November 6, 2011
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On Conan Doyle (and librarians)

by Michael Dirda

Down Baker Street and every mean byway of London a man boldly goes who is neither tarnished nor afraid, though he wears an Inverness cape rather than Philip Marlowe’s trench coat. – Michael Dirda, On Conan Doyle


Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. – Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

Dirda adds a little later that, having finished all of John Watson’s reminiscences, he longed for more. But “no self-respecting kid would ask a teacher for advice, and the public library’s adult shelves were still off-limits.”

This was my experience as well. The Librarian, who might in other circumstances have become a natural friend and ally, is for me always suspect, because when they could have done me some real service – not just saved me a couple of bucks – they chose to protect the books that sat, unread, on forbidden shelves, lest the silence of nearly-empty rooms be disturbed by an underage visitor.