Sunday, February 17, 2019

The 2018 Baker Street Journal review

Okay, let's be honest, there are some bad Baker Street Irregulars out there. Don't go to the annual dinner, don't subscribe to The Baker Street Journal, don't contribute to the various endeavors of the group. Not really calling anyone out here, just describing the fellow who is going to write what follows, for the sake of full disclosure. He's a bad BSI.

So . . . a little extra discretionary cash this year, and that 2018 Christmas Annual of The Baker Street Journal on the 1951 recreation of 221B, etc., looked really tempting. The only way to get it? Be subscribed to the BSJ for 2018, or just catch up on the whole year's worth of issues at once. The annual came first, then the winter issue, and today, the rest of the year's bundle. And with it, the opportunity to do a review of the year's BSJs all in one fell swoop. And since it had been a few years, a fairly fresh look.

Taken all together, these squarebound beauties are almost an inch thick, making them basically a book. For around forty bucks, you'd usually get hardcover in a book, but five chunks of postage for the year-long rationing of a subscription, well, it's the price of nostalgia. Bought a magazine in the store lately? Yep.

So, anyway, Volume 68, Issue 1, Spring of 2018.

Past a couple of ads and on comes the start of the issue, "The Editor's Gas-Lamp," that odd little random musing that usually doesn't seem to have to do with the issue, and always makes me think about the ones Edgar Smith wrote back in the day. This one's a movie meander, which drops one right into an article about WWI tin boxes adapted from a paper at the 2018 BSI dinner by Ross Davies. It's followed by articles by Liese Sherwood-Fabre and Monica Schmidt, hitting the areas they go in both talk and print, so, representative of current state of Sherlockiana. What seems to be Martin Edwards's talk as the 2018 BSI weekend's Distinguished Speaker talk follows them. Sonia Fetherston comes next with the historical holders of her BSI investiture, "The Solitary Cyclist," and we are already on to the regular news features that will fill the remaining chunk of the issue. This being the first issue after the BSI weekend for 2018, there's a lot of reporting on those events once we pass "From the Editor's Commonplace Book" and "Baker Street Inventory." Oddly, the main article seems to be written by a character from the 1970s TV show, The Night Stalker. I'm not sure why he was writing the article, as it pretty much sounds like most Sherlockians reporting on the weekend -- an ever-doomed endeavor, as no reporting can ever truly reflect the full experience of being immersed in that mad social whirl. The annual overlong poem, the obituaries, and the issue is over, with no real surprises. Tradition cements a lot of the BSJ firmly in place, for better or worse.

On to Volume 68, Issue 2, Summer 2018, and the hope that leaving the January weekend behind will bring something fresh. More articles this time, to be sure. A good mix of articles, with a couple of two-article themes going, some humor (thanks to Paul Thomas Miller), but almost all historical research, whether it's on the Doyle side of the fence or the Watson side of the fence. Is the BSJ, in its own way, really a historical journal? That aspect seems to be shining brightly in this issue, coming to it with fresh eyes after a hiatus.

But in Volume 68, Issue 3, Autumn 2018, the lead article is on textual variations, so maybe we're getting back to the literary side of things. And we do, for a time. The autumn issue has a fascinating transition from the literary to the historical as it moves from article to article, rounding off the articles with a strong sense of deja vu as the Scott Bond cartoon turns out to be the same one published the previous issue.

Volume 68, Issue 4, Winter 2018, also history-heavy, leaning toward the Conan Doyle side of the coin. Seems the articles end early, like the first issue of the year and it turns out it's for much the same reason -- event coverage. The scion reports and an article on a symposium are bulking up the features section. A few more obituaries and we're on the index for Volume 68. The year is done.

The Baker Street Journal has been called "the journal of record" in recent years, and it rather suits that title. It collects and records a great many facts connected with Conan Doyle, the Victorian era (and sometimes after), and the Canon itself. Almost all serious and solid work, the journal is a Sherlockian edifice that defies casual criticism. And yet . . . .

Look, before I write anything that's going to get me those sorts of protestations that mean I've dented someone's reality, let's get back to my original disclaimer: I've been at this grand game of ours for a good forty years and outside the BSI establishment for most of that. Makes one a little jaded, so my personal perspective does not exactly align with either the diehard loyalists or the newer recruits discovering the joy of the Canon's depths for the first time. So take what follows with many grains of salt.

The joy of digging up history tied to the world of Sherlock Holmes is a great personal adventure. I love it. But the presentation of one's results . . . well, sometimes it could be a little more entertaining, y'know? There was a whimsy to the early BSJ that seems missing in all the historical reporting of the modern journal, which, to be fair, reflects many a modern symposium presentation. I'm sure a few of my "old school" friends have wondered why I wander through all the Holmes-and-Watson-love-each-other fanfic of late, and comparing that to the Journal's content, I can see it's because there is whimsy there. Joy in playing with Holmes and Watson, the characters and their world, over documenting the past of our own with a few connecting links.

After over a hundred and thirty years, Sherlockiana has a ton of history to revel in, which is why I bought all of the last year's journals, just to get the Christmas Annual on the Sherlock Holmes exhibition of 1951-1952. But all of that history exists because someone was having fun. (Or maybe trying to make money, but that's always another story.) And we continue to have our fun, which is why this hobby is still around. Capturing that fun with the written word, however, will always be an ongoing challenge, especially following after some of the folk that have always existed in this hobby.

But as Sherlock Holmes himself once said, "Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try -- the motto of the firm." And if you can find the fun in trying, well, that's what has made this hobby a great place to be all along, even if our jaded older members do get a little bored and critical now and then. 

No comments:

Post a Comment