Graham Moore – The Sherlockian

Author: Graham Moore
Title: The Sherlockian

Published: December 2010
Publisher: Penguin
Length: 346 pages
Genre: Mystery
Why I picked it up: Fan of Sherlock Holmes stories, read a favourable recommendation in the local newspaper
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: 100+ 
Buy: Barnes and Noble | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

The Sherlockian was the third book I tried to read this week and apparently third time’s the charm, for I very much enjoyed this book far more than the other two I tried to struggle through! I really like the idea of Sherlock Holmes. After seeing the Robert Downey Jr. film and reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘A Study in Emerald’ I finally got around to reading A Study in Scarlet. I’ve also watched Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, loved it. I’m halfway through The Sign of Four right now. I’ve probably spent more time on Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes’ Wikipedia pages than I have reading the actual books…Basically, I like Holmes but I’m not one of those people who have read all the books and scorn adaptations. I like the characters and I like the community surrounding the books and I like all the analyzing of the stories and the real world facts and such. (I’m kind of like one of those people who like biographies of authors but not the author’s actual works, heh). Just wanted to clarify that before I continue with my thoughts. I can’t really speak to the accuracy or factuality of the story and I presume I would have enjoyed the book even more if I was more of a Sherlock fan, but I am enough of a fan to have enjoyed this story.

The Sherlockian tells two stories in alternating chapters. There is the story of what Arthur Conan Doyle was up to during the period for which his diaries are missing and the story of a new member of the Baker Street Irregulars trying to solve the mystery of a murder and the location of the missing diaries. I enjoyed both stories equally, which is something that doesn’t happen often. They blended well with one another. Even if the characters and plot were sometimes dull or at least, not too exciting, the prose made up for it. Moore’s prose is easy to read, smooth and flowing. I had fun reading this book. Even though it was a murder mystery, ‘fun’ is the adjective that keeps popping into my mind. Fun to read, easy to read, enjoyable to read. It was a murder mystery that someone like me, who normally despises murder mysteries, could enjoy. (Moore used the characters’ first names! ;P) I could really appreciate the creativity that went into crafting this story, the explanations for what happened and why the diary went missing, etc.

“It’s a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself,” said Inspector Miller with a smile.
Arthur thought again of dueling. There would indeed be a fight this day. But not with this foolish inspector.
“No,” began Arthur. “It is not a case worthy of Sherlock bloody Holmes. It is a case worthy of his creator.”
And with that, he marched out, swinging the door shut and leaving Inspector Miller alone to contemplate what mayhem he’d just wrought.

As I just mentioned earlier, I enjoy reading about authors, how they lived and worked. I like the appeal of reading imagined stories about real people who lived such a long time ago. Reading about authors in a fictionalized novel makes them feel more real to me, oddly enough. You can hear various facts about someone like Conan Doyle but when you read a scene where he’s chatting with Bram Stoker, I find it gives me a kind of magical feeling. The writing brings the old dead author (not to be to blunt about it :P) to life, makes him feel like a real person. I like that a lot.

Essentially, I enjoyed both the subject matter and the prose of this novel. I liked the connections to Sherlock Holmes and I liked that it focused on the author and not quite as much on the character. I would recommend this book if you have any interest in Sherlock Holmes, even if it is just a ‘casual’ interest as mine is currently. Interestingly, a lot of the story finds its roots in fact, especially the plot for the modern day story. There’s a considerate afterword by the author that explains the fact from the fiction. Even if it was purely fiction, I would still recommend The Sherlockian. =)

Extra Books – January 9 to 16

  • Blindness by Jose Saramago
    • Published: October 1997 (English)
    • Genre: Realism
    • Why I picked it up: Current favourite author
    • Rating: 4 stars
    • Challenges: Global | 100+
    • My Thoughts: 
      • Still in love with Saramago’s writing style. ‘Nuff said about that.
      • What sets this novel apart from the previous two I read by this author is that it is much darker and sinister. I was about 40 pages in when I started to realize that. The rules given kind of worried me a bit and that was when I realized this wasn’t going to be a very happy book. Which is okay. I really liked it. I’m interested in what the sequel is about…
  • The Wisdom of Alexander the Great by Lance Kurke
    • Published: September 2004
    • Genre: Non-fiction
    • Why I picked it up: Needed to read it for school :/
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • Meh. Not bad. I had to read it for my government business relations class…I didn’t care about the business parts (harhar), but the stories about Alexander were very intriguing. I’m going to look through the bibliography to find a couple more books to read about him.

Ruth Reichl – Garlic and Sapphires

Author: Ruth Reichl

Title: Garlic and Sapphires
Published: April 2005
Publisher: Penguin
Length: 328 pages
Genre: Food memoir
Why I picked it up: Recommended by Margot, host of the second challenge linked below
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: 100+ | Foodie’s 
Buy: Barnes and Noble | Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

This was just the sort of book I was looking to read after finishing Saramago’s Blindness. I needed something fun and light; Garlic and Sapphires was just what I was looking for. The book is about Ruth Reichl’s adventures, you could say, as the restaurant critic for the New York Times in the nineties. I enjoy reading any type of story about New York and this book was no exception. I really liked hearing about the different food cultures of the city, from the fancy restaurants to the local bakeries, butchers, etc.

Occasionally I read books about food (I’m hoping this challenge will get me reading some of the ones I should have read awhile ago!) but usually they’re books about the behind the scenes of food, ex. books about GMOs. I’ve never read about restaurants at all before, especially not reviews like those found in the Times so this book was very refreshing for me. I haven’t tried any of the recipes in the book (there are 17) but some of the sound very interesting and I will be photocopying them before I return the book to the library.

I wasn’t at all expecting the story of Carol. Her story added another more emotional level to the book that was welcome (for me, at least!) in such a humorous book that didn’t seem to have a lot to tie it down. It felt a little strange/awkward/unnatural/something to me the way Reichl inhabited her characters so fully, but I’ve never had to pretend to be someone else in public so I can’t really comment on that. That’s all I have to say for this one…it was nice to be able to quickly read through an enjoyable book, just for fun, with no heavy thinking attached 🙂

Extra Books – January 1 to 8

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
    • Published: 1997
    • Genre: Magical fantasy
    • Why I picked it up: Figured it was time to give the series another shot
    • Rating: 3.5 stars
    • Challenges: 100+ | Harry Potter 2011
    • My Thoughts: 
      • When I first started reading Harry Potter, there were four books out. I read each of them once (although I might have read the third one a few times…I actually liked that one) and then the day after each consecutive book was released, I would borrow it from my best friend, read it once and then returned it. This was a trend I had to stay on top of, even if I wasn’t much of a fan, because it involved books in a way my generation had never seen before. I always knew the books were good, they just weren’t my favourite kind of story.  Now that I’m older, I’ve decided to give the series another shot because I think I can appreciate it better.
      •  It’s hard to give any sort of objective review of Harry Potter…everyone knows the story so well and there’s the movies and all the different books; it’s hard to isolate just the first one. What I noticed was that it was so small! Haha. I felt like nothing happened, but I suppose that’s because I know what comes in the next five six seven books. That being said, I thought the book was kind of cute and I can see why it appealed so greatly to hoards of ten and eleven year olds. I am looking forward to when the story starts to bulk up, though.
  • Wild by Jay Griffiths
    • Published: 2006
    • Genre: ‘Part travelogue, part manifesto for wildness’
    • Why I picked it up: Library browsing, looked good
    • Rating: 5 stars
    • Challenges: 100+
    • My Thoughts:
      • I first started this book in February, but I only read the first chapter (the best, IMHO.) Click here to read my thoughts on that. (I did start from the beginning again when I read it this year, just to clarify :P)
      • [See the link above for my thoughts on the prose].
      • The author uses a lot of sex metaphors…not all the time, but they do crop up often enough. I’m probably still too ‘immature’ to appreciate them properly :/
      • Griffiths isn’t afraid of writing about the more brutal aspects, either.
      • The final two ‘element’ chapters, Fire and Air, seemed to kind of wander all over the place and weren’t very similar to the previous chapters. They were more about the trials of Aboriginal peoples. The final chapter, Wild Mind, however, is where the book really returns to its strong points, about nature, about wild and how we as humans, with such real emotions and heart need it so desperately. Everything I loved about Wild was exemplified in the final chapter and it was a great way to finish off the book.
      • It makes me so sad to hear about the horrors inflicted upon Aboriginal peoples, especially those of the Inuit. While I definitely support bringing awareness to the terrible situations people found and find themselves in, I felt like this book was more about human rights of sorts than about the wilderness/wild at times. Not a bad thing, I fully appreciate what the author’s getting at…it just wasn’t I really wanted to read at times (ie. Book could have used more wild, less people. or…something. It sounds bad when I put it that way >.<). 
      • It’s hard to pin this book down into one category…it was kind of all over the place. Most people will like one aspects of it, but not the rest. There were a few things I didn’t really like, but I was able to overlook them in favour for the better parts of the book.
  • 1984 by George Orwell
    • Published: 1949
    • Genre: Dystopian scifi
    • Why I picked it up: Should have read it years ago
    • Rating: 5 stars
    • Challenges: 100+ | 2011 TBR Pile
    • My Thoughts: 
      • Excellent. I don’t why I didn’t read this ages ago…well, I do know why, it’s because when everyone read it in grade ten I felt like I should have already had read it by then and I didn’t want to be seen walking around with a copy and I knew the basic plot and about Newspeak and just never really saw the point in actually reading it. I got the idea, that was enough at the time.  I expected it to be some stuffy English lit type book, hard and dry to get through, even if the story was interesting. Well, obviously when  I finally started the book I found the actual writing to be very unexpected and far more ‘modern’ than I was anticipating. I had always thought of the whole plot as a short story, I never expected the actual story and the characters (I especially wasn’t thinking of a Julia-type character). Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised =)
      • Nearing the end of the book, I was completely absorbed. I actually twitched a little when they were caught, when a third voice speaks after Julia and Winston. O’Brien actually terrified me, or rather the words he spoke did, I suppose. I’ve never experienced a book that really frightened me in whatever way. 
      • Excerpt that gave me chills and really made me think:
      • Anything could be true. The so called Laws of Nature were nonsense. The law of gravity was nonsense. ‘If I wished,’ O’Brien had said, ‘I could float off this floor like a soap bubble.’ Winston worked it out. ‘If he thinks he floats off the floor, and I simultaneously think I see him do it, then the thing happens.’ Suddenly, like a lump of submerged wreckage breaking the surface of water, the thought burst into his mind: ‘It doesn’t really happen. We imagine it. it is hallucination.’ He pushed the thought under instantly. The fallacy was obvious. It presupposed that somewhere or other, outside oneself, there was a ‘real’ world where ‘real’ things happened. But how could there be such a world? What knowledge have we of anything, save through our own minds? All happenings are in the mind. Whatever happens in all minds, truly happens.

      • This is definitely a book that I need to buy and reread and mull over…lots to think about here.
      • Sidenote: When I was writing notes on my iPod, I was reading the part where they’re trying to convince Winston 2+2=5 and I wrote Nineteen Eighty-five instead of Eighty-four. Spooky o.o

Will Ferguson – Beyond Belfast

Author: Will Ferguson

Title: Beyond Belfast
Published: October 2009
Publisher: Viking Canada
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Travelogue
Target age: Adult
Why I picked it up: Written by an author I enjoy
Rating: 4 stars
Challenges: 100+ 
Buy: Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

Will Ferguson is a Canadian author known for his books about his travels and about Canadians. I’ve enjoyed him since we first studied Why I Hate Canadians in grade 11 history. My favourite book by Ferguson is Hitching Rides With Buddha. The only other book I’ve read by him, aside from this one, is How to Be Canadian. Still have to read Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw and I’m sure I’ll get around to his fiction one day...Anyhow. Beyond Belfast, the story of his ambitious undertaking to walk the Ulster Way (a 560 mile path around Northern Ireland) will be released in soft-cover just before my birthday and I will definitely be putting it on my wishlist.

The aspect of Ferguson’s books I love most is the way he can blend humour and serious reflection (that’s the best way I can think of to describe it…). There were plenty of sentences that made me grin while I was reading and there were plenty of sentences that made me feel rather sad and melancholic. (There’s a passage in Hitching Rides with Buddha that actually makes me tear up but that never happened in this book). One reviewer had it right: ‘Like Bryson, Ferguson is often as his best (and laugh-out-loud funniest) when most annoyed.’, such as when he realizes he’s the creepy old man in the youth hostel or when he gets trapped in a church during pilgrim ceremonies. To give you a taste of his style, two humorous quotes and one of those sad melancholic passages:

 Ha! You didn’t get me this time, you fokkers! The driver was eyeing me in his mirror. I had said that last part out loud. “The rain,” I said by way of explanation.  “It’s been trying to get me.”

It was bloody friggin’ marvellous, so it was. (A view like that brings out the poet in me).

I thought about pensioners under siege on Park Road, about children burning, about off-duty police officers dragged from pubs and kicked to death, about the watery cries for “Revenge!” As I walked toward the shopping plazas in the city centre, I saw a McDonald’s at one end, its golden arches catching the light- and I felt a sudden surge of relief. I walked toward the arches, rested my forehead on the cool condensation of its windows, the glass like ice on a fever. It was so comforting, the polished surface, the lack of memory, the lack of any larger context.

I like the perspective of an outsider looking in on another country’s struggles, providing a mostly unbiased and balanced perspective and observations on things a native would take for granted. I particularly liked how he distinguished dialects by how they pronounced fokker, fekker, fooker.

Of Ulster’s many verbal tics, the ones I found most charming were “aye” and “wee”…Likewise with the indiscriminate use of “wee”. I’m not sure what “wee” means, but I do know it doesn’t mean “small.” That’s what it seems to mean; certainly the room they found for me in the back was a bit “wee”, but when I told her I was hiking the Ulster Way, all five hundred and sixty damn miles of it, she said, “A good wee walk then.” (No doubt, in Ulster, King Kong would be referred to as “a great wee monkey”)

 He provides a balanced view of the Protestant and Catholics sides and because neither side is prejudiced towards him, he can interact with both. The fact that Ferguson is Canadian is a bonus. I can easily understand a Canadian perspective and appreciate the little jokes he makes about being Canadian.  

Being Canadian in Europe is a lot like being Welsh in North America: no one really cares. It’s not that they hold it against you. If anything, they have a vaguely positive image, a sort of benign lack of interest, as it were. “Canadian? That’s terrific. “Welsh, you say? Good for you.”

Another reason I enjoyed this book is because it’s about a subject I know (knew?) next to nothing about. Northern Ireland has always been this fuzzy patch of knowledge in my mind, where I knew it was dangerous and I think it was dangerous because some Christians were fighting. But that’s all I knew. Starting the book was tricky for me because I had trouble keeping the two ‘sides’ straight, for example, I couldn’t remember if the UVF was for Catholics or Protestants and which side was unionist or loyalist, etc. Fortunately, Ferguson provides a handy little ‘binary code’ of different terms and aspects starting on page 26. He does caution that obviously not all aspects of the two sides can be reduced to this pairing code, but it did help me keep up with the various terms used throughout the book. I very much enjoyed the segments on the history of Ulster. They helped give Ferguson’s tale and the current conflicts greater context. I still had trouble remembering names of places. With so much travelling in such a short period of time, bouncing around through all these tiny little villages, I guess that’s to be expected. It didn’t really detract from my reading, though.

As if all that wasn’t enough for a good read, there’s also a subplot of sorts that sees Ferguson seeking out some lost family history. This book is packed full of all sorts of good things and often reads as though Ferguson is sharing his story with you over a beer. If you’ve got any interest in Northern Ireland, humour or travel, I would definitely recommend this book.