Books: the Facebook seven


I’ve become careful about what “games” I play on Facebook.  This quiz will tell you how old you are; another your level of education or favorite food.  Then there are posting competitions. The craziest was the “ice bucket challenge” a few years ago.  More recently was the movie challenge, post a photograph from so many days that influenced your life.  No commentary.  I did respond however to posting seven days of favorite books.  It was an interesting exercise.


Day one I posted Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.  For many years a copy of one or other Sherlock book would be on my night stand.  Evening after evening I’d read a short story or chapter in a novel.  I thought I was in London, in 221 B Baker Street with all the atmosphere Doyle created.  I enjoyed the Holmes Watson relationship.  And I reveled in the chase, guided by the science of deduction, observation, details, facts before theories.  In my bedroom closet is a collection of Holmesian related books and magazines.  A bit of an obsession.



Day, book two.  “Beautiful Swimmers: waterman, crabs and the Chesapeake Bay,” by William Warner.  I clearly remember finding this book on a rack in John Wanamaker’s.  The cover looked so interesting; maybe you could judge a book by . . . I’d never been to the Chesapeake and rarely if ever had blue crabs.  But I was captivated.  Specifically I wanted to try soft shell crabs.  At Holy Ghost Prep I asked one of the Giordano boys (Ninth Street Italian market), “Can you get me soft shells.?”  They weren’t in season. My first taste was in Cape May, visiting Jerry and Kate Alonzo.  It was a stand or food truck, Jerry and I bought soft shell sandwiches.  They’ve been a favorite ever since.  This year on a week trip to the Eastern Shore, I had soft shells three times.  The best actually were several weeks later in Cape May.  Some books don’t let go.



Book three was “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau.  I think  I discovered it while attending Boston College, not far from his Concord home.  I was drawn to the economy of words and economy of life.  Living away from it all, listening to the wild, the trees, growing beans, reflecting and writing.  Henry was my type of guy.  Amazing but I never visited Walden Pond until several years ago when we stayed in Concord for several days.  We made the pilgrimage to the reconstructed cottage, statue and the original site.


IMG_2902Book four.  “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway.  I discovered modern American literature in a summer course I took at Council Rock after my sophomore year.  I was searching for identity and signed up as Paul Profy (Paul is a middle name), an alter ego.  There was Vince and there was Paul.  When the instructor called out my name I didn’t respond, a girl next to me said, “Is that you.”  I responded  “Oh, yes.”   Rainy and I would date for the rest of High School.  But more significantly was my exposure to Hemingway.  Later I was an English major at BC — how strange that meant English Literature major, British and American.  For my first paper, I read Hemingway.  All of Hemingway, short stories, novels, poems.  I read every piece of criticism in the BC library and visited other university libraries.  I even read doctoral dissertations.   I recall one, “The insect symbolism in the Nick Adams stories.”  Give me a break, I thought.  What can I write about.  My instructor, John McCarthy, suggested, why not compare Nick Adams (young man in many short stories) and Huckleberry Finn.  I did.  A year later a Hemingway critic, Carlos Baker, published a book with the comparison.  Did McCarthy know?  Of all the Hemingway canon, I chose “The Sun” with its lost generation, expatriates, hanging out in Paris and Spain, a world of drinking, bull fights, writers, artists and lovers.  It could have been other Hemingway; I liked them all.



Day five I turned to children’s books.  And there are many.  “Nobody’s Boy,” by  Hector Malot was a gift from Aunt Lucy.  My father read it over and over when I was quite young.  I loved the story of the orphan who eventually found his mother.  But with a recent re-read, it didn’t hold up.  Another early favorite was “Uncle Wiggley,” by Howard Garis.  A collection of short stories about Mr. Longears, involving some danger escaped, help from Nurse Jane, and an ending that promised the next story. For the FB posts I chose two, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams.  I read it to Jenny, night after night.  Her teddy Durgin (Boston born) talked to her just like the  the rabbit that was real when loved.  And I included  A.A. Milne’s “Winne the Pooh.”  Such a delight; characters, adventures, serendipity, messages.  I could read it again and again.




Book Six.  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain.  Hemingway said, “All American literature come s from Huckleberry Finn.”  I read it as a kid, a college student and as an adult.  It is certainly all American, characters and themes.  Huck rebels against civilization, convention, American hypocrisy.  I get so annoyed when it is banned for racial language.




Concluding this exercise wasn’t easy.  For my final book, number seven, I chose “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.”  My love for local history, a memoir and an amazing character that takes center stage.  Franklin in well Franklin.  They broke the mold.  Who can forget his arrival in Philadelphia, two rolls under his arms, encountering his future wife.  Or his twelve step program for overcoming vices. Great autobiography.

This is one FB game I enjoyed.  Interesting choosing books.  I should re-read all of them.







Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

Vincent Starrett



Sherlock Holmes is never far away. I think my addiction started in the 1970s. There was always some copy of Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories on my night stand. Frequently a facsimile of the Strand with Sidney Piaget illustrations. For several years I was a member of The Baker Street Irregulars and received their journal. I have dozens of books dating from this period, various editions of the Conan Doyle stories and novels, the largest being “The Annotated Sherlock Holme;” imitations, pastiche style works; the films of; the art of; a cookbook, Victorian crime; the rivals of; the possibility of  new Holmes books seems endless. Some are serious criticism by scholars of the canon; others are best sellers.


I recently watched “The Seven Percent Solution,” (1976) based on the best selling book by Nicholas Meyer. Holmes, in a solid performance by Nicol Williamson, has not had a case to occupy his racing brain. A seven percent solution of cocaine has filled the void but results in all to real and fearful hallucinations. Loyal Doctor Watson (Robert Duvall) with Mycroft’s help leads Holmes to Vienna and Sigmund Freud (Alan Atkin) for a cure. Hyponosis helps. Holmes then involves Watson and Freud in an international kidnapping case, Lola Devereaux (Vanessa Redgrave); and of course a bit of  Professor Moriarity (Laurence Olivier). It’s a fast paced twist on elements from Doyle’s writing. Still enjoyable after 40 years.


My most recent Sherlock Holmes read was “The Great Detective: the amazing rise and immortal life of Sherlock Holmes,” by Zach Dundas. As a kid, Dundas read and reread the Holmes stories. He asks, “why has Holmes taken a 125 year grip on popular culture?” Scholarly analysis, pastiche writings, movies, tv, theatre, the arts, comics and advertisements — Holmes’ is everywhere. Dundas even explores more “porn” like blogs on the internet.


He writes about Gillette, Rathbone, Irons, Cumberbach, Downey — each has left an imprint on Sherlock. Illustrator Sidney Paget, for instance, branded Holmes with a deerstalker and Inverness cape. William Gillette added the curve calabash pipe on the NY stage.


Visit London and then visit the Holmes rooms — 221b Baker Street — at the Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Avenue, near London’s Charing Cross Station. On my last trip to London, I wanted to take the Sherlock Holmes tour but didn’t have the time. The appeal of Sherlock Holmes is in part due to this world Doyle created. The Victorian rooms, detailed, eccentric, mysterious. And the city, London, the mist, rain, Hanson cabs, trains, alley ways, and wharves. We are seduced.

Holmes is not himself without Watson. He is a friend, foil, and sidekick, we see Holmes through Watson’s eyes.

Dundas analysis is rich, sometimes new, but often familiar, a place we’ve been, a place we will visit again.

Last night I was looking for a movie to watch on my I-pad. “Mr. Holmes.” (2015) Why not? Holmes (Ian McKellen) has retired, suffers from dementia, raises bees, travels to Japan to get jelly made from the prickly ash, befriends Roger, the son of his housekeeper, is trying to write a final story. It’s an engaging movie.

As Vincent Starrett wrote “two men of note who never lived so can never die.” The Holmes story continues, grows, and twists. I’m hooked.



The case of the stolen red canoe


It was our last full day of a family vacation on Pilgrim Lake, a small glacial kettle pond, in Orleans, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  We got up early since we had scheduled a nature explore on a pontoon boat with the MA Audubon Society.  The kids, Eli and Viv, were excited —  a boat ride and discovering shore life.  We left the house at 9:30.  The 2 hour ride was delightful; we saw some shore birds — terns, egrets, laughing and black-backed gulls, cormorants — we pulled up traps, no lobsters but crabs and a baby flounder.  Captain David, a classic Orleans salt, dropped us off on a tidal flat for an ocean explore — horseshoe crabs (a species that lived with the dinosaurs), green crabs, various clams, moon snails.  The kids gathered around our young guide to see, touch and learn about the creatures.

About 12:30 we got back to the house.  I went out on the back deck and gazed at the pond.  I blinked, our rental canoe which had been tied up to the dock, resting in the grasses,  was gone.  I ran down to the dock and, yes, no canoe.  The rope that had been tied to the bow of the boat was crudely coiled on the dock.  I scanned the lake, no sign of the canoe.  I had used the canoe the previous night.  At 5 o’clock, the wind was strong and I felt lucky getting back to the house.  But about 7 o’ clock, the lake was a a smooth sheet of glass.  A beautiful time to canoe.  A few teenage kids in the house next door were out on paddle boards.  A bit rowdy, but a  parent sat on the shore attempting to limit their antics. I canoed around the entire lake.

I know that I tied the boat to the dock when I returned.  In fact it lay behind the dock in just several inches of   water.  Even if  wasn’t tied, I doubt that it could drift away.  But it was gone.  And strangely whoever took it, left behind my rope — about six feet of 1/2 inch nylon rope.   How strange?  Was it a slap in the face, here’s your rope?

We considered several possibilities.  Someone in a boat — possible kids — took the canoe.  Was it a joy ride?  Was our canoe abandoned somewhere on the lake?  Unfortunately we had no way to fully check that hypothesis.  Did they have a car parked at the small beach across the lake from us — loading the canoe on their car?  Or maybe they were regular canoe thieves who drove up to the house, seeing no one home, loaded the canoe, life preservers and paddles on their car and then gone?  These were all possibilities.  But why had they left my rope coiled on the dock?

I called the local constabulary and outlined the situation.  My daughter, Jenny, drove to the sandy beach across the lake to see if there were any witnesses.  Officer Higgins arrived at the house on a motorcycle in about 20 minutes.  He pulled out a notepad, wrote down name, address, telephone, hours we were gone, details about the size and color of the canoe (12 feet, red).  We never noticed the brand; nor did we see the name of our rental provider, Goose Hummock, on the canoe.  I assured Higgins that the  canoe had been tied up and that it was there at 9:30 when we left for our boat trip.  I explained that the thief had left our rope coiled on the dock.  He didn’t even walk to the dock.  “Usually turn up in Town Cove,” he said.  I asked about a police report and he informed me it would be ready in several days.  Before Higgins left, Jenny returned.  No one on the beach had seen anyone load a canoe on a car or noticed any unusual activity at our dock.  Some people had been at the beach since 9 a.m.

I had read in the local paper that the English detective, Sherlock Holmes, was visiting Orleans.  He was staying at the Nauset Beach Lodge outside of town.  Could I call Holmes?  Well, it was worth a try.  For many years, I have been a Sherlock Holmes follower.  Maybe this was my chance to meet the great detective and even witness him solve the mystery of our stolen red canoe.  I looked up the number of the Nauset Beach Lodge on the Internet and dialed.  The voice at the other end of the line initially claimed that Mr.  Sherlock Holmes could not be disturbed.  I lied and said that I was Doctor Watson, a close friend and chronicler of Holmes’s many criminal investigation.  If he did not transfer me to Holmes; he would pay the piper.  I never quite understood what that meant but it worked.

Holmes said that he was resting in Cape Cod after a severe bout of depression and addiction to a 7 % solution. But he said a good mystery always helped him engage his mind and overcome these  dreadful conditions. He would visit us at Pilgrim Lake.  Holmes arrived in a 1950s dark gray studerbaker.  His dress didn’t conform to the usual Cape Cod attire — stripped woolen pants, a checkered cape and deerstalker hat.  We retired to the back deck overlooking the lake.  “Now tell me what happened,” Holmes began.  He drew from the cape a pipe and pouch of tobacco.  As I began the narrative which is recorded above, Holmes packed and lit his meerschaum pipe.  I told my story.

Holmes questioned, “Now let me be clear.  You rented the canoe from Goose Hummock on Sunday, for a week.  The following Saturday, you called Goose Hummock and asked to extend the rental.”  I responded that this was correct.  We had planned to return the canoe later today (Friday) or early tomorrow morning before the two week due date this Sunday.  “And,” said Holmes, “Let me be clear, you used the canoe last night, about 5 o’clock in strong wind and later when the lake was like a sheet of glass.”  “Yes,” I said, “It was  a beautiful evening on the water.”  Holmes continued, “You tied up the canoe, saw it this morning before you left the house.”  I assured Holmes that he had all the facts.  “And most important,” said Holmes, whoever took your canoe left your rope coiled on the dock.”  “Yes, yes,” I said.

Holmes drew on his pipe. “I think I can explain what happened?”  He asked for a pen and paper and my I-Pad (I never imagined Sherlock Holmes using an I-Pad).  “Call this number” he said a few minutes later, ” and you will find out who took your canoe.”  “Holmes, you are  amazing” I said.  He smiled and took another draw on his meersham.  “Not at all, just look at the facts. If my friend Doctor John Watson recorded this case, he would probably title it “The case of the Coiled Rope” instead of “The Case of the Stolen Red Canoe.”  I was a bit confused but I called the number, 508-255-0455.

Do you know who took our canoe?  Do you know whose number I called?  And of course, how did Holmes solve the mystery?



The game is afoot or look for the lantern.

I took the train from Devon (or is it Yardley) to the City.  Holmes (or someone) had asked me to spend time at Baskerville Hall with Dr. Mortimer and Sir Henry but I felt I needed to get back to London (or is it Philadelphia).  Strange how past and present; real and fictional seem to blend.  I arrive at Paddington (or is it Jefferson Station).  Yes, I am going to the theatre but before the performance, I need  some dinner.   There is a new place run by a Mexican immigrant (El Vez).  But as I worked my way up the street, I notice a small pub sign, then the name spread across the front of the building, “Moriarty’s.”  Forgetting the Mexican, I was drawn inside. The fiend, the Napoleon of crime, he had the audacity to have his name emblazoned on a pub sign.  My how times have changed.

I sat down at one end of the bar, close to the door. I cautiously looked around. There was a mixed crowd, young and old,  couples, singles, a few large groups.  Were any of them Moriarty’s accomplices. I ordered a fairly local (Chambersburg) beer, Roy Pitz, sour.  The bartender, a woman, brought three beers, one for me and the others for the couple next to me.  A few minutes later, the guy next to me asks, “I think she has your sour.”  Sure enough the drinks were mixed up.  We both said it was ok and kept the mixed up beers.  I checked on my phone Internet and read that Roy Pitz Hound Sour was no longer being made.  Was the bartender telling me something? Was this a clue? The play I was going to was “The Hound of the Baskerville,” based on a book by my friend Doctor John Watson, who writes under the alias, Arthur Conan Doyle.  I ordered a second beer, Roy Pitz sour and a Reuben.

As I bit into the pastrami,, I recalled a case Watson wrote about, “The Adventure of the Priory School,” and a character Reuben Hayes. “Holmes and Watson find themselves at the Fighting Cock Inn, and meet the innkeeper, Reuben Hayes, who seems startled indeed to hear that Holmes wants to go to Holdernesse Hall, the Duke’s nearby house, to tell him news of his son. The two men have lunch there, and Holmes suddenly realises something: He and Watson saw lots of cow tracks out on the moor, all along their line of investigation, but never at any time did they see any cows. Furthermore, the patterns of the hoof prints were quite unusual, suggesting that the cow in question walked, cantered, and galloped – very unusual behaviour for a cow.” Reuben, a clue maybe.   Strange.


I got into a discussion with the couple next to me.  I told them I was headed to a production of the “Hound,” carefully watching their response. “Do you know about the new Sherlock movie,” he asked, “Mr. Holmes.”  I said I had heard about it but was getting a bit tired of Holmes movies.  It’s like every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he can be Holmes “Between BBC’s Sherlock, CBS’ Elementary, and Warner Bros.’ ongoing film series starring Robert Downey Jr., we’re practically drowning in Sherlock Holmes adaptations at the moment. The last thing we need is another one. Or at least that’s what we would have said before seeing the excellent trailer for Mr. Holmes. In the new film by Bill Condon, Ian McKellen plays the classic character near the end of his life though he’s now living out a peaceful retirement among his beloved bees, Sherlock remains haunted by the circumstances of the case that put him into exile.”   Exile, bees, the end of my life?

The couple was leaving for their table but before they left, I asked her for an email address.  She told me she was moving to Washington, D.C. to become the principal of a High School, named after the American President, Woodrow Wilson.  Movies, Washington, D.C. — was there a connection.  I remembered:

Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson travel to Washington D.C. in order to prevent a secret document from falling into enemy hands.

Director: Roy William Neill
Writers: Arthur Conan Doyle (characters), Bertram Millhauser (screenplay), 2 more credits »
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Marjorie Lord

You may wonder how I remembered all that.  Doctor Watson wrote about me in “A Study in Scarlett.”

“I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.” Actually I used IMBD on the Internet.  It frees up a lot of brain attic space.

The couple left for their table.  I paid my bill, took a long look around the room.  Moriarity — his tenacles reach thoughout the city (London or is it  Philadelphia).  But he is leaving me clues.  He wants to engage me in the chase, the hunt. He lives and dies for it.

I headed out to the Lantern Theatre and their production of “The Hound of the Baskerville.”  Adapted from  John Watson’s (Doyle’s) story by Steven Canny & John Nicholson.

Nicholson, I knew I had heard that name before.

“‘Departed’ No More? Robert Downey Jr. Desperately Trying To Woo Jack Nicholson Out Of Retirement For Sherlock Holmes Role” Retirement. Bees. Suffolk. New movie, “Mr. Sherlock Holmes.” Things are coming together.

The Lantern Theatre production was fantastic.  Holmes. Lantern. I knew there had to be a connection.