luddite, wangles a job at The Every – the world’s largest tech company, social media platform and search engine rolled into one. Her plan is to destroy it from within. She feeds it silly product ideas, “each one more absurd than the next”, in the hope consumers will reject them. There’s DidI?, an app that measures orgasms; FictFix, a programme that rewrites old novels, making them more woke; and Friendy, an app that analyses video calls and determines how truthful one’s friends are. Unfortunately, “the experiment skids sideways”. Users love Delaney’s ideas and The Every only becomes more popular.

It’s the blithe and mindless consumers who pose the real problem, says Chelsea Leu in The New York Times. And that’s what makes the book so challenging to read. His author’s note is revealing: “All errors pertaining to technology, chronology or judgement are intentional and exist to serve you better.” Extreme and off-putting as it is, The Every is a wake-up call. Here’s hoping it will “scare us straight, sunk as we are in tech complacency”.

Available as an audiobook on Kobo from 16 November.

Free by Lea Ypi

When Lea Ypi was growing up, her family’s most prized possession was an empty Coca-Cola can. They laid it out on an embroidered cloth and arranged it on their mantelpiece. It sounds strange, but Ypi grew up in communist Albania in the 1980s – capitalist tat was like treasure. Her memoir, Free: Coming of Age at the End of History (Allen Lane £20), is full of snippets like this, says Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph. Her family used a secret code to communicate. Relatives who had “gone to university” had actually gone to prison; if someone was “studying international relations”, it meant they were inside for treason; “good results” meant they’d been released; “failed their exams” meant an execution. For years Ypi was too young to understand, “and thus assumed her family were academically gifted”.

Ypi is now a politics professor at the LSE. But Free is made up largely of her childhood memories. That sense of innocence is what makes this book so extraordinary, says Laura Hackett in The Sunday Times. We see Albania and communism through the eyes of a child. “Eleven-year-old Lea tries her best to interpret the events unfolding around her, and readers are left to decode her impressions.” At one point Ypi bumps into anti-government protestors and runs under a Stalin statue for safety. The dictator, she’d been taught, loved children. She remembers hugging the statue’s bronze legs, listening to the cries of “freedom and democracy” in the background.

This is a book about freedom, what it means to be free and even “whether such a thing is possible”. But it is more about the confusions and wonders of growing up. “Ypi weaves magic in this book: I was entranced from beginning to end.”

Available as an audiobook on Audible.