sharing my love of books with you

Month: September 2022 (Page 1 of 5)


Don’t misread this. It is not insufferable, it is insuperable, and before posting this, I had no idea what it meant. And the context didn’t help me guess at the meaning. I found the word in “Wisteria Lodge”, one of The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Insuperable – incapable of being passed over, overcome, or surmounted

Usage: “I have not all my facts yet, but I do not think there are any insuperable difficulties.”


Usually when I read this word, I imagine it is related to mystify or mystery, which something secret or puzzling. But the way it was used in The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, in the story “Wisteria Lodge”, I decided to look it up. I thought I was wrong about the definition for some time. But, apparently, mystification is the noun version of the verb mystify, so I was right.

Mystification – the state of feeling confused by something impossible to understand (and mystify is to perplex or bewilder)

Usage: “I can make nothing of this mystification of Scott Eccles.”

I Just Wanted to Write Today

Have you ever had the desire to set aside your book and just try to write something? That was how I felt all day today. I finished A Poetry Handbook (I can’t remember if that was today or yesterday), and I just wanted to sit in my library and try my hand at a few poems. So, that’s what I did after supper tonight.

And it really feels good.

I’m not ready to share my poetry yet – I need a lot of practice – but what I do want to share is a few of the tips that Mary Oliver offered in the Handbook. Maybe you will take a few and try to write something for yourself.

  • If you want to write poetry, you need to read poetry. A lot and intensely.
  • Gain practice by imitation. She uses the illustration of a young artist imitating a Van Gogh in a museum. We don’t think ill of the artist trying to learn in this fashion. Imitation is one of the ways to learn and develop different styles and techniques. Just don’t get so caught up in imitating one poet that you ignore the many others that are out there.
  • Learn some of the technical aspects of poetry. Study terms. For example, become familiar with the meters: iambic, pentameter, tetrameter, couplet, enjambment, etc.
  • Listen to your language. There is a chapter that breaks the alphabet down into sounds. Of course beginning with consonant and vowel, but then there are more: mutes, aspirates, semivowels, etc. She uses a poem by Robert Frost to demonstrate how sounds can change the feeling of a poem. She also uses the words rock and stone to demonstrate this concept. The words might mean the same thing, but what mental picture do you get when you say Rock? And when you say Stone?
  • Write, revise, and then revise again. Do not be afraid or ashamed of your early work. Revise until you love it. Revise as the author, and then, step back and try to revise as an unbiased party. It is an exercise that takes practice.

These are some of my main “take-aways” from the Handbook, some of the big things that really stuck out to me. I decided as soon as I finished it that I needed to reread it, so I turned back to page one and began again.

I know A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver isn’t the only poetry-writing aid out there, and I’m sure if I stick with it, I’ll find plenty more books with tips and pointers and technicals. But I really love Oliver’s style, and if I were to imitate anyone, it would be her. She has a unique sweetness to her style. She loves nature, even the parts that can be painful, and she always manages to find some good or some beauty in the world around her. Then, she draws the reader into her world through her poem, so that they can commune together in their mutual love for nature.

So, I’m going back to try my hand at another poem. I hope one day I can be even half as good as Mary Oliver. And if you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver.

It Sifts From Leaden Sieves, by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from leaden sieves, 
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, - 
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence, 
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, - 
The summer's empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of poets,
As ankles of a queen, - 
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

(from Selected Poems by Emily Dickinson, printed 2016)

She doesn’t really say, but I think Emily Dickinson is writing about fog. The poem seems to drift into the consciousness like a fog – wafting, rolling, billowing. My favorite part is how it engulfs the fence, “wraps it, rail by rail”. What do you think she is writing about in this poem?

Holmes on Grotesque

“I suppose, Watson, we must look upon you as a man of letters,” said [Sherlock Holmes]. “How do you define the word ‘grotesque’?”

“Strange – remarkable,” I suggested.

He shook his head at my definition.

“There is surely something more than that,” said he; “some underlying suggestion of the tragic and the terrible. If you cast your mind back to some of those narrative with which you have afflicted a long-suffering public, you will recognize how often the grotesque has been deepened into the criminal. Think of that little affair of the red-headed men. That was grotesque enough in the outset, and yet it ended in a desperate attempt at robbery. Or, again, there was that most grotesque affair of the five orange pips, which led straight to a murderous conspiracy. The word puts me on alert.”

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, “Wisteria Lodge”, The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock HOlmes, circa 1908


Here is one of my favorite words when it comes to crime novels and mystery stories. Even though I know the meaning of the word, when I found it in “The Case of the Bolshevik!” in The Complete Casebook of Herlock Sholmes, I couldn’t resist adding it to my blog’s dictionary.

Nefarious – extremely wicked or villainous

Usage: “I am perfectly aware that he has had nefarious designs upon the eminent statesmen who meet in conference today.”


Here is an uncommon word that I found in The Valley of Fear, in my volume, The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. From the context, I thought it meant praises or congratulations, and I wasn’t wrong. I like it when I guess correctly!

Plaudits – an enthusiastic expression of approval

Usage: “Here they were, safe and sound, their work well done, and the plaudits of their companions in their ears.”


I have made it a point to look for words that I don’t know while I am reading so I can share them with you here on the blog. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has given me most of my new words so far in his stories about Sherlock Holmes. I wonder: were some of the words he used were common, everyday words in his time that have since dropped out of regular usage? I hope it’s not that my vocabulary was much smaller than I thought!

Anyway, the word impetus is in The Valley of Fear, one of The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It reminds me of the word Imp, a mischievous creature, so I wondered if impetus would have something to do with mischief or bad deeds. Especially since it is used in the context of Jack McMurdo and the lodge. Here is the actual definition. I was totally off.

Impetus – a driving force, impulse, or stimulus; the momentum of a moving body, especially with reference to the cause of motion

Usage: “If anything had been needed to give an impetus to Jack McMurdo’s popularity among his fellows it would have been his arrest and acquittal.”


I think this is a word that I knew the meaning of (somewhere in the back of my mind), but I struggled to grasp. I wanted to add it to the blog and look it up so I could concrete the word in my vocabulary. I found it in A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver.

Ambivalence – uncertainty or fluctuation, especially when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite things

Usage: “Frost kept no jottings about sound while he wrote Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. He did not need to. He was a master poet. The poem is an extraordinary statement of human ambivalence and resolution. Genius wrote it.”


I found this word in The Valley of Fear, in my volume, The Greatest Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before, but the context made me think it meant something like the lowest of the low. I wasn’t too far off.

Opprobrium – the disgrace or reproach incurred by shameful conduct; the cause of such disgrace

Usage: This is from a newspaper article which described the “Reign of Terror” the lodge had brought on those living in Vermissa Valley. “From that day these outrages have never ceased, until now they have reached a pitch which makes us the opprobrium of the civilized world.” If you read my post about The Valley of Fear, you will remember that this newspaper article , and the outrages mentioned, took place about twenty years before Sherlock Holmes ever began investigating the case.

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