Thursday, October 22, 2015

Oxford History of the United States

My 50 book reading plan will include one book from the Oxford History of the United States.  So far the books in this series are as follows.:

Glorious Cause (1763-1789) by Richard Middekauff
Empire of Liberty (1789-1818) by Gordon S Wood
What Hath God Wrought (1818-1848) by David Walker Howe
Battlecry of Freedom (1848-1865) by James M McPherson
Freedom From Fear (1929-1945) by David M Kennedy
Grand Expectations (1945-1974) by James T Patterson
Restless Giant (1974-2000) by James T Patterson

I say so far because though The Oxford History of the United States was conceived in the 1950's the project is still not finished. There are no books yet written covering 1865 through 1929 for example.  A few years back Atlantic Magazine and the Boston Globe published articles asking what's taking so long?  Good point because each of the above books are huge and many readers may want to wait until the entire series is written taking you all the way through American history with no gaps.

That having been said the above list have won two Pulitzer Prizes, two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize and a Bancroft Award.  So if you are interested in a particular period of American history covered by one of the history books above you might want to invest the time.  As for me in the months ahead  I do intend to pick one of these books to read and review here at Reading Matters.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

If you've never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic Sherlock Holmes stories a good place to begin is The Hound of the Baskervilles. It remains his most popular novel and the perfect book to curl up with on a cold winter's night.  

The Hound of the Baskervilles begins with Holmes and Watson in their London flat on Baker Street.  The time is the 1880's and Dr. James Mortimer comes to see Sherlock Holmes to find out what really happened to his friend Sir Charles Baskerville.  The death was ruled a heart attack but Dr. Mortimer has questions.  He tells Sherlock Holmes that in the months leading up to his death, Sir Charles worried about the Baskerville curse.

The curse began in the 1600's when Hugo Baskerville captured a young woman imprisoning her on his estate.  She escaped and Hugo and his friends raced after her with their hounds in hot pursuit.  The young woman fell to her death but Hugo was killed too, savagely attacked by a monstorous hound. Since that time bad luck has befallen the Baskerville descendents.  Dr. Mortimer wants Holmes to investigate since he is sure he saw footprints of a very large animal near the place where Sir Charles had his heart attack.  

Holmes is skeptical but decides to take the case particularly since Charles Baskerville was worried about his nephew Henry Baskerville's well being. Henry was next in line to inherit the Baskerville home and it turns out when Holmes and Watson meet Henry they find that someone is following him but who and why?  Sherlock with the help of Dr Watson solves the case and the resolution is satisfying and believable.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is narrated by Dr. John Watson and he is a great observer of all that is going on including the brilliant mind of his friend Sherlock Holmes.  As someone once wrote there's a timelessness about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.  No matter what else is happening in the world we can open our book and suddenly its 1884 and Holmes and Watson are sitting at the breakfast table reading the newspaper trying to decide which case they'll take on next.  Some things never get old.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Should We Finish Every Book We Start?

We begin books with the best of intentions, wanting to read through to the last page. But certain books start out well and then 100, 150 pages in they become a chore to get through.  I'm in that position now with a critically acclaimed book I have wanted to read for some time but I'm struggling with it and have decided to put the book down for awhile and move on to something I might like better.

There is a guilt I feel in not finishing books because for years that's all I did, get to page 70, 80 and move on to the next thing. And if a book is a classic there is a sense of obligation to finish it as well.  But life is short and when a book becomes a desert that you've been walking through for weeks hoping to see water up ahead, maybe its time to move on. Reading should be fun.