Monday, November 23, 2015

Reads for Writers: On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda Provides a Masterclass

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

          Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice and/or creativity.

          On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda is a two-fer as both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Michael Dirda provide Masterclasses. Dirda’s memoir, from his first reading of a Sherlock Holmes mystery as a fifth grader through to his present day membership in The Baker Street Irregulars, is full of the passion all avid readers feel about literary characters they love.

          Dirda recounts how he waited for a stormy day when he was alone in the house to read The Hound of the Baskervilles he bought through a book club at school. First he rode his bike to the store to buy provisions—candy bars, a box of Cracker Jack, and a cold soda—then climbed into a reclining chair under a blanket.

          “In the louring darkness I turned page after page, more than a little scared, gradually learning the origin of the dreaded curse…I shivered with fearful pleasure, scrunched further down under my thick blanket, and took another bite of my Baby Ruth candy bar, as happy as I will ever be.” (page 6)

          Can’t we all relate to that moment?

          This memoir is filled with the joy of reading, of discovering literary greatness, and of learning about other authors with the same feelings paying homage to Conan Doyle with their books like The Incredible Schlock Homes and its sequels by Robert L. Fish, full of puns and deliberately bad jokes, or The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by Vincent Starrett, a most important study of the canon. A great number of these books are discussed in the text and a list is included in the back on pp. 203-206.

          Dirda also quotes Conan Doyle’s advice for novice writers:

          “…he reminds the novice to build up his vocabulary, to adopt a style that doesn’t draw undue attention to itself, to be natural. Above all, he argues that good writing should follow three rules: ‘The first requisite is to be intelligible. The second is to be interesting. The third is to be clever.’” (page 98)

          This is a fabulous book for anyone who loves Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or great writing.

          As Dirda states, “Whether you’re looking for mystery or horror, science fiction or romance, social realism or historical fiction, memoir or essay, Arthur Conan Doyle is the writer for you.” (page 199)

Is there a better recommendation than that?

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