Thursday, August 23, 2018

An appreciative reading.

I am having the best time with our local library discussion group. Each month bring some truly fresh insights to those age-old tales of Sherlock Holmes, and after tonight's meeting, the good Carter made a very interesting observation.

"I read the stories in a different way for this group."

I had been comparing the discussion group nights to the meeting's of Peoria's Hansoms of John Clayton, which met bi-monthly at member's Holmes for what was a mix of Holmes worship-service and a cocktail party. We had rituals to be followed in a pattern at every meeting like clockwork: The Clayton Ritual, the toasts, the announcements, the speaker, the quiz, Starrett's "221B" . . . I'm going to have to recreate the whole pattern exactly one of these days, as there was a bit more too it, but those things happened reliably each meeting. The key focus on the story (or two for a time) each meeting was the quiz, testing the members' knowledge of the tale . . . which meant you read each story for memorizable details.

Our groups, like the Occupants of the Empty House down south of us, forswore quizzes from the start, and looking back, I can see where they were right. Quizzes caused more friction in our ranks than any other part of Sherlockiana, and like I said, you read the stories to prepare for the quiz . . . a very different read than a read for enjoyment. It also had the side effect of members not reading the stories if they didn't plan to take the quiz, and thus were there just to socialize and talk about whatever was on their mind on that particular evening.

We had some good times, don't get me wrong. I don't want to hindsight critique a program that worked very well for its time, for many a club. But even then we often complained at the group getting off the topic of Holmes so much of the time, and I think the quiz-targeted story reads really had something to do with that.

Reading the story for the current group, with no set purpose in mind, one can light upon some little detail like the "bachelor quarters" at Watson's house and wonder at it, knowing it will make for a lively share with the group . . . and that quite often, someone will bring it up before you do! Did Henry and Nancy eventually get together for a final few years? Why was Colonel Barclay so afraid of the dark? What did the actual Biblical story of David have to do with a name whose actual purpose was theorized but never verified?

I never have time to follow all the rabbit holes I see before me walking out of the library every month these days, but that is a problem I don't mind having. After decades upon decades with these same old stories, they've become very new to me of late, and I have our local library discussion group to thank for it. It took us a little while to really get off the ground, but just over a year and a half in, we're doing well enough that I'd highly recommend starting a Holmes short story club at your own library if you have half an inkling. You might be surprise at the Sherlockians who come out of the bushes in a town you might have thought was Sherlocked out.

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