What I'm reading now: 13 July 11

So, my current kick comes by way of the far side of the world...

I've talked about gutenberg.org, the website that provides the text of books in the public domain. I should perhaps be more clear about that, though: gutenberg.org has content that's in the public domain in the United States. There are two related but different sites that I know of : gutenberg.ca and gutenberg.net.au.  The .ca is the Canadian site, and folllows Canadian rules for public domain. I don't like it much, although Canadian laws are (at least for the moment) somewhat less stringent than those of the US. The problem I have is with the website itself - it's not very easy to browse, the content is limited, and there's a huge foreword about pending changes in Canadian copyright law that is so lengthy that I have lost sympathy with the cause before I make it to the end of their argument. (For the record, I agree with them, but I think they could state their case more succinctly.)

Then, there is gutenberg.net.au. It calls Australia home, and there, too, the laws of public domain embrace more material. There are (or have been) a lot of content contributors, and the website designers have made it easy to navigate. So when I began searching out more classic detective writers, I searched Gutenberg Australia as well.

I found a treasure trove of SS Van Dine there. SS Van Dine writes the Philo Vance mysteries. Van Dine is both the author and a character - a Watson to Vance's Sherlock, who follows along and records everything, occasionally asking the questions the reader is dying to ask. Vance is one of the New York elite - an intelligent snob, but with ample excuse for snobbishness, it appears. He solves crimes by looking at the psychology of the crime and the criminal, and is known to bemoan the fact that people consider material evidence and motive to be indicators of guilt or innocence. The three full-length novels I've read so far are all slightly dated (especially by some aspects of the psychology Vance espouses), but still fun. I'm reading them in publication order: The Benson Murder Case, The "Canary" Murder Case, The Greene Murder Case, and (my current read) The Bishop Murder Case.  Definitely fun, and it's hard to argue with free.

I've also been reading some of Edgar Wallace's J.G. Reeder short stories. I know I read one of them years ago in some mystery anthology for teens ("The Treasure Hunt" was the title, and in it, Mr. Reeder uses the criminals intent on robbing him to unwittingly uncover what really happened to Sir James Tithermite's wife, supposedly lost at sea.) I wish I could remember the title of the anthology, as there were a few other authors who might bear looking up. I recall another story in the anthology about a woman who was poisoned, almost fatally, because she was the caretaker of a dog who had inherited millions. Other than that, the only thing I recall are the illustrations, one per story - line drawings on a single-color background (green or something like that) which mostly hinted at the contents of the story while hiding anything unsavory. The illustration for the woman with the dog story was the unfortunate exception to that rule.

Back to the topic at hand- the J.G. Reeder stories. They're enjoyable in their quiet way, although I find the use of slang a bit disconcerting. I prefer Wallace's short stories and novellas to the full-length work I read, though.

 

What I'm reading now: 13 June 21

So... more classic detective fiction. Specifically, Jacques Futrelle and R. Austin Freeman.

I finally read the last few Thinking Machine stories by Jacques Futrelle. I enjoyed them, although none are quite as good as "The Problem of Cell 13" - the first Thinking Machine story I read, and still my favourite. However, there is one lovely story (I don't remember the title, sorry), which I shall now spoil for you by telling you that, after The Thinking Machine has deduced the existence of a specific couple from the barest of clues, drawn them to his chambers, and demonstrated that all his deductions are completely accurate as well as brilliant, and dismissed them to sin no more, so to speak... his Watson (intrepid reporter Hutchinson Hatch) asks who the couple is - and the Thinking Machine has no idea of their identity.

I have been reading more Dr. Thorndyke mysteries. Having read all the short stories I can find, I'm now delving into Dr. Thorndyke novellas. Dr. Thorndyke is the forerunner of the forensic scientist. He doesn't detect, as such. What he does is a proto- scene-of-the-crime analysis, and it's quite fascinating. He (and his brilliant but self-effacing assistant, Polton) has developed a small vaccuum device to collect dust for microscopic analysis. Fiber comparisons, fingerprints, decomposition rates, insect traces - it sounds familiar to the forensic-science aficionados, although some of the things that happen to a crime scene before he gets there would make those same aficionados cringe. Thorndyke even looks states that he expects that one day science will be able to positively identify a man by a single drop of his blood - which is almost routinely done today.

As to the novellas: the stories ("The Eye of Osiris" and "The Mystery of Angelina Frood", from Dr. Thorndyke's Crime File) are told from the point of view of a third party, different in each story, who is the agent of bringing the mystery to Thorndyke, his companion Jervis, and assistant Polton. Because there's a little more length to expand the stories in a novella, as opposed to a short story, a side plot (a romance, of course) is slid into the mix, along with a little extra ornate prose. I could do without both, but they're only a mild annoyance, and I will admit that, in "Angelina Frood," I had suspicions of the right character, but for all the wrong reasons. Cleverly done, Mr. Freeman; I will continue hunting up more of your work.

What I'm Reading Now: 13 June 03

In fiction, I continue to read classic detective literature online. This past week or so, it's been more Dr. Thorndyke mysteries, and The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy. The Baroness is also responsible for the Scarlet Pimpernel books, but I prefer the Old Man - a nameless armchair detective who attends the sensational trials of the moment, and then sets out the solution to Polly Burton, a journalist and his captive audience at the cafe where she eats lunch. The stories are entertaining and twisty, although I find that they rely on the same twist too often. Still, an entertaining read, and you can't beat the availability and the price.

In non-fiction, there have been two: Anne Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith and Eunice Adorno's Las mujeres flores.
Ms. Lamott first: as with other of her books that I've read, this is a series of essays, in this case linked to faith, especially faith when the government seems hopelessly set on a dangerous track. There are some lovely, honest, blunt meditations on being a parent, on forgiveness, on teaching Sunday School, and in all of them she throws tiny bridges of hope across the gap between what we want to be and what we are now, making it possible for me to believe that I can reach that ideal, if only for a second or two at a time. (I recommend "sincere meditations" for those moments where you believe it's impossible to ever live up to those ideals.)
Las mujeres flores is a book my supervisor recommended to me. It's a photo essay about Mennonite women in Mexico: the flower women, to translate the title. The book has a brief introduction, in Spanish and English, and then is simply a series of photographs: family photographs belonging to the women, as well as Adorno's own images of their lives and surroundings. My supervisor found the pictures very exotic - I, on the other hand, thought them very familiar. I could have gone to school with some of these women, seen them on the street, helped them and their children in the library, even visited some of their kitchens. The way of life depicted here has been transplanted almost intact to some areas of southern Manitoba. It's interesting to see what Adorno has captured as significant. My only complaint is that the only information available about the pictures themselves is a title (if any- most are untitled), the location, and the year. In many cases, I find the pictures self-explanatory, but there are a few where I wonder if my suppositions about what is shown is correct.

What I'm Reading Now: 13 May 09

My reading has been a bit scattered, not that anyone is surprised by this any more.

Fiction: I'm reading more classic detective stories on Project Gutenberg. Right now, it's The Extraordinary Adventures of Arsene Lupin, Gentleman Burglar, by Maurice Leblanc. I'm finding them a bit dated, but still fun, and I like the way Leblanc plays with identity, both of Arsene (who is a master of passing for someone else or assuming a different identity) and the narrator, who is rarely who you assume he (yes, so far it's always been a he) is. I have a page or so of other authors of the same time period and genre, and the possession of such a list gives me warm fuzzy feelings.

Non-fiction, book: IBS: Free At Last! (2nd Edition) by Patsy Catsos, is all about FODMAPs, which are Fermentable Oglio-, Di-,  Monosaccharides, And Polyols - each a type of carbohydrate that certain people may not be able to digest. End result of consuming FODMAPs include gas, bloating, and dire GI tract consequences which I will leave to your imagination. The idea is not to cut out all FODMAP foods, but to find out which categories you can consume, which you absolutely cannot, and which you can tolerate in small quantities. I find the concept quite interesting, but I find the organization of the book somewhat annoying. There's minimal background before launching into the diet-modification section, and each chapter ends with questions, but the answers are found later in the book, along with more scientific details. Still, it's one of the best sources I've found locally on FODMAPs, so I can forgive a few stylistic quirks.

I have also just received a copy of The Sacred Choir by Charles Eddy Leslie. He is the composer of Der Friedensfürst, and I wrote about my discovery of this and subsequent researches earlier. The Sacred Choir is a book of anthems, including one called The Prince of Peace. Sadly, although "Friedensfürst"  is indeed a direct translation of "Prince of Peace," there is no further connection between the two. However, I have two more leads to follow, so I shall perservere.

Non-fiction, other: Also on my just-read pile are a number of knitting magazines. A friend from a knitting group left behind some back issues of Interweave Knits, plus three others with titles that escape me at the moment. I've been looking through them to see if there's a magazine that I could recommend to the library, and of all of them, I think Interweave Knits covers the most territory in the most appealing fashion. Also, somewhere in that pile of magazines there is a pattern for a sweater that can be worn inside-out or outside-out, upside-down or right-way-up, front-to-back or front-in-front - and as far as I can tell, any combination of these factors is fair game. I am most intrigued, but I have three projects lined up (yarn purchased and everything) for when I finish the current project.
The current project is also a form of reading - in this case, proof-reading. I've put together a pattern for a stuffed sheep, refining it over the course of three completed stuffies. I'm now knitting the fourth one following my written pattern, to make sure that I've put everything down correctly and my math adds up.