24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: February 2017

Abby Reads: Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Dataclysm by Christian Rudder
Broadway Books, 2014, 320 pages
Nonfiction (Data Science)

Despite not being terribly old, Dataclysm by Christian Rudder already has two editions with two different subtitles. The eBook edition I read had the subtitle of Love, Sex, Race, and Identity while another version emphasizes with Who We Are (When We Think No One Is Looking). I note this because I think this marketing strategy is interesting, especially as the two subtitles are so different and imply completely different things about the content of the book. I’ll also point out that, while I (and many others) pronounce “data” as “date-uh,” the title demands the pronunciation of “dah-tah” to reap the rewards of the, er, pun.

Christian Rudder, as a founder of OKCupid, has access to an extraordinary amount of data (dahtah, I remind myself). While discussing the habits of OKCupid users, Rudder broadens the implications he finds there to the whole of society – at least in America and sometimes beyond. The problem with this, and Rudder does admit it, is his data is not representative of any actual population aside from the population that uses OKCupid. Despite his acknowledgement (and a brief chapter on users who are not WASP-y men), Rudder often writes as if the information he extrapolates from this population can be applied across any and all spectrums. I may only have a minor in Psychology (and, yeah, I avoided the stats class – oops), but even I know that is poor scholarship.

Admittedly, the book is a work of popular nonfiction, so I suppose some might argue it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s interesting and somewhat informative. But the problem with acting as if your research is comprehensive aside from a few nods otherwise is that people will use that information as such and it can do some serious damage to how society ultimately operates. Insidiously, yes, but impactful nonetheless. There’s also a piece Rudder never really did acknowledge – the fact is, there’s only one kind of person who will use OKCupid/dating sites: people who will use OKCupid/dating sites. Meanwhile, Rudder takes the information from this particular dataset and applies much of it to the American population at large. Surely there are at least sometimes fundamental differences between the people who are willing or choose to use dating sites and those who are not. What, for example, about technophobes?

All this said, if you’re a straight, probably-middle-class, white person living in America, you might find a good deal of this book insightful to not only others but yourself. Rudder has an accessible form of writing that makes even complicated data structures, theories, and concepts, easy to grasp for the layperson. Rudder does a pretty excellent job explaining the various graphs he used, some of which were in formats totally new to me, which was exciting (though I made the mistake of reading this on a black-and-white Kindle, which made some interpretation challenging – get the print, if you can). What’s more, he explains it in an order that makes sense and doesn’t bog the reader down with details. Instead, he explains the essentials, points out a few especially interesting details, and leaves the rest (with some encouragement) for you to coax out yourself with careful examination of the graph.

He’s funny, too, though perhaps overly self-deprecating in some parts. One passage leads him to provide a picture of his adolescent-self with no reining in on the punches. Rudder relishes in his nerdiness, which, as it is, happens to be trendy right now, so more power to him. Regardless of his approach, the humor itself adds another layer of accessibility to an otherwise often-inaccessible, but increasingly in-demand and important, subject.

Ultimately, the content in Dataclysm can’t begin to cover the actual topic at hand. Like many a teacher and professor told me, the subject is too broad; narrow it down. Rudder might have done well with this somewhat-nebulous topic if he’d gone more in-depth and written something lengthier, though that would likely take away from its readability and popular intrigue. Smart readers will recognize there’s a great deal of complexity behind each statement that Rudder chooses to avoid, but I’m again torn between feeling this is at the reader’s detriment and feeling the book wouldn’t have such wide appeal if he did go into greater detail.

Dataclysm is a great introduction to the world of data. As someone who primarily lives outside of the data world, I found myself understanding a great deal more about it than I had previously (despite numerous explanations of various data theories and structures from my ever-patient data scientist boyfriend). The organization, for the most part, makes sense and the concrete examples Rudder offers do well to illustrate his points. If data is something you want to “get into” but don’t know where to start, maybe start here and move onto something a little more challenging and in-depth.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Pantheon Graphic Novels, 2004, 160 pages
Graphic Novel Memoir

I’ve never been one to really enjoy graphic novels. I see their value, I appreciate that others enjoy them, but it’s never been my thing. Once in a while, I find one that grabs me, but generally, I find I have a bias toward wanting more text. I read quickly and graphic novels flash by me. I probably, admittedly, do not pick up subtleties in the images that go along with the text. That’s my disclaimer for my review of Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis is, arguably, not a graphic novel. In fact, it’s a graphic autobiography. Marjane Satrapi tells the highs and lows of her time as child in Iran during the Islamic revolution. As she explores the various relationships she held, particularly of that with an uncle, Marjane Satrapi gives the circumstances surrounding these events and the events themselves something of a face – albeit one with parts obscured and with parts illuminated by hindsight. A brave and rebellious child with equally tenacious parents, Marjane Satrapi as a character provides a spunky girl in less-than-ideal circumstances.

Another disclaimer – I grew up going to school in the American public school system. It would seem, compared to many other countries’ systems, mine was lacking in the global awareness arena. Any formal historical education I had focused solely on American history and, even then, it was limited to pretty much the Revolutionary War except for maybe on semester where we covered the Civil War through part of World War II. All this to say, I had zero context for Persepolis. At twenty-four, I guess there’s an argument to be made that this is my fault, but frankly, there’s a whole lot of history to learn and no so much time to do it. So, while I’ve gotten to the edges of starting to learn some of what I missed, I’m factually and conceptually blind when it comes to the Islamic revolution and Iran.

I don’t want to put the burden of that education on the author. That would cover so many –isms, it would make your head spin. At the very least, it would potentially imply that my time is more valuable than Satrapi’s, which it certainly isn’t. So, this burden is on me. My lack of knowledge in this area, however, presented a fairly large disconnect with the content of Persepolis. I had no context for the events in Satrapi’s life. And, while for many readers this might mean a springboard to doing research on their own, I just felt lost. It was a case of not knowing what I didn’t know (also on me, I don’t deny that) and doing the bare minimum of checking Wikipedia when I really felt it necessary. So, I’m certain I’m missing out on a lot of Persepolis that I needn’t. I probably would have enjoyed it with more context, whether Satrapi had supplied it or not. And, to be fair, Satrapi did include quite a bit of explanation and background. In any case, for this particular topic I leave you with this: be aware that, if you’re not already well-versed in this piece of history, you’ll be lost. Don’t blame it on the author.

Next: Satrapi as a character. Perhaps this is a symptom of autobiography or autobiography in graphic format or who knows what, but I felt Satrapi as a character was always distant and two-dimensional. Perhaps, again, this was intentional – the story, after all, is more about events, circumstances, and people surrounding Satrapi than Satrapi herself. But I consistently felt as if Satrapi was revealing only very specific parts of herself in an attempt to string together a cohesive narrative (and don’t we all? But I found it ill-suiting here.)

Which brings me to the narrative structure. Again (and again), I’ll point out this was an autobiography. Is it fair that I ask it have a plot? I don’t know – I do believe a plot of some kind makes an autobiography more compelling. And while the Islamic revolution rages throughout the narrative, Satrapi’s coming-of-age did not feel particularly directional or with any arc. Each vignette included in the narrative adds up to her emerging as a young adult, but one does not follow the next naturally.

And, as a piece of personal preference (as if this entire review isn’t) – I was not a fan of the artistic style employed the in graphic portion of the graphic autobiography. The wood-block-like prints reinforced the two-dimensional feel I got from Satrapi-the-character.

I hate that I didn’t enjoy Persepolis; I feel down-right guilty about it. But there it is. Despite disliking it, I still think I’d recommend it to many. It’s a valuable piece of work and probably has more than I’m able to appreciate with my limited scope. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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