Monday, October 31, 2016

'Mycroft Holmes:' Holmesian Fiction From Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Mycroft HolmesMycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fun fact about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: While he was playing basketball at UCLA, he was also double-majoring in English and history. He read his first Sherlock Holmes story as a boy, and he was an avid reader of the detective stories as a young adult.

Sherlock appears in this novel, but he's a relatively minor character. The book is set in 1870, when Sherlock is approximately 16 or 17 years old. Our main character is Sherlock's 23-year-old brother Mycroft. Canonically, we know little about Mycroft other than that he is older and smarter than Sherlock, and that he holds a fairly important position in the British government. If you're familiar with the Guy Ritchie films, you may picture him as Stephen Fry. If the BBC Sherlock series is your frame of reference, your Mycroft is the decidedly ginger Mark Gatiss. If Elementary, then Rhys Ifans, the blond Welsh actor perhaps best known to American audiences as Luna Lovegood's dad in the Harry Potter movies. Abdul-Jabbar's Mycroft is blond, blue-eyed, pale, and quintessentially English.

Every Holmes must have his Watson, and Mycroft's "Watson" is Cyrus Douglas, who was born in Trinidad and is of African descent, although he has been living in England for many years. Douglas is in his forties, and he serves as both best friend and mentor to the young Mycroft. Mycroft is still serving in his first governmental post, secretary to the Secretary of State for War.

The events of this novel put Mycroft on his path from humble assistant to one of Queen Victoria's faves.

It's a bittersweet mystery and action/adventure story because it has a lot to do with slavery and has a much higher body count than the average Sherlock Holmes tale. When we meet Cyrus Douglas as the owner of a London tobacconist's, he is unmarried, but he did have a wife and child at one point, and what happened to them gives him a Backstory of Infinite Sadness. Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse continue to heap miseries upon him...that's probably all I can say without spoiling too much. Suffice it to say, history is sad, and historical fiction leads to heartbreak.

At the beginning of the tale, we meet Mycroft's adorable Trinidadian (but Caucasian) fiancee, Georgiana Sutton. The daughter of a sugar planter, Ms. Sutton is a schoolteacher and a university student studying in London. When I first heard or read that Mycroft was going to have a Trinidadian fiancee in the novel, I assumed she'd be a Black woman. I was a little disappointed that she was a blond, blue-eyed white girl. But Georgiana also isn't as innocent as she seems, so perhaps it's best left the way it is.

Sherlock has no interest in women in this novel. It's not clear why. Is he a budding misogynist, asexual, or perhaps interested in boys? We don't know. By the end of the novel, Mycroft has learned a harsh lesson about love. Will he ever love again? Or is he on his way to becoming the cynical stale cinnamon roll of the BBC series, who quoth, "All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock"?

The action keeps this story moving quickly, so for me, it was a pretty fast-paced read. And now I have to wait for March 14, 2017, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's graphic novel, Mycroft Holmes: The Apocalypse Handbook, comes out.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Haul-o-Ween

My husband and I were in Chicago on October 27th-29th. Before we left, I wanted to pay another visit to Selected Works, the used bookstore in The Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue. You may remember Selected Works from this 2012 blog post:

That Time I Tried Out for Jeopardy!

In 2012, I lugged the ponderous tome The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy on the train, and was stuck carrying it for the rest of the trip. This time, I brought two books which, even taken together, were still smaller: Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse, and The Last Days of Magic, the Doctor Strange graphic novel. And we shipped our dirty laundry et al, home in a U.P.S. box so we didn't have to schlep it everywhere.

Today I learned the bookstore cat's name. It is Hodge. This is Hodge examining one of the books I intended to purchase.

I said in 2012 that I thought he was a Russian blue, but now I don't think he is. I think he's just gray, like my dad's cat Bucky.

In 2012, I found a neat old paperback about the film adaptations of Ernest Hemingway's short stories. I tried to find more Hemingway nonfiction, but I didn't see anything that interested me. Instead, I found these four things.

I'm already familiar with "The Wasp in a Wig" thanks to Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice books (I own two different editions). I still like to own as many Lewis Carroll volumes as possible.

(Also, I may have ordered myself a pair of Alice in Wonderland socks while I was buying my mother's birthday present from Out of Print Clothing today.)

As we learned from the Willie Lynch Speech incident, there are a good deal of quotes out there in circulation that were never actually uttered. Often, the authors contend, these false quotes have polemic purposes. Some of these false quotes drive the conspiracy culture of today. This book was published in 1989, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) many of these fake quotes are still being quoted today by people who have no idea they were wrongly attributed, taken far out of context, or made up of pure bullshittery. It's rather fascinating.

I apologize for the low-res picture. It's from Goodreads.
I may have caught Pericles: Prince of Tyre, The Tempest, and Richard III this year, but there is still Shakespeare out there for me to conquer. I'll never reach Jillian Keenan's level, but this should be a good basic reference book.

It may seem that I indulged myself quite a bit in the bookshop. I did. We did a lot of indulging when we weren't visiting the organ transplant team at Northwestern University hospital, though. We saw Blue Man Group and went to the AMC Dine-In Theatre, where we got to eat a full meal, including cocktails, while watching the film version of Dan Brown's Inferno. We didn't get to see the ending of Inferno, unfortunately, because of a very rude lady, but that will have to be a story for another day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Jillian Keenan's Memoir 'Sex With Shakespeare'

Sex With Shakespeare: Here's Much to Do With Pain, But More With Love

I knew from the moment I laid eyes on the title of this book that I had to know more. When I spotted it on the autobiographies shelf at my local Barnes and Noble, I knew I had to buy a copy.

The author, Jillian Keenan, is a spanking fetishist. I am not. Despite the fact that I myself am not a part of the spanking sub-subculture of the BDSM subculture, I found that I felt a tremendous amount of sympathy with the author as she told her story.

This is, after all, a love story. All love stories are relatable, to some extent, to anyone who's ever been in love.

Each chapter is themed around a particular Shakespearean work. The first chapter centers on my favorite of the Bard's comedies, A Midsummer Night's Dream. Here Keenan addresses a topic also brought up by E.T. Malinowski in her romance novel A Midsummer Dream: Are Demetrius and Helena ever really in love?

Keenan thinks they are, as I do. But she adds an interesting new spin. She contends that when Helena says:

"I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,--
And yet a place of high respect with me,--
Than to be used as you use your dog?"

...she is being literal. She wants Demetrius to treat her like his dog. In Helena, Keenan sees a kindred soul, a woman whose sexuality is incomplete, virtually nonexistent, without her submissive, masochistic side being expressed. Keenan sees Helena as a woman embracing her emerging kink, while Demetrius is still coming to terms with his Dominant/sadist tendencies. Genuinely afraid he will hurt Helena, Demetrius turns his attentions to the woman he perceives as the safe, vanilla choice: Hermia.

Kinky headcanon accepted. Since I can't seem to stop crushing on Christian Bale as Demetrius, I want the interpretation that puts Demetrius in the most sympathetic light.
The second chapter deals with a character I find much less likeable: Caliban from The Tempest. Keenan has a special relationship with Caliban, but I can't get over the fact that he admits he tried to rape Miranda. Keenan doesn't excuse that, but she does remind us that Shakespeare was a humanist and even he, in the authorial voice, allows mercy for Caliban in the end.

There are a few plays mentioned in this memoir that I haven't seen or read yet: Twelfth Night, Cymbeline, Antony and Cleopatra, and As You Like It. By and large, though, all the characters with whom Keenan has a series of imagination conversations that help her find her way are all familiar, beloved characters to me.

Now, Keenan has a master's degree in literature that focused on Shakespeare and is recognized as an expert. Productions call her in when they have questions about interpretation of the text. I'm an amateur fan who fell in love with my fifth grade teacher cast me as Peter Quince. I don't know nearly as much about Shakespeare as Keenan does, but as a fellow fangirl, I can certainly appreciate her enthusiasm for the subject.

She writes with remarkable honesty and openness about matters both deeply personal and professional, and I felt privileged to accompany her on this inward journey. I may not share the specifics of her sexual orientation (and she does call spanking fetishism her orientation - in the more conventional sense of the term, she is bisexual, like me - and like Shakespeare, probably), but through this book, I have new insight into the experience.

One quibble: Keenan mentions that in Shakespeare's time, the liver and not the heart was considered to be the seat of love. However, it seems to me that I have seen references within Shakespeare's plays to the heart as the seat of love. Did she mean that the liver was considered to be the seat of lust?

Either way, I really, really enjoyed reading this memoir.

I purchased this book with my own funds and was not obligated in any way to review it.

Friday, October 14, 2016

#BookReview: 'The Invention of Wings' by Sue Monk Kidd

SPOILER ALERT: I'm going to spoil the ending!

I wouldn't say I "enjoyed" this book, since it made me sad and angry more than anything. For one thing, the Black men in this novel are treated brutally, and that would be bad enough if it were only historical, but obviously it's something that's a huge problem in the U.S. right now, in 2016.

That the Black women are also treated brutally is made even more unpalatable by the fact that our three main protagonists, Hetty, Charlotte, and Sky, are all such brilliant, likable women. Charlotte and Hetty are not only deeply intelligent, but also brilliant textile artists, as befits women of the Fon (also called Dahomey) people, who are known for their textile arts.

I applaud the real-life Sarah Grimke for speaking out against slavery and for the cracks she made in the glass ceiling. I really do. But the fictional version of Sarah comes across as a mediocre-to-bad abolitionist, since she can't even save her alleged "friend" from her sadist of a sister, Mary, until Hetty is 45 years old. It seems as if this novel is praising an ineffectual, if well-meaning, white woman while a brilliant Black woman languishes in captivity.

It's not exactly fair to judge women in the early Victorian period by 21st century standards, I know. But I can't really buy the story of Hetty and Sarah's supposedly deep and heartfelt friendship if Sarah is barely going to raise her finger to help her friend get free.

This book is really well-written and spellbinding, but with all the backlash against feminism and against the human rights of African-Americans that we deal with on a daily basis now, it's hard not to be angry that the wounds of the past have been festering for the last 200+ years. It's to Sue Monk Kidd's credit that she makes it so difficult to divorce fiction from reality, but my feelings are the way they are.

I checked this audio book out from my local library and was not obligated to review it in any way.