One-Minute Book Reviews

June 12, 2008

The Best Book to Have on Hand in a Power Blackout

We’re still living in a state of emergency in my part of New Jersey, where some streets look like a scene from the Book of Revelation with pizza deliveries. Tens of thousands of people aren’t expected to get their electricity back until Friday. And it made me wonder: What’s the best book to have on hand during a power blackout? Pragmatists might argue for the American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook or, possibly, the Kama Sutra. But – speaking just for myself – I’d want The Complete Sherlock Holmes in any edition. What book makes for better reading aloud by candlelight to anyone over the age of six? What plot device offers a more reliable diversion from the inconveniences of life without microwave popcorn than the deadly swamp adder in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” or that strange dog on the moors in “The Hound of the Baskervilles”? You can download 48 Sherlock Holmes stories for free at 221bakerstreet.org/, which also has a discussion forum and more.

Here’s news on the blackout that inspired this post: www.nj.com/newsflash/index.ssf?/base/news-32/1213231759129640.xml&storylist=jersey

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 29, 2008

Why Do We Like to Read Mysteries? (Quote of the Day / David Lodge)

Filed under: Mysteries and Thrillers,Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:24 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Why do mysteries and thrillers so often seem to dominate the bestseller lists? Why have writers as different as Agatha Christie and John Grisham both ranked among the most popular of their eras? Here’s an answer from the novelist and critic David Lodge in The Art of Fiction (Viking, 1993), an excellent collection of 50 brief essays for serious readers on how the different aspects of fiction (such as irony, point of view and coincidence) relate to the whole:

“A solved mystery is ultimately reassuring to readers, asserting the triumph of reason over instinct, of order over anarchy, whether in the tales of Sherlock Holmes or in the case histories of Sigmund Freud, which bear such a striking and suspicious resemblance to them. That is why mystery is an invariable ingredient of popular narrative, whatever its form – prose fiction or movies or television soaps. Modern literary novelists, in contrast, wary of neat solutions and happy endings, have tended to invest their mysteries with an aura of ambiguity or leave them unsolved.”

Comment by Jan:
Some critics have described the appeal of mysteries in starker terms. While Lodge argues that they assert “the triumph of reason over instinct” and “order over anarchy,” others say that they are at heart morality tales – they represent the triumph of good over evil.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 19, 2007

My Dear Watson, It’s Arthur Conan Doyle’s Classic Sherlock Holmes Christmas Story – ‘The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle’

The world’s most famous detective must figure out how a priceless gem ended up in a white goose

By Janice Harayda

Great holiday crime stories are rare. Set a murder mystery against the backdrop of a celebration of the birth of Christ and you risk accusations of trivializing the season or playing it for heavy irony. And who wants to be reminded that the wreath-draped mall teems with pickpockets or that burglars may strike after we leave for the airport?

Part of the genius of “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” is that it implicitly acknowledges such realities. Arthur Conan Doyle begins this Sherlock Holmes tale on the second morning after Christmas. It’s a holiday story without the freight it would carry if it took place two days earlier. And it has a plot perfectly attuned to the season. Holmes has the benign Watson by his side as usual. But he doesn’t face his arch-foe, Moriarty, or a killer armed with a gun or a trained swamp adder as in “The Dancing Men” or “The Speckled Band.” He needs only to find out why a priceless gem – the blue carbuncle – turned up in the gullet of a Christmas goose abandoned on a London street.

Of course, it isn’t that simple. But Holmes resolves the case, in fewer than a dozen pages, with panache and in a spirit of holiday generosity. You could probably read “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” aloud in 20 minutes or so as a yule log burns. And it appeals to nearly all ages – not just to adults but to children who need more dramatic fare than The Polar Express.

Part of the allure all the Sherlock Holmes tales is that, while their stories are exciting, Holmes is imperturbable. “My name is Sherlock Holmes,” he tells a suspect in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” “It is my business to know what other people don’t know.” How nice that, in this case, he knows how to set the right tone – in a secular if not religious sense – for the season.

Furthermore: You can download “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” for free at the online Classic Literature Library, which makes available at no cost books in the public domain: sherlock-holmes.classic-literature.co.uk/the-adventure-of-the-blue-carbuncle/. At top left is the Audio CD “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes — The Blue Carbuncle” (Mitso Media, 2006), read by James Alexander, available on Amazon www.amazon.com and elsewhere.

One-Minute Book Reviews is for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It is also for people who dislike long-winded weasel reviews that are full of facts and plot summaries but don’t tell you what the critic thought of the book.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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