Completed: The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Cover: The Return of Sherlock HolmesThe Return of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1905, Scotland

 “Come, Watson, come!” he cried. “The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!”

(“The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”)

Just a quick post to note that I’ve finally finished the 6th of the Sherlock Holmes titles on my Classics Club list (or 5th book in the 8-volume set I’ve borrowed from my Dad).  This is hands down the longest of the books, which, without actually checking to confirm this assumption, I believe is because the short stories in this collection are lengthier than those in the other collections, not because there are more stories. Certainly, it seemed to take longer to read each story. Although I’ve stated in the past that my problem with the short stories is that it often felt as if there weren’t enough Homes–here that is no problem–the problem here was that it felt at times as if the book was endless! (I’m so fickle.) I’m sure that had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that since starting this collection I’ve finished four other books. Nope, can’t possibly be my fault.

That said, I did enjoy the stories for the most part. Some I worked out much to early in the story (“The Adventure of the Norwood Builder” in particular). Some I was just “meh” about. But I quite enjoyed “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist” and “The Adventure of the Priory School.” My memory of the earlier story collections my not be accurate, but it seemed that in this collection–the two last mentioned stories being examples–we see much more of Holmes outside of the murky London that I more strongly associate with Holmes. There are even two stories set in university towns (I envision Cambridge or Oxford), a setting that reminds me of the Inspector Lewis TV series rather than Holmes–and it was a delight to see Holmes there.

Of course, these being stories of their time, there is also on occasion the tidbit to make the 21st century reader squirm a bit. In “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” (which my notes emphasize refers to busts of Napoleon, not the pastry!), specifically, the terms “simian” and “ape-like” are used to describe the villain–an Italian. Although Doyle evidently had an interest in phrenology (see The Hound of the Baskervilles), and could perhaps just be using this to emphasize the evil nature of the character, the knowledge that many people of the time had an anti-Italian bias, makes me think this plays a factor. Squirmy…but also illustrative of the period. For that matter, the Holmes stories also often illustrate the limitations placed on the women in the era. (Examples here are “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist” and “The Adventure of the Second Stain.”)

All in all, I enjoyed making my way through the collection, but am more than happy to take a bit of a break from Holmes. Apparently I’m not a true Holmesian! (On the other hand it was quite fun to recognize references or stories used in the most recent series of Sherlock, references I had not previously known.)

Week’s End Notes (20)

  • A few months ago, I would have said I was having a pretty decent reading year–both quality and quantity of books I’m reading. But lately, I feel like I’m getting nothing read. It’s not even a reading slump, it’s just my total fault–I’m picking up the internet instead of the book. Ahem. I’ll blame the time change. (AKA apparently 5:00 a.m. is now “sleeping in.”) And since I’m still thinking my way through my most recent book finished (and not likely to get any others done for another week or so), I thought I might take the easy way out: bookish survey from The Classics Club. But when I started to go through the list, I realized that a) I didn’t have answers for every question, and b) those I did, I was often too wordy. I wouldn’t want to read my own post, much less subject others to it. So I thought I might perhaps just pick and choose a few instead.
  • #2b. I’ve read 6 of the numbered 125 items on my list, or 13.75 total novels/plays on my list. So I have some work to do. I keep getting distracted by other books that aren’t on my list–many of which could have been in a different version of my list, were I to revise. Or for that matter, which are on one of my other (many) project lists. But you know what? I don’t actually care, so long as I keep reading awesome books. (Mixed success to date, but…) And every time I look over my list I am inspired again to read from it.
  • #8. Something I find interesting is how many blog posts I’ve seen deal with difficulty with or intimidation by certain books. And question #8, “What book are you avoiding?” AKA “What books is intimidating?” I know that a lot of the books on these lists ARE difficult or require a lot of WORK (Joyce, Shakespeare, for instance: see Amanda didn’t include Ulysses), but what I’m really wondering is whether by assigning something the arbitrary label “classic” we don’t also subconsciously automatically equate it with something difficult, regardless of its actual nature. How often does someone express surprise at how “readable” a particular classic is!
  • #6. For not reading very many of my CC books yet, I’ve managed to find some real winners. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion provided me with a whole new appreciation for his The Lord of the Rings and the depth of the imaginary world he created. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was incredibly engaging, considering all the theology/church history inserted. But it was William Faulkner who blew me away with As I Lay Dying. So of course I don’t have any more Faulkner on my list. That means, of course, #35, that I wish I had more Faulkner on my list. Anything.
  • #7. But there’s still so much to look forward to: Les Misérables. Wives and Daughters. The Turn of the Screw. 2666. Some of the books do have a sort of “obligatory” feel – I added Don Quixote because I’ve never finished it (well…I read Part 1, which was originally the first book and Part 2 was the sequel. But never more than a few chapters of Part 2. Which is supposed to be the better part.). And the Greeks–the actual, capital-C Classics. I know they’re not really difficult, but I’m not currently excited by them. So I might try to read some next year. Because I can be contrary.
  • #48. It’s funny, I feel like I’ve been reading “classic” literature forever (I recall asking the school librarian in 6th grade for a classic recommendation), but not only do I not recall my first classic (#9)–although my first children’s classic was almost certainly Little House on the Prairie–I don’t feel like I’ve actually made it through all that many. I have a record, more or less complete, of the books I’ve read since my sophomore year in high school (so 17 years-long or so), and there was a big swath of time when it was mostly mysteries or rereads. And my reading pace slowed dramatically when I went to college. (Unless one counts Concrete Masonry Handbook (or something like that). Which one doesn’t. Did I actually read that anyway?) That’s why I have such a LONG LIST (#1). Plus all the other project lists.
  • #28. One non-regret–no, I wouldn’t want to revise my list this way–but I think I could call this project list a parallel list–Children’s Classics. Oh, those wonderful books–I’ve been discovering stories I didn’t even know I missed. I don’t think I can truly cite a favorite. Anne of Green Gables has long been a strong contender, as have the Little House books, but I’ve also discovered the delight of the Moomins and the wordplay of The 13 Clocks. And I’ve only just begun that journey.
  • And now I swerve from the survey. For one of my own. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I thought I’d read children’s classics again in January (round 3!), and although I’ve somehow found myself involved in an informal Don Quixote RAL that overlaps that timeframe (oops), I’m still planning on children’s classics. I was browsing my shelves last night, thinking about classics I’ve read already, when I came across an old–my grandma’s brother’s–copy of Treasure Island. (My grandma is 93 and her brother was 12 years older, so it’s old.) And I thought, maybe that for a January RAL. But I’ve also thought–maybe Pinocchio. (Which has the merit of being on my Classics Club list.) The question: is there anyone interested in either? Not both, I don’t think I could manage both–but if there were strong interest in one or the other, I might make it a RAL title. I’m not absolutely set in any direction. But January will be for Children’s Classics. (And Don Quixote.)

Reread: The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hounder of the Baskervilles 1st Edition CoverThe Hound of the Baskervilles
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1902, Scotland

But it was not the sight of her body, nor yet was it that of the body of Hugo Baskerville lying near her, which raised the hair upon the heads of these three daredevil roysterers, but it was that, standing over Hugo, and plucking at his throat, there stood a foul thing, a great, black beast, shaped like a hound, yet larger than any hound that ever mortal eye has rested upon. (Ch. 2)

When I first read The Hound of the Baskervilles last fall, I couldn’t help but compare it to The Castle of Otranto, the grandfather of the Gothic novel. This year, at a further remove from my reading of Otranto, it is less that specific novel that I am reminded of and more of the general idea of “ghost story.” Certainly, at least, the legend of the Baskerville family–that of a diabolical hound that killed the blackguard Hugo Baskerville–would all on its own be a perfect campfire story.

The deliciously spine-tingling atmosphere of the Baskerville legend continues throughout the short mystery, with a gloomy, autumnal setting in the moors; eerie, unexplained sounds filling the air; and an escaped convict just to complicate things. It is only a little too bad that this is a Holmes mystery and so therefore the end seems a bit of a sharp contrast–all must be explained by light of day in Holmes’s stark logic. And really, for being a mystery, it is the atmosphere that keeps me returning. Although I don’t foresee myself rereading again next year, it does seem that visits with some of the movie adaptations may perhaps be in order.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is my third read for this year’s R.I.P. Although several people expressed interest in reading it with me a while back, the only post I’ve seen so far is Christine’s at The Moonlight Reader – let me know if I missed any!

R.I.P. IX Logo

Completed: Death Masks (#5 of Dresden Files)

Cover: Death Masks by Jim Butcher
Death Masks
Jim Butcher
2003, U.S.

I had hoped to have The Hound of the Baskervilles finished by now for the readalong (if you’re participating, share the link to your thoughts on the RAL post by the end of the week–I’ll be done by then, promise!), but lacking that, some quick notes on my latest completed read.

Death Masks is the 5th of the Dresden Files, a series that is part mystery, part urban fantasy–and thus perfect for R.I.P. I’ve been (very slowly) making my way through the series in order, and by this point I think it’s safe to say that they pretty much follow the same formula: Harry Dresden, Wizard and P.I., finds himself entangled in a mess usually partly of his own making and partly as a result of an investigation he has been hired to solve (and/or to consult on for the Chicago PD). The action is nonstop, there’s pretty much a guarantee that a)Harry won’t get enough sleep b)he will completely miss an obvious clue because of either his tiredness or (more likely) a pretty lady c) he will face down a creature more powerful than himself but d) you know he will win in the end because 1) the good guys always do, especially when they’re the narrators and 2) he’s not so good that he’s above cheating. So pretty standard stuff, and really not too much to think about past the first book or two (beyond maybe looking up the traditional stories about some of the creatures/legends Harry encounters). However, probably because of all the blogging/tweeting I’ve seen about diverse books and diverse characters this year, it finally dawned on me–the Dresden Files novels have a really diverse set of characters. I don’t spend much time with fantasy-type novels (Tolkien and children’s lit aside), but my understanding this a diverse cast of characters is not exactly common in the genre.

I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess

Week’s End Beginning Notes (19)

  • Looking over both my recent posts and my “books read” list, the last couple months have been pretty quiet. Partially, I can lay blame on a couple of pesky work deadlines in September…but it’s past the half-way point in October…so I think I just need to acknowledge that I just haven’t been reading enough.
  • Fortunately, this is the start of a week off work–randomly timed “staycation.” It won’t be all reading (I spent the morning on continuing ed, for instance…yay…), but surely I can finish off some of my in-progress reads? Poor Let’s Talk About Love has been picked up off-and-on since August (and I really like it, too). And the mysteries are easy reads, no excuse.
  • So, to hold myself accountable, what I want to finish reading by the end of the month (and post on by the end of November, at latest):
  • There’s also The Hound of the Baskervilles. I haven’t forgotten about it, but if I’m not careful, the end of the month will really creep up on me! Not good! Definitely on my to-do list this week–I don’t want to be a poor RAL host.
  • Despite not actually reading much lately, I’ve been thinking about what books I’d like to get to before the end of the year + what I want to try to work on next year. I still need to read something Russian for the Russian Literature challenge I signed up for at the end of last year. And really, I should get back to my Ohio project, which was swept aside in favor of R.I.P. reading (which I can’t ever resist). I’d like to read at least two more books by the end of the year. At this point, I’m not planning to “formally” continue the Ohio project next year, but I think it will continue to guide some of my reading selections. If nothing else, I’ve left some threads hanging that I would like to follow up on. (More Charles W. Chesnutt.) I’m also currently planning to host a third(!) edition of Children’s Classic Literature in January. Not sure if I’ll have a RAL title (nothing in particular has come to mind yet), but it’s still early. If nothing else, I’ll use January as an excuse to read more Moomin stories or something else similarly delightful.
  • Happy reading!
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