The Hound of the Baskervilles Readalong Begins!

The Hounder of the Baskervilles 1st Edition Cover

It’s finally here, October 1, and The Hound of the Baskervilles readalong can begin! (Confession: my brain’s been convinced it’s October for a couple weeks. This will be a deliciously long month.) Whether you’ve never read Baskervilles before or are returning to a much-loved tale, I hope it is a pleasurable visit. I aim for low-stress reading experiences, so there’s no set schedule or questions to answer, just an opportunity for all who wish to read along together and discuss at the end of the month. (Though, if you’re really ambitious, I think there might be enough textual evidence to read most of the story on the days of the month it takes place.) During the final week of October, return here to share links to your posts, and join in the discussion. I will let this post serve as the links post for the month, and will link it in my sidebar. And it’s not too late–even if you didn’t express interest in my earlier post, feel free to join in at any time this month. This should be fun!

Happy reading!

Completed: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Why must I be so often of late putting off writing about books I’ve finished? I do it, I know, because I’m  not quite sure what I want to write, but then I find myself too far from the book and it only gets more difficult. Sigh. I think I’ve found my New Year’s resolutions, if I ever made any. But what I do remember:

The Hound of the BaskervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1902, Scotland

A long, low moan, indescribably sad, swept over the moor. It filled the whole air, and yet it was impossible to say whence it came. From a dull murmur it swelled into a deep roar, and then sank back into a melancholy, throbbing murmur once again. (Ch.  7)

About halfway through The Hound of the Baskervilles, I realized, this is why I read The Castle of Otranto. For, as lacking as I found the Horace Walpole novel, it was, in fact the first Gothic novel, and therefore the grandfather of all Gothics to come after. While in some instances, it may be just the atmosphere that harkens back to Otranto, with Baskervilles I was starkly reminded of the central plot of Otranto–that of a familial curse. Apparently, Doyle was inspired by an actual legend, but nonetheless the similarity between the two novels strikes me: there are certain building blocks of Gothic novels that appear again and again. The Hound of the Baskervilles prompts a reminder that it is good to read the founding works, even if they may not be as…appealing…as their descendents.

Now, I started this in October. And I have to say, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a perfect R.I.P. read–deliciously creepy Gothic atmosphere, a dash of horror thrown into the mystery, and it’s even set in October. If only I had finished it then! (I’m so late at writing this, I actually finished in early November.) I can see why so many people consider it their favorite Holmes story–not only is it perfectly Gothic, but the mystery is just strange enough and  the pacing is perfect. I don’t often reread mysteries as it seems that more than half the enjoyment is usually in the mystery itself and trying to work it out ahead of the “official” solving of the crime, but this one is such that I could see returning to it. In an October, of course. There may actually be enough textual evidence (primarily from letters and diary entries)–I’m going on memory here–that a reader could work out exactly which day in October each event in the novella takes place. Reading it “as it happens,” as it were, could be quite fun, I think. A plan for next year?

(Completed): A Series of Posts in One

I’ve had a fairly good reading year to date. I haven’t quite managed to get everything read I wanted (especially in anticipated time frames), but I’ve read books I hadn’t planned on as well as some I really wanted to get through. Unfortunately, my blogging activity: not so great. That leaves me with books I don’t remember well enough to write full posts on. (Well, to be fair, I may not have had enough to say on one or two of these in the first place. After all, I’ve managed a full post on Quiet, and I read that one in May.) And a few weeks back (when I actually started writing this) I reached a point when I felt I couldn’t read any more until  So I decided to just clear the deck and write up some brief thoughts here, for my own records if nothing else.  Presented in order of completion:

The Memoirs of Sherlock HolmesThe Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1894, Scotland

Alas, I don’t recall much of my thoughts on this Sherlock Holmes collection. I do remember that I enjoyed it more than I did the similar The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, but I think that is more likely due to reading mood than any real difference between the two collections. One thing I found: these stories are just the perfect length for reading at lunch at work. In fact, I probably read more of this book on lunch breaks than any other book this year!

There were two stories I did find memorable: the infamous “The Final Problem” (of course) and “The Yellow Face,” which I noted offered a view of the restrictive life of women in the Victorian era: the client comes to Holmes concerned over what his wife is up to because she wasn’t home when he returned. However, it surprised me in the end, for a completely different social reason. I can’t say why without giving away the end (which I am reluctant to do for a mystery). Suffice it to say, not quite what I expected from a story from the 19th century.

Up next in the series, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which will hopefully be read for this year’s edition of R.I.P.

This book qualifies as a Classics Club selection, as one of my 2013 TBR Challenge selections, and as part of my Mysteries & Detective Fiction project.

outsilentplanetOut of the Silent Planet
C. S. Lewis
1938, Britain

I find myself forced to admit that I find it rather easy to forget that I read Out of the Silent Planet this summer. And that I needed to post on it. So, yes, not really my favorite Lewis. For one thing, it was far more work than I had really expected–trying to picture the environment, keep up with the made-up words. I don’t know if that’s a failing of the book or the reader (I don’t often read books with extensive world-building). That said, I will likely finish out the trilogy at some point.

“Yes,” said Oyarsa, ” but one thing we left behind us on the harandra: fear. And with fear, murder and rebellion. The weakest of my people does not fear death. It is the Bent One, the lord of your world, who wastes your lives and befouls them with flying from what you know will overtake you in the end. If you were subjects of Maleldil you would have peace.” (Ch. 20)

This is Lewis’s science fiction. Of course, it is also Lewis, so there is underpinning theology which shapes things, and which, I suspect, is what ultimately causes it to deviate from the expected. On the one hand, it is science fiction in the most expected sense, I think: space flight, alien planet, extraterrestrial beings. But what else we expect–that other is dangerous to man, that man is at the top of the totem pole–that is not necessarily so. Lewis really seems to flip some of the science fiction tropes around*–as well as act as a sort of commentary on British colonialism. (I think. It seems…) Although mention is made of “white man’s burden” and it is clear that villains Weston and Divine want to take the traditional colonizer’s/explorer’s route of raping and plundering a new world, main-character Ransom’s interactions with the “natives” are so radically different. While there may be some hint at the concept of “noble savage” in the inspiration of the three different groups of Malacandra, I think what Lewis really presents is an alternate Earth, one where the Fall (of man) hasn’t happened: Malacandra shows us what might have been. Thus, the hnau are friendly, open, welcoming. They are not innocent, i.e., they have knowledge that evil and darkness exists (something Ransom seems not to recognize at first, as he attempts to shield them from knowledge that there is evil on his home planet), but they are good. I think Lewis’s theology is more subtle here than in the Narnia novels, but it is still present. Indeed, this reminds me more of Tolkien’s Silmarillion than Narnia. (Also, I thought the last chapter, the one that could almost have been left off, the best part.)

*Legitimate question: would Lewis have been writing this before some of the standard SF tropes existed?
The-Raven-BoysThe Raven Boys
Maggie Stiefvater
2012, U.S.

I believe I mentioned earlier this summer that I’ve been experimenting with listening to audiobooks while driving home from work. I know many people love audiobooks for their commutes, but I seem to have a great difficulty with attention paying when listening to books. Which is odd given that my dad read to my brother and I for many years–if we made it through The Lord of the Rings why can’t I listen to a professionally produced audiobook without frequent rewindings as my attention constantly wanders to other things? I’ve found that “easier” books or rereads work a bit better, so I took advantage of a summer series of free YA offerings through audiobooksync.com. I’ve only listened to a couple so far, but it was Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys which really grabbed my attention–so much so that I stopped listening to the audiobook and picked up a paper copy at the library. You can throw your “but audiobooks are real books” at me all you like; I simply can’t listen well enough to stick with an audio version of something I’m enjoying so much. Of course, this means I was next hit with the unfortunate reality that The Raven Boys is the first of a (length unknown to me) series, and the second book didn’t come put until mid-September. Ah yes. I don’t mind waits, it’s remembering the earlier book(s) in the meantime that’s the problem.

The Raven Boys qualifies, I think, as a contemporary fantasy. Maybe. I’m vague on definitions. It’s set in the U.S. south, Virginia specifically, in the present day. The main characters are all high-school students, most of whom attend an elite private school, and all of whom are on a quest for a mythical ley-line, with a few added psychics thrown in for good measure. There is much mention of a Welsh king, Glendower. I am rather reminded of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, which is perhaps the best comparison I know for the type of fantasy this is. (I am rather under-read in fantasy and definite terminology is beyond me.) Oddly though, while reading I was actually more reminded of Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Both are set in the south, with…unusual…high school students as the main characters, both have important scenes in the woods. And both give the name “Blue” to the main female character. (Is that a southern name then? Or just a “quirky” girl’s name name?) There’s perhaps not really any reason to compare the two, but I couldn’t help making the connection. It did make me think that perhaps I ought read more U.S. southern lit, as I seem to be fond of it… Also, perhaps mythologies and legends from the British Isles.

I actually don’t have much else to say beyond that I really enjoyed it–I think for both the characters and the atmosphere–I kept listening to Loreena McKennitt’s Celtic influenced music while reading, which seemed completely appropriate. (What? Doesn’t everybody match their playlist to their reading?)

In terms of atmosphere, this seems appropriate for seasonal R.I.P. reading, but as I read it this summer, I’m not including it on my list. Also, if audiobooks are your sort of thing, I thought it very well narrated.

Phew. All caught up. Now I can return to reading guilt-free. Let’s just not let this happen again, shall we?

Completed: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Book cover - The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
1892

For some reason I seem to be avoiding a post about my latest Sherlock Holmes read, albeit subconsciously. Really, I liked it! But I thought, with  R.I.P. VII starting tomorrow I’d better finally post today lest it be mistaken for an R.I.P. read, when I actually completed this selection of short stories earlier this summer.

This is the first set of Holmes short stories I’ve read, and although many seem to prefer the shorter tales to the novels, I find myself unconvinced. I think there are two reasons: 1) they’re so short there’s just not enough of Holmes and Watson  and 2) I’m pretty sure my dad read some of the stories to my brother and me when we were little—and it took away a bit of the excitement when I knew what was coming. True too in some instances, I knew enough of the conventions of mysteries that I could anticipate what was coming, but that’s not quite the same as knowing in advance that the bank’s going to be robbed when a bank hasn’t even been mentioned yet. I believe the received wisdom is that a well-written story—short or long—can be read again and again even though the ending may already be known, even if it is in fact a mystery. I confess myself dubious of this assertion when it comes to a mystery in short story format. There is so much that must be included—the introduction of wronged party, the statement of  the mystery at hand, and the final explanation and resolution—and in such a short space, that there is little room for anything but the mystery itself, and thus my gripe that we don’t see enough of Holmes and Watson. Perhaps I am wrong, and in the hands of a master of the short story a mystery could be created that rewards many readings. In Doyle’s hands, however, the pattern seems to overwhelm the story.

Perhaps this is why one of my favorite of the stories included in this collection is “The Man With the Twisted Lip.” Here we are introduced to the mystery mid-stride, when Watson stumbles across Holmes in the middle of an opium den, in pursuit of information. The investigation underway, we follow along with Holmes. And I find this much more fun than the standard recitation of Watson’s bewilderment. I am spoiled here too by the recent BBC TV adaptation—set in contemporary London, I find that Sherlock gives us a preferable Watson, one who is intelligent, just not in the sphere of Holmes. Doyle’s original seems at times downright dim-witted. Has he not been around Holmes long enough to begin to understand his methods? In the TV series too, we have better opportunity to see the relationship between the character—there is a clear strengthening in the Holmes-Watson friendship over the course of two seasons—which again, I miss in the short stories.

Despite my disappointments, I found the stories perfect for dipping in and out of in spare moments. Some stories contained the element of adventure I enjoyed so much in The Sign of Four. And I should say I didn’t always know the ending! I am still looking forward to the later stories/novels (The Hound of the Baskervilles especially).The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes are the earliest stories, so perhaps Doyle develops as a writer sufficiently that I will enjoy the later stories better, or maybe (fingers crossed), they’ll just be a tad longer. After all, my biggest complaint really boils down to “there’s not enough!”

Read as part of The Classics Club and for my Mysteries and Detective Fiction project.

Completed: The Sign of Four

Well, it’s been a while, but I’ve finally completed another book. More specifically, I finally completed the second of two novellas included in the first volume of my dad’s Sherlock Holmes set. I read A Study in Scarlet back in January, and I don’t think it was really a good time for me and mysteries, as I was just sort of “meh” about it. (Of course, the long, drawn-out section in Utah doesn’t help its case.) The Sign of Four on the other hand was much more to my liking. Although I do seem to be on a bit of a mystery kick at the moment, I think in this instance the real selling point is that The Sign of Four is an adventure story. And I love adventure stories.

Yes, there is a mystery, although, as far as these go, it is pretty straightforward. Quite frankly, I was able to guess many of the points shortly before Holmes shared them with Watson. The mystery is not what makes The Sign of Four entertaining; it is the chase that follows. Holmes–and Watson–know the who, but they don’t know where the suspects are precisely. Nor do they know the why. The discovery of these points fill the latter half of the adventure.

And adventure it is. A murder. A chase–literally. A romance for Dr. Watson. Exotic locales. Locked Rooms. Dark countryside. Lost treasure. In an improvement from A Study in Scarlet, the “why” isn’t told by a third person omniscient narrator, but included more organically in the story, through the narration of some of those involved. All in all, I found this a much more entertaining story than its predecessor.

But. It seems unavoidable in Victorian-era novels, at least by British authors, that some sort of racial or class prejudice sneaks in, in this instance an apparent stereotyping of a native of the Andaman Islands. On the one hand, I intellectually acknowledge that these attitudes were characteristic of the time, that many honestly believed that their culture, if not their race, were superior to those of “uncivilized” peoples. Not to mention, an unpredictable “savage” is more entertaining than a run-of-the-mill criminal. (Also, interestingly, when I looked up the Andaman Islands on Wikipedia, the article indicated that some of the native peoples had not had friendly contact with outside groups until the 1990s: I can certainly see where a violence-first defensive strategy might seem “savage” to a 19th century outsider.) On the other hand, there’s the 21st century part of me that puts up warning signs whenever I come across such examples of past prejudices. At the very least, any contemporary adaptation of the book into movie form (and I think it would be very adaptable–in fact it has been several times already) would probably need to modify one of the characters to avoid unwanted controversy.

That aside, I’ve very much looking forward to reading the rest of the Holmes stories and novels. I’m especially looking forward to “A Scandal in Bohemia,” as I’ve read about Irene Adler, but never the story she is featured in! I’m also thinking I would like to go back even further to the oldest detective stories (Poe and Collins, as best I can determine). Fortunately, any of the above will fit right in with the R.I.P. Challenge, and either Poe or Collins certainly feels seasonal.