Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle!


Today, May 22, is the 156th birthday of Scottish physician and author Arthur Conan Doyle.  Though he is now revered as the creator of “the world’s first consulting detective”, the one and only Sherlock Holmes, Doyle himself would have wanted you to know so much more about him.  For instance, he was a historian, publishing an impressive account of the Boer War in 1900, and a history of the British army on the Western Front during the First World War.  It was because of these writings that he was knighted in 1902 (not for the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles, as many at the time thought).

He was also an avid (if not terribly gifted) athlete, and played on a cricket team with Sir J.M. Barrie, Rudyard Kipling, and A.A. Milne, among other literary celebrities.  The team was called the “Allahakbarries”, which Barrie thought meant “Heaven Help Us” in Arabic.  The team refused to practice on an opposing team’s pitch before a match because, as Barrie said, “It can only give them confidence.”  The team never won a match, which is a polite way to say they were really, genuinely bad, but they apparently played with great enthusiasm, which has to count for something, right?

Speaking of his acquaintances, Doyle was quite the connected late-Victorian gentleman.  He and Barrie had a long-standing friendship, and even penned a light opera together called “Annie Jane, or the Good Conduct Prize”.  The show was a complete financial failure when it debuted in 1893, but that didn’t stop Barrie from writing a delightful, darkly funny Holmes pastiche entitled “The Adventure of the Two Collaborators”.  You can read the full story in its absurd, surreal entirety here.   He was also acquainted with Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula…though it seems that Doyle was not too impressed with the great Count.  In “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”, Holmes tells Watson, “Rubbish, Watson, rubbish! What have we to do with walking corpses who can only be held in their grave by stakes driven through their hearts? It’s pure lunacy.”

Doyle was also something of a detective in his own right.  Perhaps the most famous case in which Doyle involved himself was that of Oscar Slater, who had been falsely convicted of murder in  1909.  Doyle, convinced of Slater’s innocence, publicly advocated for his release so adamantly that Slater actually smuggled letters out of prison to Doyle, who employed what he called the “Sherlock Method” to re-evaluate the evidence and re-interview witnesses, ultimately leading to Slater’s release in 1927.  You can read more about the case here.

So, in tribute to the all-around intriguing man who was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we include here a reading list for those looking to know more about Doyle, and the generations of writers his work has inspired.  Come into the library and check some out today!


Arthur Conan Doyle : a life in letters: Probably one of the best ways to get to know Doyle is through his own words, and this annotated volume of nearly ever letter he ever wrote is fascinating, and surprisingly engaging.  Here you can meet Doyle as a student, as a struggling doctor, a family man, and as a world renowned author dealing with the weight of his own fame.


The Lost World: Michael Critchon owes every ounce of credit for his work to Doyle, who first came up with the idea of a remote island populated by ferocious dinosaurs.  Doyle’s Professor Challenger stories are pulse-pounding, thrillingly imaginative science fiction stories that haven’t lost any of their fun over the years.  Though the public may remember Sherlock Holmes, Doyle himself loved Professor Challenger, and even dressed up as him for press photos.


The Baker Street Letters: Not long after Sherlock Holmes first graced the pages of The Strand magazine, fans were writing letters to the nonexistent address 221B Baker Street.  Michael Robertson’s novel begins when brothers Nigel and Reggie Heath open a law office at the famous address.  When an eight-year-old girl writes to Sherlock Holmes in a desperate attempt to clear her father’s name, the hapless Nigel decides to take on the case, leaving an inconveniently dead body on the floor of his office, and forcing his brother and his part-time girlfriend to follow him to Los Angeles, where even further intrigue awaits.  The follow-up novel, The Brothers of Baker Street, brings the Heath brothers back to investigate the murder of two tourists in London in a case complicated by the descendant of one Professor Moriarty.  These books are delightfully clever and insightful tales that stand on their own, but will delight fans of the Holmes cannon who will recognize numerous inside jokes and references in the midst of this mystery.


The Patient’s Eyes : The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes: David Pirie’s series takes as its inspiration the relationship between Doyle and his mentor, the remarkably observant Dr. Joseph Bell, the man who would become the model for Sherlock Holmes himself.  In Pirie’s work, the young Doyle finds himself involved in the case of a young woman who is troubled by the phantom image of a solitary cyclist who disappears whenever he is followed.  Though Doyle doubts the seriousness of the case, Bell recognizes in the woman’s tale a far more sinister plot.  Fans of historical mysteries will love the gritty, realistic details in this story, and fans of Doyle’s detective will recognize a good deal of Holmes’ methods in Bell’s investigations.  The two other books in this trilogy, The Night Calls and The Dark Water continue to develop this uncanny relationship and hint to the development of Holmes in Doyle’s imagination.


Moriarty: Anthony Horowitz is one among a number of authors to develop the character of Holmes’ arch-nemesis, the nefarious genius Professor James Moriarty.  In this particular adventure, Moriarty survives the Falls of Reichenbach only to find his criminal empire threatened by a potential rival.  Desperate and under attack, the Professor finds himself in an uneasy alliance with a Pinkerton Detective, and a disciple of Holmes’ from Scotland Yard.  Readers unfamiliar with Moriarty’s role in the Holmes stories will have no trouble falling into this story and its marvelous historic details, and those who know the Professor only through Holmes’ descriptions will delight in the way that Horowitz expands and develops the character into a three-dimensional and thoroughly engaging anti-hero.  Horowitz also penned The House of Silk, the only Holmes’ pastiche to be sanctioned by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate.


The Final Solution : A Story of Detection: Though Michael Chabon never mentions Holmes by name, the mystery featuring an elderly bee-keeper on the Sussex Downs will immediately recall the great detective in retirement to Holmes devotees.  But you don’t need to know much about Holmes to appreciate the genius of Chabon’s bittersweet exploration of growing old, coping with loss, and making new friends, as young German boy, fleeing the horrors of World War II, arrives in England, and meets an old and weary man who used to be a famous detective…

(Re-) Considering the Card Catalog…

One of my favorite displays at the Main Library is just past the circulation desk, set up on our former card catalog cabinet, not only because I have a long-standing adoration for card catalogs in general, but because our cabinet is always a source of fascinating books and ideas.

Our beloved assistance reference librarian, Alison, is responsible for dreaming up the theme for these displays and stocking those tiny little shelves, and here, she shares her thoughts on her current display, which you can explore by paying us a visit, or checking out the links in this post


Civil Rights in 2015

Inspired by the recent protests in Baltimore, Maryland, our current front book display is centered on the theme of “Civil Rights: Then and Now.” In order for any society to progress, it must remember and reflect upon its past to refrain from repeating its mistakes. Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s words exemplify the display’s meaning: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

American Race Riots through History

One of the first known racially motivated riots in the United States occurred in Washington D.C. in 1835, thirty years before slavery was abolished. Jefferson Morley chronicles this riot and its effects in his book Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835. As the novel explains, after a 19-year-old slave came into his mistress’s room with an axe and was consequentially imprisoned, a crowd of white men angrily mobbed around the jail where he was contained. Next, in fear of a slave rebellion due to the growing abolition movement, whites stormed the city and destroyed a well-known free black man’s popular restaurant – the first restaurant to open in Washington D.C. These riots quickly escalated and black schools and homes went down in flames. Morley constantly reminds readers of how history books have skewed perception of American history in regards to race, such as the disregard for our national anthem’s author’s favor towards slavery. He begs the question, are we as Americans afraid to discuss how slavery impacted, and continues to impact, our society?

Free blacks were beginning to outnumber slaves in 1830s Washington, but the slave trade was still booming.
Free blacks were beginning to outnumber slaves in 1830s Washington, but the slave trade was still booming.

Next we look at Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 occurred after a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman. Thousands of white residents rampaged through the black section of the racially segregated town: they looted stores, burnt homes and hospitals, and killed black men and women. The National Guard was sent in, and began arresting blacks rather than the white rioters. The number of blacks that died is estimated to be anywhere between 25 and 300, and 20 whites were killed. These riots lay hidden for decades, only coming to light in the past fifteen years. Check out Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and its Legacy by James S. Hirsch and The Burning: Massacre, Destruction and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by Tim Madigan to learn more about this forgotten riot.


Fast forward to 1991 in Los Angeles, CA. A black man named Rodney King was beaten by police officers after a high-speed chase. Despite video evidence of using excessive force, the four white officers were acquitted in April 1992 and riots erupted in the city: over 50 people died, more than 2,000 people were injured, and upwards of 1,000 buildings destroyed. Almost ten thousand National Guard troops were dispatched to restore order, and Rodney King himself pleaded publicly for peace, asking “Can we all get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?” The riots and looting ended after five days. The case was re-opened, and in August 1993, a U.S. District Court Judge sentenced two of the officers to 30 months in prison, and King was awarded $3.8 million of the $56 million he pursued in a civil lawsuit against the LAPD.  Featured books include Official Negligence: How Rodney King and the Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD by Lou Cannon and A Gathering of Heroes: Reflections on Rage and Responsibility.

Civil Rights & Racism Today

Other books on display look at famous leaders of the civil rights movement, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Rosa Parks, and some focus on their legacies today. Malcolm X’s autobiography is available for checkout, as well as a Martin Luther King biography, King: A Biography by David Levering Lewis. Donnie Williams’s The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People who Broke the Back of Jim Crow offers a look at those who helped desegregate Montgomery, Alabama, the violence and abuse suffered on city busses, and Martin Luther King’s court trial. Author David L. Chapell discusses the struggle for civil rights after King’s assassination in his novel Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.


Many of the books on display serve as a reminder of the reality of racial tensions and inequalities that still exist in the United States today. For example, Charles Barkley, a former NBA MVP and current sports announcer, uses the cheeky title Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man? to draw readers towards his book that features interviews with well-known Americans such as Bill Clinton and Morgan Freeman about race.

Touching on another taboo American subject, A Hundred Little Hitlers by Elinor Langer examines the Nazi-inpsired racist movement in the United States, examining the 1988 brutal murder of Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian immigrant who was murdered by the East Side White Pride skinhead group in Portland, Oregon. Finally, we have Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and its Legacy by Paul Hendrickson.


In 1962, a photo appeared in Life magazine featuring seven smiling white sheriffs out to stop integration at the University of Mississippi, and one of the men is swinging a billy club. Hendrickson speaks to the two remaining men from the photograph and their grandsons, tracing the progression of Mississippi racism through three generations. The novel exemplifies how deeply rooted racial problems are in the South and offers insight into the ignorance still held by many. But moreover, he inspires hope through his evidence of changing times.

At the movies: Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch-Perfect-2-WallpaperIf you haven’t yet seen the first Pitch Perfect film, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  Part goofy comedy, part musical spectacular, part love-and-friendship journey, and full of snarky, feel-good moments, this is a perfect film to lift you out of a bad day (and give you a song to hum at the same time!).

With the action-flicks and special-effects spectaculars that typically fill screens in the summertime, it was gratifying to see a long line of people waiting to get into see Pitch Perfect 2 last night (a few of them bursting into song when the mood took them).  So, for this first weekend installment of the Free-For-All, we thought we’d offer some suggestions for those of you who found the two Pitch Perfect films aca-awesome.

P2641410itch Perfect: If you happened to notice in the credits, both films were “Inspired by the book by Mickey Rapkin”.  An editor for GQ, Rapkin spent a year chronicling three a cappella groups in their quest for glory–as well as their brushes with fame, and run-ins with the law.  Told with a  journalist’s quick pacing and an eye for detail, this book emphasizes just how real the competition depicted in the films are, and just how (surprisingly) popular a cappella as a form has grown in the past decade or so.

3618214 The Lumberjanes: Though neither about college nor about music, this graphic novel features the same quirky, off-beat comedy as the Pitch Perfect films, with heaps of ‘girl power’, by which we mean positive female relationship between characters who are far more concerned about facing down a three-eyed fox than they are about finding a boyfriend.  The five friends at the center of these books are sensational heroines, and the increasingly wild adventures that occur at their less-than-ordinary summer camp are sure to keep readers enthralled.

3573199How to Build a Girl: A marvelous and surprising novel about self-invention and re-invention, Caitlin Moran’s book features an outside much like Beca, who finds her salvation through music.  After being publicly shamed on local television, Johanna Morgan reinvents herself as the flamboyant Dolly Wilde, music critic and all-around-bon vivant.  But after two years as Dolly, Johanna is suddenly forced to realize that she may have given her alter-ego a fatal flaw.

Be3183715auty Queens: Another book that doesn’t hesitate to question why women can’t be whatever they want–and do it together.  In fact, when their plane crashes on a desert island, these beauty queen contestants band together in order to survive, all while keeping up their dance practices, just in case they get rescued in time to show off their choreography.   Libba Bray’s writing is always fun, unexpected, and engaging, and this book is especially fun as it blends the ridiculous and the sublime, as well as a few timely observations about women’s power and society.

2421185Starter for Ten: This book by David Nicholls follows another oft-stereotyped, but seldom-explored student group: the college quiz team.  Told through the eyes of the charmingly hapless Brian during his first year at Bristol University, this is a wonderfully funny, occasionally heart-breaking story about fitting in, finding yourself, and knowing the right answers.  As a bonus to music-lovers, Brian’s penchant for mix tapes is sure to please any one with a fond nostalgia for the ’80’s.  We also have the film version of the book, starring the younger versions of the great James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch.

And, naturally, you can find the soundtracks to both Pitch Perfect films in our catalog, as well!

Five Book Friday: May 15


Happy Friday, dear patrons!  In our Five Book Friday posts, we will be highlighting some of the new books that have appeared on our shelves this week.  Our inaugural
post features everything from Irish drama to vampire romances, from a wartime mystery to a man who can paint other people’s memories.  We hope you enjoy!


3594933The Green Road: A novel that spans thirty years and three continents, Irish author Anne Enright’s newest novel tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.  But this book is so much more than a family saga.  Hailed by The Guardian as a “brilliant, devastating, radical novel”, this story reads like a collection of short stories all tied together by some of the most vivid, honest, and empathetic characters you will meet in fiction for some time.  Though the plot of this novel is more subtle than most, the relationships that readers build with these characters makes the journey feel fulfilling regardless of what takes place along the way.

M3628868aggie Bright: A Novel of Dunkirk: In order to aid the massive British evacuation from Dunkirk, Churchill authorizes civilian vessels to bring soldiers back across the English Channel.  But when Claire Child’s yacht, Maggie Bright is commandeered into service, it will bring her into contact with two men, and a dark mystery, that will change all their lives forever.  Grimly realistic, romantic, and uplifting by turns, Tracey Groot’s newest release seems to be garnering a good deal of positive attention from both readers and critics alike.

3597936The Shadows: A Novel of the Black Dagger Brotherhood: J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series has become a staple of the paranormal romance genre, and with every novel, she expands the shadowy, dangerous world they inhabit even further.  This impressive thirteenth installment features Trez, a damaged and hunted loner who is trapped between the love of a powerful woman and a fate he is powerless to escape.  Though this might not be the best place for new readers to begin, fans of this series will find all of Ward’s trademark emotional highs, and clever plot twists.

3617492The Memory Painter: Gwendolyn Womack’s debut is a genre-challenging, unsettling, and immediately engaging book about an artist whose paintings are inspired by his haunting, vivid dreams, and a brilliant woman who realizes the startling truth behind his visions.  RT Book Reviews says of this book: “the dreamlike descriptions, unnerving conspiracies and eerie sense of foreboding and premonition that haunts the protagonists will keep readers fascinated even after every strange secret has been revealed.”

T3593852he Fall: John Lescroart is one of those rare novelists who succeeds in a number of different genres; from historical fiction to mystery–to this newest legal thriller.  Kirkus says that this 16th outing featuring Dismas Hardy is a “wild tale”, full of twists and surprises, and though it may not be the strongest series installment, it is certainly hitting all the right notes with longtime fans of Lescroart’s work.

Want to see what else is new on the shelves?  Come on in and check out a few new books today!

Blimey! Our first If/Then Post…

p9208565_b_v7_abFans of the phenomenal show “Ripper Street” have enjoyed quite a healthy dose of drama over the past year, and not merely the ones on-screen…After the BBC cancelled the show after two seasons, the outcry from viewers got so loud that Amazon decided to pick up the show for a single season, streaming it to Amazon Prime members and broadcasting the show on BBC America.  But after that one season, fans were still left wondering if they had seen the last of the gallant and bowler-hatted heroes of H Division.  But yesterday morning, the news broke across the Internet: Amazon has renewed Ripper Street for TWO more seasons!

Set in London’s notorious East End in the months following the disappearance of Jack the Ripper, Ripper Street follows the detectives of H Division (a branch of London’s Metropolitan Police) who chased–and eventually lost–the Ripper.  Though the cases they deal with are fictional, the joy of Ripper Street lies in its attention to detail and love of history.  In fact, Edmund Reid, the hero of the series, was indeed a real police detective who chased Jack the Ripper.  The costumes are authentic in their color, texture, and fit (and their griminess), and the language of the characters is spot-on authentic.  And while the threat of ‘The Ripper’, and his potential return, looms large, particularly in the first season of the show, it is really about the men of H Division and the world they inhabit; a world that is as real as our own, and yet so wonderfully different that you simply can’t help but want to explore more and more.

Those of you who have shared your TV favorites at the Circulation Desk may have heard your friendly Blogger here waxing rhapsodical about Ripper Street–the marvelous plot lines, the gritty and quirky historic details…and the plaid waistcoats.  It’s impossible not to love the waistcoats.  And Homer Jackson (just watch it, and you’ll understand, I promise….).  So this turn of events was personally welcomed with loud cheers.

For those of you who haven’t yet witnessed the delights of Ripper Street, come to the library and request a copy of Season 1 and Season 2 for yourself.   Season 3 is also on order!  And for those of you who find yourself counting the days until Season 4 (probably sometime next year), here’s a list of books and shows to help you pass the time.

If you like Ripper Street, Then be sure to check out:


Copper: Another stellar historic police drama from the BBC, this time featuring Irish-American cop Kevin Corcoran in 1860’s New York City.  Much like Ripper Street, while the mysteries at the heart of each episode are fascinating, it is the intense character relationships and the personal journey of the troubled hero that will keep watchers glued to this series.  Season Two  is also available for those who can’t get enough.


The Yard: Alex Grecian’s historic mystery series begins with a very similar premise to Ripper Street–facing personal and professional contempt for failing to catch the Jack the Ripper, Walter Day, a member of the London Metropolitan Police’s “Murder Squad” partners with Dr. Nevil Hammersmith, Scotland Yard’s first forensic pathologist, to track down a murderer who is hunting police officers.  Grecian delights in his time period, and does a sensational job bringing it to life.  Walter Day is an empathetic hero whose own personal journey–and whose troubled partnership with Hammersmith– gives this dark and atmospheric series a human touch.  Fans will be pleased to know the library has all four books in this series in print and audiobook form.

T1107575he Alienist: An undisputed classic of historic fiction, Caleb Carr’s first novel is a must-read for all fans of murder, mayhem, and marvelous historic details.  Set in 1896 New York, this book features some of the most prominent historical figures of the day, including Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt and his delightfully chaotic family.  When a mystery surfaces that flummoxes even the most dedicated detectives, Roosevelt enlists the help of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, an early psychological profiler, and journalist John Schuyler Moore, to investigate.  This is a fast-paced mystery, but also offers readers the chance to stroll the streets of historic New York, and emerge with a wealth of facts and understanding that Carr effortlessly works into his plot.

Dus2694896t and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson: In this intricate and thoughtful debut novel, Lyndsay Faye brings together two of the most famous, and infamous faces in Victorian England–Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes.  But when Holmes himself is wounded in his hunt for The Ripper, he suddenly finds himself on the defensive, and forced to break every rule he has followed his entire career to bring his quarry to justice.  Faye’s book is a credit to the Holmes canon, and the sensory details of this series makes the gaslit world of the East End feel frighteningly real.  Faye’s other series, which begins with The Gods of Gotham, is set in 1846 New York, and is also definitely worth checking out, especially if you enjoy Copper.

3154599Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns: It seems pretty fair to say that the BBC has a bit of a Ripper obsession, but this modern crime drama is easily among its best series.  Set (and filmed) in the twisted, shadowy streets of London’s modern-day East End, this story features the hunt for a killer who is following the Rippers’ known crimes precisely, and the police and historians who are desperate trying to stop him before he finishes the Ripper’s work–and disappears.  This series is blisteringly fast-paced, and even though history has laid out what is to come, it’s simply impossible to turn away from this show until the final, climactic chase unfolds.

We hope you enjoy our first If/Then post!  Keep an eye out for more similar posts coming soon!

Welcome to the Free For All!

Free for all picture

Welcome, dear readers and patrons, to the official blog of the Peabody Institute Library!

We know that many of you use the library’s terrific online resources, such as our events page, online catalog, and our fabulous Pinterest boards (all the links to these great resources can also be found at the top of the screen).  We also know how much we here at the library enjoy interacting with you, our patrons: discussing new and upcoming books, hearing what you enjoyed reading, what television shows you couldn’t stop watching, or what programs you look forward to attending.  Thus, a blog sounded like the best of both worlds: a place where we can share with you all the fun things going on at the library, from new books and dvds to fun programs and recommendations, and where you can share what you loved with us (and with each other!).

Like the library, this is a space for you, beloved patrons.  We want to hear about your recommendations, as well, and bring a piece of the library to you through this blog.  So make sure to let us know about what you want to see, and what books, DVDs, or audiobooks you think everyone should be enjoying!  There are forms at the Main Library, and at both the West and South branches, so you can submit your reviews, and we are always open to your thoughts and suggestions here at the Free For All, as well.  This is a place where everything goes…hence the title, wink wink.

In the coming weeks, we are hoping to establish a schedule for the blog that will include some of the new books and DVDs that we have on our shelves, recommendations from us and you, and updates on our programs.  In addition, we are delighted to have blog posts coming in from the West and the South branches, so you can keep up with all the great goings-on there, and from the Peabody Archives, too!  So watch this space, and enjoy the Free For All!

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." ~Frederick Douglass