Tag Archives: Books

Book tour, radio, and living history

On Tuesday, I journeyed to Ames for a one-stop “book tour,” speaking at the Ames Library about Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents.

Apparently it went well. People seemed pleased with my presentation. Which is particularly validating, given that the audience included people who had been present six decades ago for more than one of the book’s colorful anecdotes.

We also added one anecdote, or quote at least, from President Hilton who reportedly once summed up his relationship with President Hancher by saying “every time he opened his mouth, I put my foot in it.” Which if self-effacing was certainly self-aware as well.

I also found myself reintroduced to my college adviser, whom I had not seen for 20 years.

Also, though this was my only stop for this “book tour,” it was in another sense just the prelude to a further exploration of Hancher vs. Hilton which begins next week. The KHOI “Community Bookshelf” program will air an interview with me, followed by Mark Slagell reading from the book over several shows.

You can listen online at archive.khoifm.org

Thanks so much to Mary, Mary, Mary, KHOI and the Ames Library.

Sherlock Holmes in Japan

I suppose that I hoped to find Sherlock Holmes in Japan, in a small way. I certainly did not expect to encounter him in all the ways that I did.

The odd combination of Holmes and Japan has actually been, on a modest scale, established for some time as a concept. A local community of Sherlockians funded a public statue of the great man in 1988. At least two non-canon books have dispatched Holmes to Japan; one, A Slight Trick of the Mind, has been made into a forthcoming film with Ian McKellan. These are stories, however (and arguably “imaginary stories” at that), and my own itinerary did not include Karuizawa.

The only incarnation of Holmes that I was truly confident of encountering was one that I brought with me. My travel reading included the lengthy anthology The Game’s Afoot, which I found entirely satisfactory. Beyond this, I entertained some hope of returning with an additional Holmes book; I like the idea of adding to my collection when I travel so that volumes gain additional interest as a souvenir. I had note of a couple of bookstores with English-language sections, and thought possibly I might get lucky.

I did not, in my wildest dreams of Tokyo oddity, expect that beginning with my very first train ride I would repeatedly encounter Holmes in this baffling, chibi form:

So kawai

This might be a good time to link to the Japan Disclaimer

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Sherlock Holmes items #45-49

It has been a few months, I see, since I posted any update to my small collection. I’m nearly to 50, at which point perhaps I will attempt some overview of the whole for the first time. I think I’ll get caught up through 49, now, though.

I had good luck last night at the Lakewood Public Library spring book sale. (Membership in Friends of Lakewood Public Library, $2/year, permits entry to the preview sale which is helpful if you’re looking for a specific niche that might otherwise be picked over before the regular sale begins.) For $1.50 I acquired

  • The Shadow of Reichenbach Falls, by John R. King
  • The Brothers of Baker Street, by Michael Robertson
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery, by Larry Millett

This is pretty good. Three novels, all of which I had seen before but none of which I have read; I passed a handful of others that I already own or just didn’t want. King’s novel apparently teams up Holmes with Carnacki (look him up) and seems promising. The Brothers of Baker Street is a modern-day story with only a tangential Holmes connection, and as I realized after getting home this is not the first in the series. But I have wanted to try out this concept, so we’ll see how it is.

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Lord of the Rings, 2014

I have been re-reading The Lord of the Rings this month. Looks like it has been about four years since the last read-through; this always feels like a bit of an event, probably not least because it’s 1,000 pages. I seem to appreciate new elements on each reading, though.

This time, I was struck most of all by how much LotR is, arguably, a post-apocalyptic novel. My thinking along these lines was inspired by comments, (discovered by me) earlier this year, from Max Gladstone:

Magic in Tolkien’s works is big and vast and ancient. His characters relate to that magic with awe, with fear, and occasionally with love. No one tries to hack the One Ring. Certainly no one tries to build a new one!

In the sense of magic as simply “any technology sufficiently advanced,” a similar dynamic is often present in the post-apocalyptic genre. Leftover machinery no longer understood, certainly not well enough to make more, essentially becomes magic objects.

Middle Earth resembles post-apocalyptic worlds in other ways, too. This is something that is really only evident in the novel, as Jackson’s films condense a lot of the story, particularly movement through the landscape. Even with three-hour extended editions, the movies mostly whiz through Middle Earth at something like the speed of modern travel, with most of the realms between the major capitals blurred like scenery outside a bullet train. The novel, though, repeatedly notes this ruin, or that extinct kingdom. Just the relatively thin population of Middle Earth, by itself, feels post-apocalyptic. The sheer amount of uninhabited but fertile land seems to point unavoidably to a great plague or war, even when a now-vanished settlement is not mentioned explicitly.

Technically, it would be more accurate to describe the Third Age of Middle Earth as a post-decline world, as there is no one concentrated collapse in its background. Reflecting on it, I concluded that in a sense one might for that matter apply the same term to its real-world analogue, Dark Age Europe. Much of Europe, in the centuries after the western Roman Empire fell, is arguably the greatest post-decline scenario in human history: populations reduced by plague and war, scraping out a living in the wreckage of trade and information networks and other infrastructure that sometimes still functioned (roads, aqueducts) but was no longer being maintained, let alone extended. Rome itself, reduced almost to a ghost town for a time, calls to mind any number of locations in Middle Earth.

All of this feels rather post-apocalyptic, and I’m not sure there’s any firm division. What is an apocalypse but a very, very sudden decline, after all?

Meanwhile, Gladstone’s remarks prompted one other related set of observations, about the one character in LotR who conceivably would attempt to hack the One Ring, and to make a new one: Saruman. He is a hacker, a tinkerer, an experimenter in mysterious magic/technology undaunted by any fear or awe. If Middle Earth is a post-apocalyptic world, then Saruman is a mad scientist eagerly seeking to recover every bit of technology remaining, and to unlock its secrets. Not just ring-lore, either. Saruman’s dabbling in explosives, orc genetics, and even proto-industrialization. The movies make more of this last item than do the novels, I’ll confess, but they didn’t invent it and on the whole Saruman is a veritable Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

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Holmes, Bookshop notes Nov. 2014

Some updates on my Sherlock Holmes collection, with a visit to a new Lakewood business on the way…

After keeping my eye out for a copy for some time, I finally picked up A Study in Sherlock recently. This is now item #44 in my collection.

This is as good as I could have hoped; I believe it’s the best Holmes anthology I have read so far. (Maybe Exploits of challenges it, but only if two authors counts as an anthology.) Great variety, with a lot of tangential extrapolations of Holmes of a more thoughtful nature than, e.g., “let’s do a Holmes story but with Martians/ghosts/zombies.” No doubt these things can be good, but the inherent novelty of this kind of mashup wears off rapidly and I think you’ve got to work very hard to add some other merit. The inventive approaches in A Study in Sherlock, by contrast, offered both freshness of concept and, in most cases, quality of writing.

Lots of good stories here, and even a short, delightful comic by Colin Cotterill. Neil Gaiman will be the headline contributor for most people, and I enjoyed “The Case of Death and Honey” though I’m not quite sold on the premise. Perhaps I’m just nettled by any stories that revolve around “explaining” some major element of the canon that the author finds unpersuasive. I don’t think I’m fundamentally opposed to such efforts, but my reaction here was similar to my objections to The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, if not quite as intense. Anyway.

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