BOOK REVIEW: The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes, #7)The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This (book seven of nine of the Sherlock Holmes canon) follows a pattern set by the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. Both books are arranged into two parts, the first of each is a typical Sherlock Holmes story in which the detective investigates a puzzling crime in England; the second skips back in time (and across the Atlantic) to tell a compelling tale that provides motive and context for the first story.

In “Valley of Fear,” the first story involves the gruesome death of a country gentleman in his own home by sawed-off shotgun blast to the face. While suicide is quickly eliminated, the clues present mixed signals. While it’s not, strictly speaking, a locked-door mystery, its occurrence inside a moat-enveloped manor house leaves open the possibility of an inside-job, but there is confounding evidence that suggests someone fled the scene.

The second story takes place in a mining town in the United States, in a place insinuated in the first part to be “the valley of fear.” This valley, properly named Vermissa Valley, earned this epithet because it was run by a thuggish group of violent men who used a secret society as a cover for the corrupt gangland-like practices they carried out as “the Scowrers.” This story focuses on a new arrival, McMurdo, who we are led to believe was a gangster in Chicago who fled to this quiet – yet gangster-ruled – place to disappear into the protective company of fellow criminals. But, of course, nothing is as it seems.

While this book may be self-derivative, I still found it engrossing. While the two novels use a similar narrative scaffolding, each is unique in its details. In both cases, the second part is especially compelling.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #6)The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This short story collection is the sixth book in the Sherlock Holmes canon, and – as the title suggests – it marks the return of the famous fictional detective after a hiatus. Doyle had tried to kill off the Holmes character so that he could work on other projects. At the end of “The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes,” Doyle leads us to believe Holmes and his nemesis, Moriarty, wrestled off the Reichenbach Falls, plummeting to stony deaths.

In the first story in this collection, “The Adventure of the Empty House,” we discover that Holmes didn’t die, and has been exploiting his reputed death, playing a game of cat-and-mouse against the remnants of Moriarty’s gang, notably the deadly, Col. Sebastian Moran. The other twelve stories of the collection stand alone among the larger canon, and follow the usual Holmes narrative weave. Most involve murder, but there is one (“The Adventure of the Three Students”) that involves a “crime” as mundane as test theft, and in some cases, e.g. “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” the murder is a secondary issue. Each crime is solved using the intense observation, out-of-the-box thinking, and leaps of intuition of which only Holmes is capable. Usually, the guilty party is brought to justice, but, in some cases, Holmes follows his own moral code, deciding not to assist the authorities in cases for which he believes the crime justified, or unavoidable.

Among my favorites of the collection are: “The Adventure of the… Norwood Builder,” …Dancing Men,” and …Missing Three-Quarter,” but there’s not a vast standard deviation of quality or style in these stories. They are all intriguing and have their own distinctive features while showing Holmes’s quirky brilliance. This is definitely a must-read for Holmes fans.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This collection of a dozen short stories is the third book in the Sherlock Holmes canon, and the first of the short story collections. The cases described range from murder and scandalous thefts to mysteries as seemingly mundane as why a certain pawnbroker, engineer, or governess got a job offer too good to be true. There is often a falsely accused suspect, or no suspect whatsoever. On more than one occasion, two characters are, in actuality, one. It’s typical Sherlock Holmes, which is to say compelling and engaging throughout. Furthermore, there are a couple of cases, such as the first, that break the usual mold, as the author apparently recognized that it would not to do not break up the cycle of: “strange case gets solved and extensively explained, repeat.”

The stories are as follows:

1.) “A Scandal in Bohemia” – The King of Bohemia, about to be wed, becomes the victim of blackmail. This is one of those cases that breaks the mold as a it’s one of the few in which the criminal gets the better of Holmes – though all works out for Holmes’ client.

2.) “The Red-Headed League” – This is one of the three stories in the collection in which an individual gets a job that pays impossibly well with requirements that, while not onerous, are strange. A pawnbroker is given a nice stipend for ridiculously trivial work by a mysterious organization that funds gingers.

3.) “A Case of Identity” – A well-to-do woman’s fiancé disappears, or so it seems.

4.) “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” – A landowner in the countryside is murdered, and his son, with whom he’d recently argued and who was the last to see him alive, is the immediate and only suspect of Scotland Yard.

5.) “The Five Orange Pips” – A man who recently received a note containing five orange seeds dies, somewhat suspiciously, and under circumstances that do not bode well for his heir.

6.) “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – A husband goes missing, and a beggar immediately comes under suspicion as his killer – though there is no compelling evidence of murder.

7.) “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” – A famed jewel goes missing and a suspect is in custody, but when the jewel is discovered in the alimentary canal of a Christmas goose, what is to be made of that?

8.) “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” – A woman fears her stepfather. The woman’s sister died a couple years before, having made an obscure comment about a “speckled band” as she died.

9.) “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” – A struggling hydraulic engineer gets a job that seems rudimentary enough, but which nearly costs him his life, and does cost him a thumb. It’s clear that his employer is not engaged in the minor crime that the man confessed to in his explanation of why the engineer must work during the dead of night.

10.) “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” – A gentleman’s bride disappears on their wedding day. There are those who think it foul play.

11.) “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet” – A banker who is holding a crown as loan collateral, suffers a theft that threatens his professional reputation, and potent circumstantial evidence points to the banker’s son.

12.) “The Adventure of Copper Beeches” – An unemployed governess is offered a job that pays three times the going rate for light work involving one child, so long as she agrees to cut her hair, and — on occasion – wear a certain dress while sitting in a particular chair.

Doyle creates fascinating characters in Sherlock Holmes and his protégé Doctor Watson, characters that continue to spin off stories to this day, and for good reason. While there is a lot of hokum in these stories, the idea of being able to draw such great information from such miniscule signs captures the imagination. And Doyle does make efforts to break up the monotony. While I pointed out that there are three stories in which characters get great jobs with bizarre requirements, each of these cases is different with respect to why the client got said well-paying job – though it is true in each case that something more nefarious than meets the eye is afoot. It’s not all murder and burglary, sometimes it’s cases that are intellectually interesting if trivial in stakes. And once and a while, Holmes doesn’t get his man, so to speak.

This is a readable and entertaining set of stories. I’d highly recommend giving it a read.


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BOOK REVIEW: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes, #1)A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is the first book of the Sherlock Holmes canon, and is also the first Holmes novel (most of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are short stories published in collections.) The book was first published in 1887.

There are actually two stories told in the novel. The first part of the novel describes a mysterious murder that happens in London and whose victim displays a gruesome death mask. Later a second murder is discovered. It’s not clear whether the two killings are connected but the two men were associates and so it’s a likely conclusion—though the victims’ manner of death is quite different. Because, it’s the first story, there’s also the meeting of Holmes and Dr. Watson–who becomes Holmes’s roommate and who soon becomes fascinated by the work of the world’s first consulting detective.

Part I is as one would expect of a Holmes’ story in setting and characters, the second part is out of the ordinary but none-the-less fascinating. Part II begins with a man and a little girl being rescued by a caravan of Mormons. The two are the sole survivors of a Donner Party-style ill-fated wagon train through the Rockies. The man and the girl go on to live with the Mormons, if uneasily. Eventually, the girl reaches age. While she falls for a non-Mormon hunter, the polygamous Mormon’s face a situation in which the demand for wives far outstrips supply. This sets up the intrigue of the story. That intrigue is eventually tied up by Holmes at the end of the second part.

It seems like it would be an odd way to tell such a story, in two disparate parts, but both parts of the story are well-told and gripping. Though, I found the adventure in Utah to be particularly edge-of-the-seat. There’s a reason Holmes was such a popular character. Arthur Conan Doyle wove fascinating tales.

I’d recommend this book for all fiction readers—unless you’re a Mormon with anger issues, then you might want to just pass.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #4)The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is the second collection of short stories and the fourth book overall in the canon of Sherlock Holmes. It includes eleven adventures of the great detective as narrated by his partner, Dr. John Watson.

Below, I’ll describe the premise of each of the stories:

 

“Silver Blaze” A race horse goes missing and its trainer is found dead. The eponymous race horse is favored to win an upcoming race, so Holmes faces a race against time to see that the horse can compete.

 

“The Yellow Face” A man begins to suspect the wife that he’s never had cause to doubt before. Only he doesn’t know exactly what he suspects her of, but it seems to revolve around visits to a nearby cottage that has been recently occupied by an unknown and mysterious resident. Note: this is one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories both because it displays the humanity of the character in that his initial guess proves wrong, and in it shows how the author was ahead of his time in his worldview.

 

“The Stock-Broker’s Clerk” When an out-of-work clerk, recently hired by prestigious firm, is given an offer of much more money but finds himself doing only busy work, he gets suspicious and calls on Sherlock Holmes.

 

“The ‘Gloria Scott’” Holmes is visiting a college friend when the friend’s father is visited by a gruff ex-sailor. When the family patriarch uncharacteristically bends over backwards to make the sailor happy, it’s unclear why. When the old man dies upon reading a letter, the mystery becomes all the more intriguing.

 

“The Musgrave Ritual” A butler is fired for digging around in the family papers, despite the fact that the document he’s discovered with is nothing more than a series of cute questions constituting an old family ritual.

 

“The Reigate Puzzle” Burglaries in the countryside culminate in the murder of a coachman. The family that employed the coachman is neighbor to a close friend of Watson.

 

“The Crooked Man” A couple who’ve been married for thirty years without any known incidents of domestic unrest get in a raucous fight, and the man–a career military officer–ends up dead. The wife is the only suspect.

 

“The Resident Patient” A benefactor agrees to fully fund a new doctor’s practice provided that he is allowed to live on-site as a resident patient. The mystery begins when the resident patient begins to be inexplicably nervous.

 

“The Greek Interpreter” An interpreter is kidnapped and forced to translate a mysterious conversation between his kidnappers and a disheveled Greek man. Despite handsome compensation and threats of what will happen if he should tell anyone of the job, the interpreter feels obliged to get to the bottom of the imprisoned Greek man’s case by hiring Holmes.

 

“The Naval Treaty” A member of the Foreign Service has a crucial treaty stolen while he goes to check on the service of his tardy coffee. The loss of the treaty spells professional death for the young man unless Holmes can solve the case. The commissionaire and his wife are initially the sole suspects.

 

“The Final Problem” Perhaps the best known story of the collection, it was intended to be the end of Sherlock Holmes. The story involves an uncharacteristically shaken Holmes, his arch-nemesis, and a trip to Reichenbach Falls.

 

This collection includes some essential Sherlock Holmes stories, as well as some classic Holmsian cases and quotes. For 19th century literature, it’s highly readable. Definitely a must read for fans of Sherlock Holmes.

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BOOK REVIEW: Mastermind by Maria Konnikova

Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock HolmesMastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is a book about how to be more observant while avoiding the pitfalls of drawing faulty conclusions based on unsound reasoning, tainted memory, or faulty assumptions. Examples from the canon of Sherlock Holmes (i.e. the 4 novels and 56 short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) are prevalent throughout the book, but Konnikova also discusses Doyle’s limited real life investigations as well as those of the men who influenced the writer. Doyle lived at time when science and reason were making great strides in overcoming superstitious and spurious ways of thinking, and so the Sherlock Holmes works were cutting edge for their time.

The book is neatly organized into four parts with two chapters each. The first part is entitled “Understanding Yourself” and it unpacks what we have to work with in the human brain. One learns how one’s brain works and how it sometimes leads one astray. It also introduces how the scientific method can provide a framework to harness the brain’s strengths and avoid the hazards of its weaknesses.

Part II investigates how one can become more skilled at investigation, as well as the role played by creativity and imagination. We learn how our attention is much more limited than we feel it to be.

The third part reflects upon the building one’s powers of reasoning as well as the importance of knowledge-building in the process. Konnikova describes “deductive reasoning” using Holmes’s favorite term. [She doesn’t really get into the whole muddle of—as many have pointed out—the fact that Holmes more often uses induction than deduction, i.e. going from very specific observations to draw broader conclusions.] The second chapter considers the importance of being knowledgeable and broadly educated. Holmes’s conclusions often hinge on fairly arcane knowledge about a range of issues: animal, vegetable, and mineral. However, a large part of the discussion is about the idea of degree of confidence. It’s also pointed out that knowledge can be double-edged sword—an impediment as well as a tool. Extraneous knowledge may lead one down the wrong path.

The final part suitably closes the book with one chapter on practical advice for how to put all of the knowledge discussed in the book to work and another on the recognition that even the best minds can go astray. The first chapter summarizes as it offers pragmatic advice. The second of these chapters discusses a fascinating investigation of a supernatural phenomenon (i.e. the existence of fairies from photographic evidence) upon which even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mind led him astray.

The use of the Sherlock Holmes character is beneficial as many readers have consumed the entire Holmsian canon, or will do so, because it’s short and readable even today. Even those who haven’t read it will at least be familiar with the lead character and his proclivities as well as the other essential characters, such as Dr. Watson, Professor Moriarty, and Irene Adler. There are too many television shows, movies, and pop culture references to not be aware of these characters. One needn’t have read all Doyle’s Holmes to benefit, as Konnikova offers the essential background. However, one might find it a bit more intriguing if one has read the canon. At the end of each chapter, Konnikova offers a set of references that point to the sections in the Sherlock Holmes canon relating to that chapter’s discussion. Konnikova uses quotes and stories that aren’t attributable to Doyle to good effect throughout this book as well.

Graphics are used sparsely and only as absolutely necessary. There is a “Further Reading” section at the end of the book in addition to the end of chapter pointers. Besides a list of the Sherlock Holmes books, there are chapter-by-chapter prose suggestions of relevant key readings.

I found this book interesting and informative. While it may be most useful for someone who wants to become more attentive, less prone to biases, and more effective in drawing conclusions, it could also be enjoyed by Sherlock Holmes fans as a way to drill down into stories a bit further.

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BOOK REVIEW: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

Anno DraculaAnno Dracula by Kim Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Anno Dracula is set in a world subsequent to the events of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the world of Anno Dracula, Dracula kills Van Helsing (not the other way round) and becomes more powerful than ever. In fact, the Count has married himself into line to become king. Vampires flourish in the open and their numbers are swelling. But a few of them are being gruesomely murdered. In Newman’s work, the vicious Whitechapel murders attributed to Jack the Ripper target young, “turned” working women of Whitechapel. The killings attract attention and become politically charged. The book’s plot revolves around the investigation by an unlikely duo, Charles Beauregard (human) and Geneviève Dieudonné (Vampire elder), into the murders.

Newman creates a fascinating world that blends not only his own characters (e.g. Beauregard and Dieudonné), but also characters from other popular works set in the 19th century as well as from our own history. Some of these borrowed characters are important to the story, others are mere cameos, and still others are references to the departed or imprisoned. Among the book’s fictional pantheon are those from works by Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and—of course—Bram Stoker. Bram Stoker lends the critical character of Dr. John Seward to the book, although there are references to most of that book’s major characters. (You’ll miss some connections if you haven’t read Dracula, but you’ll still be able to follow the story.) The next biggest contributor of characters is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mycroft Holmes, Inspector Lestrade, and Professor Moriarty are all present in the flesh, though the latter plays a small role, and others—including the great detective, himself—are referenced throughout.

Many of the real world characters are literary greats (poets, playwrights, and novelists) including George Bernard Shaw, Lewis Carroll, Alfred Tennyson, and Oscar Wilde. However, also included are political figures, royalty, and—of course—the victims of Jack the Ripper. This mixing of the literary and historical worlds lures book-lovers further down the rabbit hole.

If this book seems like a murder mystery, it’s not. One of the interesting elements of Newman’s approach is that he reveals the killer from the outset. While we know who the killer is from the book’s opening, we don’t know whether or how he will be brought to justice—or what precisely justice means in this case. The book is more about the web of intrigue that surrounds the murders than it is about the murders. Ultimately, the book takes in a much bigger picture than a few murders in the seedy side of London.

Anno Dracula is intriguing and readable. If one has read Dracula, the various Sherlock Holmes stories, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and other contemporary literature, it’s all the more enjoyable for the way it artfully places these all in the same universe. I’d highly recommend this book for readers of the classic popular fiction.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of the Great Detective in India and TibetThe Mandala of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of the Great Detective in India and Tibet by Jamyang Norbu

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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I gave this book the lowest rating that I’ve ever given a book I reviewed. However, there’s a selection bias at work. I don’t finish (and rarely start, for that matter) books that are so horrible that they’d get a lesser rating. Ergo, any book that I finish and review has some redeeming qualities. I’ll leave it to the reader to determine whether these redeeming qualities will outweigh the deficiencies of story in this book.

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes takes our beloved detective out of London and onto a trip from Bombay to Shangri La by way of Shimla (India) and Lhasa (Tibet.) It’s one of several pieces of Great Hiatus fan fiction out there. (I recently saw an addition that took Holmes to Japan.) Fans of Sherlock Holmes will be aware that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became tired of the character at one point and killed him off (along with Professor Moriarty) at Reichenbach Falls. Holmes was “revived” several years later due to popular demand (and—perhaps—Doyle’s need for funds), leaving fans / authors to speculate what the detective did during his time in hiding (i.e. the so-called Great Hiatus.) This particular work tells us that Holmes spent his time in the Himalayas. It’s as good a setting as any, given that fascination with the esoteric Himalayan world was building in the West during this time. In an interesting feature, Norbu’s book brings in a fictional character from Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, Hurree Mookherjee, to serve as Holmes’s sidekick. (FYI: Kim was published during the Great Hiatus years.) The story involves shadowy plots against both Holmes and a young 13th Dalai Lama (this was the predecessor of the current Dalai Lama) that are incidental to obtaining a powerful mandala.

I’ll begin with the strengths of the work before I tear into what I found objectionable about the book. The author, Jamyang Norbu, clearly did his research, and there are some fascinating tidbits and insights into that era of South Asia history. As a Tibetan, Norbu, paints an intriguing travelogue of the territory that Holmes and Hurree traverse. Also on a positive note, I’d rate the readability of this work to be high. It doesn’t follow the 19th century so closely that it falls into the purple prose and general verbosity of that century’s literature, and I think that’s a good thing. The author manages to create a bit of the feel of 19th century literature without falling off the abyss.

The book’s negative qualities are disproportionately loaded toward the back of the book. (Part of what keeps one reading and engaged is that it seems like the book could turn out well.) Let me begin with one minor character defect of the book which is that not all of the chapters advance the story; a few are descriptive like travelogues. However, most of said chapters are so short that it’s not that problematic.

I should note that one star that might’ve been obtained for originality must be forfeited because there’s no shortage of books following the same general premise.

But the story’s major flaw is that devolves into supernatural speculative fiction done poorly. Let me say, I’m not against the supernatural genre in theory. However, as with stories about Superman, these tales are exceedingly easy to do poorly and extremely difficult to do well. In the real world, tension is easily created because the reader knows many of the limits that characters face, and a good writer forces his characters up against some of those limits. However, when characters seem to be limited by the laws of physics, but then just start pulling magic rabbits out of their hats, the tension drains. We assume our protagonist will prevail and the antagonist will be thwarted. The odds stacked against our hero(es) don’t matter if one expects they’ll pull out a—proverbial or otherwise–magic wand and claim a cheap victory. If one wants to do the supernatural well, one needs to not only make the antagonist stronger (which Mr. Norbu does), but one has to know what everybody’s limits are. Otherwise, it’s just a cheap spectacle. [I should point out that Hurree does engage in a non-magical action that is critically timed during a key moment of the story, and some readers may feel that this absolves the novel of its ham-handed introduction of the supernatural.]

There’s another problem with the degree to which the book hinges on the supernatural, and that is specific to the domain of Holmes. The supernatural is usually something to be debunked in the Holmesian domain. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes is a product of the dawning of the age of rationality, and he is a man of science. [Want to know more? See this Tor article entitled “No Ghost Need Apply.”]Doyle’s Holmes may accept the possibility of the supernatural and apparently supernatural elements may make appearances, but Holmes is always looking for an explanation rooted in logic and favoring the possible. While Norbu goes to great lengths to capture the flavor of Holmes in many aspects, he abandons the character altogether in favor a world that looks neither like our own nor the one Arthur Conan Doyle created.

The disappointment of this book is that it looks like it’s on a trajectory to hit its mark, but then sails wildly off target.

If you like supernatural fiction and you don’t mind that magic suddenly pops up to shape the climax of the book out of the blue, by all means pick this book up. Otherwise, I can’t say that I’d recommend it for Holmes’ fans.

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READING REPORT: February 27, 2015

I finished three books this week.

Antifragility

The first of these is Antifragile, the latest offering by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whom you may know from Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness fame. While it’s his latest book, it came out a couple of years ago and I started it over a year ago.  The premise is that some entities become stronger when exposed to stressors and disorder,  and there are ways to nurture this tendency to be antifragile. While the ideas and many of the examples are fascinating, I put it down for a long time because Taleb is prone to rambling diatribes. After about the 1oooth time reading about how much he loathes the 98% of professors (we get it already), you may be ready to set it down as well.  [To be fair, Taleb probably gets a hundred death threats a year from enraged social science scholars whose life’s work will appear ridiculous to anyone who understands the gist of Taleb’s arguments in this and his preceding two books.] Taleb is a first-rate thinker who has delivered some very important messages about the misapplication of statistics, I’m not sure why he feels compelled go all Howard Stern about it–though it does probably sell a few extra copies and I suspect he is genuinely that way.

 

 

pyjamagameMark Law’s The Pyjama Game is in part a micro-history of the martial art and sport of judō, and in part is an accounting of his own experiences in taking up judō at the ripe age of 50. For me the history and evolution of judō is where the book is at its most interesting. However, if you don’t have any martial arts experience–or even if you don’t have any grappling-centric training experience–you may find Law’s discussion of testing and randori (free form training, the grappling equivalent to sparring) intriguing, or invaluable if you’re considering taking up judō, jujutsu, or sambo.

 

mantraSherlockHolmesThere is apparently a cottage industry of writers putting out their own Sherlock Holmes novels, and–in particular–writing about Holmes’s gap years. For those unfamiliar with the literary history of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, at one point he got sick of writing these crime fiction novels and killed off Sherlock Holmes. However, there was such a clambering for the master detective that Doyle resuscitated Holmes. These gap years in which Holmes was believed dead have proven fertile soil for writers who wish to write their own spin on where Holmes went and what he did when he was traveling incognito. I saw a press post for a new one the other day in which Holmes goes to Japan. The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, however, speculates that Holmes traveled to Bombay, and from there to Tibet and eventually to Shangri La. It’s an intriguing premise and offers some good travelogue type description of setting–however as a story it’s not as artfully executed as the Arthur Conan Doyle books.

 

I bought four books this week, two of which–in part–because they’ll help me complete the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge, which I will talk about below.

 

Dinosaurs_wo_Bones

Admittedly, I bought this book, Dinosaurs Without Bones,  not because the subject jumped out at me (though I’m sure it will prove thrilling) but rather because I knew the author about a billion years ago (I know; I should take geological time more seriously when mentioning a book of this subject.) At any rate, we trained at the same martial arts school in Atlanta, Georgia. That disclaimer being made, the topic looks fascinating and I’m eager to learn more about paleontological detective work.

 

GoldfinchThe Goldfinch won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and so it meets an unchecked requirement for the Book Riot Challenge (recent award winner of one of the major literary prizes.) Honestly, if it weren’t for my desire to complete the challenge, I might have read Tartt’s The Secret History first. The latter books seems a little more up my alley, but I”m eager to see what this critically acclaimed novel has to offer. If it’s engaging, I’ll go back and pick up her first novel.

 

AMillionShadesofGray

No A Million Shades of Gray isn’t a mommy porn book 20,000 times more intense than E.L. James’ book. On the contrary, it’s an intriguing YA book about a teenage elephant handler who escapes into the jungle with his elephant to escape war-torn Vietnam. This book will hit on an unchecked category on the Book Riot Challenge (i.e. YA book)

 

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a book that I intended to read long before the movie came out, but still haven’t gotten around to it. It was cheap on Kindle, and so I picked it up. I’ve seen the movie, so it’ll be interesting to compare, given how visual the movie was.

 

I’m almost halfway through the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge. The 19 books I’ve completed thus far this year include books in 11 of the 24 categories, including:

 

3.) Short story collection or anthology: a.) 999: New Stories of Horror and Suspense, and b.) I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream

 

6.) By someone of another gender: a.) Tears in Rain, and b.) Principles of Tibetan Medicine

 

7.) Takes place in Asia: a.) Quarantine in the Grand Hotel, and b.) The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes

 

10.) A micro-history: Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Postural Practice

 

12.) A science fiction novel: a.) Tears in Rain, b.) The Martian

 

17.) A collection of poetry: Leaves of Grass

 

18.) A book that was recommended: Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga

 

19.) A book originally published in another language: a.) Tears in Rain (Spanish), b.) Quarantine in the Grand Hotel (Hungarian)

 

20.) A graphic novel or comic book collection: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 1)

 

23.) A book published in 2014: The Martian

 

24.) A self-improvement / self-help book: Zen Mind, Strong Body