Above: The Irregular Book Club meets in Kennesaw to read and discuss Sherlock Holmes stories. Left to right, Jill Tempest, Anne Langan, John Camp, Marsha Faulkner, Jim Barham and Thomas Green. Photo by H.M. Cauley.
By H.M. Cauley
It started four years ago with an observation: My public library in Kennesaw had no print or audio copies of Sherlock Holmes stories on the shelves.
I was in the midst of writing a dissertation at Georgia State about the Scottish Enlightenment philosophers who turn up in Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective stories, so the oversight stood out. Librarian Ginny Everett listened to my lament, and we both saw the need for more Doyle works, given the enormously popular BBC “Sherlock” series that was reintroducing the character to a new fan base.
We both knew people who didn’t realize there was a Holmes before Benedict Cumberbatch, and even more who had not seen the BBC version. The inspiration struck to have a book group explore the Doyle texts and compare how they’d been adapted for the series.
Our “Irregular” book club (so named to distinguish it from the library’s “regular” clubs – and to reference the Baker Street Irregular urchins who show up in the Sherlock stories) first met in the spring of 2015 on four consecutive Monday nights. The debut of “Conan Doyle to Cumberbatch” saw about 25 attendees across a range of ages, some of whom had not seen the series, and some who had not read the texts.
And they came back energized for week two.
“I had no idea these stories existed!” younger readers exclaimed. “I binge-watched the Cumberbatch series!” others admitted.
A continuing success
We followed that session with another in the fall and yet another in the spring of 2016. After the third round, the consensus was we needed to meet monthly. Since then, we’ve come together every second Monday to discuss, debate and google historical aspects of two Sherlock stories linked with a theme: “Dastardly Doings!” “Creature Feature!” and “Damsels in Distress!” were some of the favorites.
“It’s a perfect group, whether you’re addicted to Sherlock Holmes, as some of us are, or if you are a novice and just want to know more,” said reader Nancy Naidu. “With the diverse group of people, there is always something new to learn. But don’t think we are a particularly ‘studious’ group. We have great fun and enjoy each other’s company.”
Eventually, we read through the entire Holmes canon, and last summer, we tried some Edgar Allan Poe, since Doyle credits the American author with much of his inspiration. We also added Agatha Christie, but everyone missed Doyle so much, we went back in Baker Street – even though some of the stories aren’t our favorites.
“We are not slow in identifying the good plots from the not so good,” said reader Ken Hall, our only member who hails from the U.K. “But we do all this with a great sense of camaraderie. No comments or conclusions are frowned upon or dismissed. Hilarity can at times prevail over studious comment.
Oh, and to add icing to the book study cake, you must ensure that you have an English person in the group. This incredible resource helps American colleagues understand many of the bizarre British/Victorian expressions, mannerisms, weights and measures!”
Along with learning, we’ve forged social ties outside of the library. Many of us head out for dinner after the discussion, and we’ve gotten together to play mystery games and enjoy potluck dinners. And everyone partied when I earned my doctorate in 2017.
Recognition and reward
Our mission to increase Doyle’s readership was honored in 2016, when the Beacon Society, part of the international Baker Street Irregulars who promote all things Sherlockian, gave us $500 for the library to buy more Holmes materials. Later that year, I was awarded the Society’s annual recognition for promoting Doyle and his hero through the library as well as through a writing course I taught at GSU around deduction and observation.
“When we first started our Irregular group in 2015, I had no idea how deep and durable the interest in the Holmes canon is among so many of our patrons,” said Ginny. “Our group has attracted teens, Millennials, GenXers and Baby Boomers, male and female, from every walk of life. The common denominator is a love of Sherlock and unlocking a mystery.
“What is especially rewarding is that we have brought together people who would never have met outside of the group. Public libraries are all about bringing people together, and our Sherlock group has been a model for doing just that.”
The game is afoot at 6:30 p.m. every Monday at the Kennesaw public library, 2250 Lewis Street, Kennesaw 30144; 770-528-2529; cobbcat.org.