Well, welcome to November! October seems to have been a busy month for reading, as well as a satisfying one. In addition to the books which I commented on in the last week, I also read The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as The Astral by Kate Christensen. I’ll be giving The Astral more extended comments later, but suffice it to say, the book proved a most intriguing novel and I would have checked out another by Christensen if I could have remembered her last name’s spelling while in fiction.
As for The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: it collects a dozen or so Holmes stories, most set in the latter part of the great detective’s career, including the chronologically “last” in the series in which Holmes foils a German spy on the cusp of the Great War. The afterward comments that such a story is a fitting end to the Holmes series, as the Great War completely destroyed the Victorian world that Holmes was most at home in. In addition to conventional mysteries, the collection included four rather usual stories. Two were mysteries that Watson reports on, but not as Holmes’ assistant: indeed, Holmes never appears by name, and his anonymous attempts to solve the mysteries both propose solutions which turn out to be wrong. They’re impressive guesses, but wrong all the same. One of these stories, involving a missing train, happened to be my favorite — largely because how does a train go missing? The last two stories, including “How Watson Learned the Trick”, were almost disappointing in their brevity. Indeed, they’re not stories so much as brief scenes in which Doyle pokes fun at his detective’s style of logical deduction — or so the afterward tells me. Even so, that style is most impressive: in a story I’m reading now, Holmes figures the speed of the train by noting the rate at which telegraph poles are passing by. Since he knows the distance between each pole, he can count the miles and speed without reference to a speedometer or mile posts.
At the library this week, I picked up…
- The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, which is another Readers Digestion collection of Holmes stories like the last two I read, in the same handsome binding with an attractive font and illustrations.
- The Age of Louis XIV, Will Durant. Time for another big helping of European history.
- Sharpe’s Sword, Bernard Cornwell. I’ve watched the movie version of this before, but the Sharpe movies and Sharpe books vary wildly so I don’t think I’ve been too much spoiled beyond “Sharpe deals with loathsome aristocrats, Sharpe fights a really big battle and almost dies”…but those are elements of every Sharpe novel.
- The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough. McCullough is a popular and well-acclaimed historian, most famous for his 1776 and a large biography of John Adams. This appeared in the library’s new acquisitions section, and I picked it up out of curiosity.
- The Book of Guys, Garrison Keiler. As a regular NPR listener, I’m accustomed to his voice and humor but have never read one of his books.
Since we’re coming up on 5 November, I really should have checked out something on English history to continue my yearly tradition of reading culture-related books on nationalish holidays. I’ve been struggling to get that tradition off the ground — there hasn’t been a year when I’ve done all four (American, 4 July; French, 14 July; German, 3 October; England, 5 November) successfully, this year included. I never finished my Fourth of July Reading, didn’t finish my Bastille Day Reading until August, and now don’t have a proper Guy Fawkes reading. I suppose Sharpe could count, being a work by an English author and starring an English main character, and Sherlock Holmes is an English creation as well…but it feels like cheating, because I would have read them anyway.
A question to English readers — might St. George’s day be more appropriate for me to do an English-culture related reading? I know Guy Fawkes Night isn’t a “national” holiday, but I chose it because it was the only national-ish holiday I knew of. Whenever I mention this book/culture project of mine at forums, English commenters seem to think my choice of dates is an odd one.