Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fifty Classics Club Questions: 26-50

Part two of my answers to the ginormous question survey thingie from the Classics Club.

26.  Which classic character reminds you of your best friend? Lassiter in Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey.  Always five steps ahead, always knows what needs to be done, and will ride to the ends of the earth to avenge a wrong done to someone else.

27.  If a sudden announcement was made that 500 more pages had been discovered after the original “THE END” on a classic title you read and loved, which title would you most want to keep reading? Or, would you avoid the augmented manuscript in favor of the original? Why?  All these things where I have to choose ONE are getting very tiresome.  I want more for ALL my favorite stories!  I always want more!  Sometimes Often I make up more in my own head because I'm loath to leave beloved characters.

28.  Favorite children's classic?  Hmm.  I kind of take issue with the whole idea of "children's classics."  First, because a lot of people think old books are all clean and nicey-nice, so kids can totally read them.  (Granted, when I read The Count of Monte Cristo at age 11, I didn't understand any of the stuff about drug use, missed the sexual undertones, and blithely fell in love with the adventurousness of it all.)  Second, because a lot of people think that any book that has a child protagonist is only for kids and is beneath adults.  (Books like A Little Princess and Anne of Green Gables and The Jungle Book have a lot to say to adults too!)

Or is this supposed to mean, like, picture books?  Then I'd say the original Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry.  These are the original Thomas the Tank Engine stories, and they are far superior to the modern stories.  They're quirky and funny, and the trains have train-ish problems, not just interpersonal problems that any sort of character could have.  We bought this complete collection at a library book sale for only $5, and it is splendid.

29.  Who recommended your first classic?  My mom.  She used to read aloud to my brother and I for an hour before our bedtime every night, and she usually read something a reading level or so above us so that we'd get to experience books we might not otherwise be quite ready for.  Stretched our vocabularies and imaginations beautifully.

Later, in high school and so on, she introduced me to classics simply by owning them and saying, "Sure, you can read any of my books."  That's how I first read Jane EyreRebecca, and The Big Sleep.  I'm doing something a bit similar for my seven-year-old now -- I've got particular book cases that I've told him, "You can read anything on here.  These are all books I love.  Pick what interests you."  He's currently finishing up From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler :-D

30.  Whose advice do you always take when it comes to literature. (Recommends the right editions, suggests great titles, etc.)  I'm not sure I have anyone whose advice I always take.  I don't know anyone who has exactly my taste.  I'll try anything my mom recommends, though.

31.  Favorite memory with a classic?  Just one.  Really.  One most favorite memory.  Well, one of my many favorite memories of reading a classic is the first time I read The Fellowship of the Ring.  I read it after seeing the movie for the first time in the theater.  While I read it, my fiance (now husband) wrote down a list of all the different kinds of fantastical creatures in it so I wouldn't get confused by orcs versus goblins and so on.  He'd read it before, several times, and I hadn't, and it was such a sweet thing for him to do.

32.  Classic author you've read the most works by?  William Shakespeare -- I've read 17 of his plays.  Next would probably be L.M. Montgomery (8 "Anne" books and 3 "Emily" books), Raymond Chandler (7 novels and 2 volumes of other collected works), and A. Conan Doyle (the entire Holmes canon and The White Company).

33.  Classic author(s) who has(have) the most works on your club list?  Elizabeth Gaskell (4) and William Shakespeare (4).

34.  Classic author you own the most books by?  Also William Shakespeare.  I have a volume that contains all of his plays, poems, and sonnets, unabridged.  I also have two separate copies of Much Ado About Nothing, a really old, pretty copy of Romeo & Juliet, and fifteen separate copies of Hamlet, not counting two graphic novel retellings.

35.  Classic title(s) that didn't make it to your club list that you wish you'd included? (Or, since many people edit their lists as they go, which titles have you added since initially posting your club list?)  I'm totally adding to my list as I go -- right now it has 74 titles!  I figure I'll just keep adding things to it, and when I've read 50, I'll trim off all the things I didn't read.  And maybe start over with them!  But I really don't know anymore what was originally on there and what wasn't.

36.  If you could explore one author's literary career from first publication to last — meaning you have never read this author and want to explore him or her by reading what s/he wrote in order of publication — who would you explore? Obviously this should be an author you haven't yet read, since you can't do this experiment on an author you're already familiar with. :) Or, which author's work you are familiar with might it have been fun to approach this way?  Hmm.  I haven't read anything by Baroness Orczy, or Anne Bronte, or Edith Wharton, or Leo Tolstoy...

37.  How many rereads are on your club list? If none, why? If some, which are you most looking forward to, or did you most enjoy?  Right now, there are fifteen.  It was the fact that you could do rereads (plus that you could change your list as you go) that convinced me to join the Classics Club!  I've enjoyed all my rereads so far, and I'm really excited to start rereading Persuasion with a friend's read-along in the new year.

38.  Has there been a classic title you simply could not finish?  I answered this already, in a way, but yes.  I couldn't bring myself to finish The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner OR Cousin Phillis and Other Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Both of those were before the Classics Club, though.

39.  Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving?  I don't tend to read books I think I will dislike.  Back in college, I had to sometimes, but that's a long time ago, and I can't remember any specific instances that relate to classics.  I didn't expect to love the Harry Potter books, but I don't consider them classics yet, so they don't.

40.  Five things you're looking forward to next year in classic literature?  A friend hosting a read-along of Persuasion here starting January 5.  Me hosting a read-along of Little Women in March and a read-along of Hamlet in July.  Beyond that, I have no concrete plans.

41.  Classic you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?  Yeah, but see... I don't plan what I'll read in advance unless I'm hosting or joining a read-along.  So... who knows?  Possibly Moby-Dick just cuz I'm psyched for In the Heart of the Sea and that might give me the impetus to read it at last.

42.  Classic you are NOT GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?  War and Peace.

43.  Favorite thing about being a member of the Classics Club?  Meeting other bloggers who are as passionate about literature as I am.

44.  List five fellow clubbers whose blogs you frequent. What makes you love their blogs?  Ruth at A Great Book Study, Emily at Classics and Beyond, Dale at Mirror with Clouds, Carissa at Musings of an Introvert, and Ruby at We'll See How This Goes.  All of them read a wide variety of literature and are interested in trying new authors and books.  And they all write interesting, thought-provoking book reviews.

45.  Favorite post you've read by a fellow clubber?  Again with thinking I have one favorite!  I can't think of a favorite and I'm not going to go digging for one and claim it's my favorite.  Pass.

46.  If you've ever participated in a readalong on a classic, tell about the experience? If you've participated in more than one, what's the very best experience? the best title you've completed? a fond memory? a good friend made?  So far, I've only participated in read-alongs that I myself hosted.  Those were for The Lord of the Rings, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Hound of the Baskervilles.  They were amazingly positive experiences, and I love how many things we all taught each other through our discussions.

47.  If you could appeal for a readalong with others for any classic title, which title would you name? Why?  Hmm.  A read-along for Don Quixote would be cool if someone else was hosting it.  It would give me incentive to read it at last.

48.  How long have you been reading classic literature?  For as long as I could read, so probably 28 years or so, in one form or another.

49.  Share up to five posts you've written that tell a bit about your reading story. Reviews, journal entries, posts on novels you loved or didn't love, lists, etc.  Okay.  One, two, three, four, five.

50.  Question you wish was on this questionnaire? (Ask and answer it!)  Do you ever get tired of discussing books?  And the answer is, no, I don't.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fifty Classics Club Questions: 1-25

I've been lax about joining in the Classics Club monthly discussions and memes and such for a while, but I really love filling out surveys and answering questions, so there's no way I'm missing this one!  It's REALLY LONG, though, so I'm splitting it into two parts.  Here's the first half!

1.  Share a link to your club list.  Link!

2.  When did you join The Classics Club? How many titles have you read for the club? I joined on January 4, 2014, and I've read 15 so far.

3.  What are you currently reading?  Middlemarch by George Eliot, Light of the Western Stars by Zane Grey, and In the Company of Sherlock Holmes edited by Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger.  The latter isn't for the Classics Club, but they didn't specify, so I'm mentioning it :-)

4.  What did you just finish reading and what did you think of it?  I just finished Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster and I loved it!  Review coming soon.

5.  What are you reading next? Why?  A Decent, Orderly Lynching by Frederick Allen.  It's research for my next novel.

6.  Best book you've read so far with the club, and why?  The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.  It's so rich and complex and fully realized.

7.  Book you most anticipate (or, anticipated) on your club list?  By-Line:  Ernest Hemingway.  I read the first fifty pages or so last year and really want to start it all over and read the rest.

8.  Book on your club list you've been avoiding, if any? Why?  To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, because I read Mrs. Dalloway years ago and it gave me headaches.  But I want to be fair and give Woolf another chance.

9.  First classic you ever read?  I have no idea.  I've been reading classics for as long as I've been reading.

10.  Toughest classic you ever read?  Hardest to get through would probably be Mrs. Dalloway, as mentioned before.  It gave me headaches, literal, actual headaches.  I only stuck with it because I'd really liked The Hours, movie and book, and wanted to know how it all tied together with that book.

11.  Classic that inspired you?  Too many to count.  Most recently, probably Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which made me see how much more interesting my prose could be.

...or scared you?  The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  I don't read a lot of horror, but the illustration of our sinful nature given a grotesque life of its own was pretty scary.

...made you cry?  Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace.

...made you angry?  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, though I was more annoyed than angry.  With myself, for not liking it as well as everyone else I know.

12.  Longest classic you've read?  Ever?  Les Miserables.

...longest classic left on your club list?  Probably Middlemarch, which I'm working through slowly with a friend.

13.  Oldest classic you've read?  Again, I'm taking this to mean ever, not just since I started the challenge.  I've read parts of The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer.

...oldest classic left on your club list?  Don Quixote

14.  Favorite biography about a classic author you've read — or, the biography on a classic author you most want to read, if any?  I really love A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's autobiography about his life in Paris.

15.  Which classic do you think EVERYONE should read? Why?  I hate this sort of question.  There is no one fictional book that everyone in the world should read or would like.  Pass.

16.  Favorite edition of a classic you own, if any?  I love my copy of The Lord of the Rings so much I wrote a whole blog post about it, which you can read here.

17.  Favorite movie adaption of a classic?  At the risk of beating a drum too often here, I love Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies.

18.  Classic which hasn't been adapted yet (that you know of) which you very much wish would be adapted to film.  Well, Jane Austen's Persuasion has been adapted several times, but never to my liking, so I wish they would make a better adaptation.

19.  Least favorite classic? Why?  Hmm.  Probably The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner.  I couldn't finish it.

20.  Name five authors you haven't read yet whom you cannot wait to read.  Leo Tolstoy, Anne Bronte, John Le Carre, T. H. White, and James Fenimore Cooper.

21.  Which title by one of the five you've listed above most excites you and why?  Probably T.H. White's The Once and Future King, mostly because it gets mentioned a bunch in X-Men 2.  And I love King Arthur stuff anyway.

22.  Have you read a classic you disliked on first read that you tried again and respected, appreciated, or even ended up loving? (This could be with the club or before it.)  The first time I read The Old Man and the Sea I didn't like it at all.  But when I reread it to prepare for the read-along I hosted this summer, I liked it quite well :-)

23.  Which classic character can't you get out of your head?  Hamlet is always with me.

24.  Which classic character most reminds you of yourself?  Hmm.  Jo March from Little Women, probably.

25.  Which classic character do you most wish you could be like?  Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, because he's so pure and forgiving.

More to come!  Probably not until after Thanksgiving, though :-)  I do intend to finish it off before the end of the month.  Meanwhile... Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends!  And a very merry unbirthday to everyone else :-)

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Peace Like a River" by Leif Enger

I'm not entirely sure how to talk about this book.  I finished reading it almost two whole weeks ago, and every time I thought, "Oh, I have time to write a book review," I'd then think, "But what can I say about Peace Like a River?"

So this is me doing my best.

Cowboy's youngest sister sent me this book when I was recovering from my surgery back in September.  I started reading it, got through two chapters, and decided I did not want to read more.  The narrator kept warning that the story was not going to be a happy one, that seriously bad things were going to happen, and that his ordinary, happy childhood was going to be irrevocably changed by the events he was about to relate.  And I didn't really want to deal with any of that.  So I put it away.

But then I thought that surely my sister-in-law wouldn't have sent me a depressing book to cheer me up while I recuperated.  So I gave it another chance.  And in chapter three, the narrator's younger sister began writing an epic western poem.  And I identified so strongly with her love of the romanticized wild west that I read the whole book.  And I'm so glad that I did.  Because this book is lyrical and beautiful and haunting.  Yes, it's got sadness.  Yes, it's got pain.  But it also has love and warmth and joy and miracles.

Actual miracles.  Thanks to them, I'd almost characterize this as speculative fiction, or maybe even magical realism.  The narrator's father reads his Bible and prays and talks about God a lot, but there's little mention of Jesus, if any, so I wouldn't classify this as Christian fiction.

A quick summary of the plot might be in order.  Except I don't want to spoil things.  Suffice it to say that when the narrator's older brother's girlfriend is assaulted at school, violent act piles on violent act, culminating in bloodshed, an epic journey, and a lot of self-discovery and growing up for all involved.

Did I love this book?  I think so.  It's very different from the books I read most of the time, but in a good way.  

Particularly Good Bits:

Let me say something about that word:  miracle.  For too long it's been used to characterize things or events that, though pleasant, are entirely normal.  Peeping chicks at Easter time, spring generally, a clear sunrise after an overcast week -- a miracle, people say, as if they've been educated from greeting cards.  I'm sorry, but nope.  Such things are worth our notice every day of the week, but to call them miracles evaporates the strength of the word (p. 3).

I remember it as October days are always remembered, cloudless, maple-flavored, the air gold and so clean it quivers (p. 40).

Cole Younger?  Butch Cassidy?  John Wesley Hardin?  Maybe these fellows were just flush with Christmas spirit, but I'd never heard about it.  I mentioned these doubts to my sister (p. 118).

"What is spookism, anyhow?" I complained.  The word conjured a scary version of faith in which a person believed mostly in malicious unseen fellows who might creep up behind you and breathe on your neck hairs (p. 204).

When I thought about it, a dead fellow doing sit-ups in your yard might make you faint just as handily as one strolling (p. 222).

The infirm wait always, and know it (p. 290).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence and suspense.  I can't remember any bad language, but there may have been some mild curse words.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" by A. Conan Doyle (again)

Because I wrote a full review of this only last year (read it here), today I'm going to answer the questions I provided for the read-along link-up and say just a few other things.

Have you ever read any Sherlock Holmes stories before?

Yes.  I've read the entire canon, most of it twice, much of it many times.

Have you read this before?  If so, why did you decide to re-read it?

This is the first Sherlock Holmes story I ever read, back when I was 12 or 13.  Since then, I've probably read it five or six times, most recently in August of last year.  I decided to re-read it because I get in the mood to either read or watch it every autumn, and I thought it might make for a good read-along. 

At the end, Watson calls this adventure a "singular narrative, in which I have tried to make the reader share those dark fears and vague surmises which clouded our lives so long and ended in so tragic a manner."  Did he succeed in making you share them?

Even though I have read this so often, and watched adaptations of it equally as often, which have made me very familiar with the story and what will happen next... yes, the dark fears are still there.  The descriptions of the setting are so masterfully dismal and bleak, so evocative of the unknown that I get a thrill of pretend-fear just thinking about it.

Have you seen any film adaptations of this story?  If so, do you recommend any?

Yup.  I've seen the Granada version that stars Jeremy Brett probably more often than I've read the book.  (I reviewed it here back in December.)  It really matches my mental images for the book, and if you're looking for a solid, faithful adaptation, you can get it brand-new on DVD for about $10 online.

I've also seen the Sherlock episode that was inspired by this story, "The Hounds of Baskerville."  (I reviewed it here in January.)  Although I didn't love it, I thought it was amazingly well done, and lately I've been wanting to watch it again, now that I know how it all comes out.

What did you like best about The Hound of the Baskervilles?

I think I especially like how much Watson gets to do.  He's not just an observer, but an active participant in the investigation.  I also love the atmosphere, the cleverness of the antagonist, and the character of Sir Henry Baskerville.

Was there anything in the story you didn't care for, or think could have been done better?

I said here that I thought the last chapter had a bit too much recapping, but I've since decided that's probably just because I'm so familiar with the story, and if I had never read it before, or only once or twice, I would probably love Holmes' full explanation there.  So nope, wouldn't change a thing.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for suspense and scary images.

This is my 15th book read and reviewed for The Classics Club!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: Link-Up and Goodies

First of all, thank you to everyone who made this read-along so much fun!  I've really enjoyed discussing The Hound of the Baskervilles with you.

If you want to review the book on your own blog, say if you're a member of The Classics Club or if you have a book review blog, or if you just feel like it, here are a few questions I thought you might like to answer.  Feel free to use any or all or none of them!  Please link your review with the widget below so we can all read each others' posts and comment on them.

Have you ever read any Sherlock Holmes stories before?

Have you read this before?  If so, why did you decide to re-read it?

At the end, Watson calls this adventure a "singular narrative, in which I have tried to make the reader share those dark fears and vague surmises which clouded our lives so long and ended in so tragic a manner."  Did he succeed in making you share them?

Have you seen any film adaptations of this story?  If so, do you recommend any?

What did you like best about The Hound of the Baskervilles?

Was there anything in the story you didn't care for, or think could have been done better?

And now, I promised goodies :-)  I've designed three Sherlock Holmes bookmarks!  One with Benedict Cumberbatch, one with Jeremy Brett, and one with detail from a Sidney Paget illustration of the original stories when they first appeared in The Strand magazine.  They each get one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes quotes too.  This is what they look like:

Click here to download these as a PDF so you can print them off, cut them out, laminate them if you wish, and use them in all your favorite books :-)  I recommend printing them on card stock for extra durability.

And finally, just a note that my next read-along will be of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and that it will begin in March.  I thought that was especially appropriate given that the characters' last name is March.  "Spend March with the March family" has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Baskervilles Read-Along: A Retrospection (Ch. 15)

We did it!  We finished our read-along before Thanksgiving!  Hurrah!

This last chapter feels a bit draggy to me, to be honest.  A lot of it is just recapping the mystery, and I feel like muttering, "I know all this already" more than once.  But I don't.  It IS Holmes, after all.  And we do learn some interesting things, like the fact that Holmes was convinced that the hound was real before they ever left London.

I'm very sad that Sir Henry loses Beryl, however.  Holmes says, "His love for the lady was deep and sincere, and to him the saddest part of all this black business was that he should have been deceived by her" (p. 694).  I'd forgotten that.  I thought they would get together since her husband was at the bottom of the mire and she was free of him at last. 

And that's all I have to say!  Please join me in the concluding post for a link-up and some goodies!  I'm not doing a give-away for the end of this because I never found a satisfactory prize, so instead I've made a little something for you :-)  You can claim it here and also see how to share your own review of this book and read others' posts about it.  I thought that worked really well for the last read-along, so I'm trying it again for this one.

Favorite Lines:  

"The more outre and grotesque an incident is the more carefully it deserves to be examined" (p. 692).

Possible Discussion Question:

Do you feel like this chapter is a bit too much rehashing of old news, or do you think it nicely wraps things up?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: The Hound of the Baskervilles (ch. 14)

And suddenly, it's nearly over.  Quick housekeeping note before I start discussing the story:  along with a post on the last chapter in a day or two, I'll also post a link-up with some overall discussion questions you can use on your blog if you so choose.  Things to ponder or help you review it, etc.  And then you can link your post up and everyone can read each others' thoughts and respond to them.

Okay, so here at the very beginning of the chapter, Watson makes a rare criticism of Holmes.  He says that Holmes is "exceedingly loath to communicate his full plans to any other person until the instant of their fulfillment" (p. 681).  Watson thinks that's because Holmes likes to surprise people, and also that he doesn't like to take chances.  I'm not entirely sure.  I know that I myself am often very secretive about my plans until I know they work.  I don't like to appear foolish or disappoint other people.  I wonder if something similar might also be at work in Holmes' mind.

Anyway, onward and upward.  Holmes sets a trap for Stapleton and baits it with Sir Henry, which is a bit bold, isn't it?  Using your client as bait without his knowledge?  Of course, I can't think of any other way to get proof against Stapleton and end this intrigue once and for all, but still.  Wow.  It could all have gone so horribly wrong!  And even though Sir Henry survives, his nerves are still shattered.  Poor guy.  Watson says he and Dr. Mortimer have to travel around the whole world before Sir Henry returns to his normal self.  Poor guy.

Don't you just love the description of the hound itself?  "A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen.  Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame" (p. 684).  So scary!  Wow.  

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes seeing the hound emerge from the fog.

Once they've dispatched the hound, off they go to find Stapleton.  Check out how cool Holmes is when they're searching the house!  They find a locked bedroom, and "Holmes struck the door just over the lock with the flat of his foot and it flew open" (p. 685).  He kicked down the door, folks.  I don't know about you, but I have this major fondness for guys who can break down a door.  I'm going to pause here and savor that image for a minute.

Right.  So they free Mrs. Stapleton and discover that her husband has been beating her, which gives them one more reason to go after him, as if they needed another.  But they never do find him.  Sherlock Holmes doesn't get his man this time -- the Grimpen Mire gets him first.  Or does it?  That can be the Possible Discussion Question for today:  do you believe Stapleton did die in the mire, or do you think he might have gotten away?

Favorite Line:

Before us lay the dark bulk of the house, its serrated roof and bristling chimneys hard outlined against the silver-spangled sky (p. 683).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: Fixing the Nets (ch. 13)

Isn't it lovely having Holmes back?  The air around Baskerville Hall feels sort of crackly with excitement, just having him about.  Okay, no, that's the air around my couch, and it's probably because Baby, it's cold outside, and the furnace is making things static-y.  However, I like to imagine it's due to Sherlock Holmes being around, infusing us with his energy.  Although he says Watson's the one who always wants to "do something energetic" (p. 672), I think it's Holmes who moves events just by being.

Anyway, now we know that Stapleton has plenty of motive because he's a long-lost Baskerville himself.  The plot thickens like good gravy, doesn't it?

But when Holmes and Watson announce they're going back to London (even though we know they're not), Sir Henry protests, "The Hall and the moor are not very pleasant places when one is alone" (p. 676).  Does he think they're just going to stay with him forever? 

Anyway, we learn what Laura Lyons' role was in the whole affair, and look!  Lestrade's arrived!  An appreciative Lestrade who's here to help -- such an improvement on his earlier demeanor in the canon.

Favorite Lines:

"You have been walking for some months very near to the edge of a precipice" (p. 679).  (Yes, I just like this line because it's so similar to my blog's name.)

Possible Discussion Questions:

While describing Mrs. Barrymore's reaction to the death of her brother, Watson ruminates, "Evil indeed is the man who has not one woman to mourn him" (p. 673).  I'm wondering, though -- at this juncture in their lives, what woman would mourn either Watson or Holmes, should they die?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: Man on the Tor AND Death on the Moor (Chs. 11 & 12)

I'm doubling up on chapters for this post because there was no way I could stop reading at the end of chapter 11.  Forget it.  Not happening.  And I don't have a lot to say about chapter 11 anyway, other than "finally!"

Okay, not true, I do want to touch on Watson's visit to Laura Lyons a minute.  Isn't his description of her intriguing?  That at first he thought her "a very handsome woman" (p. 654), and went into some detail about her beauty.  But that after he left her, he decided "there was something subtly wrong with the face" (p. 654).  He uses words like "coarse," "loose," and "hard" in his second description, a major contrast to the "exquisite," "dainty," and "rich" he used initially.  Again, Watson's a pretty shrewd observer of people, willing to change his first impression when need be.

But enough about Laura Lyons.  Because we finally find out who the mysterious man hiding on the moor is, and this is where the whole book kicks into high gear, going from enjoyable to superb.

Sherlock Holmes is back.

Yes indeedy, this is where I grin and bounce up and down as I read.  I may or may not also chortle aloud.

Of course, he's not really "back" because he's been here for some time.  Which is why Watson's been just quoting his letters and diary for the last couple of chapters, as otherwise his hindsight knowledge that Holmes was there all along would color his narrative.  Also, Doyle wouldn't have been able to use the mysterious man on the Tor as a red herring, but who's counting.

Oh, Holmes.  How I love you, with your "cold, incisive, ironical voice" and "catlike love of personal cleanliness," your "grey eyes dancing with amusement" (p. 663).  This is the moment where I first fell in love with you.  You're secretive, you've been living alone on the moor without even your best friend knowing -- I always want to be you here.  Or have been hanging out with you, all unknown to the world, behind the scenes making plans and drawing nets in on our adversary.

In fact, this is why I love Laurie R, King's novels about Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes:  Russell gets to do exactly what I've yearned for decades to do, namely, work with Holmes and accompany him on his adventures.

Okay, anyway, back to the book.  I love the exchanges between Watson and Holmes, Holmes complimenting Watson on his reporting, even calling him invaluable :-)  And smoothing his ruffled feathers when Watson reproaches him for lying and tricking him.  Holmes, of course, is right that Watson would have wanted to be helpful and bring him things and given the whole game away, and Watson sees that.  If anyone ever accuses Holmes of being unkind or uncaring or inconsiderate, point them to all the nice things he says to Watson here.  (And if they claim he's just saying what's necessary to make Watson be quiet, hit them in the head with your copy of this book.  Repeatedly, if necessary.)

So now we know that Stapleton is behind all the murder and mayhem and danger and so on.  And then we have the horrible, chilling death of Selden, the convict.  Even though I knew it wasn't Sir Henry, I still got all goose-bumpy over Holmes and Watson find his body, because neither of them know it's not Sir Henry, and their anger, guilt, and grief is so compelling.  

Only three more chapters!

Favorite Lines:

"You would have wished to tell me something, or in your kindness you would have brought me out some comfort or other..." (p. 664).

"It is murder, Watson -- refined, cold-blooded, deliberate murder" (p. 666).

Possible Discussion Questions:  What's your attitude toward red herrings, as a rule?  How about in these chapters, with both the mysterious man on the moor and the dead convict serving to mislead us for a time?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: Extract from the Diary of Dr. Watson (Ch. 10)

I like that Watson decides since he is Holmes' agent in Dartmoor, he can't listen to what he views as superstitious nonsense about spectral hounds.  Doesn't rely on his own judgement, but on Holmes'.  It's very sweet and loyal of him.

I'd totally forgotten that Dr. Mortimer's little spaniel disappeared :-(  Poor Dr. Mortimer!  Poor spaniel.

This chapter feels a little slow, compared to the last -- mostly pulling together some story threads and revealing that there's definitely a mysterious, unknown man lurking on the moor.  Watson says, "If I could lay my hands upon that man, then at last we might find ourselves at the end of all our difficulties" (p. 648).  The worthy doctor never spoke a truer word!

Favorite Lines:  I have not lived for years with Sherlock Holmes for nothing (p. 652).

Possible Discussion Question:  Watson says, "if I have one quality upon earth it is common sense" (p. 647).  Do you agree?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"A Family Affair" by Rex Stout

This is my favorite Nero Wolfe mystery.  But I don't recommend you read it unless you're already familiar with the characters and have read several of the books or seen at least a season of the A&E show.  Because something shocking happens in it, and if you don't already know the characters super well, you aren't going to care.  And that would be a shame.

I remember the first time I read this, probably ten years ago now.  I had to stop reading it several times toward the end just so I could process what had happened.  To remain spoiler-free, I'll just say that the basic plot is this:  a waiter at Wolfe's favorite restaurant is murdered right in Wolfe's house, and so Wolfe and Archie Goodwin go to work on the mystery without a client or fee present.  This was the last Nero Wolfe mystery published during Stout's lifetime, which makes the whole story extra poignant.

Random personal note:  they mention Danbury, CT, in this one.  They mention it in a few others too.  We lived in Danbury for a few years before moving here.  The thing I liked best about that city was that it pops up in Nero Wolfe mysteries now and then because it's only a few hours from NYC.

Particularly Good Bits:

I'd buy a pedestal and put her on it if I thought she would stay.  She would either fall off or climb down, I don't know which (p. 90).

The most interesting incident Tuesday morning was my walking to a building on Thirty-fourth Street to enter a booth and push levers on a voting machine.  I have never understood why anybody passes up that bargain.  It doesn't cost a cent, and for that couple of minutes you're the star of the show, with top billing.  It's the only way that really counts for you to say I'm it, I'm the one that decides what's going to happen and who's going to make it happen.  It's the only time I really feel important and know I have a right to.  Wonderful (p. 110-111).  (So timely, considering yesterday was election day, huh?)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for some language and violence.

This is my twelfth book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge!  I've reached my goal!  Huzzah!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: Second Report of Dr. Watson (Ch. 9)

I wonder why this chapter has the subheading "The Light Upon the Moor," but the last chapter was also a report from Watson, and it has no subheading. 

Also, I just realized this letter is dated October 15th, coincidentally the date I started this read-along.  Huh!  No wonder I want to read/watch this in October every year!

So anyway, here we learn that Sir Henry sleeps even more lightly than Watson.  Watson's heard Barrymore walking around once.  Sir Henry has heard him two or three times.

And Watson's so sweet, writing to Holmes that he hopes he has not "disappointed you as an agent -- that you do not regret the confidence which you showed in me when you sent me down" (p. 639).

How about that Sir Henry, though?  He's quite a brave guy, going out after a convicted murderer (a vicious and brutal murderer) armed only with a hunting crop.  And then although the sound of a hound howling on the moor completely freaks him out, he wants to keep going after Selden!

And though we lose Selden, we spot a mysterious man standing on top of a moor hill.  Clear up one mystery, find another.

Favorite Lines:

"We'll see it thorugh if all the fiends of the pit were loose upon the moor" (p. 644).

There, outlined as black as an ebony statue on that shining background, I saw the figure of a man upon the tor (p. 645).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Do you think Holmes is finding Watson's reports helpful?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Baskervilles Read-Along: First Report of Dr. Watson (Ch. 8)

You know, a lot of times fictional letters don't come off as letters someone might actually write.  Same goes for diary entries.  They have the wrong level of detail, too many fully-transcribed conversations and such.

Not so here.  There's only one conversation included, and it's short and important.  Everything else reads precisely like a chatty, newsy letter between friends.  Is this because the majority of these stories and novels are told as Dr. Watson's reminiscences anyway, so it was pretty easy for Doyle's writing to slide into Watson writing letters?  I don't know.  I just know it's well done.

I like how Watson alludes to their very first adventure together, when Holmes insisted he didn't care if the sun went around the earth or vice versa.  That exchange always tickles me in A Study in Scarlet, and I'm amused to have it pop up here.

Okay, so we have Sir Henry interested in Beryl Stapleton, and Mr. Stapleton objecting, adding another layer of mystery.  Watson's rather a shrewd observer of character, isn't he?  I love how he describes Stapleton as having "a dry glitter in his eyes and a firm set of his thin lips, which goes with a positive and possibly a harsh nature" (p. 630).  No wonder Holmes is trusting him to observe things and send back facts!  While deducing from facts is not Watson's strength, observing people certainly is.

The bit about Dr. Mortimer being filled with joy over digging up a skull amuses me.  Can't you just imagine him, beaming with pride as he shows it off to everyone at lunch?  Also, Mr. Frankland of Lafter Hall is a very silly fellow, with his litigious habits.  Watson says that other than suing people all the time, "he seems a kindly, good-natured person" (p. 632), and I like to imagine that Lafter Hall often rings with laughter.  Especially since Watson also says he "gives a little comic relief where it is badly needed" (p. 632).

And then we end with Watson, the not-so-sound sleeper, waking up because he hears noises in the night again and discovering Barrymore creeping around with a candle.  Spooky way to end the letter and chapter!

Favorite Lines:

The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one's soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm (p. 629).

Possible Discussion Question:  Why do you suppose one page is missing from Watson's letters to Holmes?  Why does he specify that?  There's no point in this letter where he says, "And I'm missing a page here, but I'm pretty sure it said thus-and-so."