Sunday, March 16, 2008

Reading Hints for Red Herrings

It is a good thing Strong Poison comes before The Five Red Herrings in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, because only a reader borne up on the waves of the former intriguing and somewhat romantic mystery would have the heart to make it through the next book's pages. Herrings is by far the most arduous and unpleasing of the Wimsey canon and a shocking mistake in publishing history.

Nevertheless, when the time came for me to reread The Five Red Herrings in my third venture through the series, I did so with gusto. I carefully examined the indecipherable map at the front of the book. I attempted to remember the characteristics of each suspect introduced so that I could differentiate among them as the story proceeded. By the time I reached the convoluted account of bicycle labelling at some train station or other round about chapter 10, I was hopelessly lost.

Let me stop right here, since I am riled up at just the memory of the experience, to vent my fustration about a book in which the author has her detective discover a crucial clue at the beginning of the mystery but refuses to tell us what it is, instead snottily telling the reader that if he is intelligent, he will deduce it for himself. Additionally, there are none of the entertaining Whimsey-esque flights of prattle and absurdity that would have made the book at least bearable, and Bunter is nowhere to be found. That estimable manservant's place has been taken by a Jeeves-like imposter.

But back to my main point. Hopelessly lost in Galloway, I realized I could continue plunging blindly through the story and hope to find my head above water at the end, give up, or start over. I started over.

I inched through the book, referring frequently to the map and paging back and forth whenever I couldn't remember something that I was supposed to know. I emerged powerfully at the train station with the bicycle label - and knew where I was! I vaulted through the book, springing from train station to train station and following up every detail of every detailed alibi! I understood!

And that, my friends, is what makes this book worth reading. It's like a scavenger hunt. If you can follow the clues, you'll actually kind of have fun. And if you can visualize all of the alibis occurring simultaneously - artist-fishermen scooting energetically all around the country by train and car and sometimes boat - you will even sense a kind of humor in the story.

If you are feeling inspired by this post and wish to test your endurance for a wee Scottish mystery, here are my hints for reading The Five Red Herrings:

1) The map is virtually unreadable, but all you really need to be able to identify are the train routes. They are signified by little train tracks, which are easier to pick out than roads or rivers. Be sure to note where all the train stations are.

2) Keeping track of all the characters is difficult. When you have reached the point at which Wimsey identifies the six suspects, hang onto those. Also, hang onto the various members of the police force. Otherwise it gets super-confusing.

3) Keep track of times, too. Remembering the general schedule of events will help you to fit in all the alibis.

More G. K. C.

And when I look across the sun-struck fields, I know in my inmost bones that my joy is not solely in the spring, for spring alone, being always returning, would be always sad. There is somebody or something walking there, to be crowned with flowers: and my pleasure is in some promise yet possible and in the resurrection of the dead.

~ "The Priest of Spring"

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The things I do are unprecedented things.

This round road I am treading is an untrodden path. I do believe in breaking out; I am a revolutionist. But don't you see that all these real leaps and destructions and escapes are only attempts to get back to Eden - to something we have had, to something at least we have heard of? Don't you see one only breaks the fence or shoots the moon in order to get home?

~ G. K. Chesterton, Manalive, ch. 3

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Two Allergy Books

Allergy Free Naturally: 1,000 Nondrug Solutions for More Than 50 Allergy-Related Problems, Rick Ansorge and Eric Metcalf: Part one of this book is an overview of allergy theory, testing, and the three major medical approaches to allergy--conventional, environmental-medicine, and alternative. Because allergies can be so horribly confusing, it helps to be able to peg your doctor as using one of these three approaches so that you can understand where he's coming from and why he might order completely different tests for you than your friend's doctor does for her. I did not find the rest of the book very helpful, though, since it mainly deals with inhalant and contact allergies, not food allergies.

Coping with Food Intolerances, Dick Thom, D.D.S., N.D.: With its odor of cheap publishing (double-spaced lines, poor editing, etc.) and the occasional reference to something called UNDA numbers (hope I'm not stepping on anybody's toes here), I wasn't sure how helpful this book would be. Turns out it was good enough to add to my allergy resources sidebar. In section one, Dr. Thom explains his framework for evaluating and improving one's health. It is a wholistic approach that takes into account nutrition, genetics, and emotional wellbeing, among other things. I found this to be very encouraging because it accounts for why I get sick after one late night while some people apparently have no need for sleep at all. The author goes on to explain allergy theory, the difference between allergy and intolerance, and the range of tests available for diagnosing allergies. Next he explains a six-week elimination diet and the re-introduction phase. Finally (and, again, very encouraging for me) he recommends a manageable rotation diet. He doesn't advise rotating food families, just individual foods; and he allows you to eat a particular food as many times in a day as you like. This is much more manageable than the extreme rotation diet recommend by other authors, which nearly drove me insane when I tried it last year. Subsequent sections deal with environmental allergies, food recommendations and substitutions, recipes, and even a grocery list.

Back on the Menu

There are very few books that I read more than once, so it's saying a lot that I am reading the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries for the third time. Dorothy Sayers, I'm rediscovering, was a brilliant craftswoman. I'm going a bit more slowly this time, gleaning all the little details that I previously trampled on in my mad attempt to arrive at each mystery's solution. I'm looking up a lot of words in the dictionary. Know what a taradiddle is? No, I'm not going to tell you. I wouldn't steal from you the delight of looking it up and discovering for yourself.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Shadow Stories

The sermon today was from Hebrews 7 and 8, which say that the tabernacle and the sacrificial system and the law and the old covenant were but a shadow and a copy of what is real. To explain to us what we cannot see, to reveal our hidden hearts and unveil the loftiest and most invisible sanctuary of heaven, God painted us a picture. He sang us a song. He wafted incense and let us watch the blood drain from innocent lambs.

This is the God who speaks our language. He teaches us in human terms.

I spent all my high school years trying confusedly to prove that art and beauty were necessary. I needed them to be necessary, because they were the only things that enabled me to make sense of life and they were the only things that held out the promise of something better. In fact, I went to college in the vain hope that there I would find the final proof, the answers to my questions.

But I lost those old lovely dreams--partly for the good reason that they were my idols. I didn't have a real god, so I had to worship those. The path I followed when all those gods tumbled down is a story in itself. My point here is to say that when, out of the nothingness, God spoke, I started over with only Him. But He, I soon learned, also contained those other things.

I am beauty, He said, as I watched the Atlantic Ocean touch the rocks by the Bar Harbor Shore Path last June. I am truth, He's been insisting, as I revel in the hard clarity of reality: renewed health, the ability to wash dishes, the draining challenges of family life, the ever unknown future. I tell stories--that's what I heard today, and it elated me. I feel like I've been handed back something I thought I'd never see again, and now I know the true value of it.