Goals & Challenges

30 for 30: Read a Book I’d Never Think to Read (First Try)

Cover_(Hound_of_Baskervilles,_1902)I have never been into mysteries. My parents read us quite a few Hardy Boys books when we were little, but I mainly enjoyed those because my parents were reading them to me. Even as a kid, I often thought there’s a lot of silliness that goes into mystery writing, and not the good kind–this is silliness that doesn’t seem to know it’s silliness. Put on a feathered hat and dance around: great. Put a pair of boys with flashlights in an old mill while they wonder what the heck this place is for three pages: [eyeroll].

That’s sort of how I felt about the TV series Midsomer Murders when it was introduced to me a year or two ago. I came in on the SILLIEST episode: a group of bell ringers were being killed off one by one because–can you guess?–some other bell ringer wanted to win a bell ringing competition. Totally solid motive, right? For mass murder? I hated it immediately. But we were at my parents’ house and they wanted to watch it. And then the next night they wanted to watch another one, which was a little bit better but which lulled me to sleep (partially the TV show, partially I was pregnant).

I never thought I would watch that show again. But then I had my baby, and I had a lot of down time while I nursed him, and I believe my parents, on a visit, had added it to my Netflix queue. I was in an emotional state, and bored, and missing my parents, of whom this show was a reminder. I was also missing my pre-baby life, in which my husband and I had traveled quite a bit in the UK (the show is set in the fictional English county of Midsomer). I put on the first episode, and it was actually okay. I kind of enjoyed it. So later I watched the next one. And the next.

I’ve now seen every episode, all thirteen seasons, even when the main character quit and was replaced by his fictional cousin. I don’t always love it by any means, but I find it strangely comforting. And I am proud of myself when I guess the killer, especially if it’s a particularly smart episode. And I yell at the TV when they fix it so you couldn’t have possibly guessed the killer based on the clues. When I was in the thick of it, turning on a new one each time I had to nurse or pump, I found myself noting the time of day when a car passed the house, looking at license plate numbers, as if I would later be asked to remember these things for an inquiring DCI. Or whatever you call them in America.

All this is a long-winded preamble to the fact that I just read my first mystery as an adult, a Sherlock Holmes book, The Hound of the Baskervilles. I chose this one because my son has a BabyLit book of the same name (Hounds Howl! Leaves Rustle!), and I enjoyed the Sherlock episode of the same name (you don’t have to like mysteries to like that show–you just have to like Benedict Cumberbatch) and it was Halloweentime and it seemed appropriately spooky.

So this was a book that, at one point, I never would have thought to read, but obviously there are many influences in my current life that would point me to it. But honestly, when I thought about challenging myself this way, I didn’t quite know what to do. I don’t think there are really books that I would “never think to read” because I’m pretty curious about a lot of things. I would have to be oblivious to its existence for that phrase to be true–but then, there are a lot of books that are right up my alley, I’m sure, that I don’t know about. But here’s one stab at reading outside of my normal milieu. A mystery. Sherlock Holmes, no less.

Of course, I guessed the murderer immediately. Partly from other versions of the story I’ve seen (Sherlock by no means does a literal retelling, but it’s similar), partly because it’s a very simple story. But I actually found it highly enjoyable, and not on any of the levels I’ve learned from my newfound interest in murder. I liked it the same way I like Wuthering Heights or David Copperfield–I like being in that place and time. I like the descriptions of the moors and the houses and the way people dress. I like their formal conversations. I like how differently they interact with each other than they would today. Sure, I liked finding out whodunnit, but that was just a perk.

I will admit, though, that without TV and movies influencing my opinion of Sherlock (I liked Robert Downey Jr. in the role, despite his terrible accent, until I saw Benedict Cumberbatch, whose embodiment of Sherlock Holmes makes Downey Jr.’s look almost laughable to me), I would think he was a total dud. Smart, sure, but mainly just a condescending ass. And Watson is hardly interesting at all–merely a device through which the story can be told (back in the olden days, it seems the occasion for the telling was everything–so many letters, diary entries, so much talking directly to the reader to explain why and how this story is being told). Of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles is not the first Sherlock Holmes book, and therefore contains very little characterization of these blokes. Which means now I’m going to read the first one. And probably the next one. Probably all of them.

Which is odd for me because I usually don’t read anything that can’t benefit my writing. I like to read books that I wish I could write; I have no desire to write a Sherlock Holmes novel and if I did, the only way I could sell it in the current market would be to update it, sexualize it, and probably write from the perspective of one of Watson’s lady friends (as far as I can tell, Holmes is asexual). Okay, actually that might sell big. But I doubt I would ever want to write it. So I suppose that’s what makes The Hound of the Baskervilles something I would “never think to read.” But I don’t feel like I can check off that particular goal quite yet. Which is okay. I’ve only been 30 for a couple of weeks now. 50 weeks left to go.


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