Book Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot, #1)The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Upon discovering my local library had the very first Hercule Poirot book, I had to read it, and I cannot say I was at all disappointed! I’m not the biggest fan of Poirot, not because I don’t like the mysteries, but rather because I’m not a fan of the ‘poor stupid everyone else’ thing that always happens in Poirot novels. Not sure why it never bothers me in Sherlock Holmes stories, but it does with Poirot.

However, this one had a far more interesting cast of characters than usual! I confess I don’t like the first person at all, but the way this one was so widely observing and less introspection, it didn’t bother me as much as usual. I enjoyed that this one went beyond just a mystery but on to multiple loose ends and mix-ups and turns after the police thought the murder was solved and found that it really wasn’t. This was just a really interesting mystery and one I really enjoyed.

If you’re a mystery fan who wants something a bit different in that the first person POV is not from the detective, but an observer, give it a shot!

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Book Review: Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Evil Under the Sun (Hercule Poirot, #23)Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel kind of shitty leaving a 3* review for this book, because I LOVE Agatha Christie, and this isn’t by any means a poor read, but I’m trying to be more critical of books in my reviews, so realistically I’d give it a 3.5 but alas, you can’t do that on here.

Evil Under the Sun is actually only the second Hercule Poirot novel I’ve read of all the Agatha Christie novels I have read, and the reason it gets a lower rating is just that it was too simple. That is to say, the mystery was never much of a mystery so much as it read like a police procedural where we only know as much as Poirot tells us. There were very few moments where we wondered, ‘ooh, what if X did it?’ because as soon as I started to suspect someone Poirot moved on with the story and dismissed them. I love mystery, but I love mysteries that give us more of a ‘whodunit’ feel than this one. This was more like observing rather than exploring, if that makes any sense.

That said, I really liked this one. I was a little annoyed throughout the book because of the way everybody seemed to blame the victim, but remembering the time at which this was written, it isn’t exactly shocking. It’s just my modern sensibilities were a little irked. However, I was happy with the surprise twist at the end not in the mystery but in Poirot defending the victim as being a VICTIM when everybody else said she met the end that her lifestyle naturally would end in. His little, “I never really agreed with you all that she brought this on herself” was very relieving. Makes it easier to swallow the casual victim-blaming that would be normal for the period.

All in all, it was a fairly quick read (I took a week and a half to read it but that’s because I am a terrible reader these days) and an enjoyable one. I can see this being the type of book perfect for the summer when readers who aren’t as lazy as I am can sit out on the porch or lay by the pool with a book and read for a few hours at a time.

I absolutely recommend this one, even though the rating seems like I don’t like it as much as I do.

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The REAL Queerbaiting

Something that every queer person, and most other people who are on twitter, has heard about is the concept of ‘queerbaiting’. There’s a lot of debate about the term and what it means, but for the most part, it ends up meaning media (film, tv, books, ect) that tries to entice the queer viewers by hinting at a queer relationship but never carrying through.

For the most part, I as an avid lover of film and TV ignore this entire concept. Most of the things I see labeled ‘queerbaiting’ are just fan interpretation and the cast embracing fans having fun. Often things that are labeled as being ‘queerbaiting’ are either things where we just perceive something platonic as romantic or something that IS romantic is perceived to be slighted up against the heterosexual romantic couples. (I’m not saying this never happens, but I am saying it happens far less than people claim it does.)

I generally feel that you can’t decide something is queerbaiting when it’s viewers/readers who are making that decision based on their own expectations, not the intentions of the creators (there are exceptions, but very few). However, there is a form of queerbaiting that I think most people don’t identify as such that is the real problem, and that is when people identify something as positive queer representation when it isn’t.

Whether it’s people who work for the marketing team of a thing or just people who are writing about a thing for their own publications, there are so many cases in which people really do make queerbaiting an issue when it really wasn’t by the way they advertise or talk about something.

A good example recently would be how everybody started talking about how the new Power Rangers movie had a queer character just because someone asks a girl if she has boy problems and when she doesn’t reply, they change it to ‘girl problems?’ in a scene where that wasn’t even relevant. That entire movie was narrowed down to the discussion of the queer girl representation when honestly it wasn’t even a thing. Hell, that movie had far more diversity in race representation than most movies that come out these days, but nobody talked about it because all they cared about was the SLIGHT mention of potential queerness. And then, when the movie came out and there was no queer content, people were angry because they were promised something by the people talking about it before it was released.

The same happened with Beauty and the Beast, with Le Fou dancing with a guy at the end. That film got boycotted because of a slight hint that Le Fou and Happy In A Dress guy might have a thing for one another. (In a movie where a human girl falls in love with a monster dude. Seriously.) The point is, people try their best to go, “OH LOOK! WE HAVE QUEER PEOPLE!” to draw in viewers, or if it’s said by those not related to the marking team, then it’s done by writers who want hits on their website.

This is what to me the vast majority of queerbaiting actually is.

If not that, then it’s some bullshit where they claim something is positive queer representation when it’s really something very, very negative. A good example of this would be one of my favorite TV shows in the history of TV, a GREAT show, with a shitty promotions department. Yes, my friends, we’re talking about Kingdom.

Since it’s not the most well known show (it’s on a DirecTV only channel), I’ll give you the basics that are important for this discussion: The show is about a father and his sons who are MMA fighters and the youngest son we find out is a deeply closeted gay man to the point of driving him to breakdown. In the lead up to season two, Kingdom was promoted by talking about how Nate’s sexuality was going to be explored further and was going to become a bigger part of the story. They talked a LOT about how he was even going to have a sex scene in season 2. The actor, when interviewed, talked about how he filmed a sex scene where, “It’s really my body, it wasn’t a double in the sex scene.” The key words here are that it was marketed all season with those words: sex scene.

It was a rape scene. He was raped. Nate was drugged by a client he was a personal trainer for at a party and a man and woman had sex with him while his client sat in the corner and watched the ‘show’. The problem isn’t that there was a rape scene. It was horrific but tied into the plot really well. I generally DO NOT watch stuff with rape scenes, but this was very relevant to the plot, and the fact that Nate got raped was fine. Th problem is that they marketed it as “Nate’s going to have sex with a guy”, like it was a pro-queer moment in the season that was coming. It was made out to be something positive in the way of queer representation, when it was a rape scene. Nate didn’t have sex with a man, Nate was raped.

That is also REAL queerbaiting.

Marketing something as a queer sex scene and it ending up being someone being drugged and raped is absolutely queerbaiting. Marketing something as queer representation when it’s a slight moment of ambiguity is queerbaiting. Making a single line consisting of two words in the dialogue into something to be touted as queer representation is queerbaiting.

All of these things are for bigger deals than ‘these two characters flirted that one time so if they don’t end up together it’s queerbaiting’ or ‘the straight people kissed 4 times but the queer couple only kissed 2, this is queerbaiting!’ and all of these are a serious problem we really need to end when it comes to promoting movies and TV. Stop claiming there is queer representation where it isn’t. If you want to attract queer audiences then put actual queer content in your product, don’t claim it’s there when it isn’t.

 

Reading In The Age of The Internet

As with most people, including the author of, “Is Google Making us Stupid?“, Guy Billout, I’ve found myself unable to read as much for as long as I once did. When I was in middle school, my prime ‘book nerd’ years, I would read approximately 350 pages each day. In the summer, I went to the library at least twice a week and got the maximum 10 books each time. I would read three Nancy Drew books per day. I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in about a day and a half when I was 14. Needless to say, I was a voracious reader.

However, that changed when, as a teenager, we got a computer at my house. I still loved to read, but instead I would read less and go on the internet more. I still didn’t go on much, mind you, since we had dial-up, but I still went online all the time. By the time I was about 16, I hardly ever read other than for literature class. Once I started college I didn’t read a damn thing other than required books for a few years. In fact, before I joined a book club in the fall of 2015, I read an average of one to two books per year in college that weren’t required for class.

Guy Billout would say that this is because the age of technology has changed the way we read more than just what we read. In his article, he outlines the very problem I mentioned having and addresses the way that information immediacy has changed not only how we access information but how our brain comes to expect information to be consumed.

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.”

I find this interesting because on one level, I am certain this is true. I’m positive that technology and the immediacy of internet access has changed the way we read and more importantly our attention spans.

However, I also have to question my own certainty, because when I think about it, there are other factors I can track along with all of my reading history.

Before middle school, I didn’t like to read. I found fiction stories boring and only like dreading nature non-fiction books in class. In middle school, around 12 years old, I found a love for reading and read voraciously, as I mentioned. However, in middle school, I also had an incentive to read and that made me discover that I did, in fact, enjoy fiction.  In fact, almost all of my periods of great reading were incentivized.

In middle school, they placed your reading comprehension level with a test and then you were supposed to read a certain number of books on or above your reading level before you could read whatever you wanted. While we had Accelerated Reader (for those who may not know, you read books, took tests on the computer about comprehension of the book, and got points that were linked to how long or advanced the book was) in elementary school, it was only in Middle School when they placed us in a reading level that I found my incentive in that I was at a higher reading level than anyone else in my class – and I was already in the advanced gifted class – and I was cocky about that. I liked being smarter than everybody else, and because I had to read higher reading level books, they were worth more points. The more I read, the more points I got. I never had the most in the school but I almost always had the most in my class. I would have 80 points while others had 12 or 14 points. My teachers praised me for how smart I was and how good of a reader I was, and I ate it up.

So while I did really love reading and did it in the summer without those points, the only reason I got into reading was because I liked hearing how smart I was. In high school when there was no points or praise, I stopped reading so much. Yes, it probably was the internet and computer at home, but there was also the lack of praise.

In college, it was the same thing. I still liked fiction, and I do think it probably still was the instant gratification thing, but even though I was an English major, I didn’t read much that wasn’t required for class. My excuse was always that I had so much to read for class, but often that wasn’t even true. I did start writing in college, which was another excuse for taking up time from reading, but again, it still came to be that there was no incentive for me to read.

Fall of 2015, I joined a book club because I felt ashamed that in the past year, I had only read two books, and one of them I only read because I had a flight that was four hours and it had no wifi. When I joined the book club, I found my incentive again. Someone wanted to talk about books and I could only do that if I read the books.

Last year, in 2016, I read 20 books. The most books I have read in one year since I was probably about 14 or 15. I did so because I made a Goodreads account to review the books I read in book club, and discovered they had challenges you could set yourself. There were days in 2016 I didn’t want to read a thing, but I wanted to beat that challenge. You win nothing. Nobody really praises you for it. It’s a self-set challenge, even. I could have set it at 5 books for the whole year and been done. However, there is little more I love than a good challenge. I read more than I have in years, but it was still incentivized.

This year, since I don’t have a 6-book series to read, I set my goal at 15 books. I’m currently on book number 4 and HATING IT because this book is boring. However, I’ve read 150 pages and I’m not going to let 150 pages of reading go to waste when I want that number 5 towards my goal. It’s still an incentive.

Why am I telling you all of this, you may ask? What does this have to do with digital media? What does this have to do with Billout and whether Google is making us stupid?

It all comes back to the quote I included above. ‘It’s not what we read, but how we read.

While I do think the way we read now, because of the speed of how we take in information now, has adapted to be more goal-oriented, always trying to get the most information in the quickest time, I think that it’s entirely possible that this isn’t a bad thing.

We live in a world these days of ‘time is money’. For many of us, that’s a fact of life. In the state I live in I believe the statistic is something like you would have to work 80 hours a week at minimum wage to afford rent on an apartment on your own. Everything is so fast-paced these days, so is it really bad that our brains are adapting to take in important information from a source in the quickest way possible? Is this ‘skim and go’ reading style online not actually a positive talent in a world where we are incentivized to do it that way?

Just as I have always read best with an incentive to read a book, isn’t ‘time is money’ a good incentive for us to adapt our brains to understanding and comprehending information in the most succinct way possible?

I’m really interested in your thoughts about this, because while there are clear negatives, I still think that adaptation is a more positive than negative. Do we have shorter attention spans? Yes. But the affect of this is that we get more things done in a shorter time because we are better at multi-tasking. Right now, for example, I’m watching Chopped, I’m writing this blog post, and I’m having a conversation about figure skating on twitter. I’m able to watch TV, and then write during the commercials while I’m waiting on the person on twitter to respond to what I said last. I’m optimizing my time, even if it makes it harder to focus on just doing ONE of these things.

Is that not what we need as a skill in this digital world? So in essence, is “Google making us stupid” or is the way our brains are adapting to a new necessary skill a positive more than a negative?

Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments!

Book Review: Play Dead by Anne Frasier

Play Dead (Elise Sandburg Series Book 1)Play Dead by Anne Frasier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Play Dead by Anne Frasier is an absolutely stellar mystery story that will entertain any reader who enjoys a good crime thriller. The lead character, Elise Sandburg, is an interesting woman with a compelling past that unfolds in an intricately interweaved sub-plot that never feels forced into the narrative. With a captivating cast of characters, all with intriguing stories and backgrounds, the mystery of a string of poisonings with a supernatural swing to things grows more and more gripping as the killings stir up deeper mysteries that could only take place in a book set against a backdrop of the haunting beauty of Savannah, Georgia.

This novel will thrill and ensnare even the most seasoned reader of crime thrillers with a deeply disturbing mystery that goes deep into the dark underground of Savannah and will chill you to the core. I cannot recommend this novel enough, because every time I thought I knew what was coming, the story was one step ahead of me, constantly making it clear that I had no idea what was really going to come next. The fantastic looks from the killer’s perspective will draw the reader into the disturbing mind of a psychopath that evokes suspense unlike anything I’ve read in years.

I would go as far as to put Play Dead on part with Silence of the Lambs when it comes to a good, solid crime thriller, and anybody who knows my reviews knows I do not give a book 5 stars lightly. This is the best book I’ve read in about two years and I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say that. I’m eager to read the rest of the series to see if Frasier can keep the momentum going, but even if she can’t, I will still appreciate this book as a standalone novel for what it is. Read it, I implore you!

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How Literature Impacted The Internet As We Know It

hsystem

When I say the word “hypertext” what’s the first thing you think of? Most likely, you thought of HTML, right? Hypertext is defined as, “a database format in which information related to that on a display can be accessed directly from the display.” For most of us, the reason the word “hypertext” doesn’t even connect for us, is because we grew up with computers, so the idea of selecting something on a display and accessing other information is so commonplace. We just think of it as, “Well, duh, you click the link.” In reality, Hypertext has a far more interesting history than most of us would imagine, and it links back to writing.

There was an attempt at a literary revolution led, arguably, by a person called Ted Nelson. Nelson is credited with being the person behind the concept of hypertext, hypermedia, and hyperlinks. In his writings in the sixties, Nelson saw the future of hypertext as a way to bring literature back into fashion in the 21st century as a way to take people away from television and its stagnation of creativity and make reading the new big thing again. The concept was that through the use of hypertext, books would be published online in an interactive way so that the reader moves on to different parts of the story by clicking links, basically.

Though nobody in the reading I’ve done calls it this, it sounds to me like an internet version of those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a kid.

While the idea was ambitious, as we all now know, Nelson’s dream of an interactive novel online as the next revolution of entertainment didn’t, in fact, work out in the end. There are multiple reasons for that, and some of them are pretty simple to work out the cause. One of the main issues was just the timing of it all. Another was the formats through which hypertext was meant to become a reality.

Before the internet, Apple came out with one of the first platforms for hypertext in a program called HyperCard. From what I can understand, HyperCard was a lot like a powerpoint platform, but rather than doing a presentation with it, it was meant to link slides together so that the user could explore a multimedia artifact via hyperlinks. In his look back on the HyperCard, Matthew Lasar tells us,

Even before its cancellation, HyperCard’s inventor saw the end coming. In an angst-filled 2002 interview, Bill Atkinson confessed to his Big Mistake. If only he had figured out that stacks could be linked through cyberspace, and not just installed on a particular desktop, things would have been different.

“I missed the mark with HyperCard,” Atkinson lamented. “I grew up in a box-centric culture at Apple.

This goes back to the issue of timing that made hypertext miss the mark, so to speak. Before the broad release of internet connectivity, everything created was installed on a single computer. That meant that only the users of the computer the HyperCard was created on could access it. This was the same for a lot of computer programs at the time. There was no thought process leading up to the idea that one day soon, computers would be interconnected, so the creators didn’t anticipate needing that ability.

Though there were some attempts at making hypertext novels the Next Big Thing™, such as Douglas Cooper’s Delirium, Steven Johnson tells us why it was that hypertext stories just never took off.

It turned out that nonlinear reading spaces had a problem: They were incredibly difficult to write. When you tried to make an argument or tell a journalistic story in which any individual section could be a starting or ending point, it wound up creating a whole host of technical problems, the main one being that you had to reintroduce characters or concepts in every section.

As you could expect, such a difficult and complex medium for telling a novel-like story wasn’t successful. It would have created some really interesting stories, no doubt, but nothing that complicated would have ever been the next revolution to replace TV and change the way literature as we know it is experienced.

However, what we did get out of these revolutionary ideas was something equally as important: blogging! Yes, the very platform you are experiencing right now hails from the idea of hypertext fiction. And it wasn’t just blogging that came out of the hypertext revolution that never was, as Steven Johnson outlines in the same article.

It’s not that hypertext went on to become less interesting than its literary advocates imagined in those early days. Rather, a whole different set of new forms arose in its place: blogs, social networks, crowd-edited encyclopedias. Readers did end up exploring an idea or news event by following links between small blocks of text; it’s just that the blocks of text turned out to be written by different authors, publishing on different sites. Someone tweets a link to a news article, which links to a blog commentary, which links to a Wikipedia entry. Each landing point along that itinerary is a linear piece, designed to be read from start to finish. But the constellation they form is something else. Hypertext turned out to be a brilliant medium for bundling a collection of linear stories or arguments written by different people.

What may have started as an attempt at a literary revolution failed to bring about a new literary form that would bring literature back to the masses and dethrone the entertainment king that was television, but from the ashes of a failed endeavor rose basically the entirety of new media as we know it now. News, social interaction, education, communication, all of our common forms of new media that we utilize every single day is only made possible by hypertext.

Book Review: Sub-Human

Sub-Human (Post-Human, #1)Sub-Human by David Simpson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In my first foray into this author’s work, I found myself not particularly impressed but still entertained by Sub-Human. Though this novel is nothing profound, and its writing is very average, I was interested in the world-building and somewhat intrigued by the descriptions of the crazy futuristic technology. I think the only place this one really fell flat for me was the characters. I honestly found myself not really caring either way about anybody, even the ‘bad guys’. I didn’t like nor dislike the protagonist. I didn’t care at all about his wife or her new husband. The AI is the character I felt the most attachment to, and he was the most clinically detached of all the characters.

However, maybe that’s what this story was meant to do. Maybe you aren’t supposed to feel for the people involved. Perhaps in a novel about AI, you are meant to view the world in the story through a pragmatic lens instead of an emotional one? My least favorite part was the first two trips into the (for spoiler reasons, let’s say) ‘past’. They felt unnecessary and distracting. Otherwise, I pretty well enjoyed the plot. Overall worth the read if you’re a fan of SciFi and aren’t crazy picky.

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