Thursday, December 31, 1992

Missing May - and How to Be Careful Not to Miss with Your Audience

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I'm really getting tired of bringing this up every time I read a Newbery medal winner. I've now read 21 and a third of the books feature an orphan as the main character.

I get it. Clearly no experience would be more unimaginably traumatic for a child than the loss of a parent. It is understandable that an author would want to delve into such rich territory. Unfortunately, in most of the books I've read so far, it feels like a device.

This makes Cynthia Rylant's Missing May (1992) more unique. The main character, Summer, is - wait for it - a pre-teen orphan. She is passed around from relative to relative before ending up with Aunt May and Uncle Ob. However, this book does something most of the other orphan-starring books fail to do - it actually confronts death and the impact it has on the main character.

Like the orphans in so many of the other Newberys, Summer doesn't deal with the death of her parents. She does, however, confront the death of Aunt May. More to the point, she has to address the effect it has on Uncle Ob. Summer, along with her friend Cletus, accompanies her uncle on a journey to hopefully bring him some closure. Summer's concern about her uncle and helping him get his will to live back is what ultimately drives the story.

The book was a quick read (I consumed it in just over an hour), but consequently comes dangerously close to not giving the reader closure. I certainly won't spoil the book for others, but I grew concerned as the ending approached because the story didn't feel finished yet.

It can be a challenge for a writer. It definitely served as a reminder for me as a writer to have a clear sense of not just where a story is going, but where it is going to end. An ending doesn't have to be a shocker or a tear-jerker or even completely satisfying. However, a reader does need to feel a sense of closure - that something hasn't been left out of the story. Missing May comes close to missing that point.

Wednesday, October 14, 1992

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published 100 years ago today

First posted 6/8/2020; updated 7/6/2020.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

First Publication: October 14, 1892

Category: mystery

Sales: 60 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“Venture back in time to Victorian London to join literature’s greatest detective team – the brilliant Sherlock Holmes and his devoted assistant, Dr. Watson.” AZ Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 50 short stories about the iconic Holmes. The appeal of the “stories comes from their skillful blend of intelligence and entertainment. The stories challenge readers to hunt for clues and develop their own hypotheses as each narrative unfolds, but in the time between the crime and the resolution, readers come across all sorts of enchantingly drawn characters.” CH

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes gathered a dozen of those stories in “the first and best collection of stories about the legendary sleuth. It's also the least expensive edition available.” AZ These twelve stories were originally published in The Strand magazine from July 1891 to June 1892. The magazine’s editor, Herbert Greenhough Smith, called Doyle “the greatest short story writer since Edgar Allan Poe.” WK

The only common characters in all the stories were Holmes and Watson, who give “each story a sense of continuity. The men spend much time making witty banter, but their connection is heartfelt and offers readers an affirming antidote to the double-crossing that Holmes so frequently encounters in his investigations.” CH The stories, all told in first person from Watson’s perspective, generally “identify, and try to correct, social injustices.” WK Here’s a summary of each of the stories:

  • A Scandal in Bohemia (July 1891): “The King of Bohemia seeks the help of Sherlock Holmes in securing a picture that could be used against him in the political scene.” L2G

  • The Red-Headed League (August 1891): “A man comes to Sherlock Holmes seeking advice about the disappearance of a bizarre society of red-headed young men that are funded by a man who sympathized with red-headed men.” L2G

  • A Case of Identity (September 1891): “Miss Sutherland entreats Sherlock Holmes to help her find her mysterious fiancee that has disappeared. However, he did not give her enough information in their rushed engagement.” L2G

  • The Boscombe Valley Mystery (October 1891): “Sherlock Holmes is faced with the Boscombe Valley Tragedy, in which a man is murdered and is son is accused of the crime.” L2G

  • The Five Orange Pips (November 1891): “Sherlock Holmes is faced with a bizarre case that is a family affair. Two brothers and a son all receive letters from the KKK, addressed from India that contain five dried orange pips, the omen of death. When it comes to be the son’s turn, he begs Holmes for his advice.” L2G

  • The Man with the Twisted Lip (December 1891): “Mr. Watson finds Holmes in an opium den when looking for a friend who had been missing. Holmes is studying a case in which a man disappeared from the upstairs room of the den. All that was found was a deformed man with a limp and traces of the man’s blood and clothes with no apparent violence.” L2G

  • The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle (January 1892): “On the day before Christmas a man is caught in a fight and looses a goose and his hat. Sherlock Holmes is trying to figure out who the hat belongs to, when a blue carbuncle is found in the goose.” L2G

  • The Adventure of the Speckled Band” (February 1892): “A woman comes to Sherlock Holmes begging for his help to solve the mystery of her sister’s death. Quite a sum of money is offered for their dowries and her sister consequently died before her wedding day. Now the woman is afraid that she will meet the same fate.” L2G

  • The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” (March 1892): “A man knocks on Watson’s door early in the morning and he discovers he has a missing thumb from a murderous attack in the night. They resolve to go see Sherlock Holmes about the case.” L2G

  • The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” (April 1892): “Sherlock Holmes is faced with the case of the Lord St. Simon marriage in which the bride disappears after the ceremony, excusing herself to her room claiming to have a sudden indisposition.” L2G

  • The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet (May 1892): “A banker makes a very big loan to a prominent customer and receives a beryl coronet to hold. He discovers his son trying to harm it and he has a case against him when he begs for the expert help of Sherlock Holmes.” L2G

  • The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (June 1892): “A woman employs Sherlock Holmes to keep watch over her as she takes a mysterious position as a governess. The woman has to comply to bizarre requirements and senses something amiss in the environment of the house.

Resources and Related Links:

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. This is our June 2020 book.

Wednesday, January 1, 1992

Albert Camus' The Stranger published 50 years ago this year

First posted 7/5/2020.

The Stranger (L’Etranger) (aka The Outsider)

Albert Camus

First Publication: 1942

Category: fiction

Sales: 10 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed ‘the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.’” AZ

L’Etranger (aka The Stranger) “has the force and fascination of myth. The outwardly simple narrative of an office clerk,” BN “a young Algerian named Meursault kills a man,” LT “an Arab, ‘a cause du soleil,’ and finds himself condemned to death for moral insensibility.” BN

Meursault’s “subsequent imprisonment and trial are puzzling and absurd. The apparently amoral Meursault – who puts little stock in ideas like love and God--seems to be on trial less for his murderous actions, and more for what the authorities believe is his deficient character.” LT

In Camus’ hands, the story “becomes…a powerful image of modern man's impatience before Christian philosophy and conventional social and sexual values.” BN

Resources and Related Links: