Sunday Book Reviews – 11/22/20

Bookshelf books, photo by Alien Motives

Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life by Katherine Ormerod (2018, Hachette)

This 2018 UK book was released in the US in 2020 and garnered just enough of a publicity push to put it on the list of potential purchases by thousands across the nation. I can recommend it as a Christmas present, but do so with reservations.

On the positive side, the book does not implore the readers to quit social media entirely nor does it seek to inappropriately demonize the industry. It does recognize the flaws in the system and, as other recent works, it is designed to throw cold water onto the idea of overly utilizing or trusting any social media system.

On the negative side, the book’s author uses a friendly style which focuses excessively on her personal habits, preferences and views. What could be a generally useful work instead becomes a book that pushes a female empowerment message that risks losing the interest of male readers.

Still, at a time when people are considering a hard look at their social media state, after a year where they’ve been using social media as their primary means of communication with others due to COVID-19 fears, and recognizing that not everyone will watch a documentary nor is open to the frightening messages of the superior Mindf*ck, it’s a good, well-written Christmas present for the right target audience.

Seven Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers (1913, Bobbs-Merrill)

Another one with limited appeal, this first novel by the creator of Charlie Chan is a wonderful time capsule that contains a passable mystery, an unbelievable romance, and heavy doses of melodrama. It was incredibly popular at the time of its release and was turned into a successful stage play. That play in turn spawned multiple movies. It’s a natural fit for an old movie buff, or for a casual cultural historian, or for a hardcore mystery fan.

The premise is simple: a writer of light fiction retreats to an upstate New York hotel for a winter, seeking seclusion so he can write a great novel and be taken seriously by the many who disregard his talents. While Biggers was new to writing novels, he’d been a columnist and drama critic for years and was intimately familiar with authors, their egos, and their habits. The setup for the book is realistic. The arrival of multiple, seemingly unconnected people at the same secluded hotel is unexpected by the protagonist and serves to form the basis of the mystery.

Biggers attempts to distinguish himself from pulp authors of the day by inclusion of uncommonly used (even in 1913) words, but the heightened vocabulary and complex sentence structure only serve to pull the reader out of the action. The book is a fantastic glimpse into the past, though, taking place in a setting with just enough modernity to distinguish it from classical fiction but lacking in both contemporary conveniences and thought. When the main character describes a woman, within the first few pages of the book, as looking as if she “wanted to vote, and that she would say as much from time to time”, it provides a good indication of the type of book one is getting. If the reader is interested in stepping back a century in time, though, this is a good choice of novel with which to do that.

The Armchair Detective Book of Lists, Second Revised Edition ed. Kate Stine (1995, Armchair Detective)

After two qualified recommendations, I can provide a suggestion for this book without reservation. Inspired by the host of books which were released following the successful (and previously reviewed) Book of Lists, the book is broken into two halves.

The first part of the book is comprised of lists of all of the major award winners in the field and the runners-up to the awards. Whether you’re looking for the best thriller movies of 1967 or the best cozy mystery of 1983, you’ll find a group of options – and others like them from nearby years – ready for consultation. It’s helpful, but is also rendered somewhat moot by the internet, which is an excellent tool for hunting down the same information.

The second half of the book provides most of its value. This contains a set of lists provided by dozens of prominent critics, authors, editors and publishers in the mystery and thriller fields. Best locked room mysteries, famous authors’ favorite novels or writers, best short stories, greatest lines, best television series – they’re all here, and most of them come with capsule explanations of exactly why they’ve made the list.

The only negative for the book is that it’s missing the last quarter century of the field, including the massive expansion of thriller popularity. Still, it’s a great resource work for anyone interested in mysteries and thrillers and it’s not particularly expensive… an excellent holiday gift that any mystery or thriller buff will enjoy after they’ve thumbed through it for a bit.

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.

About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.