Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hound of the Baskervilles
Illustration for The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sidney Paget for The Strand

The Hound of the Baskervilles is the fourth and final novel in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It’s one of the most memorable stories in the Sherlock Holmes canon, and as such, is one of the most frequently adapted stories. Dr. James Mortimer consults Sherlock Holmes regarding the mysterious case of a legendary curse on the Baskerville family. Sir Charles Baskerville has recently died under suspicious circumstances, and his heir and nephew will soon arrive from Canada to claim his inheritance. Dr. Mortimer hopes young Henry Baskerville will not also inherit the Baskerville family curse. Holmes agrees to take the case, but even before Henry Baskerville leaves London for his Devonshire estate, strange things happen. Someone seems to be following him, and one of his shoes turns up missing. Holmes sends Watson on to Baskerville Hall with Henry Baskerville and asks Watson to keep him updated regarding events until he can extricate himself from a case. Watson soon discovers that there may be some truth the family legend of a vicious dog that hunts Baskervilles, and he also discovers the dog may not be the only mysterious being hiding on the moor.

This story is easily one of Conan Doyle’s best Sherlock Holmes mysteries. It has everything that Conan Doyle does well, including an atmospheric setting, suspense and mystery, and a hint of the supernatural. It also refrains from including some of the things Conan Doyle doesn’t do as well, such as exotic settings (India, America). Conan Doyle plants enough clues that many astute readers will begin to suspect the truth behind the mystery, but not so many that it feels obvious to everyone. It’s easily the best of Conan Doyle’s four Sherlock Holmes novels, and it ranks among the best of his Sherlock Holmes stories in general for this reader. The setting of Baskerville Hall and the surrounding moor is captured well, and it perhaps the setting that is most remembered about this story.

The BBC series Sherlock adapted this story in the episode “The Hounds of Baskerville.” In this modern adaptation, Sherlock and Watson take on a case at Baskerville, a military research facility. Henry Knight claims his father was killed by a gigantic hound on the moor, but it turns out that the hounds are images produced as the result of mind-altering drugs, and H.O.U.N.D. was a secret government project adapting the drugs as chemical weapons. Because this story is one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes stories, Sherlock creator Mark Gatiss has said he felt he needed to be more careful to keep the most well-known aspects of the story intact. The story is, however, updated to reflect modern concerns.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the twenty-sixth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Blue Carbuncle.”

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TLC Book Tour: Whispering in French, Sophia Nash

Sophia Nash’s novel Whispering in French begins as Kate Hamilton flies to Biarritz in the south of France to see if she can convince her grandfather to sell the cliffside villa that has been in her family for generations. She doesn’t expect to fall in love with the place herself and to risk everything to save it, finding herself and discovering a new confidence and ability to take risks in the process.

Meanwhile, her grandfather’s neighbor asks Kate, a psychologist, if she will help his great-nephew, Edward Soames, whose PTSD as the result of several tours of duty threatens to destroy the man’s life and perhaps even, his uncle fears, cause his suicide. He proves to be a difficult case, and Kate breaks some of her own rules in order to reach him.

Kate weathers a string of crises, from lack of money (never actually a serious crisis, as it turns out), to a violent storm, to a reconciliation with her family, to discovering family she didn’t know she had, bureaucratic red tape. I was curious as to why so many crises hit the protagonist in such quick succession only to be neatly resolved within a chapter or two. The basic plotline meandered a bit, not quite resolving itself for this reader. I wondered also at the inclusion of the adventures of the neighbor’s cat and a hedgehog, who were later joined by a dog, in the garden. However, Kate’s self-realization and acceptance of herself felt realistic in light of the challenges she faced as she decided to stay in France. The setting is rendered realistically and vividly. Readers looking for a light beach read might enjoy this one.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

From the Publisher

• Paperback: 384 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (August 1, 2017)

Award-winning romance author Sophia Nash makes her women’s fiction debut with a beautifully crafted, funny, and life-affirming story set in the Atlantic seaside region of France, as one woman returns to France to sell her family home and finds an unexpected chance to start over—perfect for fans of Le Divorce and The Little Paris Bookshop.

Home is the last place Kate expected to find herself…

As a child, Kate Hamilton was packed off each summer to her grandfather’s ivy-covered villa in southern France. That ancestral home, named Marthe Marie, is now crumbling, and it falls to Kate—regarded as the most responsible and practical member of her family—to return to the rugged, beautiful seaside region to confront her grandfather’s debts and convince him to sell.

Kate makes her living as a psychologist and life coach, but her own life is in as much disarray as Marthe Marie. Her marriage has ended, and she’s convinced that she has failed her teenaged daughter, Lily, in unforgivable ways. While delving into colorful family history and the consequences of her own choices, Kate reluctantly agrees to provide coaching to Major Edward Soames, a British military officer suffering from post-traumatic stress. Breaking through his shell, and dealing with idiosyncratic locals intent on viewing her as an Americanized outsider, will give Kate new insight into who—and where—she wants to be. The answers will prove as surprising as the secrets that reside in the centuries-old villa.

Witty and sophisticated, rich in history and culture, Sophia Nash’s novel vividly evokes both its idyllic French setting and the universal themes of self-forgiveness and rebuilding in a story as touching as it is wise.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Sophia Nash

Photo by Mary Noble Ours

Sophia Nash was born in Switzerland and raised in France and the United States, but says her heart resides in Regency England. Her ancestor, an infamous French admiral who traded epic cannon fire with the British Royal Navy, is surely turning in his grave.

Before pursuing her long-held dream of writing, Sophia was an award-winning television producer for a CBS affiliate, a congressional speechwriter, and a nonprofit CEO. She lives in the Washington, D.C., suburbs with her husband and two children.

Sophia’s novels have won twelve national awards, including the prestigious RITA®Award, and two spots on Booklist‘s “Top Ten Romances of the Year.”

Find out more about Sophia at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Harper Collins provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. You can catch the reviews of other readers on the TLC Book Tour.

Tuesday, August 1st: Girl Who Reads
Wednesday, August 2nd: Just Commonly
Wednesday, August 2nd: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Friday, August 4th: Art @ Home
Monday, August 7th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, August 9th: Reading to Distraction
Thursday, August 10th: BookNAround
Monday, August 14th: Tina Says…
Tuesday, August 15th: StephTheBookworm
Wednesday, August 16th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense

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Sherlock Holmes: “The Engineer’s Thumb” and “The Cardboard Box,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Engineer's Thumb
Illustration for “The Engineer’s Thumb by Sidney Paget for The Strand

After finishing “The Engineer’s Thumb” and “The Cardboard Box,” I am caught up on the  Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It’s strange that these two stories would fall one after the other in the chronology as both feature grisly dismembered appendages.

“The Engineer’s Thumb” is unique in that Watson first encounters a mystery that he brings to Sherlock Holmes rather than the other way around, which is more typical. Watson receives a patient whose thumb has been severed—the patient says purposely and with murderous intent—and he takes Victor Hatherley, the unfortunate engineer of the title, to Sherlock Holmes so that his friend can look into the man’s case. Hatherley recounts his story to Holmes, and it is clear the man was lucky to escape with his life after discovering an illegal counterfeit operation. This story is unique also in that Holmes does not bring the criminals to justice, as the remote house where they carried out their operation has burned and they have escaped.

In “The Cardboard Box,” Holmes is consulted because a woman named Susan Cushing has received a mysterious package addressed to “S. Cushing” containing two ears, and she can’t imagine why on earth anyone would send her such a ghastly package unless it is a couple of disgruntled former boarders who happened to be medical students. Holmes deduces that the package was not meant for the Susan, but for her sister Sarah, who until recently lived with the woman. He also deduces that one of the ears belongs to a third sister Mary, based on its similarity to those of Susan. With a few quick deductions, he nabs the culprit, who confesses all.

Both of these stories are a bit more grisly than is typical for Sherlock Holmes stories, and both contain surprises, but I wouldn’t rate either among the best I’ve read. The BBC Sherlock series doesn’t allude to either story that I can recall. Also, it appears that Conan Doyle has mixed up his chronology, as Watson is living at Baker Street during “The Cardboard Box,” supposedly after he has married Mary. I’m not going to theorize that there was trouble in the Watson marriage. Looks like a simple goof to me.

“The Cardboard Box” does have an interesting and introspective ending, furnished by Sherlock Holmes:

“What is the meaning of it, Watson?” said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. “What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”

“The Engineer’s Thumb” Rating: ★★★★☆
“The Cardboard Box” Rating: ★★★★☆

I read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is the final novel in the chronology, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

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Sherlock Holmes: “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” and “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Man with the Twisted Lip
Illustration for “The Man with the Twisted Lip” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

I’m behind in the  Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. In an effort to try to catch up a bit, I read two stories this week, “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” and “The Man with the Twisted Lip.”

Sherlock Holmes becomes involved in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” when Lestrade consults the detective after the murder of a landowner in Herefordshire. The murdered man’s son looks guilty, but Holmes doesn’t believe the son is the culprit. Using footprint analysis and a quick inspection of the grounds, Holmes affirms the son couldn’t have killed his father and unravels the mystery.

In “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” Holmes has gone undercover to determine what has happened to Neville St. Clair. Watson discovers Holmes in disguise in an opium den, where he has gone to retrieve a patient, who also happens to be the husband of Mary Watson’s friend Kate Whitney. Watson is shocked to see Holmes in such a place but quickly recovers when Holmes offers him the opportunity to be involved in the case of the missing Mr. St. Clair. Mrs. St. Clair is sure her husband is alive after receiving a letter from him that was posted after he went missing. A beggar named Hugh Boone has been arrested under suspicion of being involved in St. Clair’s disappearance, as Boone was in a room in that same opium den in which Mrs. St. Clair clearly saw her husband from a window. Holmes seems stumped by the case for a time but resolves the matter at last.

Of these two stories, I liked “The Man with the Twisted Lip” better, though both were fairly good. The opening of “The Man with the Twisted Lip” is so compelling and well-written.

Isa Whitney, brother of the late Elias Whitney, D. D., Principal of the Theological College of St. George’s, was much addicted to opium. The habit grew upon him, as I understand, from some foolish freak when he was at college; for having read De Quincey’s description of his dreams and sensations, he had drenched his tobacco with laudanum in an attempt to produce the same effects. He found, as so many more have done, that the practice is easier to attain than to get rid of, and for many years he continued to be a slave to the drug, an object of mingled horror and pity to his friends and relatives. I can see him now, with yellow, pasty face, drooping lids, and pin-point pupils, all huddled in a chair, the wreck and ruin of a noble man.

I can’t find any reference to “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” in the BBC series Sherlock, but the story does involve a common trope in Sherlock Holmes stories—murder in the countryside, the most obvious suspect didn’t do it. However, “The Man with the Twisted Lip” is alluded to in the episode “His Last Vow,” when Watson discovers Sherlock in a crack house similar to the opium den in the short story. He is undercover for a case, but Watson isn’t having it. As an interesting aside, opium wasn’t illegal when the story is set. It was definitely associated with the seedy underbelly of society, but the opium den in the story is a perfectly legal business. By the time in which the Sherlock series is set, such an establishment would definitely be illegal, and the dangers of drug use would be more widely known. I always appreciated that Conan Doyle’s Watson expressed disapproval of drug use even when it was legal and encouraged Sherlock Holmes to stop using cocaine.

As an interesting aside, “The Man with the Twisted Lip” is also the story with the inconsistency regarding Watson’s name. He is usually called John Watson, but Mary calls him James in this story. It’s probably an oversight on Conan Doyle’s part, but much has been made of the confusion, which Conan Doyle apparently never addressed. Some have theorized that Mary calls him James because his middle name is Hamish, which is a variant of James. He is known as John H. Watson elsewhere. In the BBC Sherlock series, Watson tells Sherlock and Irene Adler his middle name is Hamish if they’re looking for baby names.

“The Boscombe Valley Mystery” Rating: ★★★★☆
“The Man with the Twisted Lip” Rating: ★★★★★

I read these stories as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. They are the twenty-second and twenty-third stories in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Engineer’s Thumb,” which I will read with “The Cardboard Box” in order to catch up completely.

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TLC Book Tour: Strange Contagion, Lee Daniel Kravetz

Strange Contagion coverLee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion: Inside the Surprising Science of Infectious Behaviors and Viral Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves was born out of tragedy. A series of teen suicides among students and alumni of Palo Alto’s Gunn High School suggested an epidemic was underway. Kravetz, a new father and resident of Palo Alto, was concerned about his community. What was causing these students to commit suicide? Could the epidemic be stopped? How? These questions prompted Kravetz to explore the way emotions and behaviors are communicated in a society.

Kravetz learns that emotions are not terribly different from communicable diseases. We are highly suggestible creatures, and the emotions of others are easily transmitted. We catch everything from the goals of others around us to courage or bravery or fear to the host of feelings, positive or negative, that others around us bring into the room.

In fact, we are so susceptible to the spread of viral emotions that we don’t really even need to come in contact with individuals to be influence by them. Their emotions can be communicated through others who bring them to us or even through social media. As Kravetz says, “role models are so influential that oftentimes we don’t even know whom we’re modeling—or that we’re modeling them at all. And that at once enthralls and frightens me” (118).

Given our current social and political climate, the concepts that Kravetz discusses are frightening, but they also explain a great deal about the collective mood on both sides of the political spectrum. Kravetz doesn’t have solutions because the problem is too complex. Navigating viral emotions means we need to be aware of our own feelings and what is causing them, and we also need to be aware of our susceptibility to the emotions of others. We also need to accept that others influence us. Kravetz concludes, “Beneath the surface, we are all connected” (220). This idea might not be new. After all, Emerson explored in his writing about the concept of the oversoul. But Kravetz’s psychological and sociological exploration of the way we are connected offers more explanation of how we are all connected. If social contagion is a part of the human experience, we need to learn how to live with it and fight it (when it’s negative) in the best way we can, just as we have done with communicable diseases.

This book gave me a lot to think about, especially as I teach high school students like those who go to Gunn High School. Though we do need to be on guard for negative social contagion, such as the suicides that prompted Kravetz to explore the topics in this book, we can also channel social contagion positively to spread love and care for each other. In a discussion of the communicability of bravery and courage, Kravetz writes that “the trick to passing along lasting courage is one of overwhelming the system with examples of it, flooding the environment with models of generosity, authority, demonstrations of personal responsibility, and examples of calm in the heat of battle” (114). In the end, perhaps the best way to combat negative social contagions is to be what Kravetz calls the interrupter. We can do what we can to be the model of courage, bravery, kindness, compassion, and happiness. As Stephen King says, “We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”

Rating: ★★★★★

From the Publisher

About Strange Contagion

• Hardcover: 288 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (June 27, 2017)

Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.

In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.

A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?

The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a “strange contagion”: a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.

Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Lee Daniel Kravetz AP Photo by Ian TuttleAbout Lee Daniel Kravetz

Lee Daniel Kravetz has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism. He has written for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children.

Find out more about Lee at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Harper Collins provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. You can catch the reviews of other readers on the TLC Book Tour.

Tuesday, June 27th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, June 28th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, June 29th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Friday, June 30th: Books & Tea
Tuesday, July 4th: Wining Wife
Tuesday, July 4th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, July 5th: Based on a True Story
Thursday, July 6th: Readaholic Zone
Thursday, July 6th: she treads softly
Friday, July 7th: Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Monday, July 10th: StephTheBookworm
Tuesday, July 11th: Kahakai Kitchen
Wednesday, July 12th: Books on the Table
Thursday, July 13th: Library of Clean Reads
TBD: Sapphire Ng

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Sherlock Holmes: The Stock-Broker’s Clerk, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Stock-Broker's Clerk
Illustration for “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

“The Stock-Broker’s Clerk” is a slight narrative concerning the strange behavior of two men who have engaged the employment of Mr. Hall Pycroft. Pycroft is mystified by his employers’ actions and demeanor, so he seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes to determine what is at the bottom of it all and what the two men might truly want. Sherlock Holmes visits Watson and asks if he would be interested in accompanying him to Birmingham to help solve the mystery. Watson, newly married and establishing a medical practice, agrees to allow his neighbor to take on his patients in his absence and sets off at once.

There isn’t a whole lot to this story, though the characterization is interesting. Pycroft is portrayed as fairly sharp, and Watson makes a point of observing that he is “Cockney” and that Cockney Londoners have contributed a great deal to English society in an interesting effort to skewer ideas about class that were prevalent at the time when Conan Doyle was writing (and, for that matter, probably still are). But there’s the tiny antisemitic reference in there, too, as Pycroft describes his employer’s nose. Basically, at its heart, this story makes use of a trope that Conan Doyle sometimes employs—the convoluted hoax. Holmes doesn’t actually do a whole lot in this one because the case is solved by the police, for a change, before he can get to the bottom of it.

I wouldn’t put this up there among my favorites; it doesn’t leave much of an impression. I believe the BBC series Sherlock makes a couple of references to this story. Watson does establish a practice after he thinks Sherlock has died, and what the viewer sees is not too different from what Watson describes in this story. I seem to recall an episode in which Sherlock visits John and makes deductions about his having been ill, but now that I’m trying to find the episode, I can’t. I may be conflating it with a similar incident I’ve already read.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
I read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is twenty-first story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.”

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Silver Blaze
Illustration for “Silver Blaze” by Sidney Paget for The Strand

“The Adventure of Silver Blaze” takes Sherlock Holmes and John Watson out to the Dartmoor countryside to investigate the case of the missing racehorse Silver Blaze and the murder of the horse’s trainer, John Straker. Watson has been following the sensational case in the newspaper and is unsurprised when Sherlock decides to become involved in the investigation. Once in King’s Pyland, Holmes discovers that a man named Fitzroy Simpson is suspected of having murdered Straker, but Sherlock Holmes is not sure at all that the police have the right man. A quick investigation of the scene where Straker’s body was found coupled with an investigatory stroll out on the moor with Watson convinces Holmes that his deductions are correct.

I really enjoyed this story. The location in Dartmoor was a refreshing change of pace for Holmes and Watson, and the mystery was compact and unfolded well. The writing was fun, too. I read this story so many years ago that I had forgotten it was the inspiration for the title of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeChristopher Boone, the protagonist of Haddon’s novel, loves Sherlock Holmes and that particular book begins with an investigation of the murder of his neighbor’s dog. In the context of this story, Holmes points out that it is odd that the dog in the stables did not bark.

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

To be honest, if I had remembered this story years ago when I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, I might have figured out the mystery in that book sooner, too. This is one of the better Sherlock Holmes stories I’ve read for this reading challenge, and it’s a particularly good display of Holmes’s deductive techniques. I can’t recall seeing any elements of it in the BBC series Sherlock, but those lines between Sherlock and Detective Gregory above would have been brilliant coming from Benedict Cumberbatch and Rupert Graves or Martin Freeman. If they make more episodes, I hope they will return to this short story.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is twentieth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Stock-Broker’s Clerk.”

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I Went to a U2 Concert

U2 Cell Phone Lights

Last Sunday, I realized a dream I’ve had for a long time and went to a U2 concert with my family. They are touring in honor of the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, which is a really important album for me. I can well remember watching MTV when that album had been released and seeing the now iconic video for “With or Without You.”

But even further back, I can recall being wowed by their video for “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” as it was shot at Red Rocks. Growing up in the Denver area, I had been to Red Rocks, though not for a concert, and it impressed me to see a music video shot in a place I had actually been.

In the late 1990’s, when I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree after taking three years off when my then husband was in the Coast Guard, I listened to The Joshua Tree on repeat in the car. I think it was at that time that “Red Hill Mining Town,” a song U2 never played live until this tour, became my favorite. I have a deep affection for that song, still, even if I recognize on a more objective level that it’s not even what I would consider their best song. It just means something to me.

U2 Concert

I thought hearing “Red Hill Mining Town” would be the moment that did me in during the concert, but it wasn’t. It was actually when U2 played “Beautiful Day,” another favorite of mine, and the Edge brought out that old Gibson Explorer of his. He has had that guitar a very long time. He describes the moment when he bought it in New York in the late 1970’s in the movie It Might Get Loud.

Knowing how long he has had it and what it means and thinking of the history of that guitar just reduced me to to tears when he started playing the opening notes of “Beautiful Day.” Such an amazing song and instrument, too. I have never cried at a concert before.

Speaking of It Might Get Loud, it was that movie that turned me into a Jack White fan. I admit to not having listened to his music much until that film, and I was already a big fan of both Jimmy Page and the Edge. It bothers me that a lot of people argue Edge doesn’t deserve a place in that film. If you ask me, it’s his presence in the film that makes it because he is so different from the other two. He doesn’t bother with the affectations that Jack White puts on (the fake child version of himself that he coaches along). He brings a lot of humility and self-deprecation to the storytelling in that film that the other two don’t necessarily bring. There is an honesty to the story he tells that is certainly missing from Jack White’s story, and is obscured under so many layers in Jimmy Page’s story—Jimmy Page always seems to keep at a distance when he’s being interviewed. The only time he really seems more or less open is when he is talking with the Edge and Jack White. The film is one of my favorites, actually.

Of course, U2 is a political band, and they always have been. People complaining about their politics obviously haven’t been listening to them or it wouldn’t still be a contentious issue. They’ve been openly political since at least War—you could even argue since Boy—so I’m not sure where these people have been. What I really loved about the concert I attended is that the band didn’t shy away from being political, but they were respectful and positive in the way they presented their views. It was clear to me that the band has a great deal of love and respect for America, and I’ll go on the record as saying they get too much crap for their earnestness and their politics. I suppose some people think it’s insincere, and others think they shouldn’t hold political opinions. I disagree on both counts, but even if they are not sincere, they’ve still done a lot of good in the world.

Another thing that struck me was just how good they are. Bono’s voice is great, and it’s clear he takes good care of it. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say he avoids smoking, drinking, and bad vocal habits. The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. are all still playing excellent music as well. We saw them at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, which is where the New England Patriots play, and it’s a huge stadium, if you’ve never seen it. We weren’t at the very top, but we were fairly far away. The sound was good, even though everyone in the stadium was singing along. It was a little hard to hear what Bono said sometimes, which other people who were at the concert also complained about. I think the sound system probably wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.

It was really special to hear one of my favorite albums played in its entirety. Of course they didn’t play every song I wanted to hear. If they had, we might still be at the concert. I have a lot of favorites. But they played “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “New Year’s Day,” “Bad,” (which is always awesome in concert—I actually own two live versions of that song already), “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Miss Sarajevo” (interesting choice, but it made a lot sense in the context of the show), “Elevation,” “Vertigo,” “Ultra Violet (Light My Way)” (with a moving tribute to women), “One,” and a new one, “The Little Things that Give You Away,” which will be on Songs of Experience when it’s released, in addition to the entire Joshua Tree album and “Beautiful Day,” which I had previously mentioned. Not a bad setlist at all. I gather that they are doing “A Sort of Homecoming” at some of the shows on this tour.

I mentioned owning two live versions of “Bad.” The one from the Wide Awake in America EP is transcendent. I actually have quite a lot (comparatively speaking) of live U2 music, and I also frequently watch their live performances on YouTube. They are a rare band in that so much of their music sounds as good if not better live than on a recording. Frankly, a lot of great musicians are studio musicians, and there is nothing wrong with that, but their live performances disappoint. Eric Clapton, for instance, is kind of boring live (at least he was when I saw him). On the other hand, Tom Petty is awesome, and so are Counting Crows. Both of those groups surprised me with how good they were live. I would say this concert was the best one I attended, though I haven’t gone to nearly as many as I would have liked to have gone to. I hope I will be able to see them perform live again. It was an incredible experience, and all the more so because my family enjoyed it so much, too.

Several of the concert-goers put the show up on YouTube. It’s nice to have this reminder of the concert I attended. I don’t think U2 are terribly fussy about people putting their shows up. There are some really old live clips online that have been on YouTube for years. I made a playlist of some of the video others took at the concert. I only had my iPhone with me, and I wanted to concentrate on enjoying the concert instead of capturing it. Sound and video quality varies, and I put several videos of the same song(s) in the playlist in an attempt to capture the show from multiple points of view.

 

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Sherlock Holmes: The Sign of Four, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Illustration for The Sign of Four from The Bristol Observer

The Sign of Four is the third novel and the nineteenth story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. This novel introduces Watson’s future wife, Mary Morstan and develops Sherlock Holmes’s cocaine addiction.

Mary Morstan seeks Sherlock Holmes’s help after receiving a mysterious message from a stranger. The stranger has sent her single pearls from a great treasure and promises that her wealth will be even greater if she agrees to meet with him. Holmes agrees that she should go, and he and Watson decide to accompany her. They arrive at the house of the eccentric Thaddeus Sholto, the son of Major Sholto, who served with Mary’s father in India. However, Thaddeus Sholto’s timing in contacting Mary couldn’t have been better, as his brother Bartholomew is mysteriously killed that evening, and it looks like only Sherlock Holmes can prove Thaddeus Sholto’s innocence and solve the case of their father’s missing treasure that Thaddeus promised he and his brother had found and had agreed to share with Mary. In the meantime, Holmes must deal with bungling police officers and Watson’s infatuation with their client as well as a slippery duo he believes has absconded with the treasure.

This novel was better than both A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear, which I previously read for this challenge. Both of those novels suffered from Conan Doyle’s lack of understanding of America and Americans, though it’s also true that this novel suffers from his lack of understanding of India. I’m sure for his era, he might even have been progressive, but I can’t help but notice the racism when he writes about India, and it’s come up a few times in the stories so far. His depiction of Tonga, the Andaman Islands native who blows poison darts in attempts to kill (sometimes successfully) is particularly problematic, though his depiction of Jonathan Small’s confederates, the others that comprise the “Four” of the novel’s title, is not much better. It might just be me, but this kind of story seems to be one that Conan Doyle writes with some frequency: a mysterious missing treasure from an exotic locale, terrible murder, conspiracy, all bound together. For its type, this novel is a decent one, and it was a fairly quick read.

There are several references to The Sign of Four in the BBC Sherlock series. The episode “The Sign of Three” in which Mary Morstan and John Watson marry is the most obvious. Major James Sholto, a character in the episode, had been Watson’s commander in Afghanistan and had been the subject of death threats. At one point, someone does try to kill him by means of a stiletto blade, which might be meant to remind the viewer of the blow darts. In addition, the feeling that things will change between Sherlock and Watson because of his marriage is palpable at the end of both the episode and the novel. The references to A.G.R.A. turn out not to be treasure, but Mary’s true identity as an assassin, which Sherlock discovers in “His Last Vow.” She is the “R” in the initials, and she believes that the other three had been killed, which is similar to Jonathan Small’s notion that the other three members of his treasure confederacy will not be able to access it because they are imprisoned for life. Bill Wiggins is also alluded to in “His Last Vow,” though in that episode he is a drug addict rather than the leader of the Baker Street Irregulars. In the episode “The Six Thatchers,” someone is trying to track down an A.G.R.A. memory stick like Mary’s, and she discovers that one of her former colleagues did not actually die and is angry with Mary for leaving him behind.

In all, the story is probably essential for its introduction of John Watson’s love interest, but I honestly like what the BBC series has done with the story more than the actual Conan Doyle story itself. I do remember The Hound of the Baskervilles being my favorite of the Sherlock Holmes novels. I haven’t read it in years, but based on my memory and the re-reading of the other three Holmes novels, my mind hasn’t changed. I actually think Conan Doyle does better with the short story format, which explains why the bulk of the Sherlock Holmes adventures are written in that format.

Rating: ★★★½☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge

I read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is nineteenth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is Silver Blaze.”

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Review: The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South, John T. Edge

John T. Edge’s book The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South explores a culinary history of Southern food from the Civil Rights era to the present day. What is potlikker? According to Edge,

Like great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is salvage food. During the antebellum era, slaveholders ate the greens from the pot, setting aside the potlikker for enslaved cooks and their families, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient rich. (6)

What Edge sets out to do in this book is explain how the cuisine we think of as Southern food emerged from black cooks. Edge also explains the ways in which Southern cuisine has changed over the years and discusses some of the major movers and shakers in the world of Southern cooking. In addition, he discusses issues related to access to food and poverty as well as movements in fast food and farm-to-table cooking and the gentrification of Southern food (and restaurants), ending with discussion of the influence of immigrants to the South on Southern cooking.

Edge is the director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, which “documents, studies, and explores the diverse food cultures of the changing American South” (read more here). He was recently featured, as was Michael Twitty, whose book The Cooking Gene comes out later this year, on the Gastropod podcast.

I found this book fascinating from start to finish, and I enjoyed it the whole way through. I gained a lot of insight into Southern food, and I also learned quite a lot of history that I didn’t know. One really interesting story that Edge shares early in the book concerns President Johnson’s commitment to civil rights. I had always assumed that he really had to be prodded quite a lot to sign the Civil Rights Act, and probably to an extent, he did, but he as he tried to garner support for civil rights, he often told the story of his cook, Zephyr Wright, being unable to use the restroom during a stop on a cross-country trip. He varied the story to suit his audience, but like many of the people who heard the story directly from Johnson’s lips, I found it to be quite moving. As Edge explains, “The Zephyr Wright story reduced a national issue to a personal one. It moved the argument from the senate chamber to the cloakroom and then to the kitchen” (27).When Johnson signed the Act, Zephyr Wright was there, alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. He handed her one of the pens he used, saying “You deserve this more than anybody else” (28).

I think it’s hard not to see things differently when you hear someone’s personal story. It’s one of the reasons politicians bring up everyday Americans during conventions or on the floor of Congress. We are moved by stories. To a certain extent, this book stitches together the stories of Southern cooks from Georgia Gilmore, who fed Civil Rights Movement leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. in her home/restaurant to Michael Twitty, who recently attempted to engage Paula Deen in conversation after her infamous declaration that she had used the n-word. Twitty invited Deen to learn “why so many people were so upset by her comments” (278). He wanted her to know that “the unwillingness to give African American barbecue masters and other cooks an equal chance at the platform, is far more galling than you saying ‘nigger,’ in childhood ignorance or emotional rage or social whimsy” (279). As far as I understand, Twitty never received a reply from Deen. It’s a shame because it might have gone a long way to repairing the damage she caused.

Edge’s main point, I think, is captured when he says “The adjective Southern and the noun Southerner have, since the nineteenth century, referenced the white South and the Confederate South. Those limited categories failed the people of the region. The South was never monochromatic” (2). As Natasha Trethewey, poet laureate of the United States, says “Who can lay claim to the South?… I don’t want to take it away from anyone. I just want them to recognize that it’s mine, too” (309). That South included black barbecue pit masters and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Stephen Gaskin’s commune the Farm and chefs Paul Prudhomme and Nathalie Dupree. It included grits, boiled peanuts, fried chicken, okra, hoppin’ john, biscuits, cornbread, and yes, pot likker. I think anyone interested in food history would enjoy this book, but I think it will speak especially to anyone who has called the South, with all its messy contradictions, home. As Edge says, “In this modern South, the likkers at the bottoms of those vessels sustain many peoples. And they remind Americans of the vitality that drives regional foodways” (308).

Rating: ★★★★★

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