November 15, 2012


Siri & Me: A Modern Love Story. By David Milgrim. Blue Rider Press. $15.95.

Scholastic 2013 Book of World Records. By Jenifer Corr Morse. Scholastic. $10.99.

      “Oh, what a world! What a world!” exclaims the Wicked Witch of the West in the film version of The Wizard of Oz as she melts away. She didn’t know the half of it or she would have melted faster. What a world we have now, more than 70 years after the film (and more than a century after the book on which it was based). We have, among other things, a world in which it seems almost reasonable for a young man to fall in love with a disembodied voice emanating from a pocket-size electronic gadget – for that is the premise of Siri & Me, and it seems so possible (by today’s “what a world” standards) that it is not always clear to what extent David Milgrim is putting readers on and to what extent he is serious.  Milgrim gives his own name, Dave, to the infatuated man in the book, and that man is a blogger, and so is Milgrim, and in fact the book is made up of Milgrim’s blog entries (including some hypertext entries and links that, of course, do not work in bound-book format); so where does one draw the line between Milgrim the blogger/author and Dave the hapless blogger/author portrayed in Siri & Me? The inability to do that seems to be part of the point. Milgrim (or is it Dave?) is never really self-aware, as when he comments that “my old college friends and I still like to get together once in a while for some lively conversation, laughs, and dynamic face time,” but the book shows everyone “getting together” by sitting around a table tapping into or listening to electronic gadgets. Milgrim, a technogadget devotee, presumably does not want people to take this too negatively, since after all he constantly promotes technology-for-its-own-sake and keeping up with everything electronic by incessantly buying everything new electronic. The uncertainty of tone is a flaw in Siri & Me, whose eventual outcome – Dave discovering that there may be something to a relationship with a real live woman after all – is hardly surprising, but whose method of getting there is certainly offbeat enough.  The scene in which Dave asks Siri to have phone sex with him is hilarious; the quest for the programmer responsible for Siri, whose name is Dag and who will obviously (to readers, although not to Dave) turn out to be a man, is less so. The best character in the book is neither Dave nor Siri but Circuit, the ever-happy cyberdog that Dave gets to try to “connect” with something other than his iPhone. Circuit, always wagging his tail antenna, says “thank you so much for this opportunity” when Dave throws a ball for him to chase, and tries repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) to pull Dave into real-world ball playing as Dave’s obsession with Siri grows.  Siri & Me is not quite a graphic novel, because while it does progress through graphic-novel-style illustrations and plot machinery, it also contains narrative pages with comments such as, “The line between man and machine continues to blur, and we are all watching it from the front row. And it is quite a show.” This is scarcely profound thinking; indeed, there is nothing at all profound in the self-indulgence and technophilia underlying Siri & Me. But there is a certain amount of amusement and, eventually, a modicum of old-fashioned “lesson learned” thinking – if, that is, Milgrim (as opposed to Dave) has really learned something.  What a world.

      The iPhone, iPad and other technology appear as well in the first part (“Science & Technology”) of Scholastic 2013 Book of World Records, in entries that are sure to change by the time 2014 rolls around. For example, the bestselling app type is games (well, duh), followed by weather, then social networking, and “the bestselling iPhone games include Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, and Doodle Jump. …More than 300,000 mobile apps have been developed in the last three years, and a total of 10.9 billion have been downloaded.” Those records are certain to fall, if they haven’t already, both because of the fickleness of app-downloading smartphone users and because of the constantly increasing development of apps. “The average iPad user has downloaded more than 60 apps” is another current comment that will definitely change in the future. On the other hand, some records in this book may stand for a while: “Google+ was the fastest social network to reach 10 million users – a feat it accomplished in just 16 days.”  Of course, some world records remain exactly the same year after year. The Sahara is the largest desert, the Caspian Sea the biggest lake, the Komodo dragon the largest lizard, Mount Everest the tallest mountain, and the giant rafflesia (also known as the stinking corpse lily) the largest flower.  Like every year’s edition of this book of records, the version for 2013 shows and briefly discusses each record holder and then, for most topics, provides a graphic including the top five.  For example, “longest-running Broadway show” is The Phantom of the Opera, followed by Cats, Les Misérables, A Chorus Line and Oh! Calcutta! The bar graph giving the shows’ titles provides a count of the total performances of each one. Or, in another category, “fastest-flying insect” is the hawk moth, followed by the West Indian butterfly, deer botfly, dragonfly and hornet, and the bar graph shows the speed of each in miles and kilometers per hour.  As always, there are state-by-state records given for the United States, some of them impressive (“state with the tallest metal sculpture: North Dakota”) and some of them less so (“state with the largest half marathon: Indiana”).  The book is divided into sections called “Money,” “Pop Culture,” “Nature,” “U.S.” and “Sports,” in addition to the aforementioned “Science & Technology,” although it is a fair bet that most readers will have more interest in the sports, technology and pop-culture sections than in, say, nature, which tends not to change all that much from year to year.  In truth, some entries in the ever-changing sections, whether or not they will stand up to scrutiny in later years, are quite interesting: for example, Part 1 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the top-selling DVD, but Part 2 is the movie that earned the most money in a single day.  Scholastic 2013 Book of World Records is, like its predecessors and undoubtedly like its successors, a slam-bang, visually oriented, once-over-lightly look at “factoids” and trivia of all sorts, less a reference work than a book to enter at random and enjoy in little bits, undoubtedly leading to occasional exclamations of, “What a world!”

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