When I was a child, I had a small three-shelved bookcase, painted (and perhaps built) by my father, with my name stenciled at the top. That modest piece of furniture contained all of my books for a good long while, until I acquired a pressed-wood 5-shelved version as well..and even then, there was still space for knicknacks and the like.
Because, you see, although I loved books and read them voraciously, owning them was another matter entirely. I was given books as gifts, but I was actively dissuaded from buying them. This made each acquisition precious, and I can remember taking a friend into a store and pointing to The Delicate Dependency
, all but begging her to please buy me that for my birthday. (She did so.) (I have a long history of being blessed with generous and patient friends.)
Sherlock was, like so many other characters, discovered within the amazing book collection that lined the wall of my mother's living room. Floor to ceiling, supported on wall-mounted brackets and planks, her book collection seemed magical to me - always changing, always offering up treasures. Pern, Middle-Earth, Xanth..and, quietly tucked away amidst dragons and hobbits, I found Victorian England.
It was love. It was mad, literary love. I went to the library and I copied passages as if they were sacred text into notebooks. I didn't own any of Doyle's books, you see. And perhaps it was love, and perhaps it was shame, but my stepmother and father finally bought me a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, complete with illustrations from The Strand
. What they didn't know was that my mother had bought me a very similar collection, bound in green leather and sporting gilded pages.
They suggested we return one of the books.
I clung to them both and justified reasons to keep them. Of course, I have them still.
I was in my early teens, I think. So I might be able to blame hormonal insanity for the hysteria that occurred when my mother - realizing my anthologies didn't contain all of the stories - offered to buy me two of the three paperbacks commercially available at that time that would help complete my set.
To my shame, I couldn't decide. Treasure! It was all treasure! And I laughed, and I cried, right there in the bookstore, and my should-be-sainted mother sighed and bought all three books, although she couldn't afford them.
(I still feel some guilt.)
By the time I was in 11th grade, I had written a paper, my first term paper, on Holmes. My English teacher told me I was the area expert on the subject.
What a terrifying
I therefore set out to find others who knew more than me.
I utilized the interlibrary loan system to locate books by Sherlockian scholars such as Vincent Starrett
. I tracked down a tome that contained an already-outdated listing of scion societies across the US, and I started writing letters. (Oh, how spoiled we are by the internet today..)
Many letters came back unanswered. The societies were no more.
Some came back with lovely correspondences, which I still have, and suspect I should donate to the BSI. Dr Julian Wolff
, in particular, was very patient with my childish excitement.The Sons of the Copper Beeches
offered me a membership, assuming I was male (and, perhaps, a bit older than 15). I was tempted to accept, but I was not yet enough of a pirate to do so.
I finally found a mentor in Philadelpha - Steve Rothman - who, again, was very kind and very patient. When I wrote to him asking if "The Blue Carbuncle" was, in fact, a retelling of the poem "Little Jack Horner," his delight that I'd figured it out was incredibly sweet. And, shy as I am, I eventually found the courage to go with him and his wife to a meeting of The Clients of Sherlock Holmes in Philadelphia.
Honestly, I felt like a novelty there. I was assuredly the youngest person, at..17? 18?...and I was only one of two young women there who was not accompanied by her husband. I was intimidated and shy, but gads, I loved it...every presentation, every analysis of the stories. When Sherry and Scott Bond, the group organizers, talked of visiting the Reichenbach falls and taking the time to soak blotters in the water so they could bring some of the falls back to us...how exciting! (I'm sure I still have that bit of paper somewhere.)
The discovery of boys lured me away from Sherlock's charms. Alas. Though when I reconnected with Mr Rothman, before I moved to western PA, and he bemoaned his failure as a mentor, I laughed. "I'm currently in a kid's book where I'm referred to as a dinosaur detective. And I work in a butterfly exhibit, which is somewhat like working with bees. I'm still a Sherlockian. You did very well by me."
I miss that world. I still love the history of the Baker Street Irregulars. I still treasure my pin from The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (though I never became an ASH, and part of me really regrets that). I still think about tracking down local groups and reconnecting. And I confess, it feels damned weird to see Holmes suddenly so popular, to blunder across people talking about their love of him and about how far back it goes.
It should make me feel like I wasn't so alone after all.
And yet I think of my little notebooks, filled with the handwritten lines of the books I loved so much, and it's a little hard to feel connected to these previously-invisible fans.