Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Speckled Band, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventure of the Speckled Band

Sidney Paget illustration for “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” in The Strand

This week’s story in the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge is one of the most famous in the Holmes canon, “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” A mysterious woman in black arrives early in the morning to ask for Sherlock Holmes’s help. She is terrified because her twin sister died under mysterious circumstances a few years prior, and she now finds hints that history is about to repeat itself. Holmes agrees to take on her case. The woman’s stepfather shows up shortly after she leaves to threaten Holmes, who is not in the least perturbed, and Holmes and Watson travel to the estate where the young woman lives with her stepfather. After investigating the room where the woman sleeps and her stepfather’s room, Holmes believes he may know what is happening, but he and Watson keep a vigil in the woman’s room that night to be sure.

I actually remembered most of the details of this story, though I hadn’t read it in over 20 years, which I think is a testament to the story’s strength. If I have one quibble, it is once again we see a British prejudice about the tropics being a breeding ground for a passionate temper. It’s probably too much to expect a Victorian writer not to display the prejudices of his era, though, and it’s not as bad as A Study in Scarlet‘s portrayal of Mormons. Also, it seems that Doyle was making up fictional snake breeds, but that doesn’t surprise me much. He is a storyteller, and it’s not like he had Google at his disposal. The swamp adder doesn’t jump out as a particularly false note, but it is true that even herpetologists have been stumped as to which snake Doyle might mean. On the other hand, this is one the stories in which the reader has all the details needed to solve the crime and can deduce alongside Holmes, if the reader is paying attention. I do feel some Holmes stories are a bit of a cheat in that we don’t have the information Holmes does, but in this case, we can put the probable scenario together in our heads, for the most part, as Holmes himself solves the mystery, and it may be for that reason that this story is so popular. The BBC series Sherlock chose not to adapt this story, but it is alluded to in the episode “A Scandal in Belgravia” as “The Speckled Blonde.”

Rating: ★★★★½

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the fourth story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is “The Yellow Face.”

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Music: True Love Lasts a Lifetime

I don’t write much about my story as a musician and music lover. I was doing that Facebook meme that’s going around with the top ten high school albums, and it made me feel all nostalgic, and nostalgic for more than just the albums themselves, but the cassettes and the sort of cruddy boom box I had in my room. I remember taping the radio. I think a lot of us did that. By the time I was a teenager, vinyl was on the way out, and in any case, I didn’t have a stereo with a turntable, though my dad did, and it was so much more convenient to listen to cassettes with Walkmans as ubiquitous back then as iPhones are today for listening. I remember going to bed listening to my Walkman, which wasn’t a real Sony kind (though I think most of us called those cassette players Walkmans, regardless of the brand, sort of like Kleenex). Mine had an auto-reverse feature, so I would have the music playing all night, and as long as the batteries held out, it would be playing in the morning when I woke up, too. I remember sometimes the players would try to eat the tapes, and the tape would crinkle up like an accordion. The only way to fix it was to gently pull the tape out and use a pencil or pen to wind it back around the cassette spools. Sometimes, the tape would break, and you could fix it with Scotch tape, but afterwards it would always have a place that would skip.

Once I went to college, I got a real CD player, and I used to go to downtown Athens, GA, where I went to college, and look for used CD’s I could add to my collection. There used to be two really good music stories downtown. I am not sure if they’re still there; I haven’t been to Athens in a long time. I was really trying to figure out who I was back in those days, and I listened to a lot of different kinds of music. I had a roommate who played bass, and I pilfered her music collection and combined it with my own by making mix tapes. I loved making mix tapes, and I was told more than once that I was pretty good at it. Composing the correct order of songs and stretching to the end of the tape was an art of sorts.

In those days, music seemed like it was everything, and I still listen to some of the things I listened to back then. When I was in high school, I started playing guitar and took guitar class. I loved picking up instruments and seeing if I could play them. My sister starting playing clarinet, and I picked it up and worked my way through beginner exercises in her lesson book. The neighbor boy picked up the violin, so I borrowed it and tried a few of the exercises in his lesson book as well. When I was in eighth grade, I found a French horn tucked away among the school instruments. My eighth grade band was pitifully small, so my director was glad to let me take it home and see if I could make it work. I did. I played it most of that year, along with the flute, which was my first instrument, and I even had a solo in one of our concerts. I botched it, unfortunately, out of nerves. I never really liked being on display as a musician, and it’s probably that feeling, as much as anything, that prevented me from ever making a real go of playing music. I liked to blend into a large band. Anytime I had a solo or had to play in a small enough group that my contributions would be noticed, I hated it. But there was still something in me that wanted to be a good musician, even if just for myself. I bought myself an electric guitar for Christmas last year. I had wanted one forever. I immediately signed up for a guitar course—which turned out to be a really great course—through Berklee College of Music on Coursera. I love taking the odd online course here and there. So much fun to learn. And most of the courses I have taken have been music courses. I took a two-part introduction to the History of Rock, a Beatles course, and a Rolling Stones course. The guitar course was the first course I took that involved actually playing, and it could be brutal. I had to record myself doing exercises set by the instructor, and I was graded by my peers. If what I turned in didn’t sound good enough, my peers didn’t pass me, and that did happen. I could re-record the lesson and try again, which I also did. I learned more about music theory and good musicianship in that course than I did in seven years of band classes and two years of guitar classes in school. The band instructor at the school where I teach is a fine guitarist himself and has offered me lessons. I need to take him up on it! He said he would give me enough material in a single lesson to keep me busy for a month.

Like a lot of people, I really found music an escape when I was in high school, and it was then that I really started listening to it a lot. Around my mid-thirties, I started realizing I was disconnected from what was happening in music at that time. I think that happens to most people, but most people are okay with it and continue to enjoy the music they liked in their formative years in high school and their twenties. I wasn’t having it, though. I made myself listen to the music that was out there, and I found a new connection to music that I had come pretty close to losing. I discovered artists I had missed out on, like Jeff Buckley. I rediscovered my old loves. I found new favorites, like Jack White and his work with the White Stripes and the Raconteurs.

I am really glad I did wake up, if that’s what you want to call it, and return to that love of music. I’d like to think I will be the kind of person who tries to keep an ear to the ground and listen for new artists. One line I just love from Love Actually is a response of Karen’s after her husband Harry asks her what she’s listening to and seems surprised she still listens to Joni Mitchell: “I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime.” Of course, perhaps neither of them realize that they are also sort of discussing their marriage. But I think Karen is right about true music love, too. I do have some true music loves. True loves that have lasted a lifetime.

Here is a randomized list of 100 of my favorite songs, and when I say random, I mean it. I used a randomizer website to shuffle the order. So not carefully ordered like my old mix tapes, but still something of the flavor of those carefully curated music collections. All of these songs mean something to me, and many are old favorites, going back to childhood.

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Review: The House Between Tides, Sarah Maine

Sarah Maine’s novel The House Between Tides begins with a mystery. Hetty Deveraux (which feels too much like a name only a novel character would have) travels to a remote manse belonging to her ancestors and discovers a body has been found under the floorboards. Hetty soon finds herself untangling a century-old murder as she tries to determine what to do about Muirlan House—tear it down and try to preserve the island’s unique character, as the inhabitants of Muirlan Island think best, or renovate it into a resort hotel as her partner Giles urges her to do. Meanwhile, Hetty becomes curious about her ancestors. The island had once been the inspiration and refuge of her great-grandmother Emily’s brother Theo Blake, a famed painter. Hetty discovers that Theo’s wife deserted him under mysterious circumstances, and she begins to fear she knows whose bones were found underneath the floorboards of Muirlan House. Meanwhile Beatrice Blake, Theo’s wife, tells her story in flashbacks. The the stories of two women, living a century apart, link inextricably with family secrets and a crumbling ancestral home in the space between them.

I have to admit this book was a slow starter for me, even with the discovery of a body under the floorboards. Maine does a great job of creating the atmosphere of Muirlan Island in the Outer Hebrides, a remote and unforgiving landscape that nonetheless lures both Hetty and Beatrice with its fierce beauty. Once the story gets going, however, it’s pretty good. Some aspects of the plot were a little easier to guess than others, and the unraveling of the mysteries that lay buried for so many years made for a satisfying ending. However, I was a good third of the way through the book and contemplating giving up on it before it started to capture my interest. I enjoyed the rest of the book. The parallels between Hetty and Beatrice were interesting, and the family secrets intrigued me enough to persevere through some of the parts that dragged. I have seen some reviewers claim not to have enjoyed the parts set in 2010 with Hetty, but I actually found them more interesting because the discovery of the body as well as Hetty’s conflicted feelings about her partner and his plans for her ancestral home were intriguing to me. I love historical fiction, and at first, I found Beatrice’s story the less interesting of the two. However, as I kept reading, Beatrice grew on me. The book is compared to Daphne Du Maurier’s atmospheric writing, which is a shame because few writers can create a brooding setting like Du Maurier, and anyone suffers by comparison. I think I need to stop having such high expectations of anyone whose work is compared to Du Maurier’s. Still, it was a good read, and the setting was well drawn, if perhaps the characters were not always—I found the minor characters very difficult to keep straight, and the family trees impossible. I also found parts of the story frustrating as I hoped Maine was going somewhere with a thread that was never quite woven in well enough.

Rating: ★★★½☆

I am counting this book toward the following reading challenges:

Beat the BacklistI am counting this book for the Beat the Backlist Challenge. This book has been on my Kindle since last September, but I didn’t start reading it until recently. It was published in 2016, and therefore meets the challenge’s qualification of being released before 2017. I read this on my Kindle, but Goodreads says the paperback version has 400 pages, which is the equivalent of 40 points for Ravenclaw, and posting this review should net 50 more points for a total of 90.

Because about half the book takes place in 1910, I’m also counting it for the Historical Fiction Challenge. In addition, Sarah Maine is a British writer, so this book counts towards the British Books Challenge.

British Books Challenge

Finally, as the book is set in Scotland, part of the UK, it also counts as part of the European Reading Challenge, though this is the only UK book that will count toward the challenge.

European Reading Challenge 2017

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A Reading Bucket List

Friday’s Shelf Awareness newsletter linked to a post on Pop Sugar that included a book lover’s bucket list. I but a strike through each one I’ve completed.

  1. Go to a library bar. [Wait. These exist?]
  2. Reread your favorite picture book from childhood.
  3. Create a reading nook.
  4. Read a book from a genre you tend to stay away from.
  5. Stay up all night to finish a novel.
  6. Read a book that will teach you to do something.
  7. Read a romance novel in a cafe.
  8. Curl up with a mystery novel in a library. [I feel like I must have done this at some point, but since I can’t remember, I am not counting it.]
  9. Listen to an author’s reading of his or her memoir.
  10. Leave an inspirational note in a bookstore.
  11. Read a poetry book while drinking wine.
  12. Light up a literary candle.
  13. Read a book that’s becoming a movie.
  14. Give detailed reviews of books on Goodreads.
  15. Get a book signed by your favorite author. [I have had books signed, but Shakespeare doesn’t do autographs, so this one’s not possible.]
  16. Kiss someone special in an old bookshop. [Probably have done. The Hubs and I go to old bookstores on occasion.]
  17. Start a book club.
  18. Visit a famous library.
  19. Read a controversial book.
  20. Read a book in your softest PJs.
  21. Read an outdoor book in nature.
  22. Make book art.
  23. Give away books to those in need.
  24. Read a book with your mom.
  25. Dress up as a book character.
  26. Read a book while watching the sunset.
  27. Throw a book-themed party.
  28. Read an adventure novel in a tree.
  29. Read a nonfiction book that will change your life.
  30. Read a thriller during a thunderstorm.
  31. Wear book-themed jewelry.
  32. Read a book to a child.
  33. Make a book-themed cake.
  34. Read a historical fiction novel in a historical place.
  35. Buy or build yourself a new bookshelf.
  36. Relax with a book in the bathtub.
  37. Read a self-help book while listening to meditation music.
  38. Read a book that you’ve seen the movie version of.
  39. Read an inspiring book written by a woman.

I don’t know. Not much of a challenge, right? It got me wondering what actually would make a good bucket list. I don’t have an answer, but I’m taking suggestions.

I am going through archives and trying to fix posts in which I used an old plugin to build Amazon links. At some point, it stopped working, and instead of just creating links normally, it embedded some code that just no longer works. It’s tedious, but I would like my old posts to have links that work. I think I’ll just work on it a little bit at a time until it’s done, or I will make myself crazy. I was really excited to learn that Amazon had build their own plugin for Amazon associates until I tried to use it. I guess it’s manually building links for me. Sigh.

I am really trying to figure out what to read. I really want to read Midnight’s Children, and I have a copy somewhere, but I can’t find it. There is a waiting list at my library on Overdrive, too. I don’t want to buy it again. I have enough books I can’t find a place for as it is. I need to see if my school’s library has it, I guess. Perhaps I’ll just return to the book I’ve been picking away at on my Kindle.

Perhaps a good bucket list item would be for me to weed my books and get proper shelves for all the books stacked around my house.

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Musgrave Ritual

Sidney Paget illustration for “The Musgrave Ritual” in The Strand

“The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” is one of Sherlock Holmes’s earliest cases. Before Holmes met Watson, he was friends with Reginald Musgrave, whom he met in college. Musgrave seeks Holmes’s help after his butler and maid vanish mysteriously. Musgrave recounts that he happened upon his butler examining a map and an old family document called the Musgrave Ritual, which each generation of Musgraves recites upon accession of the family title and property. Musgrave doesn’t think it means anything, but Holmes is not so sure, and he deduces that it is a riddle that together with the map will lead Musgrave and Holmes to discover what happened to the butler and maid.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of “The Musgrave Ritual” was its description (possibly introduction) of some of Holmes’s quirks: his “untidy” nature, his habit of fixing unanswered correspondence to the mantel with a jack-knife, his abstracted fiddling with his violin, and his shooting his gun at the wall. As a story itself, it’s a nice little mystery, if not without its flaws—in order for the secret riddle to work, trees would need to remain the same height over hundreds of years, and the time of year (which would be important in calculations) isn’t accounted for, not to mention paces as means of measurement are fairly unreliable as people will have vastly different strides. I love it that Reginald Musgrave just happened to get a wild hair and measured the height of all the trees on the property using trigonometry. We all did that in our crazy schooldays, didn’t we? Still, it’s a fun mystery, and it winds up being a genuine treasure hunt, too, with a connection to the Royal Family. “The Musgrave Ritual” was originally published in The Strand in 1893 and was later collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Update 1/16/17: Season 4, episode 3 of Sherlock was just broadcast last night, and now that the debriefs with spoilers are online, I feel I can update this post to add some of the references to “The Musgrave Ritual” that I noticed in “The Final Problem.” First, Sherlock’s home was called Musgrave, and the rhyme Eurus gives as a clue to the whereabouts of Sherlock’s friend are not too different from the rhyme in “The Musgrave Ritual.” The home is not terribly different from the Musgraves’ home, and the ultimate solution leads Sherlock to discover a grisly death not too different from that of the butler in the short story. Please also check out my post updating “The Gloria Scott” review with Sherlock references to that story.

The episode “The Abominable Bride” in the new Sherlock series references “The Musgrave Ritual”—Sherlock mentions several cases in this story, one of which is a “full account of Ricoletti of the club-foot and his abominable wife.” A tiny reference like that is proof that Gatiss and Moffat are true fans of the stories. I have to admit, I don’t wonder they wanted to play with the potential of the story. Who doesn’t want to know more about Ricoletti of the club-foot and his abominable wife? That particular episode of Sherlock was a Christmas special, and it’s unique in that it’s the only episode set in the Victorian era. It was a really fun episode. I loved the costumes. You can check out the trailer here:

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI read this story as part of the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge. It is the second short story in the chronology (time setting rather than composition). Next up is The Study in Scarlet, which I have already read, so look for more Sherlock Holmes next month.

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Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the “Gloria Scott,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Illustration by Sidney Paget in The Strand

“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” takes place during Sherlock Holmes’s college days. In the story, Holmes tells Watson about a college friend of his and the curious events leading up to the death of his friend’s father. Holmes met his friend Victor Trevor when Trevor’s dog bit and injured Sherlock. Trevor visits Holmes while he is convalescing, and the two become friends. Trevor invites Holmes to his father’s house in Norfolk, and Holmes quickly surprises the elder Mr. Trevor with some deductions about the man’s past. A strange visitor arrives, and Victor Trevor is shocked by his father’s meek behavior around the stranger. A couple of months later, Trevor tells Holmes that his father has had a stroke and is at death’s door. The elder Mr. Trevor’s last words directed his son to hidden papers in his Japanese cabinet, and Holmes finds an encrypted message that he deciphers indicating the elder Mr. Trevor may have feared for his life. The papers in the Japanese cabinet reveal a secret identity and mysterious past Mr. Trevor has long kept quiet—at the center of the story is a long-lost ship called the Gloria Scott.

“The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” takes place first chronologically in the Sherlock Holmes canon, but it was actually the 19th Holmes story published, first in The Strand magazine and later collected in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock Holmes tells Watson that it is his “first case,” and indeed Mr. Trevor, impressed with Sherlock’s deductive reasoning, suggests that he take it up as a career, at which point Sherlock Holmes realizes he might turn what he believes is a hobby into an occupation. It’s not, strictly speaking, a real case. Holmes does make some accurate deductions about Mr. Trevor’s past, and he does decode a message received by Mr. Trevor, but there is no real crime to be solved in the end, as Mr. Trevor’s papers turn out to be a confession of his entire past, and the looming threat that drove Mr. Trevor to have a stroke vanishes after Mr. Trevor’s death.

In the updated series Sherlock, Mary Morstan (then John Watson’s fiancée) decodes a text message by reading every third word, as Sherlock does with the message Mr. Trevor receives (season three, “The Empty Hearse”), but allusions to the Gloria Scott appeared in last night’s episode, “The Lying Detective,” too. Sherlock makes a series of deductions about one of his potential clients, and one is very similar to the deduction that Sherlock Holmes makes about Mr. Trevor’s tattoo in this story. A more tenuous connection may be the moment when that episode’s villain, Culverton Smith, says that three recording devices were found and removed from Sherlock’s effects in his hospital room, and Sherlock remarks that people always stop at three—so satisfying—before revealing he had a fourth device. That last reference might be a stretch. I’m not sure the number three on its own is a true reference to this story. The confession of Mr. Trevor might be considered similar to Culverton Smith’s confession, but I admit that’s a stretch, too, especially as Culverton Smith is much more evil than Mr. Trevor, and he also has a perverse need to confess that even prompts him to use memory-altering drugs on his friends just so he can confess his crimes to them in a way they won’t remember. A stronger connection might be to Mary Watson’s secret past as a hired assassin—her criminal past catches up with her in a way not too dissimilar from that of Mr. Trevor’s.

Update 1/16/17: Season 4, episode 3 of Sherlock was just broadcast last night, and now that the debriefs with spoilers are online, I feel I can update this post to add the reference to “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” that I noticed in “The Final Problem.” Sherlock’s sister murders Sherlock’s first friend, whom Sherlock initially thinks was a dog named Redbeard—he has blocked out memories of the friend due to the trauma of the event. His friend was a boy named Victor Trevor, and Sherlock had not been able emotionally to establish a friendship after Victor’s disappearance and death at the hands of his sister until he meets John Watson. He also refers to the missing Victor Trevor as “his first case,” as he does with “The Gloria Scott.” Wonderful that the writers of Sherlock have gone back to the first two chronological stories in this season, especially as many think it might be the last season of the show. I have also updated my review of “The Musgrave Ritual” to reflect references in last night’s Sherlock.

I had to do some digging online because I wondered if the mysterious Mr. Hudson was perhaps landlady Mrs. Hudson’s husband or some other relative, but it seems Doyle just used the name for two characters. As Sherlock Holmes stories go, the long confession as a means of resolution and the lack of a real case or mystery as a result made this one a bit of a dud for me. It was interesting to see Sherlock Holmes’s early deduction skills, but apart from that, it’s not very much fun when the mystery isn’t really solved by Sherlock. The multiple frames are not really confusing, but overcomplicate the story. Watson is relating the story to us. Sherlock is telling the story to Watson. And Sherlock is recalling Mr. Trevor’s story as he read it in his papers. The quotation marks get a little creative! Still, it’s not a bad story.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeI have figured out the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge and am in the process of making up for lost time, as I read A Study in Scarlet first instead of this story. This week’s story is “The Musgrave Ritual,” so look for my thoughts on that story by the end of this week.

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Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge invites challenge participants to read all 60 Sherlock Holmes stories—four novels and 56 short stories—in the order in which they were published. The first Sherlock Holmes story published was the novel A Study in Scarlet, written in 1886 and published the following year in 1887. The novel introduces two of the most iconic characters in British literature—detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend and companion, Dr. John Watson.

In the event you are unfamiliar with the events of the novel, Dr. John Watson has returned from service in Afghanistan and looking for affordable lodgings when he happens upon an old friend who tells Watson that he knows someone else looking for lodgings, and if Watson doesn’t mind a few eccentricities, he might have himself a roommate. Watson consents to meet the gentlemen, who turns out to be Sherlock Holmes. The two agree to share lodgings at 221B Baker Street. Before Watson knows what is happening, he is involved in a case with Holmes. A body has been found in an abandoned house on Brixton Road, and the German word rache has been written over the body in blood—blood that does not belong to the victim. Watson follows Sherlock Holmes as he works with Scotland Yard inspectors Gregson and Lestrade. Sherlock Holmes unravels the mystery and determines the man, along with another victim found later in the story, was murdered in an act of revenge.

The first half of the novel involves Watson’s meeting with Holmes and Holmes’s subsequent involvement and deduction of the case, while the second half is a flashback taking place mostly in Utah, where the principles involved in the case—the two murdered men and their murderer—met and where the murderer developed the enmity that would drive him to chase the two men across two continents to kill them. In all honesty, the first half is charming, while the second half suffers (perhaps a bit comically) from Doyle’s lack of knowledge about America, Americans, the American West, and Mormons. It’s a fairly ridiculous story in some ways—rache, the German word for revenge, looks like a clue, but is really an afterthought of the killer’s (even though revenge was, in fact, his motive). I have to give the novel four stars for a great first half, but I can’t give it five after the mess of the second half.

Right after I finished reading the novel, I decided to watch the episode “A Study in Pink” of the BBC series Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as John Watson, mainly because as I read A Study in Scarlet, it struck me that of all the iterations of I have seen of Sherlock Holmes stories, the current BBC series seems to capture Sherlock’s personality better than most—perhaps all—other adaptations. There is a quirky eccentricity that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock has that few other actors have managed to bring out in the same way. “A Study in Pink” pulls many elements from the plot of A Study in Scarlet, though thankfully not the second act set in Utah. It also does a masterful job of pulling the story forward to the 21st century while still adhering to many of the elements, including the identity of the murderer.

The Chronological Sherlock Holmes ChallengeAs I work my way through the Chronological Sherlock Holmes Challenge, I plan to watch episodes of Sherlock that include elements of or allusions to the canon of 60 stories. I purchased a Kindle edition of the complete adventures, so I am not planning on counting the book as “completed” until I finish  the entire collection, though I will track my progress reading the stories on my Reading Challenges page. The second story, also a novel, is The Sign of the Four. I will review each novel and short story here on the blog as I finish them.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Addendum: It looks like I misunderstood the challenge chronology. The stories follow perhaps a different chronology from their publication date, which is something I vaguely recall from reading them many years ago. I am going to try to catch up with the short stories for weeks one and two and post reviews here. Meanwhile, I’m a little ahead on the first novel, so probably no harm done.

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Review: Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer

My first book of 2017 was Jon Krakauer’s harrowing account of his ascent of Mt. Everest in May 1996. There are several accounts of the disaster surrounding the May 10, 1996 Everest expeditions, but Krakauer’s Into Thin Air is arguably the most famous.

Krakauer climbed Everest at the behest of Outside magazine, mainly to cover the guided expeditions that were gaining popularity at that time. These expeditions were controversial because many in the climbing community felt that inexperienced and possibly unfit people were attempting the dangerous climb and putting their lives (and those of their guides and sherpas) in jeopardy. In addition, concerns had been raised about the commercialization of Everest. For instance, the mountain became littered with the debris of climbers, from discarded oxygen canisters to other belongings, and frankly, even the bodies of those who did not make it back. It’s an absolutely riveting book about the dangers of hubris in the face of what is still one of the most dangerous places in the world. Krakauer describes the events leading up to a storm that approached as the expedition teams led by Scott Fischer and Rob Hall summited the mountain, and before all the members of the expeditions were able to descend, they were embroiled in a dangerous blizzard and a fight for their lives.

Krakauer has been criticized for parts of his account, and he has included a postscript to address some of this criticism. I found he was remarkably fair, though I freely admit this is the only account I’ve read. The reason I think he is fair is that he admits he feels partly responsible for the deaths of two the members of his team, Adventure Consultants, which was led by Rob Hall. He is fairly open and critical of his own lapses in judgment. He might even be hard on himself, given he was suffering from the effects of the altitude and the storm. He states he wishes he had never climbed Everest, but he admits in his introduction that “attempting to climb Everest is an intrinsically irrational act—a triumph of desire over sensibility. Any person who would seriously consider it is almost by definition beyond the sway of reasoned argument” (xvii). He wrote the book in part to attempt to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder and depression that resulted from his experience on the mountain. Whatever culpability he ultimately has (which is debatable), it’s clear he has examined the events from as many angles as he could, including interviewing other survivors about their memories. He has done as good a job as it is probably possible to do, given the way the altitude, which made clear thinking virtually impossible, as well as the trauma of the event. Establishing the truth was difficult.

If I had the slightest notion I ever wanted to try anything like climb Mount Everest (and I assure you I didn’t—I am nowhere near fit enough to try climbing any mountain, let alone that one), this book would have cured me of the desire. Once the mountain had been conquered in the 1950’s, perhaps it was easy to forget the dangers it still held. Over 280 people have died trying to climb the mountain. In fact, 1996 was not even the deadliest year. English Mountaineer George Mallory has famously been quoted as saying, after being asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, “Because it’s there.” He perished in his attempt in 1924. His remains were found about three years after Jon Krakauer’s ill-fated summit of Everest.

This book has been on TBR list for a while. I actually accidentally bought two copies of it in my zeal to make sure I read it. I thought it was even better than Into the Wild, perhaps because of the personal nature of the story and very real anguish that Krakauer clearly feels. This book is personal. Krakauer is an excellent writer of narrative nonfiction.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Backlist Reader Challenge 2017This book is my first selection for the Backlist Reader Challenge 2017. I can’t recall how long I’ve wanted to read it, but I put it on my Goodreads to-read list on December 14; I’m pretty sure I bought both copies I own before then (I am sending one back!). I know I had plans to read it sometime last year after a conversation with a fellow teacher who had read it, but I was being lazy about adding more books to Goodreads for a while. It was originally published in 1997.

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2017 Reading Goals

I always like to write up my reading goals in my first blog post of the year.

2017 Reading Challenge

Dana has
read 0 books toward
her goal of
46 books.
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I have decided to try to read 46 books this year, since I’ll be turning 46 in September. My sister also set the same goal, but she had the idea first. She is NOT turning 46, however.

I have created my 2017 Reading Challenges page. I will not be joining any more challenges until the R. I. P. Challenge this fall. All of the reading challenges I have chosen have some freedom and flexibility, so I’m not too worried about getting bogged down trying to meet challenge goals.

One general reading goal I have is to read more books written by African and Asian authors and/or set in African or Asian countries. In particular, I want to read books by Salman Rushdie and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie. I also want to read more classics of African-American literature, including Jean Toomer’s Cane, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man. I also want to try to get to some classics I haven’t read, namely Middlemarch by George Eliot. I don’t know if this is my year to try the Russians again or not. I have been told by a wise authority that the best translators are Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I know a good translator is very important, and it could be why I have not had luck before.

Another reading goal I have is to try to be more active in the reading challenges in which I participate. Typically, all I do is keep track of the books that meet the challenges, but often challenge hosts have special linkup posts and other activities on their own blogs, and I rarely participate. I want to do better this year. I am terrible in general at keeping up with other blogs. I would like to do better.

Another related goal: I need to cull books I don’t want to keep from my stacks and do something with them. I have a lot of books. I am never going to say too many (no such thing). There are a lot of books I don’t think I will ever re-read and don’t need to consult again, either. I just need to get rid of them. I suppose I could be more active on PaperBackSwap, but I’m disappointed they are charging money for the service now—beyond the price of postage. I suppose they have to sustain themselves, but it soured me on them a bit.

A final goal: stop messing around with books that are not grabbing me. I bought some books this year, and they didn’t grab me, so I felt like I should read them since I bought them. That’s silly. I should just get rid of them if they aren’t grabbing me, and I shouldn’t be giving them more than 50 pages. I need to remember there are a lot of books out there I want to read—good ones—and I need to be better about wasting time on books that are not working for me, even if I spent money on them. I know I should go to the library, but I always think I might need the books longer than they allow, and what if I want to keep them (yes, I know I could always buy them after the fact if that’s the case). I should probably make it a goal to use my library more, actually. They do have Overdrive, and I enjoyed reading books that way in the past.

What are your reading goals for the year?

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2016: Reading Year in Review

As I do each year, I like to reflect on my reading year in a blog post on December 31. For the second year in a row, Goodreads has compiled a handy infographic with reading statistics, but they haven’t yet created a way to embed the infographic on a blog. It’s not exactly a true image file, so it’s not as simple as saving a picture. It’s a whole webpage. While it is possible to embed HTML on a blog, in order to make it look good, it’s a bit of work. Here is a rundown of some of the interesting facts (if you don’t feel like clicking over to Goodreads):

  • I read 11,997 pages, according to Goodreads.
  • I read 38 books. One book is not counted in this total, so I suppose my actual page count is about 200 pages more than the figure above.
  • If I count just the Goodreads total, that’s an average of 324 pages per book.
  • It works out to about 33 pages per day. Not too bad.
  • My shortest book was The Importance of Being Earnest at 54 pages, and the longest was an audio book re-read of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at 734 pages.

Of the 38 books I read, the stats further break down like so:

  • 28 works of fiction
  • 10 works of nonfiction
  • 3 dramas
  • 1 collection of poetry
  • 5 audio books
  • 6 re-reads
  • 1 graphic novel/memoir
  • 11 YA/children’s books

My favorites from some of these categories with linked reviews (re-reads not counted):

YA/Children’s

Fiction

Nonfiction

I’m not going to pick audio book favorites this year because all but one of them were re-reads, and the one that wasn’t was not one of my favorite books. I had a better nonfiction year this year than I typically do, and my fiction year was not as good as usual, though I did read some outstanding fiction.

My least favorite reads of the year:

Reading Challenges

I did not meet my Goodreads goal of reading 55 books. I had every reason to think I could do it, having read 62 books last year, but this year was much more trying. My grandmother passed away, and it made it very hard for me to read. I was already behind at that point. I stopped worrying about trying to make the goal really early on, so I’m not upset about it or anything. It is what it is. I didn’t have the worst reading year, but it wasn’t the best either. I stuck with some books I wasn’t liking for too long.

I didn’t complete any of my other reading challenges either, sadly. I enjoy reading challenges tremendously, but I don’t have the best track record in the world when it comes to completing them, let alone participating any more than simply reading certain books.

Here is my reading map for the year. I did manage to read some more far-flung locales than I typically do. I am hoping to do even better next year.

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