Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mission Accomplished

I had to go to five different bookstores today to find a copy of Andrew Lycett's Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. I’m not sure why it's in such short supply in Toronto bookstores. Certainly they weren't poised to take advantage of any interest whipped up by the enthusiastic review in this week's Globe and Mail. I arrived at the fifth store a few minutes after it was to have closed, breathless and limping from my mad dash over there. There was a salesperson posted at the door, I think for the express purpose of turning away latecomers like me. But she didn't. She recognized the title of the book I sought, nabbed a copy from a nearby display table, and hustled me into the line-up at the till with such cheerful efficiency that, before I knew it, I was on the streetcar home already immersed in my new purchase. A couple of chapters in, I can assure you that it is well worth the trouble it took to track it down. Here are a couple of snippets that the bookish among you (I know, that designation likely applies to all of you!) may appreciate.

On Arthur Conan Doyle's mother's love of reading:

Mary made full use of the [Philosophical] Institution's extensive library. At home her passion for reading became a joke: she always had a book in front of her whether she was knitting or feeding the children. Arthur later provided a fictional portrait of her as the 'quaintest mixture of the housewife and woman of letters … Always a lady, whether she was bargaining with the butcher, or breaking in a skittish charwoman, or stirring the porridge, which I can see her doing with the porridge-stick in one hand, and the other holding her Revue des deux Mondes within two inches of her dear nose.'

And his own:

As Arthur had begun to understand, such tales [adventure stories by his favourite novelists, R.M. Ballantyne and Captain Mayne Reid, that he read while at boarding school] gave him an escape from events around him. He later enthused about the vividness of his experiences on such occasions: 'Your very heart and soul are out on the prairies and the oceans with your hero. It is you who act and suffer and enjoy. You carry the long small-bore Kentucky rifle with which such egregious things are done, and you lie out on the topsail yard, and get jerked by the flap of the sail into the Pacific, where you cling on to the leg of an albatross, and so keep afloat until the comic boatswain turns up with his crew of volunteers to handspike you into safety: What magic it is, this stirring of the boyish heart and mind! Long ere I came to my teens I had traversed every sea and knew the Rockies like my own back garden … It was all more real than the reality.'

This biography is shaping up to be precisely the book that I have long wanted to read about Arthur Conan Doyle, and precisely the book I want to be reading right now. Funny, isn't it, the lengths some of us will go to, even with a house already full of books, to get our hands on just the right book for right now?


Eva said...

This one sounds really neat! I love Scotland. :D And congrats on scoring the book!

CLM said...

Kate, I am glad you posted about this because I had read the NYT review and decided it wasn't worth reading.