Thoughts on ‘Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes’

In the prelude of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova tells how, when her father read her and her siblings “A Scandal in Bohemia,” she was inspired to count the steps in every staircase she encountered so that she could prove she’d “observed” and not just “seen.” That kind of thinking – the ability to call to mind any needed fact, the flash of insight into a person from a glance at their shoes and their fingertips – is the kind we associate with Sherlock Holmes. However, Konnikova argues that this isn’t the right way to go about the observational approach advocated by Holmes and uses the stories to illustrate her arguments. Continue reading

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Story is not enough

It’s very hard to write when you are sick at heart.

For me – an American – the events of the past few months have caused a renewal of heartache. My country’s election of a corrupt, cruel, and venomous buffoon to the position of national leader was undeniably a catalyst, but the ache predates even his rise to power. We live a time of almost unbearable strangeness, where one can go with a few clicks from cat videos to pornography to people pratfalling off treadmills. People can live decades with diseases that would have been death sentences a few decades ago, doctors can videoconference to surgery tables, and we can see light-years away with stunning clarity.

These are the days of miracle, to paraphrase Paul Simon, but not of wonder. Continue reading

Thoughts on ‘The Unconsoled’

After a nightmare, one of the most maddening moments comes when trying to pinpoint the terrifying aspects. The fact that you couldn’t run from one place to another, to use a common dream situation, seems minor when set against how much it makes your heart hammer.  It’s the heightened reality of things that aren’t or should never be real that lends the fear.

In Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, this eeriness comes in the distortion of recognizable things, rendering innocuous moments sickening. Not because the moments themselves have much in the way of horror. But because those things simply can’t be real- and yet within the story, they’re as inexorable as anything in the real world. Continue reading

Poetry: I have a cat

I have a cat, and she is not mysterious.
Shoulders hunched; a twitching tail,
Pointed ears and eyes so curious,
All these show a hunter hale-
I have a cat, and she is not mysterious.

I have a cat and she is not aloof.
For one, she knows I let her eat.
She recognizes “No!” as a reproof,
Begs to play and always comes to greet.
I have a cat, and she is not aloof.

I have a cat, and she is scarcely wicked.
(Perhaps a little, casing cupboard doors
Or leaping when she knows she hasn’t listened.)
No more solitude with all its bores-
I have a cat, and she is scarcely wicked.

But when she walks in utter silence,
There is the stamp of self-reliance,
Some flicker of a tiger’s child.
I have a cat – and she is wild.

I got Sydney in June; she’s an adventure and a half and a pretty major reason for not blogging much in that month (writing was the other). This has been simmering in my head since the first day she came home.

Cat and book

Thoughts on ‘The Sea Shall Embrace Them’

“The sea swept over the Arctic’s stern in a maelstrom of dark water and white foam. It rumbled and roared on either side of the ship as her bow eased skyward. There was no quick incline to an almost vertical position, no massive lunge to find the bottom. She slowly backed into the waves at a twenty-five-degree angle, assuming grace and beauty even in her last moments.”

But apart from those last moments, nothing about the Arctic’s sinking is graceful or beautiful. It showcased cruelty and selfishness in spades and the limitations of the code of honor that only a few people bothered to follow in the events leading to the disaster. While David W. Shaw’s The Sea Shall Embrace Them has flaws, with writing occasionally clunky and facts occasionally unclear, the horror of the sinking of the ship and the mad scramble to escape it is wrenching to read and hard to forget. Continue reading

Thoughts on ‘The Historian’

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova is a book that defies summarizing. It’s a labyrinth of travel, history, families, horror, and legacies. It goes layers deep, with every generation working its way through a different part of the maze. Every now and again a shaft to the past opens to show the centuries past and how their shadow may be more than just a shadow. It can be described, but begs to be experienced.

But if you need a description, this quote from the book should suffice:

“To make it short and shocking, I’m on a quest of sorts, a historian’s hunt for Dracula – not Count Dracula of the romantic stage, but a real Dracula – Drakulya – Vlad III, a fifteenth-century tyrant who lived in Transylvania and Wallachia and dedicated himself to keeping the Ottoman Empire out of his lands as long as possible.” Continue reading