A Study in Scarlet,
The Sign of the Four,
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes:
I wasn’t very much interested in reading any of the Sherlock Holmes stories, apart from the Hound of the Baskervilles, which I read on a whim maybe a year ago and found underwhelming. That story’s constant suggestions that the answers laid in the realm of the supernatural were more irritating than anything, but then I saw the new Guy Ritchie adaptation, which did quite the same thing to entertaining effect, and decided to give the detective another go (imagining him to be Robert Downey Jr. all the while).
A Study in Scarlet is really a prequel to the stories, and a great idea for a first novel – to treat one’s protagonist as an established force, a genius in the imaginary present, and then head backwards in time to tell a story from his earlier days as an earnest student of his craft. The Sign of the Four, I’d advise you to skip. It’s not bad at all, but Sherlock Holmes really belongs in the format of the short story. There is a formula to them, and they do have a bit of a dimestore novel touch, but you can hardly regret reading at least one volume.
A great space yarn from the 1930s. This is the reading equivalent of going to a drive-in theatre to watch a science-fiction movie with men in silver suits wielding technology with names such as “ultra waves” and using “ether screens” to deflect attacks. But that movie will surprise you yet with high-budget escapes from flooded alien planets, large-scale space warfare, and the creation of the human race’s most powerful weapon.
The Thirty-Nine Steps:
With all the other trashy fiction already committed, I figured I should throw in a spy novel about an innocent man on the run for a murder he didn’t commit, framed by shadowy figures with a plot to throw the world into chaos. This is real pulp fiction country, where characters cross paths in the most unlikely of places, at the most convenient of times, and you’re expected to take it all in without any movement of the eyebrows. Accept it on its terms, and this is as much fun as watching North by Northwest.
A sort of sequel to The Thirty-Nine Steps, with John Buchan bringing that novel’s Richard Hannay back into another fine situation where he has to save the world from a German plot, except this time the novel’s twice as long, and he has multiple companions on his journey. Marvel as they separate and reunite many times across Europe through the power of coincidence. I enjoyed this enough, but will be taking a break before I read the remaining three Richard Hannay novels I’ve got.
Botchan (Master Darling):
A good-for-nothing young man with no particular talents, recently graduated, is sent into the Japanese countryside to teach although he has no talent for it. There, he faces political entanglement in the office and defiant opposition from students. Sounds like your typical JET story, except it’s the early 20th century, and this is one of Japan’s most beloved morality tales. Apparently, most Japanese encounter this novel as children, which I think is fantastic as it covers death, eating ramen, and dealing with the bullshit of others.
The Remains of the Day:
English butler goes on road trip in the 1950s, fondly remembers his old employer and some thirty years of service, while on the way to meet an old housekeeper he hasn’t seen in 20 years. Does he love her? Can he still polish silverware? Is the Japanese-born author’s ethnicity visible through the perfect period writing at any time? It’s almost implausible that such subject matter could be woven into the kind of story that resists the insertion of a bookmark, but Ishiguro is an amazing talent and this the best book I’ve read in a long while.