I didn’t actually read anything of Doyle’s until college. I technically majored in Creative Writing, but ended up taking a lot of coursework in British Victorian literature. (If I remember right, I took every single class that was offered on the subject during my stay at college.) So, clearly, I already like the form and rhythm of Victorian lit.
I was assigned to read a Sherlock Holmes short story in one of the classes. I can’t remember which class—I think maybe the Gods and Monsters one? Or maybe it was just the short story class? It kind of doesn’t matter because I also can’t remember which story it was that was actually assigned. I’m pretty sure it was the Five Orange Pips one. Anyway, I found myself really enjoying it. Like, more than I thought I would. I liked it so much that I went out and bought the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes (two massive volumes, actually), and read through the entire thing in about a month.
Mind you, this was during and between assignments when I was averaging reading an assigned 120k of words a week and writing reports on them. Basically a long novel every single week, split up between poetry and short stories and actual novels. So squeezing in another, half a million words or something of Sherlock Holmes is kind of a testament to how much I freaking liked it.
And I’m not the only one. Holmes has been in our society’s imaginations and hearts since pretty much Doyle brought him to life on the page. Numerous shows and movies have been made about him, most of which pretty successful. (Check out Elementary if you haven’t! It’s actually really, really good!) There’s even spin-off novels written by other authors, now that the copyright has moved to public domain. There’s something… resonant about a know-it-all, kind of acerbic but still mostly charming detective who cares more about the details than just the simple who-dun-it of a mystery. I think there’s a lot of us who read Holmes and either find ourselves reflected in him, or want to be him. Or Watson, who isn’t nearly the doddering fool the 60s and 70s remakes made him out to be.
Also, for Victorian lit, those two characters were pretty freaking sarcastic, even to today’s standards. I’m honestly surprised Doyle didn’t write them getting shot at more than he did.
So if you haven’t read any Holmes stories, I highly recommend it. And even though the story of Holmes and Watson has filtered into our cultural knowledge enough that you probably could do okay picking a random short story in the collection and reading that, I would recommend you start at the beginning. Holmes and Watson both evolve and grow as characters over time, and reading their adventures out of order would lose that arc.
Besides, reading them in written order gives you a better sense of just how much the two characters grow to feed off each other’s sarcasm and insults. It gets funnier and funnier with each new mystery to follow.
A Classic I Want to Read:
Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
And speaking of classics that have captured the minds and imaginations of the world, I have somehow never gotten around to reading Three Musketeers. I hear the show they’re doing on BBC is pretty good? I think I’ll put reading the book on my to-do list for this summer.
(And if I’m feeling really ambitious, I may try my hand at reading it in the original French.
…Maybe next year.)