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Further bookery from Britannia

I finished reading the Narnia series, which was so annoyingly Rule-Brittania that I was at risk of coming to hate English literature. The antidote was to get some really tasty English reading at the same time: enter the pipe, the violin, the doctor, the cocaine, the Hound: enter Sherlock Holmes. Prompted by Eddy Webb’s essays over at the Blog of Fate, I decided to reread the whole Sherlock Holmes canon. There are four novels and five books of short stories, and it took me about four or five weeks to read the lot. On the whole, I think I prefer the short stories. I love The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the other novels are good, but I like the short stories best. I had a hoot re-reading the Sherlock Holmes stories.  They’re good fun: they’re very Victorian in flavour, but if you accept that, no worries. I will say this, however; you might be used to mysteries that involve having all the clues available to you, which means you can have a crack at solving the riddle before the hero-detective does.  Sherlock Holmes doesn’t always let you do that (in fact, I think he very rarely lets you do that). A lot of the solutions involve knowledge or facts that only Holmes knows and which aren’t revealed until the climax. But that’s all part of the fun: Holmes is a showman and enjoys revealing all the kinks and secrets at the end to a delighted audience, and, as the reader, you’re part of that audience.  Most of the Sherlock Holmes books are available in the public domain, so boogie on over to Project Gutenberg to get your fix.

Speaking of English writing, I also finished Oliver Sacks‘ memoir Uncle Tungsten and I would say it is the best memoir I’ve ever read. I was sad to finish it. It’s about the development of Sacks’ scientific interest — especially chemistry — in the context of his fascinating family life. Episodes from his childhood are woven with scientific history, and stories of his family and provide context for the scientific mind he was cultivating. I loved reading it: I loved the scientific stuff, I loved the emotional/biographical stuff, and I loved his family.  As well as honest, interesting and clever, Uncle Tungsten is really touching and moving, and Sacks writes with an exceptional degree of insight into and compassion for his younger self.

Having wallowed in Englishness for a while, I wanted something with a different cultural flavour, so I tore through The Catcher in the Rye for a bit of Americana and have just started The Name of the Rose for some Europe-ana. But then, I’m also reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, in which London is almost a character in its own right, so I guess I’m not too worried about getting the taste of English literature out.

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