Saturday, February 22, 2014

Essential reading?

Last night I had a dream that I wrote an article for a Sherlockian print publication. I printed it out in the san-serif font and paragraph format requested by said publication, a smaller but esteemed journal of the sort I used to enjoy writing for in the 1980s. And then I stopped and went "Now I have to mail it?" That little moment was enough to disconnect me from the dream-reality and wake me up.

So today, I woke up thinking of Sherlockian print publications, the role they used to play in my fannish life, and the cameo appearances they seem to have now. The subject had been on my mind this week, as finally catching up on Baker Street Babes podcasts (after holding back on the Sherlock spoiler-filled episodes for a month) presented commercials for The Baker Street Journal  described as "essential reading for anyone interested in Sherlock Holmes." Which made me wonder:

Do any Sherlockian print publications really qualify as essential reading for a Holmes fan any more?

The Baker Street Journal is an interesting time capsule of the events-and-solid-objects part of the Sherlockian world, but its articles aren't currently anything you're going to feel bad for missing out on at the next Sherlockian cocktail party. When a quarter of an article's total length is devoted to footnotes, chances are that it's not going to set the world on fire with original thought, and the BSJ does attract a few of those due to its institutional standing. It does have its moments, though, but essential for the non-collector? I don't know. I let my subscription lapse for a year a while back, and haven't really felt a void from that hole in my collection or Sherlockian life. (Yes, I'm a villain of a Sherlockian, I know. It brings me no joy to report it.)

Other journals I subscribe to, like The Serpentine Muse or The Camden House Journal connect me to certain sets of people that, while distant and not oft-seen, have significance in my Sherlockian life. It's nice to see what they're up to these days, even if I don't make it out to their gatherings as I would like. I'm horrible about keeping my subscriptions up, however, and occasionally lose one in the mix. The Illustrious Clients News slipped by me last year, and by the time I did notice its absence, I had missed most of the year, and still need to rectify that situation. I blame the periodical nature of the periodical. The gap between issues is so long that in the swiftly-turning world we find ourselves in these days, one loses track of when things are due to arrive.

Once a year, The Baker Street Journal lists "Sherlockian Periodicals Received" and their latest list holds twenty-three publications, a goodly share of which I subscribed to, back when they were the only game in town. And that's definitely part of what has eroded the essential nature of the Sherlockian print publication -- not being the only game in town. Most of the publications you'll find listed in the Journal serve a local audience, where they literally are the only game in town to this day. But for the more global Sherlockian?  The right combination of internet watering-holes can keep one feeling fairly current on Sherlockian matters without having to drag one's self out to the post office to mail a check every now and again.

There's so much talk of the "twenty-four hour news cycle" and its effect on our lives anymore that the phrase is a bit worn out. But thanks to Twitter, Facebook, and the like, we Sherlockians have our own sources to check on a daily basis, our own twenty-four hour news cycle, and that has slammed the impact of newsletters and journals more than anything. Technology is a bastard that way. Most of us still like horses, want horses to exist, and love to see them when we do . . . but do we ride horses? Only on very special occasions.

The Sherlockian print publication is our horse. Once vital, now not-so-much, it has those who love it dearly and will keep it stabled and fed, while most of us drive our cars to work. Now, it becomes also like the moss rose that Holmes picked up in "The Adventure of the Navel Treaty" -- "an embellishment of life, not a condition of it." And what did Holmes say about such embellishments?

"It is only goodness which gives extras."

And as Sherlockiana is a hobby of embellishments of life and extras, I think we will find the print publication as one more proof of goodness in the world in the years ahead. Somebody went to the trouble to create them, not out of greed or grasping for power, but out of love. Even if and when the subscriber lists dwindle to a rare handful, so many of them will still probably exist. And how can that be anything but goodness?

Now I just have to get off my butt and get my subscriptions paid off for next year.


  1. I found your article to be very interesting. I still miss your terrific Holmes and Watson Report, and also Baker Street West 1. I stopped getting BSJ several years ago. It just doesn't speak to me. Looking back at the good old days when it first came out,BSJ was more accepting of interesting, but not necessarily academic like submissions. It's hard for me to find a fun journal to submit my items to. The last few were in the journals of the "Friends of Dr. Watson." However, I did publish a book entitled "Voyage of the Blue Carbuncle," an extension of my article "Bauble in Space Time."
    G. Norton, Esquire a.k.a. Carl L. Heifetz

  2. Brad

    Very interesting article.

    I would offer an oddity of the Sherlockian journal world. The John H Watson Society began in April of last year and by December 31 it had 150 subscribers to its journal, The Watsonian, worldwide. The inaugural issue was 152 pages, bound, of excellent scholarship, and the upcoming April journal promises to be in excess of 170 pages with papers and articles equally innovative, fresh and well-written by members who continue to find exciting new topics to explore. What is even more encouraging is that not only is the journal financially self-supporting, but many of the articles are coming from members under the age of 40! There may still be a place and reason for good writing and incisive new scholarship covering the printed Canon and the film/TV Canon. The motto of the firm (and the Society): Insperata Floruit ("Flourishing Beyond All Expectations"). We can but try.

    Best regards

    Don Libey
    Boy in Buttons
    The John H Watson Society