Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Many years ago, so the story goes, a celebrated newspaper publisher sent a telegram to a noted astronomer.
….“Wire collect immediately, five hundred words on whether there is life on Mars.”
….The astronomer dutifully replied, “Nobody knows. Nobody knows. Nobody knows…” two hundred fifty times. But despite this confession of ignorance asserted with dogged persistence by an expert, no-one paid any heed, and from that time to this we hear authoritative pronouncements by those who think they have deduced life on Mars and by those who think they have excluded it. Some people very much want there to be life on Mars; others very much want there to be no life on Mars. There have been excesses in both camps. These strong passions have somewhat frayed the tolerance for ambiguity that is essential to science. There seem to be many people who simply wish to be told an answer, any answer, and thereby avoid the burden of keeping two mutually exclusive possibilities in their heads at the same time.

* * * * * * * * *

….From that moment, I conceived it decreed, not that I should be a minister of the gospel, but a champion of it, to cut off the enemies of the Lord from the face of the earth; and I rejoiced in the commission, finding it more congenial to my nature to be cutting sinners off with the sword, than to be haranguing them from the pulpit, striving to produce an effect, which God, by his act of absolute predestination, had forever rendered impracticable. The more I pondered on these things, the more I saw of the folly and inconsistency of ministers, in spending their lives, striving and remonstrating with sinners, in order to do that which they had it not in their power to do. Seeing that God had from all eternity decided the fate of every individual that was to be born of woman, how vain was it in man to endeavour to save those whom their Maker had, by an unchangeable decree, doomed to destruction.

* * * * * * * * *

….A gaunt tower showed up against the lowering sky, which was lit by the reflection of Neon lights in the West End. At the corner of the tower gargoyles stood out against the crazily luminous rain, and the long roof of the main body of the building showed black against the sky.
….It was a queer-looking building to find among the prosperous houses of that pleasant-looking road, and Grenville was aware of a feeling of apprehension, quite unreasonable, at the sight of the dark massive structure. “The Morgue” – and a sculptor who hanged himself from a beam. “Jolly!” he said to himself, but having got so far he wasn’t going to funk that dark-looking pile. He went up to the iron gate which stood between the two imposing stone pillars and shook it, and found that it swung to his hand. Pushing it open, he went in, up a stone-flagged path, and found himself faced by an arched doorway, so overgrown with ivy that it was obvious it could not have been opened for years.

* * * * * * * * *

….The storm, unleashed two days earlier, did not seem to have any intention of abating, and upon entering it, he felt how his body and his soul sank in the ice, while the air hurt the skin on his face. He took a few steps toward the street from which he could make out the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains, and it was as if he had hugged the white cloud until he melted into it. He whistled, demanding Maya’s presence, and was relieved when the dog approached him. Resting his hand on the animal’s head, he noticed how the snow began to cover him. If he remained there ten or fifteen minutes, he would turn into a frozen mass and his heart would stop, despite the coats. It could be a good solution, he thought. But if my henchmen won’t kill me yet, he told himself, I won’t do their work for them. Guided by Maya, he walked the few feet back to the cabin: Lev Davidovich knew that as long as he had life left in him, he still had bullets to shoot as well.

* * * * * * * * *

Ruler: Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it may please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance on, nor making use of Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo-Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence or the Act of God?
Candidate: I do.
Ruler: Do you solemnly swear never to conceal a vital clue from the reader?
Candidate: I do.
Ruler: Do you promise to observe a seemly moderation in the use of Gangs, Conspiracies, Death-Rays, Ghosts, Hypnotism, Trap-Doors, Chinamen, Super-Criminals and Lunatics; and utterly and forever to forswear Mysterious Poisons unknown to Science?
Candidate: I do.
Ruler: Will you honour the King’s English?
Candidate: I will.

Extract from the initiation ritual for the Detection Club in the Thirties. (I think we should bring these rules back for current crime fiction…)

* * * * * * * * *

So…are you tempted?

38 thoughts on “Bookish selfie…

  1. The rules for the Detection Club should be the law of the land! Although moderation in the use of Chinamen seems excessive – the more the merrier, I say. And jiggery-pokery should be allowed, as long as it isn’t anything to do with the solving of the crime. A bit of recreational jiggery-pokery is more than acceptable 😉

  2. I have to say it: I love the title Bats in the Belfry, FictionFan! That’s great. And those rules for the Detection Club are absolutely, positively priceless. You’ve got a good week of reading happening here!

    • Isn’t it a great title? And a great cover. And, I’m delighted to say, a great book! Haha – I love those rules. I’m thinking of using them as judging criteria for my rating system in future… 😉

    • Haha – aren’t they great? I’m thinking of using them as judging criteria for future reviews… those “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!” twists are in big trouble… 😉

  3. The Golden Age of Murder!

    In re BATS IN THE BELFRY, please pardon my State-side ignorance–what does this phrase mean: “he wasn’t going to funk that dark-looking pile”?

    • It’s going well so far! 😀

      Haha – isn’t it odd how we all have different languages even though we’d say we speak the same one? 😉 Funk is to not do something because of fear – and a pile in that context would be a big, old house, probably gloomy and probably with all bits added on at different times making it look strange. So “he wasn’t going to let fear prevent him from going in to the spooky old mansion” would be close… 😀

  4. Those rules for The Detection Club are funny. Wasn’t Agatha Christie part of this club or am I wrong? I guess she actually didn’t use poisons that were unknown to science. Ha!

    • They’re great, aren’t they? 😀 Yes, she was – one of the founder members, in fact. Ha – there are lots of anecdotes about members breaking the rules all over the place,,, but they’re still good rules!

  5. Love the quote from the atronaut….. I suppose the book that would appeal most is Bats in the Belfry. I’ve read a few British Library Classics and find the quality variable though.

  6. Love the Detection Club rules – pity they’re not laws!
    I read the Sagan when it came out – I hope it still holds up
    bats in the Belfry – an oldie but goodie!

    • Agreed! The Sagan is kinda mixed for me – I can see why it was ground-breaking at the time, but having read very similar more recent books, I’m not getting much new from it, and some things feel outdated. I think it would hold up better for someone coming to it completely fresh to the subject…
      Bats in the Belfry is great – one of the best of these BL books so far…

  7. I think you saved the best for last this time! Those Detection Club rules are grounded in fairness to the reader, and I think they hold up well over time. I’m worried about the dogs story — you know me and dogs! And when he mentions having bullets, why, I feel all aflutter. Tell me no dogs are killed!

    • I love the rules too – they’re fun but also seriously quite good rules for the majority of crime fiction! There are lots of dogs in the book – it covers a period of decades, so some of them do die but mostly only in the natural way of things. You know I’m soft about these things too, but there was only one tiny episode about the dogs in this one that upset me, and the author didn’t dwell on it. All the main characters were dog lovers, so mostly the dogs are well cared for. 🙂

  8. I’ve been wondering about reading James Hogg’s books for ages – how are you getting on with it? In that extract it seems he is talking himself out of the need to save sinners – no point if their fate has already been decided!

    I have Bats in the Belfry lined up to read soon – so I’m glad it’s going well so far for you.

    • I loved it, Margaret – far more than I expected to! It’s quite short but was one of those books that took me longer to read than normal because it’s so packed full of stuff – I was so glad I had an annotated edition. It would be quite possible to read it without notes, but I got much more out of it when all the references were explained. It’ll be getting 4 1/2 stars from me when I write my review. I also loved Bats in the Belfry – one of the best of the BL releases for me… 😀

    • I thoroughly enjoyed it, Helen – one of the best of the BL releases for me so far. The writing is excellent and it’s got a good strong plot, and some likeable characters… 🙂

  9. As always a great and varied selection – I’ll sign the petition to bring back the Detection Club rules! Of course I’m drawn to The Golden Age of Murder which sits patiently on my bookshelf as well as Bats in the Belfry, which doesn’t – yet…

  10. The Golden Age of Murder looks like a winner! Present day writers please take notice of the rules. Cosmos sounds interesting, too. Nobody knows x 250 is going to be a long page, though…

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