Previous reviews are at Mack Pitches Up

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Personal Sherlock Holmes Reading Challenge

I volunteered to be the library resource person for a Fall freshman seminar with the working title Investigating Sherlock Holmes and Early Detective Fiction. I've been reading Kerrie's postings for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge and decided to adapt it to my Sherlock Holmes Project.

In preparation, my first object is to read the original four novels and fifty-six short stories in publication order. Similar to Kerrie's goal with the ACRC, I want to see how Doyle develops Holmes - the types of problems Holmes is called upon to solve, Holmes' methods, his relationship with Watson, and is there evidence that Doyle was tiring of Holmes (other than trying to kill him off, that is).

The original works
1. A Study in Scarlet (published 1887)
2. The Sign of the Four (published 1890)
3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1891–1892 in The Strand)
4. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1892–1893 in The Strand as further episodes of the Adventures)
5. The Hound of the Baskervilles (serialised 1901–1902 in The Strand)
6. The Return of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1903–1904 in The Strand)
7. The Valley of Fear (serialised 1914–1915)
8. His Last Bow (contains stories published 1908–1913 and 1917)
9. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (contains stories published 1921–1927)

Wikipedia has a list of the individual Sherlock Holmes short stories here.

In addition to the canon listed above, I will work on a reading list of stories that feature or allude to Holmes. The universe of Holmesian literature is too vast for my list to be comprehensive but I will see what I can put together that is representative. Suggestions are welcome.

There will be much more to the course including an examination of the forensic techniques, the genesis of Holmes, translation into film, and other early detective fiction.

I'm looking forward to turning my hobby in a scholarly direction.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

DVD Review: She Fell Among Thieves

Acorn Media, 1996. 78 minutes. Full cast at IMDB.

It is 1922 in the Spanish Pyrenees. Vanity Fair is determined to marry off her stepdaughter, Jenny, to the oily Baron Gaston in order to inherit her late husband's fortune. His will stipulated that the inheritance was to pass to the stepmother should Jenny marry before her thirtieth birthday. English gentleman Richard Chandos is fly fishing in the area, discovers the plot, and works to rescue Jenny and put an end to Vanity Fair.

This production has all the elements for a perfect melodrama: an inheritance hinging on a restrictive provision in a will, a gloomy castle, organ music, evil criminal mastermind, brutish henchmen, daring escapes, thrilling chases, fallen clergyman, innocent woman in distress, dramatic reactions, a stalwart servant of the Crown, and an English gentleman who steps up when duty calls.

I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this DVD but several items caught my eye. The case for She Fell Among Thieves says that it is "The BBC drama that launched Mystery! on PBS." It also stars one of my favorite actors, Malcolm McDowell, and was adapted for television by Tom Sharpe, a writer of satire I enjoy. that was enough to get me to purchase it.

This is a wonderfully melodramatic production. Eileen Atkins gives an over-the-top performance as the villainous Vanity Fair. She is an international criminal so frightening that men would rather stand before a firing squad than betray her. With her bone white complexion, red hair, archaic dress, and exaggerated mannerisms, she looks like a cross between Queen Elizabeth I and Cruella De Vil. She also has a talent for curling her red lips disdainfully that I admired.

Malcolm McDowell is excellent as Richard Chantos, the English gentleman. He plays the role with the right amount of earnestness, a man willing to step up, without question, when duty calls.

Michael Jayston is Mansel, the British agent who has been tracking Vanity Fair and recruits Chantos. I thought he looked familiar and suspect I saw him as Valeyard on Doctor Who.

Dunsford Yates wrote eight Chantos thrillers in which Mansel was also a recurring character. Wikipedia has this interesting statement about the Chantos novels,
It is the Chandos novels which are especially referred to by Alan Bennett when he mentions Dornford Yates in Forty Years On (1972): "Sapper, Buchan, Dornford Yates, practitioners in that school of Snobbery with Violence that runs like a thread of good-class tweed through twentieth-century literature".

I love that phrase, "Snobbery with Violence."

I give this production high marks. It is clever, fun, and doesn't take itself seriously. The dialog and acting were well suited for the kind of story presented. As for the cast, well, check their filmographies at IMDB. The combined experience of these actors is staggering.

Has anyone read the Dunsford Yates' Chantos novels? I have a feeling that Sharpe was having a bit of fun with the florid style of books written at that time.

Managing Your Digital Resources with Zotero

Zotero is a tool well known in academic circles. Here I hope to expand its use to people like myself who could use it for personal research interests. It does require the use of the Firefox 3 browser.

Do you scour the Internet for information on a topic that interests you? How do you manage what you find? That's a problem I face as I explore the world crime fiction.

Some of the activities I use the Internet for are

  • compile bibliographies of books by genre using library catalogs and sources such as Amazon

  • make lists of books that I think I want to read

  • find articles on web sites or blogs that discuss an interesting aspect of crime fiction and want to be able to find those articles again

  • find documents, usually in PDF format, that scholars have written about crime fiction that I think I will refer to again

  • email from authors people with like interests

Two tasks I want to be able to do quickly. First, when I find something I want to be able to record details quickly. Second, I want to be able to find these resources later. How can this information be collected, organized, and retrieved? Browser bookmarks/favorites and social bookmarking sites such as delicious are useful but not as much help in organizing.

The folks at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University have developed a remarkable FireFox add-on called Zotero that turns your browser into a research management tool. It solves the problem of how to collect and organize research in one place. While Zotero is well known to academics it is certainly useful to anyone who gather information on a subject.

Considering my list above, information I glean from the Internet could be scattered throughout multiple locations on my PC, possibly, loose on my work table, or handwritten on scraps of paper about to go through the wash.

With Zotero, you can collect and organize all of these items in one place. Tag them, add notes, attachments, relate the citation to another citation, take snapshots that can capture an email or entire PDF document, and more.

Zotero’s translators work with many sites and can sense the type of information available on the page and indicate that information with a symbol in the FireFox address bar. A file folder indicates that there is a list of items that can be added to your library. A book or page represents book and journal information respectively. A newspaper is a newspaper article. And I just discovered that Zotero can sense when a page is a blog though so far it has only appeared on Google blogger sites.

In addition to the address bar icons, you can save a link to create an item from the current page as well as and even take a snapshot of the current page.

Zotero’s tagging capabilities are interesting. From some database sources, Zotero will extract descriptors and turn them into tags. You can also highlight several citations and apply a tag to all of them at once. Consistent use of tags and saved searches can make finding references very easy.

Zotero is best experienced and I hope your curiosity is whetted by reading about some of its capabilities. If you do any kind of research, gather any amount of information on a topic, I recommend that you give it a try. I really like being able to have all related items located together with flexible organization.

Go to the Zotero site for an up-to-date list of its features and a video demonstrating its use. Also, here are two user produced slide shows about Zotero:
Zotero slide Show on Lauren's Library Blog
Zotero Your Personal Research Assistant

Friday, April 17, 2009

My First Award

Dorte at DJs Krimiblog presented me with The Grasshopper Award. The award originated at We Read and Dorte received it by way of Kittling Books.

I am please to be recognized by Dorte. Her DJs Krimiblog has become one of my favorite crime fiction blogs for its creativity and content and is extra remarkable for being published in English and Danish.

Wendy at We Read describes the award:
So if you’ve received this award you’ll see elements of your page here on mine, you will have amazed me & you will have inspired me to find out ‘how can I do that too’. But perhaps more than that you’ll have made me smile and feel good about myself as I recognise I’m not alone if I’m reading.

1) display the grasshopper award on your blog knowing you have touched someone you may never meet IRL.
2) pass this on to any fellow bloggers who have taught, inspired or entertained you.

I need to ask Wendy if she will consider adding oak leaf clusters to represent second and subsequent awards since everyone I immediately thought to pass it on to have already received it.

My To Be Read Stack

Following the examples of Dorte and Kerrie, here is a photograph of my TBR stack. I want to assure my crime fiction blogging friends that that there is no significance to the location of two horror novels at the top of the stack. It was purely a matter of symmetry and not priority. The titles are quite legible if you click on the image.

Not a Review: Spring Markers

In my continuing effort not to write about the six books I've recently finished here are some of my markers that Spring has arrived in Williamsburg. I'm not sure if it is significant that my markers are reptiles and not flowers (except for the azaleas in the first image).

The top two photos were taken on the bank of Crim Dell on the campus of The College of William and Mary in Virginia. Can you spot the Northern Water Snake in the top photo? The second photo shows a baby snapping turtle we found on the sidewalk and moved to the verge. It was the first turtle I've seen this year.

In June 2007 I saw a turtle laying eggs behind the library. In October, I dug down and found that the turtles had hatched. I released several in Crim Dell.

The bottom two photos were taken on the loop drive on Jamestown Island. I was riding my bicycle over a bridge and spotted these two beauties.

These photographs were taken with my cell phone.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My TBR (To be Reviewed)

These are my To Be Reviewed books, books I've finished but not yet written up.

Since I'm writing this post you can conclude that I'm still procrastinating. It isn't my fault, really. I blame Dorte Jakobsen, a blogging friend I met in FriendFeed's Crime and Mystery Fiction Room. She recently posted a photograph of her To Be Read shelf on her blog, DJs Krimiblog. Nothing would do but for me to present my variation on what TBR might mean.

Dorte's excellent blog is bilingual with most posts written in Danish and English. She also has fun contests such as DJs Bait in the Box which start with a quote from a work of crime fiction. Check out number 11, here.

If you enjoy discussing crime fiction I recommend a visit to the the Crime and Mystery Fiction Room on friendfeed. Visiting this room is like entering an on-going conversation about crime fiction with people scattered around the world (at least three continents and one island). I've found other blogs to follow and books I want to read here in addition to the interesting commentary and insights.