“I will not let you go into the unknown alone”…And If/Then Guide to Dracula


As was mentioned in our post on Tuesday, this week saw the 118th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, one of those wonderful classics that not only stand the test of time, but has influenced more aspects of pop-culture, literature, cinema, and conversation than can be counted here.  For example, Dracula (Stoker’s character, not the real-life Wallachian) has appeared in over 200 films since the book’s publication, which is second only to Sherlock Holmes in number of screen appearances.  Dracula also appears in more than 1,000 novels, but the most recent estimations.

These facts become even more interesting when it is remembered that the book itself was considered a flop when it was first published in 1897.  Indeed, it first gained real attention in 1922 when the silent-film director F.W. Murnau made a film adaptation of the text which he called Nosferatu (the Romanian word for ‘vampire’).  When Florence Balcombe Stoker, Bram Stoker’s widow and the copyright holder for his works, realized that Murnau had adapted her late husband’s work without permission, she sued for infringement and won (to her own enormous financial cost).   All the films reels were destroyed as part of the suit, but, thankfully for us, a number of pirated copies remained in existence.  This is a simply terrific, genuinely creepy film, and even better if you can find a screening with live musical accompaniment.  Max Schrenk, who plays ‘Count Orlock’ (aka Dracula) may bear little resemblance to Stoker’s Dracula, but he is utterly compelling and creepy nevertheless.

Max Schreck as Count Orlok…This is also pretty much how I look before coffee.

Because of the legal dispute this film caused, the popularity of Stoker’s work sky-rocketed, and in 1931, Bela Lugosi starred in the movie that made Dracula the star he is today.  But so few adaptations, though they feature a character named ‘Dracula’, really concern themselves with the essence of the character Stoker’s created (or, indeed, any of the characters in the book), or the history that he wove into his novel.  So what is a Dracula devotee to do?  Here, for your reading and viewing pleasure, we present some of our favorites.

If you like Dracula, Then be sure to check out:

3104313Vlad: The Last Confession: I love this book.  I love this book so much I wrote this post specifically so I could recommend this book.  I do a small dance every time I talk about this book because I just can’t help it.  It is that good.  C.C. Humphreys wanted to write a biography of Vlad Tepes (The real-life ruler who inspired Stoker’s Count), but realized he had nothing new to say on the subject.  So, instead, he turned his facts into fiction, looking at Vlad’s life through the eyes of the three people who knew him best, and who, ultimately betrayed him.  These characters, especially Vlad himself, are so real, you will mourn them when the book is finished; the writing is stunning and evocative, high observant and shockingly funny in places.  Best of all, this book features what might very well be my favorite plot-twist/surprise ending in all of fiction.  Please read this book so I have someone with whom to discuss it.

2709827Dracula: The un-dead: This is something of a troublesome book to recommend.  On the one hand, it was written by Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew from notes Stoker made before his death.  And there are some moments in this book that are breath-takiningly beautiful (Dracula’s return to Whitby Abbey remains one of my favorites).  The book also gives Mina an very healthy amount of credit for being a strong, smart, and I judge every Dracula pastiche by how they treat Mina.  But, on the other hand, this book in no way lives up to the original text, and it is so self-referential that it often feels like a parody of sorts more than a ‘sequel’.  Nevertheless, it’s worth checking out, especially for genuinely passionate readers who want some idea about Stoker’s thoughts for his characters following their defeat of Dracula in Romania.

8970727Anno-Dracula: Film scholar Kim Newman combines a terrific eye for detail with a ripping good yarn that features some of the most well-known characters from 19th-century literature.  In this strange, alternative-history, the Ripper walks the gas-lit streets, news boys hawk the latest scandals on every street corner…and Queen Victoria has remarried Vlad Tepes, turning the British Empire into a place at once familiar to readers and yet infinitely strange and dangerous.  The vast cast of characters, both borrowed and created by Newman, are wonderfully fun, though slow in places, this is an adventure that fans of Victorian literature need to check out, if only for the vast number of inside jokes that feature into each scene.

2251443‘Salem’s Lot: This is another book that I adore, sing songs of happiness regarding it, and foist on unsuspecting friends and family on a regular basis.  According to Stephen King, the inspiration for this novel came from a conversation he had with his wife, Tabitha, regarding what would happen if Dracula returned, this time in the United States.  Though King thought he would get hit by a New York City cab instantly, he started wondering what would happen if he showed up in a small Maine town…and the rest is history.  This is Stephen King as his lyrical best, and while this book is plenty scary (my dad and I both have stories about how different scenes in this book kept us up at night), King’s descriptions of the town of ‘Salem’s Lot, and especially his descriptions of the change of seasons that we see here in New England are so stunning, it is worth reading this book for those passages alone.

2288132The Historian: Elizabeth Kostova’s best known work takes readers on an overwhelmingly picturesque journey through Eastern Europe, as a daughter hunts for the terrible secret of her mother’s long-ago disappearance, a secret that may be tied to the real-life Vlad Tepes himself.  Though this isn’t my favorite of all Dracula-related novels, the travel descriptions in this book are hauntingly beautiful, and there are some wonderfully atmospheric details that make this search as chilling as it is historically engaging.  Also, as silly as it might sound, this book has some of the best descriptions of food I have ever come across.  If you do check out this book, be sure to read it with a snack close at hand.

We hope you enjoy our selection!  Check back for an all-new If/Then next Thursday.

Wednesdays @ the West: Cookbook Round-Up

If you happen to wander into the West Branch on select Thursday evenings, you may notice some delectable smells that are not coming from our books (waxing eloquently on the smell of books is an entirely different post).  These smells have likely been transported from the kitchens of the talented cooks who take part in our monthly Cookbook Club.

Each month the Cookbook Club explores a different cookbook. Members make a dish and bring it to share at the meetings.  We end up with so many recipes that just a taste of each is enough.  Then we discuss our thoughts on the book in general and each recipe specifically.  And of course, we enjoy all that great food.

fasteasyfreshFor two months recently, the Cookbook Club explored The Bon Appetit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild.  This 700+ page treasure had far too many delectable options to try in just one month.  Over the course of two months, we tried a couple of nice soups to start any meal with; the French lentil soup was a particular favorite, but the creamy bean soup with fresh herbs and spinach also got a seal of approval.  For main courses, we sampled meatballs with parsley and Parmesan, Indian curried shrimp and orange and ginger chicken.  All of these were declared successes, although there was a consensus that the shrimp needed more curry.   Lest you think we neglected the sweeter side of things, we also enjoyed the results of the recipes for pumpkin-raisin bars and coconut rice pudding.  Overall, the Cookbook Club declares Fast Easy and Fresh to be worthy of even the most experienced cook’s time.

everythingfastFor May, club members turned their attention to How to Cook Everything Fast by Mark Bittman.  Another heavy volume, Bittman’s book comes in at an impressive 1,000+ pages.  In addition to recipes, he includes tips for speeding up the cooking process in general and a handy list of ingredient substitutions.  After each recipe, he also offers suggestions for variations and side dishes that would go well with each dish.  Although there was a general consensus that Everything Fast isn’t quite the rich resource that Fast Easy and Fresh is, cookbook club members still thoroughly enjoyed sampling Bittman’s takes on eggplant Parmesan, carrot salad with raisins and apricot-cinnamon couscous.  The couscous was the generally agreed upon favorite of the evening.  All cooks were in agreement that Bittman’s recipes are indeed a score for those who may be short on time, but not willing to skimp on taste.

pioneerwomancooksFor June, our cookbookers will turn their appetites to The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from my Frontier by Ree Drummond.  Created by a city-loving, blog-writing woman who never expected to end up as a rancher’s wife, Drummond’s image-rich cookbook promises to be chalk full of yummy comfort food.

The West Branch Cookbook Club will continue to meet throughout the summer.  If you’d like to join us on the last Thursday evening of the month, we’d be happy to have you.  In the meantime, between meetings or if you can’t make it, pop by to check out some of the West’s newest additions to our cookbook collection.

veganitalianChloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli.  While my 90 year old Italian Nonnie would say that Vegan Italian is an oxymoron, those who have tried Chloe’s take on antipasti, zuppa, pasta and dolci may respectfully disagree.

honeyandoatsDesserts with nutritional value?  Sign me up!  Jennifer Katzinger’s Honey and Oats offers healthier twists on breads, cakes, pies, cookies and more by substituting  natural sweeteners for sugar and whole grains for white flour.


pollanfamilyIf you’ve read any of  Michael Pollan’s classics on how we should be eating, you’ll know his food rules: “eat [real] food, mostly plants, not too much.”  But what does that look like in practice?  In The Pollan Family Table, Corky and Lori Pollan share their favorite real food recipes.  The resulting cookbook has fast become an award winner.

What are your go-to cookbooks?  Share your favorites with us and we may just use them for a future Cookbook Club selection or feature them in a Cookbook Round-Up.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights…”

Dracula1stToday is the 118th anniversary of the publication of Dracula, Bram Stoker’s masterpiece (even if it went under-appreciated for years after his death).

I would argue that one of the more under-appreciated books of the late 19th-century is Dracula.  Not overlooked, mind you–the book was published in 1897 and hasn’t been out of print since. And not unknown. Anyone who’s seen Sesame Street knows about Count Von Count–did you ever notice his fangs? Ever had Count Chocula cereal? Worn those awful wax teeth at Halloween? My point exactly. But how many people know about the man behind all those fangs and capes? Or the man who dreamt him up in the first place…?

The man himself: Bram Stoker
The man himself: Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker was born in Dublin on November 8, 1847, and spent a good deal of his early childhood confined to his bed with a “mysterious disorder of the blood” (cue menacing laughter). During this time, his mother read him folktales of Ireland, as well as the more popular Gothic authors of the time.

Following his study at Trinity College in Dublin (studying mathematics, surprisingly), Stoker became assistant to Henry Irving, a man he had come to idolize in spite of (or perhaps because of) his over-the-top, flamboyant, demanding personality. Irving, along with being one of the greatest actors of his age, was also, apparently, a bit of a slave driver. He sucked the blood from all those who worked for him…you might say. He was also known for walking around London wearing a long black cloak. He was also tall, with high cheekbones, a large, broad forehead and a hooked nose, and wore his hair swept back off his head. Noticing a similarity here?  It appears that even Irving recognized the similarities between himself and Stoker’s fictional count, but apparently, he found it a kind of bizarre compliment.

Henry Irving, dressed for a staged reading of 'Dracula' shortly after its publication.
Henry Irving, dressed for a staged reading of ‘Dracula’ shortly after its publication.

The book was supposed to be a play. A five act play that Stoker wrote one summer while staying at Whitby. He had done research on Transylvania at the British Library and spent months collecting local stories, superstitions and sea tales from residents of Whitby and from the Captains of the hundreds of ships that sailed into the harbor. When Irving rejected the play, Stoker turned it into a book and…the rest, as they say….was history.

I love Dracula. Unabashedly adore it. From an historian’s point of view, it is one of those books that absolutely defines its era:  Dracula was published at a time when the English feared that the the global influence of the British Empire was declining, and falling prey to foreign influences and vices, just like the Count menaces the stalwart crew who pledge to hunt him down.  As Dracula himself notes, Vampires are created at the end of empires.  Later, Van Helsing himself notes, “Let me tell you, he is known everywhere that men have been…He have follow the wake of the berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar.” What could be more terrifying for a British public already aware of the impending end of their Dynasty?

Technology abounds. Dr. Seward records his diary on phonograph cylinders. Mina used shorthand and later a typewriter. They utilize the telegraph and railroads constantly. This is no mythical reality into which these characters are plunked. They are living in the here and now. And yet, a mere few hundred pages later, they are donning garlic and brandishing crosses and taking on all the powers of superstition and heathenism that their century has unequivocally rejected. The book is not so much about the triumph of technology as it is about the fragility of that technology to protect its characters.

And then there is the Count. Seriously, in all the Bela Lugosi nonsense, no one ever gives Stoker enough credit for creating a truly appealing villain. He’s repulsive (the dude has hairy palms. Come on, that’s gross) and at the same time is one of the most compelling and vital characters in the whole book.  All the other characters travel on compulsion: Harker goes to Transylvania for work, Mina goes because Jonathan is ill, Van Helsing is ‘compelled’ by his work to go back and forth from Amsterdam.  But the Count travels because he wants to.

And he also wants revenge. It’s never specifically mentioned in the book, but it has been postulated that the reason Stoker has Dracula goes for everyone’s female companion is because his wife (the real Dracula’s wife, mind) committed suicide thinking that the Turks had taken the Castle and her husband.  Stoker blended fact and fiction to create a man who acts with the strength of history behind him, and the power of myth around him.

Bran Castle in Romania: the inspiration for the Count's castle
Bran Castle in Romania: the inspiration for the Count’s castle

And then there’s Mina.  Seriously, no one ever gives Mina enough credit.  There are piles of papers that discuss Stoker’s use of women in the book and how the concept of ‘The New Woman’ of the late-19th-century is punished through this work, while women in traditional roles are saved. And certainly, in some senses this is true.  Lucy, who has three suitors, a disposable income and generally lax morals, is killed quite gruesomely. And Mina, despite her run-in with the Count, survives to marry and have a child. But is it really that simple?

Stoker’s mother was a feminist, and I tend to think some of that wore off in this book. Mina, if you actually look at her, is one feisty little lady. She goes running around in bare feet across town to save her friend, she travels to Hungary alone to help her fiance, and  insists on being a full-fledged member of the Fearless Vampire Hunting Party. If anything, Mina is threatened most by the hidebound men around her who insist on maintaining her innocence and refuse to let her in. But it is Mina who finds a way into the Count’s mind, and who listens to his thoughts, giving her friends the chance to catch him.  It is she who returns to Romania to find his lair, and, by the end of the book, while the boys are running around with machetes, she’s the one with the gun.

Quite simply, there is no other book like Dracula, and nothing that can quite compare to it.  Come find out yourself by checking out a copy today, and look for more recommendations this Thursday in our If/Then post!


You Can Borrow that at the Library?

golf discs
Photo Credit: Disc Golf Association

You may not realize it, but public libraries often have what we refer to as “special” collections. Although best known for books, public libraries have been known to offer items as varied as vegetable seeds, cake pans, microscopes, musical instruments, and sewing machines!

Here in Peabody, we just added a new special collection and wanted our Free for All readers to be the first to know about it. For those of you looking to try out a new sport this summer, thanks to the generous players at Discs over Amesbury, the library has Disc Golf Kits available for you to borrow. Each kit includes three discs: a putter, mid-range and driver. Also included in the kits are directions to Peabody’s Scouting Woods Disc Golf Course, a map of the course itself, and a list of the basic rules of the game. You can borrow the kits for one week at a time.

disc pole hole
Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disc_golf

So what is disc golf you ask? In the beginning, many of our librarians were asking the exact same thing. A combination of golf and Frisbee, in disc golf players use golf discs (similar to Frisbees) and try to get them into a disc pole hole. Pictured here, disc pole holes are baskets mounted on poles and surrounded by chains. Like golf, you want a low score as the goal is to get the disc into the basket with the fewest throws.

Relatively new to the city, the Scouting Woods Disc Golf Course is located at 100 Summit Street. The course is open free to the public, but you do need to bring your own discs. That’s where the library comes in! To borrow discs, just visit any of the three Peabody Libraries, and you can check out a Disc Golf Kit with your library card. If you don’t already have a library card, you can register for one for free, and we’ll have you on your way to Scouting Woods in no time. We hope you enjoy our new special collection!

Want to learn more about disc golf? Check out these helpful resources:

Scouting Woods DGC

Amesbury Pines Disc Golf

Disc Golf United Course Locator

DG Course Review

Disc Golf Association (DGA)

Professional Disc Golf Association

At the Movies: Poltergeist


Picture it: the year is 1992, and your Blog Fairy Princess here is still a very over-imaginative eight-year-old who takes everything way too literally (so nothing much has changed….anyways…).  One dark and stormy night, Poltergeist comes on TV in celebration of the film’s tenth anniversary.  I knew my mom liked the movie, even finding parts of it funny, so I figured I’d sit back and enjoy.

And then I didn’t sleep for weeks.  WEEKS.

Looking back, my mother was right.  It is a good movie, and there are plenty of moments that are funny–intentionally or otherwise.  Granted, some of those moments are because CGI was in its infancy, so some of the special effects need to be taken with an generous helping of salt, but this is a movie that isn’t afraid to take itself lightly at times.  That scene when the ghosts slide the helmeted kid across the kitchen floor for no apparent reason is still among my favorite parts of the whole film.  And those moments make the dramatic action that much more impactful.

Because the truth is that there are some parts of this film still stand up as genuinely shuddersome, even today.  TV static, for those of us who remember non-digital TVs, was annoying, yes, but there was also something thoroughly unsettling about that unrelenting shushing sound.  The essential premise behind the movie, not just the burial ground, but the reason the ghosts needed the children specifically for their nefarious plot, is remarkably creative, especially for a horror movie, which usually relies on loud music stings and jump-takes to cover up their shallow storyline .  And that clown doll.  Goodness gracious me, that clown doll…..

And now, since we live in the age of the remake, we have Poltergeist the repeat.  The film hasn’t been getting the best of reviews, mostly because the original did what it did so well that there seems very little, overall, to do better; not to mention the fact that digital TVs just aren’t scary.  But it has allowed some of the film junkies at the library to reminisce a bit about the books and movies that kept us up at night.

We’ve seen a number of supernatural horror films cross the circulation desk, from classics like The Uninvited or The Amityville Horrorto newer, but still thoroughly shiver-inducing stuff like The Others, Oculusor The Sixth Sense (though I think living on earth may have spoiled the novelty of this particular film for you).  But what about the good old-fashioned ghost story?  So here is a brief list of some of the best paranormal/supernatural/generally creeptastic  novels on our shelves for your perusal.  Make sure to leave the lights on

…and be sure to turn off the TV.

…I mean, you never know, right?
3553458The Supernatural Enhancements: It took about eight pages for this book to become one of my favorites of all time.  Wildly creative, not only in its plot, but in its story-telling, this book has also become a quick favorite among the rest of our library staff, as well.  A, a youngish European man, inherits a house from an uncle he never met, but, eager for a chance of pace, moves to Point Bless, Virginia along with his enigmatic friend Niamh, who is mute, but far from silent.  As the two begin to explore the odd house, and the legacy of A’s family, all of whom were changed and broken by living there, this story just continues to grow creepier and more intense.  Told through letters, transcriptions, and descriptions from the video surveillance cameras Niamh sets up around the house, the reader is never quite sure what is going on, but simply can’t stop flipping the pages in order to discover what happens next.  This works perfectly in this story because seeing the ghosts always ruin something in the story–when the reader is forced to imagine what A and Niamh are experiencing, it’s infinitely more scary.  Though there are some odd twists and turns at the book’s end, this is a story I cannot recommend too highly, and can only hope that Edgar Cantero comes out with a new book soon!

3136591Those Across the River: I felt about this book much the same way as I did about Poltergeist itself–the premise is superb and the build-up is wonderfully creepy, but the climax and eventual falling action feel just a little flat in comparison.  This is purely due to my own reading preferences, however, and should not detract you from trying this book for yourself.  Christopher Buehlman is a wonderfully gifted author, who can tell a gripping story that is as beautiful as it is unsettling.  This is another inherited house story, but this time our hero is First World War veteran Frank Nichols and his beloved who have run away from her husband and moved to his family estate deep in rural Georgia, where Frank plans to write a history of the house, and the horrific slave uprising that took place there.  Full of strange, hostile characters, the town itself is haunted by legends and the fear of an ancient curse that Frank learns has far more to do with this family than he dreamt.

3177315The Haunting of Maddie Claire: Simone St. James’ debut novel won a number of awards and accolades, and while it’s not difficult to appreciate the artistry in her work, this is also a fascinating story that captures the shattered disbelief of post-First World War Britain beautifully.  Sarah Piper is trying to make her way in London following the death of her parents in the Influenza Epidemic.  Poor and desperately lonely, she still isn’t convinced that her new assignment from the temp agency is fitting–she is expected to take notes of a ghost hunt.  But when she and her two employers, who both carry deep scars from their time in the trenches, arrive at the haunted barn, they find a much darker force–and a much deeper mystery–than they ever imagined.  St. James’ prose is somewhat stark, which makes it sound perfectly authentic both to her no-nonsense heroine and to the bleak times in which these characters are living, and the story of Maddie Claire is so heartbreaking and so real that readers will find it incredibly easy to suspend disbelief and following this chilling story to the very end.

2430237The Devil You Know: This some lighter fare for those of us who are starting to think about hiding under the bed for a little while.  Mike Carey is probably best known as a graphic novelist, but his series of five novels featuring the freelance exorcist Felix Castor deserves more attention.  In Castor’s debut, he is just trying to make ends meet, and agrees to take an assignment in a small London museum that seems to have some paranormal trouble.  But when Castor begins to investigate, he realizes that the spirit at work here may be the biggest and baddest that he’s ever faced.  Carey brings a fun noir-ish feel to these books, and his imagination in creating supernatural powers is impressive, but these books are much more complex and emotionally powerful than your typical urban fantasy.  Felix’s powers have had plenty of negative effects on those he loves, and he is always followed by the shadows he has cast, making his work that much more dangerous, and his cases that much more compelling.

So there is our first list of spooky stories to keep you up at night.  Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments, or mention them to your friendly circulation staff at your next visit!

Welcome to Saturdays at the South!

Welcome to Saturdays @ the South! Every Saturday, we’ll be posting about books and programs that are popular at the Library’s South Branch (78 Lynn St.) and other literature, movie and library-related musings that strike our fancy. I hope you’ll join us each week and discover something new!

To start things off, I thought it would be appropriate to recognize Memorial Day. It’s a little early this year for those who use it as a benchmark for gardening, but regardless of the date it lands on, it never hurts to recognize those who have sacrificed a great deal to help defend others. There are some amazing new books out there that recognize war efforts and sacrifices, both traditional and unusual. Here are 5 nonfiction picks on the new shelf at the South Branch right now:
3618114Roosevelt and Stalin  by Susan Butler: Butler takes a look at the unusual partnership and uneasy friendship that arose in WWII when these two leaders worked together against a common enemy and shaped their visions for a postwar future that were surprisingly similar.


3588586Patton at the Battle of the Bulge: How the General’s Tanks Turned the Tide at Bastogne by Leo Barron: Barron engages readers retelling the crucial battle that could have just as easily turned the tide for the Nazis as it did for the US Army. Had Patton not reached Bastogne in time, the US 101st Airborne could have been defeated. This book details Patton’s charge into Belgium and the forces that worked together to make this battle a turning point for the Allies.

35817302A Cool and Lonely Courage: The Untold Story of Sister Spies inOccupied France by Susan Ottaway: Originally published in Britain, this bok peels back the layers of how two sisters, Jackqueline and Eileen Nearne worked undercover as agents for the Special Operations Executive during WWII and sent crucial intelligence to the Allies during their time in Nazi-occupied France. While one escaped capture, the other was arrested, tortured and sent to a concentration camp. Ottaway tells the sisters’ long-overdue story of courage and patriotism during wartime.

3517382Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott: Few war stories are more engaging that those told about spies, but when the spies are women during a time when women were routinely underestimated, a story becomes that much more engaging. Abbott describes four women, each of whom has her own story of espionage from dressing as a man and fighting in battle to infiltrating the White House, their tales are bound to engage even those who aren’t Civil War buffs

3517385Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and how the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring by Peter Duffy: Duffy tells, for the first time, the story of a German-American who infiltrated New York’s Nazi underground just before WWII began. Called “the most successful counterespionage operation in US history” this is the story of the man who spearheaded that mission and was the first double-agent in FBI history.


Bonus fiction pick!

3539736Delicious by Ruth Reichl (printed book is available here and ebook here): On its surface, this book is about food. A young ingénue leaves college to join the crew of the renowned food magazine “Delicious!” She talks about how luck she feels to be in a place that takes food so seriously, only to find herself somewhat adrift when the magazine unexpectedly shutters. This is only the backdrop, however, and the story that unfolds has a great deal to do with WWII history and the sacrifices those on the home front made to support their troops overseas. Yes, the story has the expected dashes of romance, a tragic heroine back story and uses the ugly duckling trope a bit heavy-handedly, but the unexpected and delightful forays into the creative ways those who weren’t fighting adapted to their new lives and the touching notes about how they dealt with the inevitable loss that comes with war makes this a story well worth reading.

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…

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