Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Cardboard Box - a Sherlock Holmes short story

"The Cardboard Box" is a Sherlock Holmes short story also known as “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collection. According to The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, it was Holmes 25th case chronologically.


The last several cases I read were a bit weak in demonstrating Holmes’ extraordinary powers of observation and deduction. The Cardboard Box was more on par. It is a rather grisly case, as Dr. Watson hints at in the opening paragraph.


It’s a double murder, with human remains sent via post, to an unassuming spinster. Through inspections of the remains, and observation of the recipient, Holmes is able to deduce the motive, means, and identity of the culprit.


However, my favorite part of this adventure, was a superb reference to the writings of Edgar Allan Poe. I nearly stood and cheered. You may have heard that Poe invented the detective story. You may have read on this blog, that Sherlock Holmes, is modeled after Poe’s detective C. Auguste Dupin. Apart from Dupin being French, and Holmes English, the similarities are obvious to any reader. Dupin and Holmes both observe seemingly insignificant details and make logical inferences to the amazement of their friends and foes. Both have a straight man: an unnamed narrator for Dupin; Dr. Watson, of course, for Holmes.


And although Dupin is clearly the archetype detective, I was not aware that Arthur Conan Doyle ever acknowledged such…until I read “The Cardboard Box”. In the beginning of the story Sherlock and Dr. Watson are found relaxing, smoking, reading in Holmes’ flat, as they so often are, when suddenly and with no apparent prompt, Holmes vocally concurs with Watson’s private thoughts of the moment. Watson is amazed and Holmes uses the occasion to remind Watson how they had disagreed over the plausibility of Poe’s detective (Doyle names Poe, but not Dupin), and his ability to seemingly read thoughts by observing slight outward expressions and mannerisms – a method demonstrated by Dupin in Poe’s stories. Holmes proves to Watson, that Poe’s fictional detective is not so inconceivable as Watson had apparently argued.


Bravo Sir Arthur!


I believe this was a brilliant subtle homage to Poe.



Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (novel #199)

…death, fires, and burglary, make all men equals. ~ narrative from Oliver Twist


Oliver Twist, alternately titled The Beggar Boy’s Progress, is Dicken’s second novel, one of his best known, and shorter than most. If you believe the myth that Dickens was paid per word, you might believe he hadn’t quite learned the full value of verbosity just yet.


It’s the story of a poor orphan – obviously, with a heart of gold – of course, who unbeknownst to himself, and the reader, has been robbed of his rightful station – yep, falls amongst vagabonds and thieves – why not, then into kind and caring hands – sure, repeat vagabonds, repeat kind and caring, throw in a whole bunch of ironic coincidence, and then oh so satisfying justice.


My epitomizing might seem like criticism. It isn’t, though I think sometimes Dickens is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Please note the emphasis on sometimes, because I love Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities – the greatest novel EVER; David Copperfield and Bleak House amongst my all-time favorites; and A Christmas Carol - amazing! But, every work of Dickens cannot rise to such standards. 


I first read this at least 30 years ago and loved it, but this time round, I was just a bit less impressed. I will make but one precise criticism. The unbelievable coincidence – a Dickens trademark – is just too unbelievable in this tale. Too many; too frequent; too perfect*. I’ve struggled with this before with Dickens. It’s in every novel. But, each novel should stand on its own. A coincidence in one novel, does not render a different coincidence in a distinct novel less plausible, though it sort of feels that way. But when Mr. Dickens employs one ironic twist, after another, after another, after another, in the same story, it’s just absurd. Oliver Twist was his second novel. I have noticed that he progresses as an author and does not lean so heavily on this device in later novels.


And again, lest my point is lost in all this nit-picking, it is a very enjoyable read. When Dickens’ hallmark poetic justice, teetering on the edge of calamity, begins to unfold, I couldn’t put it down. Very captivating, very satisfying!


Let the tears which fell, and the broken words which were exchanged in the long close embrace between the orphans, be sacred. A father, sister, and mother, were gained, and lost, in that one moment. Joy and grief were mingled in the cup; but there were no bitter tears: for even grief itself arose so softened, and clothed in such sweet and tender recollections, that it became a solemn pleasure, and lost all character of pain.



My rating: 3 1/2  out of 5 stars





This novel satisfies 19th Century Classic in the Back to the Classics Challenge 2022





* Yes, I know “too perfect” is grammatically untenable, unless of course one uses it for effect.





Thursday, June 9, 2022

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince was written by Niccoló Machiavelli as a gift, having no other suitable gift, for his prince. It is political theory and philosophy intended to instruct the young prince on how to rule his dominion well and securely. I admire Machiavelli for this:  recognizing that wisdom is a gift at least as valuable as the fancy baubles that others might offer.


However, my admiration principally ends there. Machiavelli espouses a philosophy of situation ethics, which posits, the end justifies the means. Indeed his name has become synonymous with the concept.


I recognize, in many instances, this is the way of the world. Many world leaders, past and present, have taken pages from Machiavelli’s playbook…Literally! By literally, I mean…ahem! Literally! I believe, many have read it, decided it makes good sense, and have adopted the methods to their own rule. It isn’t just political. I am certain that many a shrewd businessperson also follows Machiavelli’s precepts.


…it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.

I do not endorse Machiavelli’s philosophy, though I acknowledge its efficacy. I read his treatise, to see how the other half lives. The Lord Jesus told a parable of an unjust steward. I believe he was instructing his disciples to understand the ways of the world. He said:

…the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light…

He was not telling them to emulate the unjust steward, but to be aware, and beware.


Hence, I read Machiavelli. I can be a bit naïve about the ways of the world. The Prince certainly hard slapped some of that naïveté out of me.


Christ also admonishes his followers to be wise as serpents, and gentle as doves. Machiavelli made me wise to the ways of the world; I pray the Lord will make me gentle.


Excerpts:  to illustrate Machiavelli’s philosophy, not to endorse it.


For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less, benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavor of them may last longer.


Upon this a question arises:  whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved…     


…men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared…


…those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account…


If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them.


…it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.



Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books with a unit of TIME in the title

TOP TEN TUESDAY is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl





Topic for June 7, 2022: Top Ten Books with a unit of TIME in the title


Let’s just accept that this is actually Thirteen…and that it’s Wednesday, and then get over it. I was having fun with the progression and didn’t want to stop. And I’m late.


176 Milliseconds by John McWilliams


One Second After by William R. Forstchen


Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho


The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector


If on a Winter's Night a Traveller  by Italo Calvino


The Day of the Locust by Natanael West


Five Weeks in a Baloon by Jules Verne


A Fortnight Before the Frost by Sigurd Hoel and Sverre Lyngstad


A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr


One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez


Storm of the Century by Stephen King


Millennium by John Varley


The Forever War by Joe Haldeman



Sunday, May 29, 2022

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (novel #198)

…above all things, I fear absurdity. ~ Saleem Sinai


Midnight’s Children is an allegory, using magical realism, and I think you’d have to call it historical fiction as well. The fictional narrator recalls real events and persons in India, just prior to independence from Great Britain in 1947 and continuing another 30 years.


The narrator Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight August 15, 1947 at the very moment India becomes independent. At the same moment another child is born, whose mother does not survive.


At the stroke of the midnight hour, while the world sleeps, India awakens to life and freedom…And beneath the roar of the monster there are two more yells, cries, bellows, the howls of children arriving in the world, their unavailing protests mingling with the din of independence which hangs saffron-and-green in the night sky.


Shortly after birth the babies are switched, unbeknownst to the parents. Saleem is raised in affluence while the other, Shiva, lives as an orphan in extreme poverty, a life that should have been Saleem’s.


Saleem, and all of India’s Midnight Children, born in the first hour of independence, are endowed with magical powers. The closer their birth to midnight, the greater their powers. Hence Saleem and Shiva are the most powerful, and eventually become enemies. Saleem can communicate telepathically with all the Midnight Children, and hopes to use their collective powers to help the young nation, while Shiva is more personally ambitious.


I didn’t love it; I didn’t hate it, but I respect it. I’m certain I’d appreciate this book more if I had better knowledge of Indian history. I thought it was a fascinating premise, and I think it’s probably rather brilliant…just mostly wasted on me. My deficiency, not the authors. I am reminded of John Updike’s first rule of literary criticism: 


“Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.”


I think Rushdie wished to tell the world of India’s struggles in her early life. I think he did that admirably, but it wasn’t particularly compelling for me.


My rating 3 ½ out of 5 stars




Wednesday, May 18, 2022

NOVA this week (May 18, 2022)

NOVA this month actually. It’s been a while since I posted, and even longer since I reviewed anything. That is partially due to not enjoying my current read, Midnight’s Children, which always slows me down, but more significantly due to major life upheaval.

But in a good way.

My bride and I sold our house at the beginning of May, and downsized to a one bedroom apartment. Lest that sound like economic constraint, I will declare quite the opposite. I plan on retiring in early 2024, and then moving to Michigan to be near our grandchildren. With that life-change on the horizon, we decided to take advantage of the housing market, thinking the recent home buying frenzy was not likely to last much longer; we may have timed it nearly perfectly. We’ve done alright selling before, but I’ve always dreamed of selling in an extreme seller’s market, with buyers in a bidding war, and selling as-is for more than original asking price – and dreams do come true. Our house was on the market two days, before we had a contract at a premium price. We are very thankful.

But, this blessing resulted in a rather hectic period of yard sale, packing, shipping to storage, setting up the apartment, inspection, appraisal, and closing. All in just over a month.

All done now ***deep breath***

We are quite comfy and content in our new digs, though I do miss my library. Most of my books are in storage for a while. 

I will soon get back to reviewing books. A few of my long-time followers will recall that this blog was originally about my quest to read the 100 Greatest Novels. Midnight’s Children will be #198, so I should close out the second century of great novels this summer. 


The Wanderer


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Tis Speaketh like Shakespeare Day

So bethought I wouldst deign to speak a verse or twain as bard.

First, I shall agnize t’is not talk nay soliloquy, but rath'r scribing hard.

Moreso, as I suff’rst the words so fearfully imposing;

I shouldst eke agnize t’is not verily scribing, but more composing.

Alas, I seeth readily, yond 'twill beest some plus a line or two,

T’is haps most wondrous I attempt anew.


Bethought I deign to composeth lines the bard might proffer.

I plight to fall upon some worthy thought, for to my readers offer.

T’is more ease have said than done;

E’re good intent and faithful act are one.

Is't vain to muse my thoughts anon could’st of value be,

To thee lief reader seeking serendipity?


Haps not, for how thee chance ‘pon blog o’mine but from some erstwhile wander

Dids’t liketh, followeth, subsribeth, bookmarketh, finding points to ponder?

Alas, no foul, may I right claim thy goodly fav’r;

Rightful prize of all here’s lack and lustered labor.

Thus with my willful intent now full affirmed and free all fear;

I meet the mark, to wit, composeth like Shakespeare




The Wand'r'r