Archive for the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Category

[READ: March 10, 2021] Things Are Against Us

I loved Ellmann’s book Ducks, Newburyport so much that I had intended to read all of her books.

So I’ve gone back and read some of her previous novels.  Which I found to be…okay.  They were mildly amusing with some very personal diatribes thrown in to put some passion into these otherwise comic novels.

Then I saw that she had a recent collection of essays, which I thought might be really interesting.

I agree about 95% with everything Ellmann says in this book.  And yet I hated this book more than almost anything I’ve read recently.  And I think I’m not going to bother reading the other novels that I haven’t read yet, since the other two weren’t that great anyhow.

Ellmann’s style in these essays is so unpleasant, so superior and self-righteous, so… (and I hate to use this word because of the anti-feminist implications of it but it is definitionally accurate) strident, that I almost didn’t finish most of the essays (I forced my way through to the end of all of them).  Strident, btw: “presenting a point of view, especially a controversial one, in an excessively and unpleasantly forceful way.  I mean, that is this book to a T.”

In the past, strident women have been very important to many movements.  But hen your arguments are so scattershot, it’s hard for your stridency to be a positive force.

“Things Are Against Us”
In this essay Ellmann all caps the word THINGS every time she writes it.  On the first page (which is half a page not including the title), THINGS appears over 30 times.  The tone is kind of amusing–about how things get in our way and cause us trouble: Things slip out of your hand; things trip you, things break.  Then each following paragraph gets more specific.  Clothes tear, socks don’t stay up.  Matches won’t light, water bottles spill. Then she gets into the body.  In her novel Doctors & Nurses she lists 12 pages of bodily ailments.  So there’s not much new here.  And there’s no real point.  It doesn’t end with any grand idea.  It just stops. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GRACIE AND RACHEL-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #98 (October 19, 2020).

I only know Gracie and Rachel from a previous Tiny Desk Concert.  I was entranced by that performance and am similarly entranced by this one.

Gracie and Rachel are perfect musical mates. Their styles conjure contrast, with Gracie Coates’ more pop-leaning keyboard melodies alongside Rachel Ruggles’ classical background. They’ve been honing their orchestral pop sound since high school. These days they share space in a NYC apartment and are grateful to be able to “commute from their bedrooms” at a time when so many collaborators can’t be together.

They open with “Strangers.”  Gracie plays the keyboards and sings lead with a wonderfully breathy voice.  Rachel plays the violin and then starts adding in percussion and singing higher (sometime haunting) backing vocals.

They’ve just released their second album, Hello Weakness, You Make Me Strong. The title of the album reflects their positive attitude despite angst.  The duo made much of this music in the past year and a half, in the very room they’re performing this Tiny Desk (home) concert

On “Ideas,” they sing together a classical melody with a tinge of autotune.  Then the song shifts to the delicacy of Gracie’s keys and Rachel’s pizzicato violin.

The lyrics to “Ideas” highlights that attitude by encouraging us to dig inside ourselves and discover our creative spirit” “So take your little ideas / Make them a little bit stronger / Throw out the ones you can’t / You don’t need them any longer.”

When the drums come in they are deep and heavy and there’s a very cool bass slide (triggered by Rachel on the SPD-SX sampling pad).  I love the highs and lows of this song.

“Sidelines” features Rachel playing the drums live (on the sampling pad with mallets) while Gracie sings and plays the keyboard melody.  For the bridge, their voices intertwine in a lovely way, weaving in and out of each others melodies.  Then Rachel picks up the violin and adds some more lovely pizzicato to the song.  When she adds her soaring backing vocals its really quite angelic.

“Underneath” is a song about getting underneath ourselves. Rachel plays squeaky, haunting violin melodies to accompany the keys.  There are several parts to this song and I love the way they sound so different–from the strummed violin in the bridge to the rising vocal line of the chorus.

These songs are definitely poppy but they have an unusual sensibility that must come from Rachel’s classical ideas.  The songs are really wonderful and I’m curious what they sound like when fully fleshed out on record.

[READ: December 1, 2020] “Over the Plum-Pudding”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fifth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

You know the drill by now. The 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America.

This year’s slipcase is a thing of beauty, too, with electric-yellow lining and spot-glossed lettering. It also comes wrapped in two rubber bands to keep those booklets snug in their beds.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

It’s December 1. To officially kick off the 2020 Short Story Advent Calendar, here’s a story about truth, fiction, and characters who can’t tell the difference from the late author and humourist John Kendrick Bangs.  [Click the link to the H&O extras for the story].

This story contains some parodies of other writers and uses them as an excuse for why the editor’s own Christmas collection did not get published on time.

It opens with a note from Horace Wilkinson, the editor at Hawkins, Wilkes & Speedway Publishing.  He sets out to explain why the advertised Christmas book “Over the Plum-Pudding or, Tales Told Under the Mistletoe, by Sundry Tattlers” was never published.  He has been getting questions from the authors who were supposed to be paid for their work when the collection was published.  He wants to publicly set the record straight.

Right off the bat, he places the blame entirely on the shoulders of Rudyard Kipling.  This made me chuckle. (more…)

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agathaSOUNDTRACK: VALERIE JUNE-Tiny Desk Concert #310 (October 12, 2013).

I enjoyed Valerie June’s —I found her voice to be unusual but enjoyable.   But I find her sound here to be kind of flat and disappointing.  Her guitar choice feels too quiet or something and her voice sounds too tinny—almost childlike.  I have a love hate relationship with singers with this kind of voice, and I’m afraid she comes down on the bad side.

But maybe it was something with the location, because the blurb says I’m wrong.

Valerie June is a singular performer with an array of singing styles. Sometimes she’s channeling an old male voice; at other times, she channels a younger woman or even a child. Her music is steeped in tradition. The striking Tennessee singer — on its own, her hair could pass for sculpture — can sing the blues or gospel or country or a blend that sounds like nothing else. She learned how to sing during 18 years of church, but the “old man’s voice” comes from deep inside in unexpected ways. Prepare to be surprised, and to become Valerie June’s newest fan.

During “Workin’ Woman Blues” I couldn’t get the melody of Steely Dan’s Do It Again out my head.  It’s something about her vocal delivery–although clearly the music is very different.  It’s unusual that the first line of “Rain Dance” is the same as Bad Company’s “Feel Like Making Love”—intentional I’m sure.  And the way she sings the lyrics very differently than the original also unexpected.  But the whole presentation of her voice and guitar sounds like an old timey black and white cartoon–Popeye or the like.

She’s very chatty before the final song.  She talks about love and then says there’s a lot of cute babies here today.  This is my cute baby: a tiny banjo made in Memphis.  It is a very tiny banjo.

Of the three, “Somebody To Love” is my favorite song, although she does get a little crazy on the chorus.  I’m most intrigued by the electric foot pedal that appears to simply be an electronic drum stomping thing.

[READ: August 15, 2016] Agatha

In high school I had to read And Then There Were None.  I really liked it, but I never read anything else by Agatha Christie.  I’m a snob who doesn’t read mysteries, true.

But I’ve always been intrigued by Christie.  So I was thrilled that I found this graphic novel biography at work.

As many of these graphic novels tend to be, this one was French and recently translated to English (by Edward Gauvin).  I was fairly certain that I had seen the work of the artist in a previous comic, but Alexandre Franc is new to me.  As are the writers Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau.

This is a great biography–it is told with flair and excitement and throws in a lot of details about the creation of her most famous novels (without spoiling any of them). And, in a very clever conceit she “talks” to Hercule Poirot throughout the book–allowing her to narrate things without it seeming strange or flat.  And, even better, Poirot is a jerk to her–perpetually jealous and unhappy with her.  It’s a great technique. (more…)

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thrilignSOUNDTRACK: ADIA VICTORIA-Tiny Desk Concert #545 (June 30, 2016).

adiaAdia Victoria has a rough, raw voice that goes well with her simple, exposed guitar sound.  The blurb says her music “carries the singular perspective of a Southern black woman with a Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, who never felt like she’d fit in.”

She sings three song, mostly in a great, raspy voice.  For “Stuck in the South” she actually seems to be gritting her teeth as she sings: “I don’t know nothing ’bout Southern belles / but I can tell you something ’bout Southern hell.”  When the first verse ends, and her band kicks in, it adds such interesting textures.  A distorted bass and a lead guitar playing quietly distorted sounds.  This song is really captivating.

“And Then You Die” with its swirling sounds and keyboards has a very distinctly Nick Cave feel–gothic in the Southern sense of the word.  Indeed, the first verse is spoken in a delivery that would make Nick proud. This is no to say she cribbed from Cave but it would work very well as a companion song  I really like the way it builds, but the ending is so abrupt–I could have used some more verses.

After the second song the band heads away and Bob says “They’re all leaving you.”  She looks at them and growls, “Get off the stage!” to much laughter.

She sings the final song “Heathen” with just her on acoustic guitar.  It is a simple two chord song.  It’s less interesting than the others, but again, it’s the lyrics that stand out: “I guess that makes me a heathen, something lower than dirt / I hear them calling me heathen, ooh like they think it hurts.”

I’m curious to hear just what Adia would do with these songs when she’s not in this Tiny format.  I imagine she can be really powerful.

[READ: November 23, 2016] McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales

For some reason or another I have put off reading this McSweeney’s volume for many years.  This is technically McSweeney’s #10, although it was also released in this printing from a  major publisher. Sadly for me, my McSweeney’s subscription had expired sometime around here so I’ve never actually seen the “official” Volume 10 which I understand has the exact same content but a slightly different cover.

One of the reasons I’ve put off reading this was the small print and pulpy paper–I don’t like pulpy paper.  And it was pretty long, too.

But I think the big reason is that I don’t really like genre fiction.  But I think that’s the point of this issue.  To give people who read non-genre fiction some exposure to genre stuff.

Interestingly I think I’ve learned that I do enjoy some genre fiction after all.  And yet, a lot of the stories here really weren’t very genre-y.  Or very thrilling.  They seemed to have trappings of genre ideas–mystery, horror–but all the while remaining internal stories rather than action-packed.

Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy anything here. I enjoyed a bunch of the stories quite a bit, especially if I didn’t think of them as genre stories.  Although there were a couple of less than exiting stories here, too. (more…)

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bask[ATTENDED: March 13, 2015] Baskerville

We saw ads for this show some time last year during a Princeton street festival.  The folks at the McCarter booth really talked up the show and said our kids would love it.  In recent days the play has been getting rave reviews.  Needless to say we were pretty excited to go.

Well, the play was awesome.  I’m not sure that the kids loved it. Clark said he liked parts of it but found the mystery a bit hard to follow. And Tabby was kind of scared by the dark scenes and loud noises.  But everyone seemed to have a good time–even if it did end at 10PM.

And the play it self was really fantastic.  Going in we knew literally nothing about the play except that it had something to do with Sherlock Holmes.  I assumed it was the Hound of the Baskervilles story but I wasn’t sure if there was a twist on it at all.

And I certainly didn’t know anything about the way the play was structured.  In the brief write up in the booklet it seemed like the story might have a meta- component. And it did, but not in the way I expected.  For the meta component was that they really played up the constraints of the theater and wound up making jokes about the stage and how actors often play multiple roles.  For example, they said things like “that rabbit” and then a stuffed and mounted rabbit would wheel across the stage.  Or that he needed his hat and a trap door would open and a hat would be thrown to him.  And the hilarious way the flowers arrived was outstanding–I’m still not exactly sure how they did it. (more…)

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may20014SOUNDTRACK: “Elementary, My Dear” (1973).

elemYou have to have a particularly cruel heart if you don’t love School House Rock.

All of the songs, well, most of the songs, are super catchy and by golly if you don’t learn a lot.

And they attack problems in an interesting way.  The premise of using Noah’s Ark to show how to multiply by 2 is genius.

You’ll get that “elementary, my dear” section stuck in your head.  But I’m also impressed at the way the song goes into unexpected chords for “you get an even number.” And I love the way Bob Dorough really gets into it (whooping it up at the end).

Few people would think that the 2 times table is hard, but man is it fun to sing along to.

This song is not as popular as some of the other ones, but it’s still great

[READ: April 14, 2014] “A Study in Sherlock”

A while back I wrote a post about Sherlock Holmes on TV (Sherlock and Elementary) and in the movies (Sherlock Holmes).  I had read a few stories and so I did a brief comparison of the shows.  Since then while I have continued to believe that Sherlock is the better show, I have really grown to appreciate Elementary a lot more.  They almost seem incomparable because they are so very different in structure and intent.  Elementary has actually been a little more satisfying lately because it has so many more episodes that it allows the characters to develop and fail in interesting ways–something that the three episodes of Sherlock simply won’t do.

Laura Miller has done a similar thing with this article.  Although in fairness she did a lot more research than I did and talks a lot more about the original books and stage and early film adaptations, and she talks a lot less about the TV shows.  And no she doesn’t cite my post.

This was an enjoyable piece because it goes beyond the commonly known elements of Conan Doyle–how he did not like Holmes and tried to kill him off twice, that he wanted to write more important fiction–and into what Holmes was like after Doyle was finished with him.  Holmes has entered the public domain in both England and America, and so he is basically free for everyone to use, much like a classic myth or a fairy tale.  The big difference is that we know his origins.

What I especially enjoyed was that so many things that we think of as quintessential Holmes are actually not from Doyle.  His deerstalker hat was added by a book illustrator but is never mentioned in the text.  The calabash pipe came a decade later when a stage actor used it so that the audience could still see his face.  Conan Doyle was still alive while these changes were being made.  Indeed, when a play of Sherlock Holmes was written, the playwrite called and asked if he could give the man a love interest and Conan Doyle replied, “Marry him, murder him or do what you like with him.” (more…)

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sign4SOUNDTRACK: GOAT-“Run to Your Mama” (2012).

goatI was intrigued to hear this song by Goat (whom I don’t know) because of the picture below.  Now that is a band photo!

Goat are a Swedish band and, like a bunch of Swedish bands recently, their guitar sound is very retro–a big open clean guitar sound.  But the riffs that they play are also very retro, this song sounds incredibly 70s–classic rock/heavy metal 70s.

The lead singer is the female of the trio, and she has a great raspy voice (and I assume she does the backing vocals as well).

The song feels like it could be an epic workout (especially when the solo kicks in and it is lengthy and, apparently, on a xylophone).  But right after the solo (at just under 2 and a half minutes), the song just ends.  It’s fantastic and I’m looking forward to hearing more from the album.


[READ: May 12, 2013] The Sign of (the) Four

I recently found out that the Sherlock Holmes book that I was supposed to have read in high school (from a reading list that I know I read at least some of) was actually not by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Rather The Seven Per Cent Solution was a relatively recent (1974) book by Nicholas Meyer.  The only thing I remember from the book was learning that Holmes was an addict (and passing that news along to my mother with a tone of “see people have always been bad”).

Anyhow, in The Sign of (the) Four, the book opens with Holmes shooting up a seven per cent solution of cocaine.  The reason being that the cocaine kept his brain active when he had nothing else to do.  Holmes is bored, just waiting for something new to come along.  But Doyle doesn’t keep us waiting long.  A young woman, Mary Morstan, calls on Holmes for help with a case.  Or actually more like a series of interesting puzzles.  The first is the disappearance of her father, Captain Arthur Morstan in December 1878.  He came home from the war and then disappeared.  Holmes asks if he could be hiding, but she says no, he was very excited to come home and see her.  Since he has been gone, she has been employed as a governess and the family she assists have more or less taken her in as a member of the family.

The second puzzle is that she has received in the mail one very expensive pearl a year since 1872.  It always comes on the same date and the sender has remained anonymous.  This all started when she answered an anonymous newspaper ad that asked about her.  With the last pearl she received a letter that said she has been wronged and the sender asks to meet her.  He also says that she shouldn’t come alone.  So she asks Holmes and, by extension, Watson to accompany her.

Through a series of vehicles, they meet Thaddeus Sholto, a friend of Captain Morstan, who confirms that the Captain died in 1882.  Sholto’s father and Captain Morgan were in the war together.  Six years ago they had a fight over a treasure.  During their argument, the Captain suffered a heart attack and died.  Sholto’s father totally freaked out and hid both the body and the treasure.  Some time later, in declining health, his father confessed his sins, but on the night he died, he saw a man out the window who later broke into the house and left a note that said The Sign of Four (incidentally, the title of the book is variously The Sign of The Four and The Sign of Four; Doyle himself had written it both ways).  Thaddeus and his brother Bartholomew take over the treasure.  Well, Bartholomew takes it over and allows Thaddeus to send Mary the annual pearl as a payment for what happened to her father.

On the night that the story takes place, they travel to Bartholomew’s because he is in declining health.  But when they arrive, they find him dead–from a poisoned dart.  And the treasure is missing. (more…)

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[WATCHED: November-December 2012] Sherlock & Elementary

sherlockThis has been the year of Sherlock Holmes for us.  We loved the first Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movie.  Sarah loved the second one (I fell asleep, but I don’t blame the film).  And then U.S. TV began airing Elementary this year.  It’s a contemporary version of Sherlock Holmes in which Watson is played by Lucy Liu–she is his “sober companion” trying to keep him off drugs and alcohol.  I kind of like this conceit–it’s a fun twist on Watson, and yet it loses some of the interplay that is fabulous between Watson and Holmes, especially since Holmes (played by Johnny Lee Miller) seems to be trying to get away from Watson.  Nonetheless, the show is quite enjoyable and is quintessentially Holmesian.

elementryA back story note: Sarah and I do not like police procedurals.  We don’t watch anything with any of the initials: SVUL&ONCISCSIER5-o, none of it.  Even if t he show is supposed to be awesome, as soon as I hear “police” I refuse to watch it.  And yet here we are hooked on Holmes.  So what is it about these shows?  Well, they focus on little clues (impossible clues, frankly).  They rely on being really smart.  And, this may be the key, they don’t rely on guns, police, judges, or any other tropes of police shows.  They’re like puzzles…puzzles that you don’t mind not being able to figure out yourself because Holmes is so damned smart.  I guess these are technically mysteries rather than cop shows, and that’s pretty cool. (more…)

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