The Succored Beauty (223B Casebook)

smart-set-oct-1905Little is known of William B. Kahn, and therein lies a mystery, because his sole contribution, published in The Smart Set magazine’s October issue, has earned a place in the pastiche canon. It was republished in a limited edition in 1964 by the Beaune Press, again in “The Game is Afoot” anthology, and was praised in LeRoy Lad Panek’s “The Origins of the American Detective Story” as being one of the first to recognize how many Holmes stories involved marital problems. Research revealed the existence of a William Bonn Kahn (1882-1971) who wrote “The Avoidance of War, a Suggestion offered by William B. Kahn, written for the Society for Peace” in 1914. Could it be the same person?

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.

One night, as I was returning from a case of acute indigestion—it was immediately after my divorce and I was obliged to return to the practice of my profession in order to support myself—it chanced that my way homeward lay through Fakir street. As I reached the house where Combs and I had spent so many hours together, where I had composed so many of his adventures, an irresistible longing seized me to go once more upstairs and grasp my friend by the hand, for, if the truth must be told, Combs and I had had a tiff. I really did not like the way in which he had procured evidence for my wife when she sought the separation, and I took the liberty of telling Combs so, but he had said to me: “My dear fellow, it is my business, is it not?” and though I knew he was not acting properly I was forced to be placated. However, the incident left a little breach between us which I determined on this night to bridge.

As I entered the room I saw Combs nervously drinking a glass of soda water. Since I succeeded in breaking him of the morphine habit he had been slyly looking about for some other stimulant and at last he had found it. I sighed to see him thus employed.

“Good evening, Combs,” said I, extending my hand.

“Hello, Spotson,” cried he, ignoring my proffered digits. “You are well, I see. It really is too bad, though, that you have no servant again. You seem to have quite some trouble with your help.” And he chuckled as he sipped the soda water.

Familiar as I was with my friend’s powers, this extraordinary exhibition of them really startled me.

“Why, Oilock, ” said I, calling him, in my excitement, by his praenomen, “how did you know it?”

“Perfectly obvious, Spotson, perfectly obvious. Merely observation,” answered Combs as he took out his harmonica and began playing a tune thereon.

“But how?” persisted I.

“Well, if you really wish to know,” he replied, as he ceased playing, “I suppose I will be obliged to tell you. I see you have a small piece of courtplaster upon the index finger of your left hand. Naturally, a cut. But the plaster is so small that the cut must be very minute. ‘What could have done it?’ I ask myself. The obvious response is a tack, a pin or a needle. On a chance I eliminate the tack proposition. I take another chance and eliminate the pin. Therefore, it must have been the needle. ‘Why a needle?’ query I of myself. And glancing at your coat I see the answer. There you have five buttons, four of which are hanging on rather loosely while the fifth one is tightly sewn to the cloth. It had recently been sewn. The connection is now clear. You punctured your finger with the needle while sewing on the button. But,” he continued musingly and speaking, it seemed, more to himself than to me, “I never saw nor heard of the man who would sew unless he was compelled to. Spotson always keeps a servant; why did she not sew the button on for him? The reply is childishly easy: his servant left him.”

I followed his explanation with rapt attention. My friend’s powers were, I was happy to see, as marvelous as they were when I lived with him.

“Wonderful, Combs, wonderful,” I cried.

“Merely observation,” he replied. “Some day I think that I shall write a monograph on the subject of buttons. It is a very interesting subject and the book ought to sell well. But, hello, what is this?”

The sound of a cab halting before the door caused Combs’s remark. Even as he spoke there was a pull at the bell, then the sound of hasty footsteps on the stairs. A sharp knock sounded upon the door. Combs dropped into his armchair, stuck out his legs in his familiar way and then said: “Come in.”

The door opened and there entered, in great perturbation, a young lady, twenty-three years of age, having on a blue tailor-made suit, patent-leather shoes and a hat with a black pompon ornamenting it. She wore some other things, but these were all that I noticed. Not so Combs. I could see by the penetrating glance he threw at her that her secret was already known to that astute mind.

“Thank heaven,” she cried, turning to me, “that I have found you in!”

“Are you ill, madam?” I began; but suddenly realizing that I was not in my office but in Combs’s consultation room, I drew myself up stiffly and said: “That is Mr. Combs.”

The young lady turned to him. Then, lifting her handkerchief to her beautiful eyes she burst into tears as she said: “Help me, help me, Mr. Combs.”

The great man did not reply. An answer to such a remark he would have regarded as too trivial. The lady took down her handkerchief and, after glancing dubiously at me, said to Mr. Combs: “Can I see you privately?”

Once, and once only did I ever before or, indeed, since, see such a look of rage on Combs’s face. That was when Professor O’Flaherty and he had that altercation in Switzerland. (See “Memoirs of Oilock Combs.” Arper & Co. $1.50.)

“Madam,” said he in frigid tones, “whatever you desire to say to me you may say before Dr. Spotson. How under the sun, woman,” he cried, losing control of himself for a moment, “would the public know of my adventures if he were not here to write them?”

I threw Combs a grateful look while he reached for the soda water. The visitor was momentarily crushed. At last, however, she recovered her equanimity.

“Well, then,” she said, “I will tell you my story.”

“Pray, begin,” said Combs rather testily.

“My name is Ysabelle, Duchess of Swabia,” the visitor commenced.

“One moment, please,” interrupted Combs. “Spotson, kindly look up that name in my index.”

I took down the book referred to, in which Combs had made thousands of notes of people and events of interest, and found between “Yponomeutidae” and “yttrium” the following item, which I read aloud:

“Ysabelle, Duchess of Swabia; Countess of Steinheimbach; Countess of Riesendorf, etc., etc. Born at Schloss Ochsenfuss, February 29, 1876. Her mother was the Duchess Olga, of Zwiefelfeld. and her father was Hugo, Duke of Kaffeekuchen. At three years of age she could say ‘ha, ha!’ in German, French, English, Italian and Spanish. Between the ages of five and fifteen she was instructed by Professor Grosskopf, the eminent philosopher of the University of Kleinplatz. By sixteen her wisdom teeth had all appeared. A very remarkable woman!”

As I read this last sentence, the duchess again burst into tears.

“Pray, pray, compose yourself, duchess,” said Combs, taking a pipe from the table and filling it with some tobacco which he absent-mindedly took from my coat-pocket.

The duchess succeeded in calming herself. Then, rising majestically and gazing at Combs with those wonderful eyes which had played havoc with so many royal hearts, she said, in solemn tones:

“I am lost!”

The manner in which she made this statement as well as the declaration itself seemed to make a deep impression upon Combs. Without uttering one word he sat there for fully four minutes. The way in which he puffed nervously at the pipe showed me that he was thinking. Suddenly, with an exclamation of delight, he dashed out of the room and down the stairs, leaving the amazed duchess and myself in his apartments. But not for long. In forty-three seconds he was again in the room and, dropping into his chair thoroughly exhausted, he triumphantly cried:

“I have it!”

Never had I seen my friend wear such a look of victory. The achievement which merited such an expression upon his countenance must have been remarkable. By and bye he recovered from his fatigue. Then he spoke.

“Madam,” he said, “I have the answer.”

The duchess sobbed in ecstasy.

Combs continued:

“The moment that you said you were lost,” he began, “an idea came to me. You must have noticed, Spotson, how preoccupied I seemed before.

Well, that is the sign of an idea coming to me. Before it had time to vanish I dashed down the steps, into the vestibule, looked at the number of this house and jotted it down. Madam,” he cried, drawing out a book and looking at one of the pages, “madam, you are saved! You are no longer lost! This is No. 62 Fakir street. You are found!”

During this entire recital the duchess had not said a word. When Combs had finished she stood for a moment as if she did not understand and then, realizing the fact that she was rescued, she wept once more.

“My savior,” she cried as she prepared to leave the room, “how can I ever thank you?” And she pressed into Combs’s outstretched hand a large gold-mesh, diamond-studded purse.

The door closed, the carriage rolled away and the Duchess of Swabia was gone.

“Spotson,” said Combs to me, “don’t forget to write this one down. It has a duchess in it and will sell well to cooks and chambermaids. By the way, I wonder what she gave me.”

He opened the purse and there, neatly folded, lay two hundred pounds in bills.

“Bah!” cried Combs contemptuously, “how ungrateful these royal personages always are.”

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Spouse Conversion or Being A Team (Part 2)

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It is hard to change someone else's behavior without coercion and even harder to change someone's way of thinking.

It is hard to change someone else’s behavior without coercion and even harder to change someone’s way of thinking.

So you decide to stay. Overall, you and your children are better off if you stay with the spendthrift. Now comes the hard part. Fixing or at least modifying your spendthrift spouse’s ways. It is hard to change someone else’s behavior without coercion and even harder to change someone’s way of thinking. If you could change someone’s long-held beliefs through a closely reasoned argument, then they didn’t really believe what they claimed at all. Think of atheists and Baptists arguing at cross purposes!

You can, much more easily, modify your own behavior. First and foremost, you cannot expect anyone to do what you won’t do yourself. If you leave your clothes all over the floor why should anyone else pick up theirs? If you buy whatever strikes your fancy, why would your partner reign in their spending? So you can spend even more? That won’t ever happen.

If you are disorganized, random in your habits, refuse to plan your trips to save on gas, won’t reheat and eat leftovers, and turn up the thermostat in the winter to 70 degrees, then don’t expect your partner to suddenly pick up the slack because you are concerned about resource depletion and waste. They won’t do it and why should they? You don’t.

Since we do what is important to us, if you want tidiness and refuse to tidy up yourself, the message being sent is you are a control-freak jerk who wants other people to clean up after you. If you claim to be genuinely concerned about the environment, then start walking and bicycling and stop driving everywhere. If you don’t, then you are a hypocrite expecting other people to cut back on their carbon footprint while you continue to do everything you want, when you want. If you really believe hard, economic times are coming, then don’t sit in front of the TV without darning socks or some other hand work. You have to model the behavior that you want to see.

So, back to what you can change. If you want to start cutting down the debt load and building up the savings, then you need to curb your spending first. Set up an emergency fund (if you don’t already have one) and start funneling the savings into it. If you know your partner will spend every extra penny on comic books and overpriced shoes, then you may have to take over paying the bills so you can divert saved dollars to debts and saving.

An easy trick to show how money can add up is to get a gallon glass jar and start putting all your change into it, every day. Keep it out of sight. Find out how much your spouse spends every day on vending machine snackies and store-bought coffee. Put that amount in the jar too. When your partner bemoans how much she needs some spare cash, present the jar, count the amount, and show how little expenses add up. Then use the saved change to pay a bill off or stock up the pantry. This method can help because many people have no imagination at all. They simply cannot understand that a dollar or two a day can really add up to lots of dollars over several months or a year. They have to be shown.

If you keep your paychecks, bills, and other monies separate, then focus your energy on paying off your personal debts and building your personal emergency fund. Keep a ledger as you go to prove that you succeeded at getting debt free by not spending. That is, you did it the hard way by saying no, and not by winning the lottery and hiding the money from your spouse.

While you are getting your financial house in order, stop ragging on your partner for their spendthrift ways! It doesn’t work, so instead, mention that you are cutting back so as to pay off your student loan and thus improve the household’s long-term security. When the transmission falls out of your car, pay for the repairs from your emergency fund instead of your Visa card. When your spouse asks how you did this, tell them you stopped shopping for recreation and started planning ahead for the long-term security of the household.

Explaining why

Notice the use of this phrase: long-term security of your household. The whole idea behind planning for the future, savings, getting debt-free, reskilling, becoming self-sufficient, being energy efficient, improving your health, and bettering relationships with other people is long-term security for you and your loved ones. If you don’t care where your future meals and lodging are coming from, then you might as well drift along. It is a lot less work.

Does your partner know and understand why you want to turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater? You must lay out your reasons. Unless your spouse is a mind-reader, then he won’t know why you want a fully stocked pantry. You have to explain to him that you want to be better prepared for disruptions at the grocery store because of hurricanes (like Katrina and Sandy), tornados, earthquakes, blizzards, ice storms and other natural disasters. Your natural disaster will vary depending on your location; no one in Florida will believe you are prepping for an earthquake but they all understand the concept of hurricanes. Any area with a winter is vulnerable to ice storms and extended power outages. These are easy reasons to explain and easy for most people to understand. “I want our family to be better prepared, just like the Red Cross and FEMA recommend.”

If your partner has trouble even conceiving that anything bad could ever happen, then you can turn to the media. Seeing or reading detailed scenarios can really clarify to the non-imaginative person why you want to have some food stashed away. Disaster movies, TV shows, and novels can all be great aids for disaster preparedness. Observe and comment on the poor communication skills and total lack of preparedness and ask your partner what they would do if the power went out for a week in January. A good novel like “One Second After” or “Alas, Babylon” can illustrate what-ifs in an easy to understand way. The author’s scenarios more than compensate for the lack of imagination of your partner.

This is magical thinking on par with refusing to make a will since if you don't have one, you can't die.

This is magical thinking on par with refusing to make a will since if you don’t have one, you can’t die.

Your spouse may answer that preparing for problems invites them to happen. This is magical thinking on par with refusing to make a will since if you don’t have one, you can’t die. I think this kind of thought pattern is really a fear of the future and a fear of not having control. You can explain that having money in the bank and food in the pantry does not invite problems into your house. It means that you can still put food on the table even when the grocery stores are closed or you had to take an unpaid furlough at work. Having savings and no debt give you more options if you are laid off. Your household does not sink into an immediate disaster; you have some leeway, some cushioning in which to find other work while still meeting your bills.

It may help to show your spouse that you are not one paycheck away from disaster. You are two, four, even twenty or more paychecks from disaster. Does knowing this make your spouse feel more secure? More willing to not buy those unwearable shoes? That radial-arm saw that will never be used? Point out to your spouse that the long-term security of your family and household is your main concern. Prove it by your actions.

“Just in case” preparedness

Another way of illustrating the need for disaster preparedness is insurance. Why do you have house insurance? It isn’t because you expect (or want!) your house to burn down. It is just in case. Why do you have term life insurance? Same reason again. You don’t expect (or want) your partner to die. But if they meet the Mack truck at the red light, it would sure be nice to have some extra money to take care of the kids. A big cash payout won’t lessen the grief. But it will give breathing room while the family recovers.

Why do you wear a seatbelt? In case of an accident. Why do you lock your doors? To discourage burglars. Why do you floss your teeth faithfully? To prevent long-term, expensive dental problems. These are all actions we perform, not because we think we will have a burglar or an accident, but because of “just in case”. “Just in case” is the purpose behind disaster preparedness. Use “just in case” when talking to your partner about stocking the pantry, learning how to garden, taking a martial arts class, and exercising every day. It may make why you are concerned about the future much clearer.

The basics of disaster preparedness and thrift can then lead to a deeper understanding of the need for a food garden, no debt of any kind, basic home security, and lots and lots of skills that you actually practice.

It can be deeply depressing to contemplate disaster, both short term like a tornado or long term like a years-long economic collapse. If your partner is overwhelmed by an uncertain future, then your actions can show how your household can exert control. That planning ahead, that getting ready, that doing things “just in case” can make your lives better and safer. Show how savings can add up. Show how the emergency fund paid for a car repair. Show how a full pantry kept your household eating when the stores were closed. Show how insulating the attic lowered heating bills. Show how a vegetable garden put fresh salads on the table.

Remember that your spouse won’t do a blessed thing if YOU don’t act on your beliefs. Model the behavior you want to see in thrift, exercise, preparedness, reskilling, anything. Read and leave laying around books on thrift (such as “The Complete Tightwad Gazette”), disaster preparedness (“Just in Case: How to be Self-Sufficient when the Unexpected Happens”), gardening (“Gardening When It Counts” and “The Resilient Gardener”), health improvement (“Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat”). Whatever you are currently working on. Explain why you are doing what you are doing. Repeat as necessary. Don’t sit with idle hands in front of a game show on TV and expect your partner to be darning socks. Explain some more.

Don’t forget the power of positive reinforcement. When your partner picks up a hoe to weed the garden, then praise, praise, praise! Praise every positive effort and ignore (as best you can) the unwanted behaviors. Stop belittling and demeaning comments. They don’t help. Spouse conversion is a process that can take years, so better start now. And, most importantly, don’t ask your partner to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.

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Sherlock Parodies on Video II (223B Casebook)

Today’s post is a continuation of last week’s post focusing on modern-day parodies that I found amusing. Not surprisingly, most of them focus on the BBC “Sherlock” show.

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.

Again, will start with one that a lot of “Sherlock” fans have already seen, the “Black, Two Sugars” trailer. I love videos that recut stories into movies that take a distinctly different take on the material. So far, I’ve come across “Toy Story 2″ recut as “Dark Knight (with Woody as the Joker),” “Dirty Dancing” given the David Lynch treatment, and Rob Zombie’s “The House of 10,000 Muppets.”

In the case of “Black, Two Sugars,” the pleasure lies in not only the clever use of existing footage, but the music track (NOT taken from the show) that mimics perfectly those found in rom-coms: the bright bouncy music, the classic song pull (James Brown’s “I Feel Good”), the abrupt stops (only missing the “needle scratching across the record” sound) and ending with a lush romantic climax.

These clips are primarily the same with slight differences, so pick one and enjoy!

“Black, Two Sugars” Trailer #1

“Black, Two Sugars” Trailer #2

Next, a Russian TV show parodies not just the Cumberbatch “Sherlock,” but the Robert Downey Jr. and Jeremy Brett Holmes as well. The “scratched record” effect missing from “Black, Two Sugars” somehow found its way here.

Finally, the Dawson Bros. Funtime show did this takeoff, with the help of a (clothed) Irene Adler, that pokes fun at Holmes’ ability to discern clues visually.

Back again on Monday!

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Dudley Jones, Bore-Hunter (223B Casebook)

Wodehouse-life-lettersP.G. Wodehouse was a lifelong Sherlock Holmes fan. In his introduction to a paperback edition of “The Sign of the Four,” written when he was 90, he declared: “I was a Doyle man, and I still am. Usually we tend to discard the idols of our youth as we grow older, but I have not had this experience with A.C.D. I thought him swell then, and I think him swell now.”

So it’s not surprising that he would create a few parodies of the Sleuth of Baker Street. Early in his career, before Jeeves and Wooster came along, Wodehouse was scribbling away furiously at whatever would bring in the weekly dosh. One of his outlets was the humor magazine “Punch,” for which he wrote two pastiches. This one, “Dudley Jones, Bore-Hunter” appeared over two issues in 1903.

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here. Those readers made of sterner stuff can look into the Sherlock Holmes pastiche I published with Mark Twain playing his Watson!


As is now well known, my friend, Mr. Dudley Jones perished under painful circumstances on the top of Mount Vesuvius. His passion for research induced him to lean over the edge of the crater in such a way as to upset his equipoise. When we retrieved him he was a good deal charred, and, to be brief, of very little use to anybody. One of our noblest poets speaks of a cat which was useless except to roast. In the case of Dudley Jones, even that poor exception would not have held good. He was done to a turn.

Dudley Jones was a man who devoted his best energy to the extinction of bores. With a clear-sightedness which few modern philanthropists possess, he recognised that, though Society had many enemies, none was so deadly as the bore. Burglars, indeed, Jones regarded with disapproval, and I have known him to be positively rude to a man who confessed in the course of conversation to being a forger. But his real foes were the bores, and all that one man could do to eliminate that noxious tribe, that did Dudley Jones do with all his might.

Of all his cases none seems to me so fraught with importance as the adventure of the Unwelcome Guest. It was, as Jones remarked at intervals of ten minutes, a black business. This guest — but I will begin at the beginning.

We were standing at the window of our sitting-room in Grocer Square on the morning of June 8, 189-, when a new brougham swept clean up to our door. We heard the bell ring, and footsteps ascending the stairs.

There was a knock.

“Come in,” said Jones; and our visitor entered.

“My name is Miss Pettigrew,” she observed, by way of breaking the ice.

“Please take a seat,” said Jones in his smooth professional accents. “This is my friend Wuddus. I generally allow him to remain during my consultations. You see, he makes himself useful in a lot of little ways, taking notes and so on. And then, if we turned him out, he would only listen at the keyhole. You follow me, I trust? Wuddus, go and lie down on the mat. Now, Miss Pettigrew, if you please.”

“Mine,” began Miss Pettigrew, “is a very painful case.”

“They all are,” said Jones.

“I was recommended to come to you by a Mrs. Edward Noodle. She said that you had helped her husband in a great crisis.

“Wuddus,” said Jones, who to all appearances was half asleep, “fetch my scrapbook.”

The press-cutting relating to Mr. Edward Noodle was sandwiched between a statement that Mr. Balfour never eats doughnuts, and a short essay on the treatment of thrush in infants.

“Ah,” said Jones, “I remember the case now. It was out of my usual line, being simply a case of theft. Mr. Noodle was wrongfully accused of purloining a needle.”

“I remember,” I said eagerly. “The case for the prosecution was that Neddy Noodle nipped his neighbour’s needle.”

“Wuddus,” said Jones coldly, “be quiet. Yes, Miss Pettigrew?”

“I will state my case as briefly as possible, Mr. Jones. Until two months ago my father and I lived alone, and were as happy as could possibly be. Then my uncle, Mr. Stanley Pettigrew, came to stay. Since that day we have not known what happiness is. He is driving us to distraction. He will talk so.”


“Yes. Chiefly tales of travel. Oh, Mr. Jones, it is terrible.”

Jones’s face grew cold and set.

“Then the man is a bore?” he said.

“A dreadful bore.”

“I will look into this matter, Miss Pettigrew. One last question. In the case of your father’s demise — this is purely hypothetical — a considerable quantity of his property would, I suppose, go to Mr. Stanley Pettigrew?”

“More than half.”

“Thank you. That, I think, is all this morning. Good-day, Miss Pettigrew.”

And our visitor, with a bright smile — at me, I always maintain, though Jones declares it was at him — left the room.

“Well, Jones,” I said encouragingly, “what do you make of it?”

“I never form theories, as you are perfectly well aware,” he replied curtly. “Pass me my bagpipes.”

I passed him his bagpipes and vanished.

It was late when I returned.

I found Jones lying on the floor with his head in a coal-scuttle.

“Well, Wuddus,” he said, “so you’ve come back?”

“My dear Jones, how — – ?”

“Tush, I saw you come in.”

“Of course,” I said. “How simple it seems when you explain it! But what is this business of Miss Pettigrew’s?”

“Just so. A black business, Wuddus. One of the blackest I have ever handled. The man Stanley Pettigrew is making a very deliberate and systematic attempt to bore his unfortunate relative to death!”

I stared at him in silent horror.

Two days afterwards Jones told me that he had made all the arrangements. We were to go down to Pettigrew Court by the midnight mail. I asked, Why the midnight mail? Why not wait and go comfortably next day? Jones, with some scorn, replied that if he could not begin a case by springing into the midnight mail, he preferred not to undertake that case. I was silenced.

“I am to go down as a friend of the family,” said he, “and you are going as a footman.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Don’t mention it,” said Jones. “You see, you have got to come in some capacity, for I must have a reporter on the spot, and as a bore is always at his worst at meal-times you will be more useful in the way of taking notes if you come as a footman. You follow me, Wuddus?”

“But even now I don’t quite see. How do you propose to treat the case?”

“I shall simply outbore this Pettigrew. I shall cap all his stories with duller ones. Bring your note-book.”

“Stay, Jones,” I said. “It seems to me — correct me if I am wrong — that in the exhilaration of the moment you have allowed a small point to escape you.”

“I beg your pardon, Wuddus?” His face was pale with fury.

“A very small point,” I said hurriedly. “Simply this, in fact. If you begin outboring Stanley, surely an incidental effect of your action will be to accelerate the destruction of your suffering host.”

“True,” said Jones thoughtfully. “True. I had not thought of that. It is at such moments, Wuddus, that a suspicion steals across my mind that you are not such a fool as you undoubtedly look.” I bowed.

“I must make arrangements with Mr. Pettigrew. Until I have finished with brother Stanley he must keep to his room. Let him make some excuse. Perhaps you can suggest one?”

I suggested Asiatic cholera. Jones made a note of it.

On the following night, precisely at twelve o’clock, we sprang into the midnight mail.


I think Stanley Pettigrew had his suspicions from the first that all was not thoroughly above board with regard to Jones. Personally, I think it was owing to the latter’s disguise. It was one of Jones’s foibles never to undertake a case without assuming a complete disguise. There was rarely any necessity for a disguise, but he always assumed one. In reply to a question of mine on the subject he had once replied that there was a sportsmanlike way of doing these things, and an unsportsmanlike way. And we had to let it go at that.

On the present occasion he appeared in a bright check suit, a “property” bald head, fringed with short scarlet curls (to match his tie and shirt), and a large pasteboard nose, turned up at the end and painted crimson. Add to this that he elected to speak in the high falsetto of a child of four, and it is scarcely to be wondered at that a man of Stanley’s almost diabolical shrewdness should suspect that there was something peculiar about him. As regarded my appearance Jones never troubled very much. Except that he insisted on my wearing long yellow side-whiskers, he left my make-up very much to my own individual taste.

I shall never forget dinner on the first night after our arrival. I was standing at the sideboard, trying to draw a cork (which subsequently came out of its own accord, and broke three glasses and part of the butler), when I heard Jones ask Stanley Pettigrew to think of a number.

His adversary turned pale, and a gleam of suspicion appeared in his eye.

“Double it,” went on Jones relentlessly. “Have you doubled it?”

“Yes,” growled the baffled wretch.

“Add two. Take away the number you first thought of. Double it. Add three. Divide half the first number (minus eighteen) by four. Subtract seven. Multiply by three hundred and sixteen, and the result is the number you first thought of minus four hundred and five.”

“Really?” said Stanley Pettigrew with assumed indifference.

“My dear Jones, how — – ?” I began admiringly.

Jones flashed a warning glance at me. Miss Pettigrew saved the situation with magnificent tact.

“John,” she said, “you forget yourself. Leave the room.”

I was therefore deprived of the pleasure of witnessing the subsequent struggles which, to judge from the account Jones gave me in my room afterwards, must have been magnificent.

“After the fish,” said Jones, “he began — as I had suspected that he would — to tell dog-stories. For once, however, he had found his match. My habit of going out at odd moments during the day to see men about dogs has rendered me peculiarly fitted to cope with that type of attack. I had it all my own way. Miss Pettigrew, poor girl, fainted after about twenty minutes of it, and had to be carried out. I foresee that this will be a rapid affair, Wuddus.”

But it was not. On the contrary, after the first shock of meeting a powerful rival so unexpectedly, Stanley Pettigrew began to hold his own, and soon to have the better of it.

“I tell you what it is, Wuddus,” said Jones to me one night, after a fierce encounter had ended decidedly in his rival’s favour, “a little more of this and I shall have to own myself defeated. He nearly put me to sleep in the third round to-night, and I was in Queer Street all the time. I never met such a bore in my life.”

But it is the unexpected that happens. Three days later, Stanley Pettigrew came down to breakfast, looking haggard and careworn. Jones saw his opportunity.

“Talking of amusing anecdotes of children,” he said (the conversation up to this point had dealt exclusively with the weather), “reminds me of a peculiarly smart thing a little nephew of mine said the other day. A bright little chap of two. It was like this — – ”

He concluded the anecdote, and looked across at his rival with a challenge in his eye. Stanley Pettigrew was silent, and apparently in pain.

Jones followed up his advantage. He told stories of adventure on Swiss mountains. A bad Switzerland bore is the deadliest type known to scientists.

Jones was a peerless Switzerland bore. His opponent’s head sank onto his chest, and he grew very pale.

“And positively,” concluded Jones, “old Franz Wilhelm, the guide, you know, a true son of the mountains, assured us that if we had decided to go for a climb that day instead of staying in the smoking-room, and the rope had broken at the exact moment when we were crossing the Thingummy glacier, we should in all probability have been killed on the spot. Positively on the spot, my dear Sir. He said that we should all have been killed on the spot.”

He paused. No reply came from Pettigrew. The silence became uncanny. I hurried to his side, and placed a hand upon his heart. I felt in vain. Like a superannuated policeman, the heart was no longer on its beat. Stanley Pettigrew (it follows, of course) was dead.

Jones looked thoughtfully at the body, and helped himself to another egg.

“He was a bad man,” he said quietly, “and he won’t be missed. R.S.V.P.”

A brief post-mortem examination revealed the fact that he had fallen into the pit which he had digged for another. He had been bored to death.

“Why, Jones,” said I, as we sprang into the midnight mail that was to take us back to town, “did deceased collapse in that extraordinary manner?”

“I will tell you. Listen. After our duel had been in progress some days, it was gradually borne in upon me that this Stanley Pettigrew must have some secret reservoir of matter to draw upon in case of need. I searched his room.”


“And under the bed I found a large case literally crammed with tip-books. I abstracted the books and filled the box with bricks. Deprived of all his resources, he collapsed. That’s all.”

“But — ” I began.

“If you ask any more questions, Wuddus,” said Jones, “I shall begin to suspect that you are developing into a bore yourself. Pass the morphia and don’t say another word till we get to London.”

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Spouse Conversion or Being A Team (Part 1)

Suburban Stockade BannerSuburban stockade introductionBill and I have done as well as we have because we work very well together as a team. We have similar goals, needs, wants and desires. We both agree on the need to spend less than we earn, to get closer to financial freedom, to have enough stuff but not so much it chokes us, and to be able to choose the work we really want to do. Heading in the same direction makes the life journey much smoother and easier.

We don't avoid conflict, but we don't consider fighting to be a recreational sport, either.

We don’t avoid conflict, but we don’t consider fighting to be a recreational sport, either.

We also do not have any of the killer bad habits. Gambling. Pornography. Alcoholism. Drug addiction. Adultery. Abusiveness and anger management. Control-freakishess. Spendthrift and shopaholic. Chronic meanness, pettiness, and disdain for each other. Spitefulness. Contempt. We don’t avoid conflict, but we don’t consider fighting to be a recreational sport, either. We like to talk and boy, do we! We consider ourselves very lucky to have found each other.

Being able to talk and forming a mutual support and admiration society has made our life much easier. I have read advice columns for some forty years, and I am constantly amazed at both what people will put up with from their partners and how spouses undermine each other to score a few points. Do they not realize the damage their doing to their relationships? I suppose they would rather be right and alone than compromise and be happy. I wonder how anyone could think that they could treat their family or friends as doormats and punching bags and then be surprised when family members estrange themselves and friends walk away forever. How can you belittle your partner and then expect them to be supportive of your goals?

As we move deeper into a very uncertain future, the Long Emergency as some call it, we will need to be part of a reliable support network. Any disaster-preparedness group, such as FEMA or the Red Cross, will tell you that the first person to come to your aid in a disaster is likely to be an immediate family member or a neighbor. The bigger the disaster, the longer it takes for outside responders to ride to the rescue. This assumes that there is someone to come to the rescue. Enormous disasters such as Hurricane Katrina overwhelm professional responders and you may not see them for weeks. Tiny disasters such as job layoffs are not the concern of the Red Cross. If you and your partner got downsized and the benefits have run out, FEMA won’t be there for you. It will be your relatives. If you are still on speaking terms with them.

It is easy to think that a disaster is a hurricane or tornado or an earthquake. Yet the most likely disaster to happen to any given household is economic or medical. That is, job loss and debt or sickness and injury. You may have heard the joke that if your neighbor loses his job, the economy is in a recession. If you lose your job, the economy is in a depression. Which, for your household, it is. Widespread job loss does not fit the government’s definition of either recession or depression but it certainly feels like that for the households involved.

Being at odds with your partner will not make any of this better.

Being at odds with your partner will not make any of this better.

As we move deeper into the Great Recession (I do not believe that we are anywhere near the bottom; when you look at economic charts of the Great Depression, you can see that the economy and stock market rallied all the way to the bottom. The overall downward trend line is what mattered), I think we will see more individual households entering their own depression, no matter what the official statistics say. Too many workers for too few jobs is a bad mix. Downward pressure on wages, huge government debts, resource depletion, climate change, and widespread social unrest overseas will make things worse.

Being at odds with your partner will not make any of this better.

A partnership, which is what marriage should be, means you work together as a team for a common set of goals. Look at your partner. Are you working together? Or are you at loggerheads over the basic issues of spending, debt management, and trust? Somewhere in between? If you are dealing with the four A’s of adultery, abandonment, abuse, and addiction then you should be thinking very seriously about why you are with this person. If you are the abuser, addict, adulterer or abandoner, then you should not be anywhere near decent people until after you have fixed your behavioral and psychological problems.

If your problems are not as extreme as the four A’s, then you have maneuvering room. Advice columnists all advocate making a list of goods and bads leading to the decision of “am I better off with him or without him.” Be as complete as possible. Why did you pair off with this person? There must have been some reason. Look for it and see what changed. It may have been you. Do you look at your spouse with rage and contempt? Does she belittle your every action? Does he treat you with sneering disdain? Do you want to change? Do you want things to be better? Or do you just want out? What do you think your partner wants? Do you actually know or are you just guessing? Serious problems like this may require outside help.

You cannot change your spouse. You have to give him or her reasons to change their behaviors.

You cannot change your spouse. You have to give him or her reasons to change their behaviors.

Many, many couples have been helped by marriage counselors and therapists. Ministers and priests provide this service as well. You may have a friend or family member who is a really good listener. Keeping a private journal of thoughts, fears, and concerns can help some people. These things are all way, way cheaper than divorce and far less traumatic. They also require effort and change on your part as well as that (maybe) of your spouse. You cannot change your spouse. You have to give him or her reasons to change their behaviors. They have to change themselves. Your can only change yourself. However, changes in your behavior can encourage changes in your partner’s behavior. If you are dealing with a sane person and not an abusive psycho, then behavior changes are possible and your relationship can get better. You can start pulling together as a team.

Think of good dog training. Dogs will work very hard for praise and a pat on the head. Unlike cats, say, who are motivated strictly by food rewards and then only if they feel like it. The key to effective dog training is being consistent, being clear in your expectations, repetition, and praise, praise, praise for a correctly done action. Complex actions are taught to a dog in small increments. In order to learn how to lay down, you first have to teach your dog to sit. In order to stay, you have to teach your dog to sit. In order to give a paw, you have to teach your dog to sit. If you want to teach your dog to roll over, you have to teach sit and then lay down.

Each learned behavior builds on previous learned behaviors. It isn’t actually that hard, as long as you are willing to spend a lot of time, on a regular, long term basis. You have to be clear in your expectations and not confuse the dog by trying to do multiple things at once. You have to be consistent in your actions and commands. That is, sit means sit. It does not mean stay, wait, beg, give a paw, or anything else. You, the trainer, use the same word and action every time. If you can’t be consistent, regular, and methodical, you will confuse the dog. The whole training experience will be far more frustrating for both you andl your dog and won’t turn out nearly as well as it could.

People training is similar. Treat your partner (or your children, co-workers, family members, friends) with care and concern. Be considerate towards them. Make your expectations clear. Practice what you preach. Follow through on your promises. Lead by example. Don’t expect any member of your household to do any work you refuse to do.

Is this hard? Oh, God, yes. It can be endlessly frustrating, especially when you can’t seem to explain what you mean and no one listens because they are all busy and tired and overwhelmed and full of unresolved feelings just like you are. Dog training is way easier as dogs tend not to have mental issues like people do. Dogs don’t multitask. Dogs get enough sleep. Dogs don’t stress out over what someone else thinks of their grooming or the size of their dog house or how well they wrote that last position paper. Dogs don’t have to-do lists a mile long. Dogs don’t have jobs, homework, or commutes. The only issue a dog has with training is you and your inconsistencies and poorly expressed expectations.

Since people do have all sorts of impediments to training—not the least of which is knowing that you are using dog techniques on them!—should you try? Of course, as that is the whole point. Do you want to be part of a successful team or not? Clarify in your own mind what you want out of your life and how you want to be better prepared to meet the Long Emergency. Look at your spouse. Is the possibility of change there? Is your partner sane, no addiction issues, no impossible behavior problems, not terminally lazy? Then there is hope.

So what do you do next? That’s our topic for next Saturday.

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Sherlock Parodies on Video (223B Casebook)

ad-Sherlock-Holmes-1904-safe-adToday I wanted to focus on something more contemporary, so here are a couple modern-day parodies that I found amusing. Not surprisingly, most of them focus on the BBC “Sherlock” show.

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.

We’ll start with the one I suspect everyone in the world has seen: the “Doctor Who / Sherlock” mashup. I came to the Doctor Who universe thanks to the enthusiasm of my former Patriot-News co-worker Meg Leavy-Horton (who writes the awesome “Namesake” comic). I remember the Tom Baker-as-doctor show back in the day when it appeared on PBS the same time as “Monty Python” but it didn’t hook me.

But I was seriously hooked from the first episode of the rebooted series, so much so that, for the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t want to critically analyze the shows. There was so much going on in the stories. The alien planets. The historical eras (Pompeii! Dickensian London! Agatha Christie’s ‘20s!). The sexy companions. The sheer joy radiating from the doctor. The bubbling energy and optimism. It seemed cruel and shallow to sit there like the Simpson’s Comic Book Guy, sneering that an outmoded police call box could show up and nobody would pay attention.

The “Sherlock” show hooked me in the same way, although I have to admit my critical radar switched itself back on. Although it wasn’t nearly as much fun to watch in the same way as “Who,” it’s still a wonderful series.

And then this mash-up appears, bringing together two iconic heroes with the help of amazing digital technology that’s available to everyone who wants to take the trouble to learn it. It’s the future, today, far beyond what I could have imagined as a kid. And being something of a computer geek, I had to add the “how-to” video as well, because that magic fascinates me.

From high-tech to no-tech, Chris Kendall does an acceptable job playing both Holmes and Watson (or should it be Cumberbatch and Freeman?), especially BC’s tight-lipped speech. They run down the fairy-tale cases SH solved while Watson was in the shower, wrapped up with a not-to-surprising punchline, but still amusing.

The essence of parody is to take a subject to its logical conclusion, no matter how extreme. The slightly bawdy and definitely rude “Oklahomo” from Scandinavia follows that rule in depicting the relationship between the crime-solving duo.

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The Mystery of Agatha Christie in Mechanicsburg on Sunday

Banner for the free Agatha Christie lecture on Sunday at the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

Banner for the Agatha Christie lecture on Sunday at the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore.

When it comes to blowing my horn, I tend to be pianississimo instead of fortississimo. That’s probably one of the major skills (outside of writing) that anyone who hopes to sell what they’ve made has to learn.

Self-promotion seems to contain a number of traps of its own making. While there may not be such as thing as too much promotion (see Kardashians, The), too much in the wrong place can lead pretty quickly to numerous blockages, unfriendings and similar behavior.

This occurred to me today while setting up a Facebook event for the free Agatha Christie talk I’m giving at the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookstore (Sunday 3/30 at 2 p.m.). One of the options available was to “Invite People.”

I must admit I froze. While I’ve been the recipient of numerous invitations, I’ve never been the invitee, and I wasn’t aware of the folkways involved. Should I invite everyone? A few in the area? Relatives? While I’ve never been offended by receiving invites — indifference to some is the worst I can muster — the thought of annoying others made it difficult to check the proper number of boxes.

In the end, I settled for inviting a few, announcing the event over at the Pennwriters board, and posting about my Hamlet-like conflict here.

In any event, I’m planning on a barnburner of a show. Christie’s early years contain enough material to make a charming coming-of-age story: a genteel young lady brought up in a civilized society; her father’s death when she was young; declining family fortunes; a whirl of dance parties and charity balls where she was introduced to numerous young men; an trip to Egypt where she preferred the social whirl to looking at moldy old archaeological sites (an interest that, ironically, would surface later in life). There’s even the occasional scandal to liven the business up.

Then there’s her dabbling in poisons and murder, leading her to create (at 25 no less) Hercule Poirot, the detective that would be the making of her, and a millstone at times, for the rest of her life. Finally, we’ll round up with the story of her happy marriage to Archie Christie and the prospects of a pleasant domestic life, only to be shattered by sexual betrayal and public scandal.

So far, according to the bookstore owner, at least 30 people have indicated they’ll attend. To paraphrase Mark Twain’s handbill on the occasion of his first lecture: The doors will open at noon. The trouble will begin at 2 p.m.

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They Had Better Nicknames In Those Days, Too

Searching for items for the 223B Casebook means running down leads that don’t go anywhere, but the view is still pretty.

This item is from the Anamosa Prison Press, a weekly newspaper published by the inmates at the Anamosa State Penitentiary in Iowa. Which, by the way, has a main building that proves that prisons can be forbidding and welcoming at the same time.

"C'mon in and stay a decade or two!"

“C’mon in and stay a decade or two!”

Anyway, I snagged a page from the Press because it contained a reference to “Herlock.” Turns out it was a nickname bestowed on the hapless guard who let his prisoner escape. It’s still an amusing story, and that it’s told in a newspaper meant for prisoners tells you a lot about the times.


The rest of the page contains stories about a prayer meeting, a “Sunday school report” and a feature writeup about an inmate who built a working engine that would be exhibited in the upcoming Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.

From memory. Here’s a thumbnail of the page. Click to embiggen:


In every story, inmates are identified by their numbers. The engine-builder, for example, was “No. 4349.” A check online reveals nothing more about the inmate, or the engine.

A literate newspaper. Sunday school visits from children. Comic stories about police. Different times.

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Sherlock Holmes on the Domestic Hearth (223B Casebook)

ad-Sherlock-Holmes-1904-safe-adMonday’s entry from the 223B Casebook appeared in Dec. 18, 1901 edition of The Tatler, its author unknown, and places Holmes in that rarest of roles: as husband and father.

Stories from the 223B casebook — stories published during Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lifetime (plus later ones I liked) — are published here every Monday and Friday. The up-to-date list can be found here.

Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair, his eyes roaming round the room in their habitual restless manner. Even in his own house and during his few resting moments they would not cease from their detective duty and were ever on the watch for some-thing to discover. Thus his home was particularly free from deception. The butler, for instance, would never say that the cat must have finished that jug of rare old claret, but would own like a man he had thrown it away in mistake for vinegar when cleaning the bottle. Nor would the cook deny it was the kitten who finished that joint of lamb which the family expected to have had cold. As she said when the loss was discovered, she was just explaining how it happened to the fat policeman who had stopped at hearing her cries of alarm, and thus accounted for his presence in the kitchen.

Now as Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair resting his roaming eye fell for an instant on his wife’s silk shawl thrown carelessly across the back of a chair near him. There was nothing about the innocent wraps for ordinary eyes to take alarm at, but Sherlock Holmes started to his feet, his eyes growing full of suspicion and anger. Raising the shawl in one hand he plucked from it with the other a short curly fair hair. He glanced into the mirror above the mantelpiece; his own locks were dark and straight. “Oh, Harriette, Harriette,” he muttered, sinking into his chair, “can you be false to me?” His face settling into a frown suddenly brightened, he jumped up and rang the bell. A smart parlourmaid appeared.

“Lucy,” he said sternly, “last night was your evening out?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You met a young man?”

“If you please, sir,” said Lucy indignantly.

“You wore your mistress’s shawl.”

“Oh, sir,” sobbed Lucy, “I took it by mistake in the dark, sir.”

“He had curly fair hair on his head, and he put that said head upon your mistress’s shawl during which time said shawl was upon your shoulders.

“He did, sir. Oh, sir, there ain’t no use in hiding nothing from you, sir.”

“You can go to the kitchen, Lucy.”

“Oh, thank you, sir.” Lucy rose from her knees, and brushing away imaginary tears she left the room.

Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair smiling. “My dear Harriette, I never doubted you,” he said. He closed his piercing eyes for a moment, but opened them as he heard a cab drive up to the door. He looked out and saw his wife alight. “I’ll say nothing about the shawl,” he thought. “Harriette is so quick-tempered, she might be vexed with poor Lucy.” At that moment the door opened and his son entered.

“Oh, papa, will you tell me one of your stories – I have been so good today.”

“At the jam again,” Sherlock Holmes observed as the boy came towards him, his hands behind his back.

“Oh, pa, how did you know?” the youngster questioned.

“I observed by the peculiar discoloration round your mouth, by its colour, and the few seeds still adhering to your chin. I would say it was raspberry jam, and suggest you should wash your hands and face at once.” The boy drew a sticky hand from its hiding place, put a finger in his mouth, and left the room crestfallen.

“My dear,” Sherlock Holmes rose as his wife entered, “you overpaid that cabman.”

“Oh no! on the contrary. When I handed him half-a-crown he said it was a wonder the skin did not come off with it. What makes you think I overpaid him?”

“On looking from the window I observed his face. If you had given him his exact fare he would have been silent, expecting nothing more from a woman. If you had given him twopence above his fare he would have been, surprised and said, ‘Thank you,’ but you must at least have given him double his fare to have roused him to that storm of indignation which his gestures translated to me. And now I wish to draw your attention to another matter. You have been spending a lot of money lately, my dear.” His wife sank into a chair.

“Yes, sit down; it’s a long list. You have got a hat and feathers; that I observe from a bit of ostrich feather upon your fringe, and seeing you only wear silk bows in your bonnet I draw the conclusion you have been trying on new millinery and found the most expensive the most becoming. I also think by the way Mrs Jones, our next-door neighbour, looked you up and down as you were coming in you must have a new dress on, and as you lifted your skirts a trifle high in tripping from the cab to the door in spite of the ground being perfectly dry I am sure you have bought a new petticoat and stockings. In conclusion, I can guess you entered the room with the intention of asking me for a cheque of, say £50. Am I right?”

“Sherlock,” said Mrs Holmes, “you are wonderful, nothing is secret from you. I lay bare my heart and pray you forgive my extravagance. You are the cleverest man in the world and have named the exact sum I wanted. I can hide nothing from you, you are a magician.”

“Here is your cheque, and do not try any deceit to pie; it is impossible to blind me.” Sherlock Holmes lay back in his chair, a smile of gratified vanity on his face. His hand crumpled a bit of paper in his pocket. Mrs Holmes left the room smiling, “Whoever would have thought Smith and Son would have sent their bill so soon, and the poor man thinking I did not know it was in his pocket. How easy it is to deceive the sex. Magician, indeed! Ha ha!”

This space sponsored by my new short story “The Adventure of the Whyos,” featuring Mark Twain.

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Building Your Home Library

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Book learning won't make you into a competent home butcher of home-raised chickens but it will keep you from making as many mistakes when you are standing there, knife in hand and wondering where to start.

Book learning won’t make you into a competent home butcher of home raised chickens but it will keep you from making as many mistakes as you might otherwise do when you are standing there, knife in hand and wondering where to start.

We love books. We absolutely believe that there is too little time for all the wonderful books in the world. Uncontrolled book buying leads to two problems: bad books (or books that are not right for us) and lack of space. Shelf Space; the final frontier. If only we had more! 5,000 books and counting and we are running out of wall space. All of which is leading up to the vital importance of a complete home library.

Why do you need the most complete home library you can get? Because books remember for you. Because you cannot possibly learn everything there is to know, that there ever was to know, and that there ever will be to know. Books let you learn what other people, societies, civilizations have learned the hard way. Book learning won’t make you into a competent home butcher of home-raised chickens but it will keep you from making as many mistakes when you are standing there, knife in hand and wondering where to start. And no, we don’t raise chickens and we have certainly never had to get out the killing cone and kill, pluck, singe, draw, and dress a hen. But thanks to my reading, I do have some idea of where to start, i.e., get someone else to do it.

Books don’t require electricity or batteries and they can be read aloud to other people while you are all darning socks by the light of a single kerosene lamp. The words do not fall off of the page with multiple readings. They can be traded or resold and the words still remain easily read. They do not rely on advanced technology that is utterly dependent on the grid and the blood of Chinese miners. You may be able to run your Wi-Fi laptop off of your solar batteries but the internet itself is dependent on huge, huge server farms each of which uses enough electricity to light a small town. Your batteries use rare earths mined in China under dreadful conditions, rare earths that are becoming more difficult to find and more expensive. Books can be handwritten on the skins of sheep with homemade ink. You don’t have to have specialized technology to read them. Learn to read Old English and you can still read medieval manuscripts. Lose the equipment to read old floppy disks and they become dust catchers pretty quickly. Assuming of course that the magnetic data has not degraded over time.

If you don’t need a specific title, it can be traded to someone who may want it. What you don’t need to know now, may turn into useful information later on; the book remains perfectly legible while waiting quietly on a shelf. Even those ranks of Reader’s Digest’s condensed books have their uses: insulation, toilet paper, sound deadening, fire starters, radiation barriers, art projects.

Only you can decide on the re-readableness of James Patterson.

Only you can decide on the re-readableness of James Patterson.

So what books do you want? For fiction, pick titles that you would want to read over and over. Only you can decide on the re-readableness of James Patterson. Disaster and apocalypse novels can be interesting because of the what-if scenarios they pose. Alien attacks, comet strikes, economic collapse, electromagnetic pulses, pandemics, volcano eruptions or Zombie uprisings: the characters should have stored more food and organized a neighborhood watch program prior to the events in the book. How many stupid, eye-rolling things do the characters do? Use this sort of reading to guide your own contingency planning.

For non-fiction, I like to focus on how to books. I cook a lot (from scratch!) and so I have a wide variety of cookbooks, particularly older ones that don’t use fancy ingredients and ones specifically about food preservation techniques. I sew a lot so I have lots of sewing books. I don’t know how to knit, but I do have some basic picture instruction books on how to do it and someday, I might have the time to learn. Gardening books on vegetables, fruits, seed saving, soil building, and permaculture have more importance to me than titles on ornamental flowers. All kinds of basic home repair topics, disaster preparedness, thrift and money management, first aid, keeping chickens; anything you think you might want to do or should learn. If you think you might, eventually, want to learn another new skill, buy the books (and read them!) to get an idea of if you really do want to keep pigs or build a solar hot water heater. A second hand book can be very cheap and will wait quietly on the shelf until you are ready for it. We buy books when we see them, ahead of time, for potential future use, as we don’t know if that title or subject will come up at the library sale when we really need it.

Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg (click to embiggen).

Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg (click to embiggen).

Bill is a writer and a book annotator, so we also have a huge selection of histories, references, biographies, Hollywood, the Civil War, and now, a new focus on world and American history from 1875 to 1930. We have found that it is easier to search our home library first for a reference work, then move on to the library, and then onto Google and internet. The internet is very useful for looking things up but what happens when previously free sites become pay per use? Will a site still be there a few years down the road when you need it again? That book on your shelf won’t go away. You can also annotate the index of your own copy to make it easier to find a topic again, scribble notes in the margin, and highlight important passages.

Cupboard Maker Books, Enola, Pa.

Cupboard Maker Books, Enola, Pa.

We buy books all over. We are poor and thrifty so we are rarely able to buy brand new titles from Amazon. Before you shriek, there are no local, independent new bookstores where we live, we do have two really excellent used bookstores fairly close by. Cupboard Maker Books in Enola (across the Susquehanna River) has a huge selection of fiction and non-fiction, and cats galore. The Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg is almost exclusively non-fiction and they have everything under the sun. There must be 100,000 books in that store and that doesn’t include the additional warehouse further uptown. They have a nice little cafe and some local art for sale. Further afield is the Lion’s Club book barn near Avondale, Pa. 50,000 books and only five dollars a bag. They have a very large range of topics and they are even fairly well organized by subject.

We go to library sales whenever we can. You never know what you will find at a library sale and they are always worth attending. Do not skip checking out every thrift shop and yard sale. The price is right and you simply do not know what will be there. One of our odder books is a compilation of the Madame & Eve comic strip. This is one of the most popular newspaper comics in South Africa and if I hadn’t found the book at the local Goodwill ($2!) we would have never even known it existed. It is also a pretty neat view of South African culture and everyone enjoyed it very much. I have even picked books up out of trash bins and from along the curb. If we can’t use it, it gets passed along one way or another.

If we run across a title (through our reading) that would be a good addition to our home library but we don’t get lucky locally, then comes to the rescue. This site lets you interact with used book dealers all across the country. ABEbooks has worked very well for us in finding off beat or unusual titles. eBay has loads of books listed every day as well.

My home library. We built 22 bookcases in varying sizes, all yellow.

My home library. We built 22 bookcases in varying sizes, all yellow.

As your library grows, you will be need to consider where to put them all. Books require shelves. These are not that hard to build and any how-to carpentry book has instructions. Similar to your food storage, books like it cool, dry, and climate controlled. Damp, moldy basements lead to disaster. Your stored boxes of books will become unreadable silverfish motels. Don’t do this. Build shelves. Every room in our house, other than bathrooms, has bookshelves. We build floor to ceiling for better space utilization. The walls of books also contribute insulation and sound deadening. Dedicated paperback shelves fit nicely along narrower hallways. Some shelves fit in the unusable space behind open doors. All my cookbooks fit in a very high, just under the ceiling bookshelf that runs over the kitchen bulletin boards. That was 10 feet of new space.

Keep your books shelved, in order by topic for non-fiction and by author for the fiction, and you will always be able to find the one you are looking for. We have so much non-fiction that we break books down into larger categories: religion and philosophy, sewing and crafts, cooking, home maintenance, preparedness, thrift, biographies, Hollywood and the media, and history. History is being reorganized into a straight line by when the topic of the book took place. The shelves start with prehistory and march forward into today. This lets us file current events at the end as current events turn into history all on their own. Organization is a must as books you cannot find are books that you don’t own. It is very annoying to discover the missing title after you buy another copy. The only saving grace here is that you can trade the duplicate to Cupboard Maker books for a different title.

So if you see a likely title at the Salvation Army or the library sale for $2, buy it! They can use the money and you may not easily find it again. Or, more likely, you could buy it from if only you could remember the title and author. Build your home library on every topic now, when books are easy to find, and cheap. As your library grows, you may need to refine it by passing no-longer needed titles along to friends, your local used book dealer or the library sale. This action can generate both good-will and more books that are more useful to you. Start building your library now, and be better prepared for whatever comes your way.

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