Book Review: BREATHING MACHINE by Leigh Alexander

BooksKristina PinoComment
What if there were a world bigger than the one you can touch?
Leigh Alexander recounts a stormy adolescence alongside the mysterious early internet. From the surrealism of early video games to raw connections made over primitive newsgroups, from sex bots to Sailor Moon, Alexander intimately captures a dark frontier age.

Rather than your average-size memoir full of street smarts, deep analysis, and often too many pop culture references than I can keep up with,

Breathing Machine reads more like a collection of essays that, when put in chronological order, become a body of work about humans and machines and what it's meant to the author. The book is undeniably personal, but it isn't really about Leigh, and it isn't really about computers - at least, not entirely. It's a lot about the relationship between the two, with some poignant social commentary peppered with the kind of hope that Nick Carraway would find irresistible.

Depending on when you were born and the kind of experiences you had growing up, Breathing Machine may read like a time capsule into your own past. Many of Leigh's experiences, which are vividly recounted in this short (~67-page) memoir, resonated with my own. I can only imagine that readers who are too young to remember screeching modems and the early days of the internet, Geocities (yep, I ran two Geocities fan sites back in the day - Final Fantasy and Farscape) and everything else, might feel a little alienated, because some knowledge is required to really connect with the work.

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I mentioned earlier that the book reads like a collection of essays. If you're a follower of Leigh's work and are familiar with her writing style, then you'll feel right at home. For everyone else, it may be unfamiliar territory in a work of this kind, because it isn't written by someone who writes books, it's written by someone who writes editorials and criticism, and often, for various outlets on various topics. I'm not saying it's badly written by any means, but it's highly stylized and each chapter (each essay), rather than gradually flowing along from one to the other, begins and ends most definitely once it's made its point. Leigh wrote her memoir in the style she writes a lot of her editorials, and that isn't a bad thing.

Breathing Machine is worth a read for anyone who grew up, to borrow a chunk of the copy, "alongside the mysterious early internet." Even if you didn't, it's an engaging exploration of the way we've changed along with our technology. It was also engaging for me because of the author's frankness in her recollection of events, the feeling like the words on the page were written only for me, and the focus on interactions and experiences as a whole rather than self. It's all very interesting, and before I knew it, the book was over.

Thanks to Leigh Alexander for providing me with a copy of this ebook for review.

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