Pumpjack Book Reviews

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Book Review: How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch

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The book reminded me a bit of Walden by Thoreau, and like that book, it’s maddeningly personal.

How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch is an odd, meandering book about an interesting topic — what it means to go unnoticed in today’s digital world of selfies and status updates. It’s a very personal meditation on what it means to the author to go unnoticed in a series of essays examining the topic from a variety of unexpected angles. It’s a great concept, but for me, it failed to deliver on the promise of the title or have much of a lasting impact.

The book reminded me a bit of Walden, by Thoreau, and like that book, it’s maddeningly personal and feels a bit self-indulgent. And while Walden at least brought to life (possibly unintentionally) the transcendental philosophy, How to Disappear never seems to rise above the descriptive, poetic musings of the author.

I almost didn’t finish, but Busch is a talented, lyrical writer, so I stuck with it. And I found power, though fleeting, in lines such as:

“…finding some genuine alternative to a life of perpetual display.”

“I can tell you what invisibility is not. It is not loneliness, solitude, secrecy, or silence.”

“We are, each one of us, less important than we think.”

“Becoming invisible is not the equivalent of being nonexistent.”

“In lessening one’s sense of self, awe enables us to find membership in some broader coalition of human enterprise. It realigns our frame of human reference.”

In an age where we all battle against the siren call of being too visible, of sharing—and over-sharing—our lives with strangers, of struggling to limit the reach of the surveillance economy, and thrilling in the almost guilty pleasure of escaping notice, there is a much more powerful work still to come on this topic. And I hope Busch writes it.