Rereadings: A Study in Scarlet

April 16, 2010 at 12:00 am 3 comments


The book in my hands had always been nondescript, but its ordinariness seemed pronounced on the evening I chose to pick it up again. On the whole, it did not appear to be a well-loved book. Released by Berkley, it was the cheapest possible edition and had rough paper pages. Yellow was the predominant color of the book, shared by most of the cover, the spine, and the back as well as the pages, now slightly yellowed with acidity. An unremarkable and stereotypical painting in browns and more yellows no doubt meant to evoke Britishness graced the front cover. There were only slight ceases in the spine from a single reading and the edges of the text block were not remotely frayed. There were no marks in the book or scattered in the margins and no corners had ever been turned down. The cover was still shiny and didn’t seem at all smudged by fingerprints or any other sign of wear.

No one who looked at this book would ever think that it was one of my favorites. I didn’t even realize just how much I loved it until I reread it. At that moment, however, I relented in my prolonged physical survey of the book and finally allowed myself to disregard empiricism and begin my emotional survey. I smiled fondly at the book and ran a hand over its nondescript cover. Holmes, I thought to myself with an anticipatory grin. I had not held A Study in Scarlet and the Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in my hands since I was sixteen—sixteen, languishing in suburbia, living for a trip to the then-small Barnes & Noble in our town, and starving for something good to read—and I felt a little thrill as I rustled through the cheap pages to the beginning. “In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London…” I settled in for a good read.

The Sherlock Holmes stories are a prime example of why I started this Rereadings series here at LT. I constantly think of these stories as some of my favorites, but I have not read them in years and, when I did read them, I did so fully just once. (Thus the sorry lack of wear and tear on my Berkley Study in Scarlet.) All the same, I definitely liked and enjoyed them immensely and proceeded to hold Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work up as ideal mysteries, eclipsing Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, and even Wilkie Collins.

It was when the Holmes movie came out this past winter that I started to think I should read them again. I, unsurprisingly, was vehemently opposed to the film and found myself rather ignorantly defending the books against the film even though my memory of them was imprecise at best and a swampy morass at worst. The idea of rereading the books became firmer when I found myself discussing the stories more generally with a friend who had read them more recently and more often. He knew exactly what he was talking about in regards to all the stories and I could only offer a meager, “That one with the pips always frightened me…” My companion kindly agreed with me, but I still felt rather ridiculous. I needed to reread these stories. And fast.

So it was finally April when I was able to reclaim my Berkley copy and crack open that neglected volume in Astoria. My first reaction was shock at how nostalgic I felt towards my copy. It was ugly, it was cheap, and I had only read it once, but feeling it in my hands vividly brought back the time when I first read it. I could see the old Barnes and Noble (now abandoned for a larger, super-store model across the street), sense the still hush of its interior, and feel the similarly rough pages of other cheap Berkley mysteries I bought there at the same time.

My second reaction came in the middle of A Study in Scarlet. As I visualized Holmes skittering about the abandoned house, gathering clues in his own unique manner, I realized that I was in love. I had fallen hard for the story, the characters, and the style all at once. I knew I had liked the Holmes stories well enough, but I hadn’t expected to love them. And I did love them, completely and unequivocally. I had weirdly discovered a new favorite through rereading an old one and I giddily skipped through the rest of Study.

Rereading Holmes proved that I need not have worried about rereading and losing something I once loved. Rather, this rereading made me discover that sometimes books liked well enough formerly can become even better as you mature and I learned that by rereading, like many a literary romance, “like” can easily turn to “love.” I can only hope that my future rereadings will be more like this one.

–Corey

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Entry filed under: Classics, Mystery, Rereadings. Tags: , , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  April 16, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    This sounds like the Holmes I should have read instead of The Hound of the Baskervilles! :D

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  April 18, 2010 at 6:50 am

      Definitely! Always start at the beginning! I’d be happy to send you my copy if you’re interested. (If not, that’s cool, too. No peer pressure! *grin*)

      Reply
  • […] section of the book sails gently through Conan Doyle’s literary celebrity as the creator of Sherlock Holmes with, one imagines, the same ambivalence towards Holmes that Conan Doyle himself felt about his […]

    Reply

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