Sunday, February 9, 2020

Interesting Interview: Bob Katz

If you've been to an official BSI event, or any Sherlockian event on the eastern seaboard, you've probably seen Bob Katz there.  You are right in thinking that he is under the BSI.  You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the - well, maybe that's taking things too far.  But Bob has been around long enough to have seen the growth of our hobby and be at the forefront of welcoming new Sherlockians into the fold over the past few decades.

If you own a book by BSI Publishing, Bob's been involved in it.  If you're a member of a scion in one of the original 13 states, Bob has probably visited (and plenty inland as well).  If you've ever wondered how the American Civil War affected Sherlock Holmes, Bob is the man to have a drink with.

But here's the thing: it would be very easy for Bob Katz to sit up in some Sherlockian ivory tower, but he's a wrecking ball of personality.  Bob will be one of the first people to stick out his hand and introduce himself to a new face at a Sherlockian gathering.  Case in point, he was one of two speakers at my first Sherlockian event, Nerve and Knowledge, years back.  I am not an outgoing person, but by the end of the night, we were at a table talking about book projects and why his son prefers Under Armor over Nike.  Bob just has a way of pulling you into his orbit.  I don't know if Bob Katz has ever met a stranger, and if you haven't had a chance to meet Dr. Katz, now's your time.

How do you define the word “Sherlockian”?
I try to keep this one simple. Anyone who is interested in Sherlock Holmes is a Sherlockian. I don't try to make distinctions or conditions. If you like Sherlock Holmes, that's good enough for me. We'll find something to discuss.

How did you become a Sherlockian?
I was introduced to Sherlock Holmes via a rainy Saturday afternoon viewing of a Rathbone film (I think "House of Fear") on local New York television. I was so enthralled by it that I dashed out of the house after the film ended and practically ran to the local library to find the stories in print. Once I had read the stories, I happened to come across Baring-Gould's biography "Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street" in a remainder pile in a NY bookstore. For me, the best part of the book was the bibliography at the end of the book. I learned about the "Baker Street Journal" and several of the cornerstone works of Higher Criticism. I was able to find copies of most through the local libraries and had read quite a bit by the time I finished high school.

Fortuitously (and without foreknowledge of the fact), I attended Haverford College, which was the alma mater of BSI founder, Christopher Morley. There was a reading alcove in the library named for him, replete with a comfortable sofa, and surrounding bookcases containing Morley's writings. I managed to intersperse Canonical commentary and my official studies throughout college. While in medical school, I came across an article about a running of the NY Silver Blaze race, which identified Julian Wolff as the leader of the BSI. I wrote to him and he replied with a suggestion that I subscribe to the BSJ. That brought me into contact with the wider Sherlockian world.

After finishing school and internship, I landed in Philadelphia for my residency training. By then, I had the time to join a Scion Society (The Master's Class, then chaired by our current BSI leader/Wiggins, Michael Kean). I became involved in their activities and things just spiraled from there. Even though I was in my mid-twenties, everyone treated me with great kindness and friendship. I knew I was in the right place.

What is your favorite canonical story?
I've always had a soft spot for "The Dying Detective". It's the most medical of the stories, takes place in the shortest time frame, has a truly malevolent villain, and a surprise ending. I was thrilled when I received the BSI investiture of "Dr. Ainstree", which is taken from that story.

Who is a specific Sherlockian that you think others would find interesting?
That's a really hard question. It's rare for me to meet a Sherlockian who isn't interesting. Sherlockians are the most well-read people I know. Their breadth and depth of knowledge on a huge variety of subjects is immensely impressive.

Of course, we're all interested in the early pillars of the Sherlockian world--Smith, Morley, Starrett, followed by Shaw, Wolff, Stix and so many others. Rather than pick just one individual, I'd rather focus on who has real meaning to me. One of the great pleasures of my life is sitting down to dinner with a small group of Sherlockians. It's great if they are old friends. It's great if they are people I've just met. We have so many shared experiences; so many shared interests; so many divergent, overlapping and/or different views. Spending a few hours in that surrounding is what epitomizes the Sherlockian experience and I'm perpetually interested in what others have to say.

What subset of Sherlockiana really interests you? What things do you like to research related to Sherlock Holmes?
I'll cover these together and largely defer to the question below. I've always been interested in the medical aspects of the Canon, along with the life of Dr. Watson. To a great extent, my choice of careers was influenced by the Canon. A detective makes deductions. A doctor makes diagnoses. It's the same process. As a result, most of my own research has been medically-oriented. But from time to time, my other lifelong interest, the American Civil War, sometimes creeps into my Sherlockian writing. But without Watson, we'd never know about Holmes.

How did you become involved with editing the BSI Press and how has it changed during your tenure?
Like so many things in life, my initial involvement with BSI Books came about by serendipity. At the BSI Dinner some years back, Andrew Fusco (Series Editor of the Manuscript Series) approached my dear friend, Andrew Solberg about editing "The Golden Pince-Nez" manuscript. Andy S had too many professional obligations and declined. Later that evening, Andy F asked me if I could take this on. I was getting ready to retire, but was still too busy to accept. A few minutes later, Andy S and I were seated together at the Dinner. We'd been close friends for decades and realized that if we worked together, we could do the book. So we walked across the Ballroom and offered to co-edit. Andy Fusco graciously accepted.

That started a collaboration that produced four books for the Manuscript Series and a stand alone book about Medicine in the Canon. Working with the entire BSI Press team has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my Sherlockian journey. After handling several books, Michael Kean (who was then BSI Press Co-Publisher along with John Bergquist) asked me if I would succeed him as Co-Publisher and Acquisitions Editor. For some inexplicable reason, Mike K thought I was thorough and detail-oriented. Mike himself was getting ready to become the next Wiggins and facilitated the transition to my tenure.

I think it is more accurate to say the BSI Press has evolved rather than changed. It was started by Mike Whelan with a small number of publications. Over time, we've become a busier organization, with a substantial number of publications on a regular basis. The format of the books has become more standardized, which enables us to maintain the quality of the contributions. As the books gained wider distribution, more and more Sherlockians wanted to contribute to our books. This has widened the pool of talent available to us and attracted people with a wide range of backgrounds, knowledge bases, and skill sets. I'm very pleased with what we've been able to do over the years and know that we already have many new books in active production and development.

How have your years in the medical field influenced your appreciation of the Canon?
It's worked both ways for me. My reading of the Canon helped me to make a career choice. Once I was in medical school, my choice of a specialty (Pathology) was affected by aspects of the Canon. The Canon was written by a physician (Conan Doyle or Watson---take your pick). Joseph Bell was a role model. So many of the stories have significant medical facets. Holmes and Watson are introduced to each other by a physician, in a hospital laboratory. It's a pleasure and a privilege to be able to read the Canon through the eyes and perspective of a physician.

Although years apart, both Watson and I shared a common educational experience and share a common world view. It's just something that becomes a part of our DNA over time. Both the Canon and the medical profession somehow "make sense" to me. It was thrilling to have the opportunity to work with Andy Solberg on "Nerve and Knowledge" as we're both in health care and we were able to put all our years of experience to work in discussing medicine in the Canon.

What book would you recommend to other Sherlockians?
Can't pick just one---and why limit it. The Sherlockian literature expands and improves continually. Anything by Morley, Starrett, and Smith is a great starting point. The various annotated versions (both Baring-Gould and Klinger) make repealed readings of the Canon so much more fulfilling. Mattias Bostrom and Michael Sims have widened our horizons lately. Conan Doyle biographies got off to a good start with Carr, and Stashower and Lycett have added to our knowledge. The BSI Press Manuscript Series (and yes I'm biased) provides a unique view into the creative process. Nick Meyer turned our world upside down, and for the better, with 7%.

And when you run out of new books to read, just go back to the Canon. The Holmes stories have become a phenomenon because they get better with each re-reading. Some overlooked detail, some subtle nuance, some plot twist---these all become apparent anew each time you read the stories.

Where do you see Sherlockiana in 5 or 10 years from now?
There have been so many sentinel events that rock the Sherlockian world every few years---Gillette on stage, Rathbone on film, Brett on television. 7% reinventing the concept of the pastiche. BBC Sherlock dazzling us and proving that there's always a new way to look at things. And that's a limited list of everything that has influenced the Sherlocian universe.

Social media has added an entirely new dimension. So I don't exactly know how the Sherlockian world will look in five or ten years. But then, that actually doesn't matter. What counts, and I am absolutely positively certain of this, is that there will be Sherlockiana in five years, ten years, and beyond. It will bear similarities to the present. It will be radically different. But there will be a fixed point in the changing of the ages. The characters of Holmes and Watson, the relationship between Holmes and Watson, the sophistication of the studies involving Holmes and Watson----these will be the bedrock of the field.

And of perhaps equal importance, the friendships and relationships that are the glue of our unique society will be as strong as they have always been. All of that sustains us and impels us to take Sherlockiana into new and creative directions. Is there anything better than being a Sherlockian?

1 comment:

  1. My first Holmes-related reading for the day. Excellent. There’s only one Bob Katz! Several connections: the canonical story for our scion meeting Saturday is DYIN. And my most recent book purchases were SHERLOCK HOLMES OF BAKER STREET and Ely Liebow’s DR JOE BELL. I also attended the Nerve and Knowledge event. Bob is the BOMB!