Sunday, January 27, 2019

Singularly Adapted to Our Needs [MISS]

I spent a lot of time this week meandering through different topics for tonight's post.

After listening to this week's episode of Trifles about Germans and Sherlock Holmes, I thought about doing a post on how Hans Gruber could be tied to the Canon.

Then I saw Dan Andriacco's post about the lineup for Holmes, Doyle & Friends, and figured I could do a love-fest for the names on that list.

This weekend I read a crazy book: "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as Retold by Sherlock Holmes."  That was high on my list to talk about.

But a tweet by Howard Ostrom popped up this morning, and I found myself debating the merit of younger versions of the Canon.

Sherlock Holmes + Kids Reading.  Yeah, I have some opinions on that.

Some folks thought that kids should read the original Canon as is and revising it is pandering to the lowest common denominator.  An argument was also made that by reading the stories in their original form, kids would learn new vocabulary terms.  (Another person said that they thought the Canon shouldn't be taught in school because it isn't literature.  We agreed to disagree on that point.)

This year, The Beacon Society undertook an initiative to list many appropriate texts that educators can use to introduce Sherlock Holmes to students at any age.  Now, I don't think the people that I was tweeting back and forth with all day today were saying that kindergartners should sit down with the Doubleday and a dictionary and fend for themselves.  But is it wrong to expose kids to Holmes and Watson with some very light versions of the Canon? 

The Canon is written at approximately a high school reading level.  As a fifth grade teacher, I want my kids to know about Holmes.  There's no way in hell I would expect them to wade through Victorian literature at their age.  Even my highest readers would get bogged down with some of the outdated terms.  Do they really need to know the difference between a hansom, growler, four-wheeler and a dog-cart?  Just call it a cab or a carriage and get on with the story.

An valid argument was made that these stories are full of great vocabulary for kids to learn.  I agree with that, but also don't want them to miss the forest for the trees.  If a kid is spending time looking up word after word, the genius of these stories is going to be lost on them; instead they're reading a choppy tale that is teaching them what "moor" means. 

So many people are quick to make decisions about how "kids these days" need to be taught without taking into account all of the micro-decisions that educators make when developing lessons.  (I can do a WHOLE LOT of expounding on the "kids these days" sentiment, but will spare you.)

A friend of mine that teaches in Missouri is also a fifth grade teacher and loves doing mysteries with his class.  When his students read Holmes, they use an adapted version to learn about the framework of the mystery genre.

Shannon Carlisle in Tennessee also uses younger versions of the Holmes stories in her fourth grade classroom.  But her focus is to teach deductive reasoning and decision making skills.

Both of these educators are using texts that are at their students' levels and their kids are getting a great education from it.  Nothing is being dumbed down for these kids.  The focus of these lessons isn't to expand students' vocabulary or teach them to decipher unfamiliar phrases, but to teach genre conventions or critical thinking. 

Would it be great if we could also teach kids to look up unfamiliar words along the way? Absolutely.  But you must prioritize what's important.  And quite frankly, teaching outdated words and phrases is nice sometimes, but it's never going to be high on my priority list.  My number one priority is getting kids to fall in love with books.

We Sherlockians are a literary bunch, and I'm going to assume that we are all pretty strong readers.  That statistically means that most of us were pretty strong readers as kids.  We are blessed.  Whether it was a teacher, family member, librarian, or other angel here on Earth, someone introduced us to The Great Detective.  We picked up our first story, and there was no looking back!  We are the chosen ones.

And not every person who reads a Sherlock Holmes story is going to become a Sherlockian.  But I hope that every person who reads a Sherlock Holmes story walks away with a pleasant memory of their time spent in the pages.  And if we need to adapt the original stories so that kids can enjoy them, then let's do it!

Because if a kid isn't enjoying what they're reading, how can we help them grow into adults that love to read?

Monday, January 21, 2019

Here He Is, Sending Out Messages (REDC)

I still remember the sound of that America Online modem screeching, followed by the "You've Got Mail!" announcement when I was 12.  The internet and email had come into my life. 

These were pretty formative years: discussion boards, websites, chat rooms.  But looking back, the biggest impact of that service was email.  I could communicate quickly with anyone.  No more waiting weeks for a pen pal to write back.  Yeah, this email thing would catch on, I was sure of it.

In the days before email, the predominant form of communication between Sherlockians (so I'm told) was letter writing.  In fact, one of my favorite Sherlockian books is "'Dear Starrett-' 'Dear Briggs-'" a collection of correspondence between two influential members of our hobby.  Reading that book is like getting to sit at a table and listen to two men who know their stuff and are curious about the other's opinion have a legendary conversation.  

Now, in no way do I consider myself to be anywhere near these men's caliber.  But last week, I found myself enjoying the modern day equivalent of the back and forth between those two men.  I got to enjoy the sheer pleasure of two different ongoing, rambling email conversations with some of my favorite Sherlockians, Brad Keefauver and Bill Mason.  

I would assume most of us have our Sherlockian emails that get fired back and forth, but the majority of them are specific to topics and once the topic is completed, the discussion ends.  Lord knows I have plenty of those in my inbox as well.  "Are you coming to the meeting?"  "What is the status of this project?"  "Do you know where I can find ___?"  Those are all well and good, but how often do we get to have conversations that meander from topic to topic?

Bill and I started out conversing about his weekend in New York, which led to travel plans, blog posts, politics, events in Nashville and St. Louis, and other things.  If you know Bill, you know what a gracious and friendly guy he is, and his emails are just as pleasant.  Plus, I hear his great southern accent whenever I read his stuff.  I'm really looking forward to reading his new book, "A Holmes by Any Other Name," and hearing his voice in my head.  (Oooh, what if he recorded it as an audio book?!?!?)

Keefauver was one of the first Sherlockian friends I made when I ventured outside of my bookshelf and started engaging with other people on the internet and at functions.  Although he and I only live two hours apart, we don't see each other as often as I'd like.  I assume that's because I'm taking my daughter to ballet class and he's watching Holmes and Watson.... again.  And again.  And again.  If you know either of us, we ramble, so I can't even begin to list the topics we went over.  

Now, would either of these interactions have happened without email?  I can't say because I wasn't doing too much letter writing in my pre-teen days and don't today.  I can tell you that even if they would had, they would've taken a different approach.  Firing off a one or two sentence email is nothing to us, but writing down so few lines, slipping it an envelope, and using postage for it?  Doubtful.

So, another goal I'm going to set for myself is to let my friendly email correspondence be more of a conversation instead of a Q&A session.  Although time and distance don't always allow us to converse as much with Sherlockians around the country and world that we would like to, we have the means right here at our fingertips.  Long rambling messages, short queries, whatever.  

Just as long as they don't look like this: 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Interesting Interview: Curtis Armstrong

If you only know Curtis Armstrong as the guy from Revenge of the Nerds or Moonlighting, you are missing out on so much more!  Curtis is an ardent Sherlockian from an early age and his devotion to this hobby of ours is still going strong decades later.  In 2017, his memoir "Revenge of the Nerd: Or... The Singular Adventures of the Man Who Would Be Booger" came out, and to many Sherlockians' delight contained all kinds of great tidbits about his interest in the Great Detective.  (Sure, there were stories about Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, and John Cusack, but the selling point is Sherlock Holmes, right?)  Invested into The Baker Street Irregulars in 2006 as "An Actor and a Rare One," Curtis' wears his love for Sherlock Holmes and other Sherlockians on his sleeve.  I think you are in for a real treat with this month's answers...

How did you become a Sherlockian?
In a manner of speaking, I became a Sherlockian the moment my father put his copy of the stories in my hands. That was 1964 or 1965. But my path to the "organized" Sherlockian world began a few years later. In 1969, my Civics teacher, Barry Lepler, commented on the fact that I was carrying a copy of the Sherlock Holmes stories with me every day in school. My obsession was obvious and he asked if I'd ever heard of William Baring Gould's Annotated Sherlock Holmes. He had gotten a copy for joining the Book of the Month Club a year before. Would I be interested?

I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, but said yes. He then said the book could be mine for $5.00, which was what he paid for his subscription!  That seemed reasonable. I brought in my $5.00 and he handed me what was, in many ways, the key to my future.

It was through Baring Gould that I discovered the existence of The Baker Street Irregulars and The Baker Street Journal. I would never have dreamed that such things existed!  Obviously, my first move would be to join The Baker Street Irregulars.  But even a cursory reading of the history of the organization showed that was unlikely, even if the group still existed, and I wasn't sure it did.  The Baker Street Journal was another matter, though. I subscribed immediately, and it was in the first or second issue that I saw the announcement, in the Scion Society section, that a new Sherlock Holmes society had been founded specifically for young Sherlockians--and that it was based in Cranbrook Gardens, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which was about twenty minutes drive from my house.

The founder of this group was Susan Rice, now legendary in the Sherlockian world, but then a young teacher at the Kingsford School in Bloomfield Hills. The group was co-ed, unlike the Irregulars at that time, and consisted mainly of her students.  We would meet at her apartment: discuss the stories, attend plays, have dinners occasionally, including one at my home at which we were honored by the presence of  the Detroit Amateur Mendicant Society founder Bob Harris, who arrived with a Tantalus and Gasogene (which we were encouraged to sample) and who sat telling stories about the old days with famed Irregulars like "Kit."  Even Susan, far more educated in this lore than we, didn't realize at first he was talking about Christopher Morley.  Jupiter descended that night!

Though I dabbled in scion groups in the following decades (The Greek Interpreters of East Lansing and The Non-Canonical Calabashes of Los Angeles) my youthful fantasy of induction in The Baker Street Irregulars seemed as far away as ever.  Until I received an unexpected invitation to attend the weekend from Susan in 2002.  My induction a few years later was the most unexpected and thrilling moments of my life.

What is your favorite canonical story?
"Favorite Canonical story?"  Unanswerable.  This answer changes regularly.  I'll say "Silver Blaze".  No, wait. "Bruce Partington Plans." No, hang on....

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
 If we are speaking of a Sherlockian not yet inducted, I would say Ashley Polasek. A scholar, writer, editor, teacher and Medieval swordswoman. She has a PhD in Sherlock Holmes adaptions and has spoken on Sherlockian subjects internationally. She was the editor of my second book, on P.G. Wodehouse, called "A Plum Assignment," co-written by Elliott Milstein. Also co-editor of the Los Angeles symposium book, Sherlock Holmes: Behind The Canoncial Screen. She's also funny and knows her single malts.  What more can you ask for?

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you?
I'm not that interested in films or plays, or cosplay. That feels too much like what I do for a living. I'm a hardcore bibliophile, so it used to be collecting. I have a large collection of Sherlockiana including first editions, Strand magazines, Doyle letters and an extensive collection of books, letters and inscribed copies of books by first generation Irregulars.  That hobby got a little rich for my blood, though. I still collect the new books by BSI Press and Wessex Press and independently published work, but the the earlier stuff has just gotten too expensive. I consider my collection basically frozen. Now I collect Washington Irving. I love him as much as Doyle and he's more reasonably priced! 

What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
I don't really research anything!  I don't write that often on the subject.  I like to think of myself more as an enthusiast. I am lost in admiration for the people I know for whom research is an important part of their Sherlockian experience, but it's just not really in my wheel house. I've been invited to give talks on Holmes often but it is always related in some way to what I do:  Holmes and theatre, actors, film, that sort of thing.  Sometimes when I'm preparing a talk there is some research involved but it's really not what I enjoy. I just like to read the stories and talk about them, when I do, from my own perspective.  I wish I were a scholar, but I'm not.

Is there a Sherlockian role that you would really enjoy playing on stage or screen?
I've been asked this question a lot.  Honestly, no. I don't see myself in any Canonical character.  Maybe Nathan Garrideb. Years ago, the actor/director Heather MacDonald wrote a Sherlock Holmes play and arranged a backers reading of it in New York. She asked me to play Billy the page. I was 28. I played him like Terry Kilburn in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes."  My one Sherlock Holmes credit.

Although not Sherlockian, last year, you released the book "A Plum Assignment: Discourses on P. G. Wodehouse and His World" with Elliot Milstein.  Why do you think there is such a crossover between fans of Wodehouse and fans of The Great Detective?
A good question.  I don't know.  I think it may be because Wodehouse was such a fan of Doyle's that he sort of bubbled over with enthusiasm for him and that sort of thing is infectious. It was there in everything, from throwaways like referring to three-pipe problems, or quoting lines from the stories that are recognizable.  Comparing aunts to Professor Moriarty, that sort of thing. Inside things that readers like.  The plot of "Indiscretions of Archie" borrows pretty substantially from "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."  Also, there is a cult quality to Wodehouse readers that is very similar to Doyle readers.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
I assume you mean a Sherlockian-related book.  I'd recommend something by Vincent Starrett or Chris Morley.  Not "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" or "Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson: A Textbook of Friendship", but one of their Sherlock-adjacent, less well-known books.  Starrett's "Penny Wise and Book Foolish" or Morley's "Powder of Sympathy." If you can find them.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
Who could've predicted ten years ago where Sherlockiana is today?  Fortunately, Sherlockiana is no longer the domain of all-white-male bookishness.  I relish the changes and have been disappointed and kind of appalled at the reactions of some Sherlockians of my generation to what the Irregulars in particular has become.  Women, POC and the young are the future of societies like ours and we should embrace them.  They are no threat to us, they're like o-negative blood transfusions, universal and life-giving. If we've learned nothing else from Tom Stix's day, we've learned that Sherlockian whiskey-and-sodality has no gender. The future of Sherlockiana looks bright to me.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

With a Brisk Air of Resolution (CROO)

As we pause a moment to celebrate Sherlock Holmes' 165th birthday today, I find myself looking forward to 2019.  Last year, I created an extensive list of Sherlockian resolutions, which fell all over the map in if I had accomplished them or not.  This year, I still want to set some Sherlockian goals for myself, but think I'll be a little more pragmatic this time around.

1. Read 20 canonical stories
I am amazed by people who can read the whole Canon in a year.  I shot for 52 stories in 2018 (one per week) and it turned into a chore.  I never want my Sherlockian reading to feel like a chore, so 20 seems like an attainable number this year.

2. Submit an article to the Baker Street Journal
This is a repeat goal from last year.  When I recapped my progress on 2018 goals, I didn't think it was going to happen.  And then I got some guts and cranked out a piece of writing I'm pretty proud of.  I submitted to the BSJ and it was turned down, but the rejection wasn't as terrifying as I thought it would be.  I'll be back with at least one more submission this year I hope.

3. Finish my current Sherlockian book manuscript
I'm working on a kids book to make Sherlock Holmes more accessible to kids aged 9-12 years old.  I haven't been good about having a writing routine with this project as I was with The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.  It's time for me to buckle down, complete a first draft, edit, and get a manuscript ready to shop around by the end of the year.

4. Encourage new leadership in The Parallel Case of St. Louis
For the past few years, I've been lucky enough to lead this great group of people and I don't plan on quitting any time soon.  But we have such a diverse and interesting group of Sherlockians that meet every other month, it shouldn't be just me calling the shots.  What does that mean?  I don't know.  But I'm excited to see who wants to take on a larger role and what they come up with.

5. Encourage St. Louis Sherlockian social interactions
I also really love the few purely social Sherlockian events we've had in St. Louis here and there.  I'd like to see my scion make a conscious effort to get together and just enjoy each other's company.

6. Holmes in the Heartland 2020
Speaking of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, we are laying the groundwork for our next Holmes in the Heartland conference, tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2020.  By the end of 2019, I would like most of plans to be in place so we can go above and beyond what we accomplished in 2018.

7.Add to the St. Louis Sherlockian Research Collection
A few of us in St. Louis are overseeing the acquisition of new materials for this research collection, and I'm hoping things will be in place for us to start wheeling and dealing in the next month or two to add to this great resource.

8. Get visitors to the collection
I don't want this to be just a bunch of books that sit and collect dust.  How we go about this, I don't know just yet.  But if we have everything planned out ahead of time, life would be boring.

9. Use the collection for my own research
Maybe for my planned BSJ submission....?

10. Keep blogging!
This blog was originally started as a way to promote The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street over a year ago.  Since then, it's become an outlet for my Sherlockian musings which I enjoy doing overall.  But let's be honest, some weeks I just don't want to write.  Or come up with a topic.  Once I get myself up off of the couch and behind the keyboard, it's worth it.  I don't want lethargy to overtake me with this.  I have hopes for 12 top notch Interesting Interviews throughout the year, and think maybe writing more about the actual canonical stories this year would be a good focus for my time.

Well, my list is actually longer than last year, but I think everything is attainable.  Here's to another year of Sherlockiana!