Image by Aurimas Adomavicius via Flickr
A little while ago I read The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. Not exactly a new book – it was first published in 2009, has been adapted into a movie, and the author has since penned two more novels – so…not exactly new.
I only decided to read it after a lengthy battle with those pesky Internet algorithms. You’re probably familiar with how they operate. The way they try to second-guess every click you make. Each time I would visit an online bookstore – be it Amazon, The Book Depository or what have you, there it was. My book recommendation: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared.
Now, I’ll admit I found the title intriguing. If prizes were to be handed out for the most interesting book titles (or perhaps they already are?), then this title would have won hands down.
But still, I persisted in my refusal to buy this novel. I saw it as a standoff between myself and the algorithms. It was based purely on principle. If you think I’m getting a tad carried away here, watch this TED talk: Beware Online ‘filter bubbles’ by Eli Pariser. In a presentation that’s equally thought provoking and disturbing, Pariser looks at the possible ramifications of the ‘filter bubbles’ in our lives thanks to a hoard of Internet companies tailoring their information to individual users.
Pariser hits the nail on the head when he states in his TED talk, “the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see but not necessarily what we need to see.”
However, I have to admit that in the end I succumbed and read Jonasson’s story of the hundred-year-0ld man. Whether it was the algorithms or the title that spurred me to read it, I can’t really say. But it was an excellent read nevertheless. And fresh. And crazy. Particularly in how the author moulds elements of twentieth century history with the most bizarre fictional tales, so much so that there were numerous moments where I thought, can he (the author) really write that?
But of course he can. And he did. Because it’s fiction. Clever, absurd, laugh-out-loud fiction. Where you can’t decide if the main character Allan Karlsson is either incredibly stupid or incredibly smart. Where Allan, in the span of his hundred-year-old life, due to a variety of bizarre reasons, has wined and dined with all number of political leaders (despite his utter distaste for politics) from Winston Churchill to Joseph Stalin to Mao Zedong. Because basically – according to Allan – the best food is usually found with the ‘top dog.’
When I read this story, I was neck-deep in my postgraduate studies in international relations, and boy, was this story some serious light relief! If you haven’t read this book and you’re a history buff or a political buff or perhaps neither, I’m pretty confidant you’ll enjoy this one. And no one is paying me to say that.
So Internet algorithms, you may have won this one. But I’m watching you.
And that’s all from me, for now. I’m off to look for a new book to read. I’m thinking something along the lines of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden…