Mar 31

Dr. House and Sherlock Holmes

drhouse

Courtesy of Fox

 

 

I know there are bunch of book readers out there who think that television is the root of all evil and the thing that is damning our entire civilization. I’m not one of those people. I enjoy television.

I really enjoy it when I can take a character on television and see his or here roots in literature. Dr. Gregory House from Fox’s “House” is one such character. I believe that he was based on one of the most well known literary detectives of all time — Sherlock Holmes.

Here are some reasons why I think this.

  • They are both socially awkward. Both Gregory House and Sherlock Holmes disregard social norms when dealing with others. Dr. House does so in a much more intentional way, while Sherlock Holmes just really doesn’t care about social norms. For both of them, the standard things that people do to get along are boring and cumbersome.
  • They are both addicted to drugs. Gregory House is addicted to pain killers to keep his mind from noticing the pain in his leg. Sherlock Holmes was addicted to cocaine in order to activate his mind when nothing interesting was challenging him.
  • They both have a friend who helps them in the world. For Sherlock Holmes, of course, this was Dr. Watson. For Gregory House, this is the somewhat similarly named Dr. Wilson. Both of these people help the main character deal with society. Dr. Watson is much more hands on — he’s generally the guy who brings the gun or gets into the fight with the killer when it’s necessary. Dr. Wilson does things in a more subtle way, either bringing Dr. House back to reality or picking up after the mess that he leaves. Both Dr. Wilson and Dr. Watson were also roommates of the main characters at some time during the stories, and both help them interact with “normal” people.
  • They both live for the challenge. Both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. House come alive when confronted with a challenging mystery. Dr. House, for all his disregard of people, loves the challenge of figuring out what’s wrong with them. He only cares about those cases, and gets bored with the others. Sherlock Holmes was much the same way. He was only excited about life when the “chase was afoot” and he was working on a challenging case. When Watson tried to keep him from going back to cocaine, it was by making sure he had a challenging mystery to solve. When he didn’t, he would go into a slump.

I’m not saying Dr. House is going to start smoking a pipe or wearing a dearhunter cap anytime soon, just that the similarities are there. What other characters in television do you see based on characters from literature? Let us know in the comments.

Jan 20

Moby Dick – The “Tell, Don’t Show” Section

Whenever I’ve taken creative writing courses, the rule that always comes out is “Show, don’t tell.” It’s the number one rule to remember when writing fiction. You don’t tell the audience that a character is ruthless, you set up scenes that demonstrate the character’s ruthlessness. You don’t tell the audience that it is a dark and stormy night, you create the feeling with direct facts of trees blowing around and references to the darkness itself.

I’m now on chapter fifty-two of Moby Dick, and the section I just finished violates the “Show, don’t tell” rule throughout. I’m guessing that when people try and read this book, it’s this section that makes them quit.

What started as a good adventure story has taken a little pause in order to fill in the reader on all kinds of factual things about whaling. While I understand the potential importance of this, entire chapters have read more like a text book than a work of fiction. Chapter thirty-two for example is a complete description of all the different varieties of whale and how one goes about classifying the different types. Not the kind of thing that keeps you riveted to the book.

It’s also interesting to note that during this very chapter, the author mentions “God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught — nay, but the draught of a draught.” There are quite a few places during this section that feel like they were added after the story was created, and just thrown in willy-nilly, without much thought as to how it might affect the pacing. The chapters that push the story forward feel like they aren’t aware of these long chapters of exposition.

Other Characters

During this stage, a few characters have been introduced to us, and we’ve been given glimpses of Ahab and his own character. It’s interesting that I made the last note as pre-ahab, because the introduction of Ahab himself was done with quite a bit of buildup and suspense. He lived down in his cabin until the ship was out to sea, and when he finally really came alive and talked to the crew, it was to get them to commit their souls to hunting down the white whale.

We’ve also had small glimpses into the officers of the ship and the other harpooners (other than Queequeg). We haven’t learned much about their characters yet, other than Starbuck looks to be the most level headed of the group, and the one who will most likely challenge Ahab directly.

I hope that the next section of the book builds more on these characters and moves away from the textbook style of the last section. Then maybe I’ll get the next posting about this one up a bit quicker (it’s been a challenge to force myself through this last section).

New Questions

A couple new questions. With the textbook chapters, only so much of the story has progressed, so I don’t have too many new ones.

  • How will the oath that the sailors took play into the story? How much of the influence of putting ones soul on the line will impact people’s actions?
  • Ahab is intent on the White Whale, but will we get to see the crew in action taking on other whales as well? We’ve seen the start of one so far, but they got turned back by weather. I’m still curious about what the crew does when it actually catches a whale.
  • The introduction of the stowaways that man Ahab’s boat was interesting and somewhat unexpected. How will these new characters influence the story and the crew? They were not part of the crew’s oath to Ahab, will that play into things?
Jan 05

Moby Dick – Pre-Ahab

Okay, so I’ve read through the first part of the book. The boys are on the boat, but they haven’t yet met the elusive Captain Ahab. At this point, I thought I’d jot down some first impressions.

First off, I have to say I’m enjoying the story quite a bit. The narrator has a unique way of putting his own flavor on everything, but seems to be a level-headed guy. Queequeg is an incredibly entertaining and curious character, and the initial meeting between Queequeg and Ishmael had me laughing to myself.

Secondly, there’s quite a bit of build-up in this first section. Almost too much, in my opinion. There are portents and prophecies and allusions to the dark, dangerous trip our narrator is about the embark on. It’s good, that it sets the mood, but I’m starting to think it’s a bit much. At some of the points, I found myself saying, “Okay, we get it, these guys are probably not making the best decision. Enough, let’s get on with it.”

There was also an interesting line in chapter 11 that keeps coming back to me as the book progresses. It’s when Ishmael is laying in bed, and he’s commenting on how the only way to really enjoy your body is being warm is when there’s a bit of it that is cold. The part that stands out is this:

… for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.

This leads me to think that the book itself will present us with quite a few points of contrast. We already have one going between the educated and Presbyterian Ishmael and the uneducated “savage” heathen that is Queequeg. I’m curious to see if we might see more contrasts such as this present themselves throughout the work.

Overall, though, a pretty encouraging start to the book.

Questions/Comments

  • So far the narrator has made some decisions. The most important one being the boat that he and Queequeg got on. However, he also got pushed into making a decision by Queequeg and his idol. Will he continue to be a factor in the direction of the book or more of an observer?
  • It looks like Ahab has already had his run-in with the whale before we met him. It’s been mentioned that he’s “sick”, is this sickness his need for vengeance or something else?
  • I’m curious to see what the first meeting of Ahab and Queequeg is like. We know something of the character of Queequeg, will Ahab’s reaction to him tell us something about Ahab’s character?
Jan 01

Moby Dick – For the first time

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m kind of an anomaly. I’m a graduate with an degree in English Literature, but I’ve never once read Moby Dick.

It’s one of those strange books that everyone just assumes you’ve read, so it seems that it very rarely gets added to any reading lists any more. Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t know something about the book. I know how it starts (“Call me Ishmael.”). I know the basic story line, and that a couple of the themes in the book revolve around obsession and revenge. I believe I’ve even referenced in it in some of my papers in college. I’ve just never actually read it.

Well, that’s about to change. With a much appreciated gift card I received for Christmas, I’ve now purchased a copy of Moby Dick and plan on taking it on as my next “To be read” book.

I thought I’d do something a bit different for this one, since I do know something about the book, and since it’s one that is more of the “literary” persuasion. I thought before I started reading it, I would come up with some questions to answer during my read of the book.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to put it out there for anyone else who hasn’t read this book. As I go along, I’ll note my observations and thoughts, and if you’re reading along at the same time I would encourage you to do the same. The depth of books like this often are only understood when the book is discussed, so I’d like to take this post as the start of a kind of virtual book club. There won’t be any reading assignments or schedules — nothing that concrete — but let’s see what we find out as we go.

Here are some initial questions that I have going into the book:

  • Who is Ishmael? The start of the book is with his name, so is he important to the story, or is he just the narrator and sitting on the sidelines?
  • Are there early indications of obsession on the part of Captain Ahab? Is he already obsessed with the white whale a the beginning of the work, or does that develop during the story?
  • What factors make the book a classic? It seems like kind of a niche story — why has it stood the test of time?
  • How much of the book requires knowledge of whaling? How much is given to us? It was written in 1851, so life was different, but not everyone was knowledgeable about boats and whaling, so how much are we spoon fed on that?
  • I know of Ishmael, Captain Ahab and the White Whale. A book this size and depth can’t contain only three characters, so what other characters play an important role in the book, and which ones do we find ourselves rooting for or against?

Well, that’s my first list of questions. Please, if you would like to play along at home, leave a comment. It’s all an experiment, so let’s see what we can figure out.

Nov 19

When Do You Stop Reading a Book?

We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of a book, or even close to the beginning or end, and you see it sitting over on the counter, but you have no desire to pick it up. The story has slacked off, or the characters stopped being interesting 50 pages ago.

Photo courtesy of Shutterhacks

 

You don’t want to finish reading the book.

The problem is, you’ve already invested time in the book. Hours, days, possibly weeks have already been spent in the effort to get through it.

You say to yourself, “I’ve gotten this far, I should just finish it.” You start thinking of yourself as a quitter for even entertaining the idea that you might give up on the book.

So, when do you give up the ghost and just put the book back on the shelf without reading another page? And what do you with the book once it’s back there? Do you try again a few months later? Does your inability to finish the book haunt you?

Continue reading

Nov 08

Writing in Books — Good or Evil?

I have a long history with books, and over that time I’ve developed an appreciation not only of the words within a book, but also of the aesthetic nature of books as objects. I can admire a well made book simply for the way that it looks.

I also have my own idiosyncrasies when it comes to books. All my friends know not to break the bindings of my books (no matter how small and cramped that might make the reading experience). I don’t like people dog-earing books. My blood pressure has shot through the roof when I’ve witnessed a book held open by flipping it over on a table — use a bookmark, people!

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Oddly enough, though, there is one thing that does not make my skin crawl in regards to books, and that’s writing in them.

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Oct 30

Reasons to Re-read

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.  –Oscar Wilde

I have friends who aren’t very avid readers (at least one or two), and sometimes they look at me very strangely when I tell them I’m about to re-read a book for the 10th time. I guess I’ve never thought that it was strange, but given that some people do, I thought I’d list my reasons.

Reasons I re-read:

  • It’s like watching a great movie again. People watch movies mutliple times and nobody blinks an eye. The same reasons for watching movies again apply to books. You get to see the great scenes in your mind’s eye again. You get to watch the build-up again. You get to “hear” the great lines that the main character says. All those apply to books as well as movies.

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Oct 18

How to Read to Children

Reading to my daughter is really one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. It’s a time when I can become a kid again for a little bit, and just fall into a familiar story. Plus, my wife and I are already seeing the benefits that my daughter gets from reading to her on a regular basis. Watching her sit on the couch flipping through a whole stack of books is a wonderful thing. She’s now starting to make up stories of her own to go along with the pictures, too, so that’s even better.

kidsbooks

Photo courtesy of kennymatic

Sometimes reading to your children can be tough, so I’ve put together a short list of tips that can making reading to children more enjoyable; both for you and the child.

  • Make the book a door to another world. Add some drama to the whole experience even before you open the book. Ask your child, “Where do you think this book’s going to take us?” Build up some anticipation even before you look at the first page. Remind the child (and yourself) that a book is more than paper and words on a page. It’s a ticket to other times, other places, even places where magic works and treasures can be found.
  • Get them involved. The more you can involve your child in the story that you’re reading the better. Many of the rest of the tips go into detail on this, but anything you can do to get your child involved in the story — do it. The main character’s name is hard to pronounce? Change it to your child’s name. There’s a cat in the story? Change the name of the cat to the same as your pet cat. Continue reading