Over the years, I've piled up sets by a few such names. Christopher Morley . . . the easiest of the old Irregulars. Vincent Starrett . . . the harder one, though it helps to be near Chicago. Father Ronald Knox. Dorothy Sayers. Isaac Asimov. Even that Conan Doyle fellow. And, as time went on, I've gotten rid of a few as well, once I decided that, if not for their connections to Sherlock Holmes, I really didn't care for their style.
Tonight, I was bumbling about the library, knocking things over, and realized that one such old author has wound up holding a place of honor among my shelves. While others have come and gone, not a single copy of this fellow's books -- that wasn't a duplicate -- has ever left my library. And why has he made it to this cherished place?
Not for great literary stature. Not for importance to the Sherlockian movement. Not because anyone else told me he was somebody I just had to have. Just a writer whose little hardbacks make me smile, both in premise and execution . . . and he just happens to hold a very special place in the history of Sherlock Holmes.
Mr. John Kendrick Bangs. The man who told Victorians what Sherlock Holmes was doing in the afterlife after Conan Doyle killed him.
Bangs' tales of ghosts and gods, writers and lovers, emperors and idiots, are light and lively and never tax one's brain overmuch at the end of a long day. He's just having fun and churning out books like an old sci-fi favorite of mine, Ron Goulart, the sort of writer who seems to like to play in their imagination more than the tortured emotions of their soul. (Those who still wonder at my joy in Will Ferrell's work may note that I've gone for light and silly for a very long time.)
How long does it take for a Sherlockian book collector to realize their old book author of choice? How many books does it take before the fix in in? With less bookshops to browse, and on-line buying having a laser focus, I wonder if future collectors will even sample some of the old authors -- most of them came my way after finding nothing directly Sherlockian after a day's search and settling on something tangential in an author or subject with any Sherlockian connection I could make. Quite a few odd old books have wound up in my library that way. Things like The Story of the Gypsies or The Pipe. But I digress.
Having a favorite author from another era who doesn't have a currently popular character gives you a certain literary mystique, I should think, so if you don't have one, you might want to give it a try. Lord knows there are enough of them out there. And the things you might learn along the way can be almost as much fun as the reading itself.