on October 29, 2011
Michael Dirda, in this enchanting short volume, takes the reader on a tour of all things Doylean. But no dry critique this but rather a springboard for digressions on adventure stories and their creators, Victorian and Edwardian fantasists now mostly forgotten such as Lord Dunsany and H. Rider Haggard, and many charming autobiographical asides of how Doyle and his writing kin influenced and enriched his life.
While the first half introduces the reader to the "Doyle nobody knows" -his biography and interests, his other writings both fictional and non such as memoir and lectures, essays and polemics - the second introduces us to Dirda's involvement with the Baker Street Irregulars, a fan society encircling the life and works of Doyle and particularly that famous fictional detective.
Anyone who has ever read Dirda knows what a fluent and ingratiating writer he is, and rather than a critic is best labeled a professional enthusiast. One rarely leaves his writings without groaning under the weight of a lengthy list of suggestions for future reading. All of this is done with wit, affection and a deep love for the written word.
But first you will need return to your Sherlock Omnibus and retrace those "footprints of a gigantic hound".
on November 23, 2011
Not to denigrate the Sherlockian content, but for me, the most pleasant thing about this delightful book are the many references to a very diverse group of other writers -Lord Dunsany, Jules Verne, Rider Haggard, Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, etc.-who were Doyle's influences, colleagues, or contemporaries. What emerges is a sort of reminisence about a certain period of literature, as recounted by a man of a certain age who encountered many of these books in childhood. If you are at all familiar with the literature of the period, you will love this book.
"On Conan Doyle" is another of Michael Dirda's volumes proselytizing for authors and books he admires. It is a delight from beginning to end. Most of us know Arthur Conan Doyle (he did not style himself "Sir" on his books) only as the author of four novels and 56 short stories about Sherlock Holmes and his chronicler, Dr. John Watson. But the subtitle of Dirda's book is "The Whole Art of Storytelling," and the reader soon discovers that Doyle was a prolific professional author who wrote adventure novels, historical novels, novels of everyday life, supernatural short stories, science fiction, a history of World War I, and, toward the end of his life, tracts about spiritualism. Dirda introduces us to all of them in a way that can easily have you hunting for them almost before you finish reading this compact volume.
Most of all, "On Conan Doyle" is a treat for Holmes fans because the main focus of the book is Sherlock Holmes. Dirda starts with an engaging memoir of his own first encounter with the Great Detective (not unlike the experience of many of us) before giving a succinct biography of Doyle and taking up his other writing. A bit more than halfway through the book Dirda turns to the Baker Street Irregulars, the band of Holmes devotees founded by Christopher Morley in 1934 and still splendidly active. Dirda's account of his personal BSI encounters and induction into membership is most enjoyable and includes an enticing excerpt from one of his own excursions into the game of Sherlockian "scholarship."
His penultimate chapter is an appreciation of Doyle's non-Holmes stories and novels, and he ends with "Good Night, Mister Sherlock Holmes." Both have generous quotations from other Doyle admirers. An appendix, "Education Never Ends, Watson," lists a judicious selection of books by and about Doyle, the Great Detective, and the world of 221B Baker Street.
I cannot recommend "On Conan Doyle; Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling" too highly.
(This is the third volume in a series -- Writers on Writers -- from the Princeton University Press. The others published so far are about Susan Sontag and Walt Whitman. We should hope the series develops exponentially.)
on January 6, 2012
Pulitzer-prize winning Washington Post critic Michael Dirda has a fair, infectious way of talking about books, any books. He has written a number of his own on the theme of reading, and this latest chronicles the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle bibliography and a lifetime of his experience with it. He invites us to marvel with him at the consistent quality of language and storytelling, as well as Conan Doyle's high level of productivity.
Like most, Dirda came to the Sherlock Holmes tales in childhood and his curiosity and thirst for adventure stories led him to discover that the Conan Doyle canon is large and hardly confined to Holmes at all. The bibliography includes historical adventures, fantasy, science fiction, even domestic novels. Conan Doyle, a fast, prodigious writer, produced histories and commentaries, who was most proud of his Medieval adventure The White Company, a multivolume history of the Boer Wars and, alas, his writings on Spiritualism. Yes, the man who gave us Holmes was deeply invested in Spiritualism and fairies and in the end, not so much in his great detective.
Dirda was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2002, a distinguished international group dedicated to all things Holmes and Doylean, that consistently generates scholarship on its favorite writer and his works. Dirda provides glimpses into their activities in addition to providing a generous reading of the Sherlock Holmes stories and several novels representing various genres.
on December 4, 2011
I enjoyed this book immensely. A fan of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a teenager, I knew of some of his other works, and had read a few, but did not understand how vast was his output, nor how intriguing. Dirda does a great job of generating excitement for a writer he clearly admires; and he puts the later Spiritualism into perspective as the product of an endlessly curious mind for the strange and exotic.
on December 14, 2011
Michael Dirda is a bookman in the tradition of Christopher Morley and Vincent Starrett: highly intelligent, well educated, widely read, and entirely unpretentious. All this is gratifyingly evident in his latest book "On Conan Doyle, or, The Whole Art of Storytelling", which concentrates largely on Sherlock Holmes but finds space in its 220-odd pages for perceptive discussion of Brigadier Gerard, Professor Challenger, Nigel Loring and pretty much all of Conan Doyle's important fiction - which is to say, most of it. As the subtitle indicates, Mr Dirda doesn't disagree with Greenhough Smith's claim in "The Strand Magazine" that Arthur Conan Doyle was `the greatest natural storyteller of his age', but he knows that there was far more to it than natural talent. He knows too, that the telling of tales is not to be despised, and that Conan Doyle was actually one of the most important observers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Mr Dirda is, enviably, able to tell you just why he loves Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes, so that you realise, yes, that's why you love them too.
on January 25, 2012
I bought this book and read it within 24 hours -- its prose is so lucid and enchanting, its learning so brilliant and yet so accessible, that the only reason I put it down was that I had to go to sleep. This book is at once a concise life of Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930); an examination of his most enduring creation, the saga of Sherlock Holmes; an exploration of the wide range of Doyle's other writings, which made him the most successful author of his time and one of the most successful authors of all time; a meditation on the themes that tie Doyle's amazing body of work together; a memoir of Michael Dirda's lifelong love of books and reading, and his growing immersion in literature and literary criticism; and a peep into the wonderful and wacky (in the best sense) world of the serious fans of Sherlock Holmes, the Baker Street Irregulars and their related societies and the sober but never solemn Sherlockian scholarship that they have produced for over eighty years and continue to produce with undiminished enthusiasm. It is a must read for all fans of Sherlock Holmes and all admirers of Arthur Conan Doyle and all who are curious about either or both.
on December 21, 2011
I began reading On Conan Doyle the day it was published and Prime UPSed onto my doorstep. It was so good it was gone through too fast. It brought back many youthful memories of my reading of Doyle, Sherlock was great, but so too was Professor Challenger. (The Lost World has a great early comic scene in which the Professor lets loose, during a lecture to skeptics, a prehistoric flying lizard and dramatically demonstrates the truth of there being a lost world) Dirda's book has sent me to my bookcase to pull out fifty-year-old John Murray collections of Doyle's other stories and to download ebooks and stories from from the Kindle list. I intend to dip into these as 2012's months pass. I highly recommend this enjoyable and entertainingly written book, just be prepared to find you are also hooked on more of Doyle's wonderful tales.
on January 5, 2012
I received this book as a Christmas gift from a friend of our youngest son. It is a wonderful read. Dirda shows passion and panache in writing about Doyle. Along the way, there are also some wonderful insights about writing and the love of learning.
on November 7, 2011
There is a great new book about Conan Doyle as a writer, called On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda. Besides Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle wrote many other books (adventure, historical and supernatural stories). Dirda, a long time lover of Sherlock Holmes, writes a short piece on Doyle as a writer. He not only expands on Conan Doyle the writer but he also shares his own interactions with Sherlock Holmes and the Canon. While this is a great book, this is best suited for serious students of the Canon or writers looking to learn more about great writers.