Just-for-Me Book Club: MLK and Sherlock Holmes

Have now read 6 of 24

Have now read 6 of 24

I’m back with two more book reviews from the Just-for-Me Book Club. For this project, I solicited book recommendations from bloggers and commenters who visit here often. I complied a fabulous list. I am loving reading them!

First up, I read A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas, recommended by Juhli at A Boomer Girl’s Guide. This is the first book in the forthcoming Lady Sherlock series. Arthur Conan Doyle’s first story about Sherlock Holmes is A Study in Scarlet, which I have read – the plots of the two books have no resemblance. A Study in Scarlet Women begins with a few exchanges among society gentlemen. In the midst of this, Charlotte Holmes deliberately destroys her reputation so she is no longer obliged to marry. She is then abandoned to make a living, as she desires. Charlotte’s sister Livia defends her, but is then accused of murder. Charlotte assumes the identity of Sherlock Holmes and starts taking on detective work while trying to clear her sister’s name. The early pages of the book, featuring the male characters, were a bit off-putting. Once Charlotte leaves home and gets established in London, the story becomes involving. My favourite aspect of the book was the extraordinary personalities of the two sisters, and how poorly they fit into the society for which they were raised. Charlotte has a sharp one-track mind, is goal- and task-oriented, is exceedingly direct, and surely not neurotypical. Livia has high-society aspirations but otherwise despises people. The character development in the book was a high point. There is a tiny element of romance in the book, and surprisingly, sparks really fly during these scenes. It turns out the author is best known for her historical romances. But don’t hold that against her – the murder investigation was complex and it kept me guessing to the end. I liked the feminist tone throughout the book. Charlotte and Livia take action, make decisions and are never victims. I think Charlotte is cool and I will keep reading the series to get to know her better.

I saved A Strength to Love to read the week of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Although we don’t officially celebrate in Canada, it is known and noted. A Strength to Love is a collection of sermons written and preached by Dr. King in the ten years before his I Have a Dream speech. I don’t share the Christian faith of Dr. King, and neither does Julie at Lovely Grey Day, who recommended I read it. This didn’t interfere with my reading experience at all (nor hers). I consider myself a person who was “informed” about Martin Luther King, Jr. I knew the timeline of events in his life, and what he stood for. But apart from I Have a Dream, I had never read or listened to his work. I am so glad I remedied that.

First the content. The sermons reveal how King’s faith was carried forward into social action. I could see the development of his scholarship and ideas, and how he used them to challenge his own Black Baptist church tradition, daring it not to be complacent, as well as challenging white churches. He called upon everyone to embrace the true spirit of Christianity, which he defined as brotherhood, inclusiveness, justice and equality, brought about by nonviolent means. He never stated that God would wipe away injustice if faith and belief were strong enough. He said the people must stand up, resist, suffer and persevere. He also believed that winning would not mean vanquishing the enemies, but would mean living together as one society.

Next the style. Dr. King had a good knowledge of philosophy, psychology and sociology as well as theology, and he often cited sources. In many of the sermons, he built a case for his views based on science and reason, and would then say pure knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient. Faith, hope, courage, love and suffering are also required. I was impressed by his ability to get past the notion that all of these qualities are fluffy or “soft-minded” as he would have said; in fact, they call for extreme toughness. The sermons were meant to be delivered and not read on a page, so they use the cadence of spoken language. He especially liked to identify opposites and use repetition: “For the person who hates, the false becomes true and the true becomes false; the evil becomes good and the good becomes evil.” I liked the combination of academic rigor and folksy speech.

Then the criticism. Although MLK often used the term “men and women,” the majority of his sermons used men and mankind in a way that seemed to denote a masculine gender and men’s roles in society. He did use the stories and the work of women in a few examples. There was no recognition of women’s previous efforts (such as women’s suffrage) or ongoing work to achieve equality. (The sermons predate second-wave feminism). There is no doubt that he believed in social justice, and he spoke up for racial and religious tolerance. It is easy to think his beliefs would have eventually led him to speak for the rights of women and the LGBTQ community – as Coretta Scott King certainly did. Throughout his sermons, Dr. King often used the word schizophrenic to mean divided, while otherwise having an appreciation for mental health, so perhaps this is “of his time.” He focuses on suffering, saying the oppressed must be able to bear unlimited suffering and find value in suffering while resisting. In my opinion, there is a fine line in Christianity when it comes to glorifying suffering. The one thing I objected to was his dismissal of humanism as too optimistic and not realistic about sin and evil; and the need for one’s faith/hope/love/courage/suffering to be justified by Jesus. But since he was a Baptist minister, I do not expect him to defend atheism and humanism.

I thought this was a fantastic book. It showed the roots of Dr. King’s ideas, explained his religious faith, and outlined his philosophy of nonviolence. It was optimistic and inspiring. And some of the lines could have been written this week:

“Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices and false facts.” –  from A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart (sermon), 1959

A Strength to Love is out of print and has been replaced by the expanded edition A Gift of Love.

Since my first Just-for-Me Book Club post, I have added 6 more books! The new additions are:


The Poisonwood Bible – by Barbara Kingsolver / suggested by reader Jamie R.


The Secret History – by Donna Tartt / suggested by reader Margie in Toronto


Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? – by Michael J. Sandel / suggested by Rom


Viola Desmond’s Canada: a History of Blacks and Racial Segregation in the Promised Land – by Graham Reynolds / suggested by a co-worker


Superhuman by Habit – by Tynan / suggested by Claire @ Just a Little Less


Homegoing – by Yaa Gyasi / suggested by Sunny @ Life is Full of Sunny Days

So now I have 6 more to look forward to!

What have you been reading this month?





  1. I appreciate the perspectives from which you analyzed Dr King’s words. I think I may look for that book. I frequent a used book store that sometimes carries out-of-print editions, so it’s possible I’ll find the original. 🙂

    I’ve been reading mysteries lately, starting with Poe’s Murders at the Rue Morgue, and working my way through an American detective fiction anthology. Mickey Spillane is on my bedside table now. Black Alley. Somehow he still made Mike Hammer “work” in the ’90s.

  2. jbistheinitial

    The Lady Sherlock series sounds right up my street, I’m going to see if I can find the first book somewhere. And you will love The Secret History – such a fantastic book!

  3. Thanks again for the terrific reviews! I’ve added the MLK book to my list.

    Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is in one of my top 5 favorite books – I’ve read it three times, and have enjoyed it each time, discovering something new I missed the first time, or at least being better able to connect the pieces. Her other books, The Little Friend and The Goldfinch, are also good reads, but The Secret History stands out (IMO).

    • 3 times! That is quite the commendation.

      • Rusty

        Top ten book for me too. I enjoyed the first 2 books on your to-read list, and I fancy the last two. Since joining Good Reads, after you blog post, I have discovered, ordered from our library and read two really great books. I’ve been looking for help to identify good books to read for a while, so thank you for pointing me there! Reviews to follow shortly. X Rusty

      • Cool – I am happy you’re finding stuff you like!

  4. I just read Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift. I read it in a day but not because it is short (it is) but because I couldn’t put it down. It is beautiful, lyrical. A romance of sorts, and a meditation on writing, fiction, identity. You must read it!

    I loved Poisonwood Bible. On my top 5 “stayed with me” list. A book that offered such a different view of the world.

  5. Yep, I’ve added the first book, about Sherlock, to my ‘to read’ list (on Goodreads, as my library doesn’t have it). I wouldn’t have otherwise thought to read on this Sherlock craze, but you have sold it to me!

  6. Margie in Toronto

    I am just finishing “The Mandibles” by Lionel Shriver which I actually found at the library – I’ve been wanting to read this for a bit. It starts in 2029 and charts the effects on one family of the almost overnight collapse of the US financial system. It’s quite interesting and makes for some thought provoking passages. I think you would find it very interesting.
    It is a hard cover so the paperwork that I’m reading during commuting time is “The Beautiful Mystery” by Louise Penny – I’m working my way through her Inspector Gameche series (he’s with the Quebec Surete) – really love this series and I always love to find and support Canadian writers whenever possible.

    • The Shriver book sounds extremely cool. I am quite interested in economics and the monetary system. I pick up a mystery now and then – when it’s a series, I go back and start with the first one.

  7. 1066jq

    I loved both the Poisonwood Bible and Donna Tart’s Secret History. I’m reading Jane Smiley’s biography of Charles Dickens, Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell and the last volume of William Manchester’s biography of Winston Churchill

    • It is a big achievement getting through the Churchill books! He has caught my attention lately since I have been watching The Crown (Netflix TV series). I have not read enough Dickens to benefit from his biography! Would be interested to know what you think of Angela Thirkell’s writing; I am unfamiliar.

  8. I’m glad you liked my recommendation! Right now I’m reading a much different book – Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson. History told in many ways as biography. From Amazon’s description – “the behind-the-scenes story of how the United States forged its wartime alliance with Britain, told from the perspective of three key American players in London: Edward R. Murrow, the handsome, chain-smoking head of CBS News in Europe; Averell Harriman, the hard-driving millionaire who ran FDR’s Lend-Lease program in London; and John Gilbert Winant, the shy, idealistic U.S. ambassador to Britain.” I had not heard of Winant and would have liked to know him. The book is slowly destroying my admiration for Franklin Roosevelt though. Real history is usually pretty painful to learn IMO.

    My book club has decided to read anything written by John Lewis for our next discussion. Either his children’s books (March, the 3rd of which just won an award) or one of his adult books. I’m going for the first March book.

    • Thanks for suggesting it, Juhli! The library bought it in response to my request and now it has multiple holds on it. Yes, I saw the announcement for the John Lewis book. Citizens of London sounds really different. I am always of two minds when facts disabuse me of my admiration for people! But maybe I should be glad that everyone is complex and fallible. Hope all is well with you!

  9. Fiona

    At the risk of sounding (and actually being) a philistine, I’ve read so little in the past 6 months. Well…I read a lot of bitsy French (everything from posters to news) that took a lot of work in actively looking up new vocabulary. But my English reading has tanked. Love the sound of the MLK book, but with caveats. I often watch his speeches on YouTube but his charisma in speech carries over some of those jarring ‘mankind’ references. I might struggle more in print. But a great recommendation. Some of the new additions look really interesting, as well!

    • I found the MLK book an easy read but it was surprisingly jarring to see all the “men and mankind” references, even knowing it was a product of his times. I could think of that as a good thing: society has changed enough since then that “oldspeak” is that noticeable. Unfortunately, the overt racism he writes about is still with us and worsening in some ways.

  10. Barbara

    I read The Secret History some years ago and enjoyed it – I only chose it because I was
    travelling somewhere where English language books would be hard to find and it was
    long. Bonus that it turned out to be readable! At the moment I’m reading Scott Berg biography
    of Woodrow Wilson and it’s hard going – don’t know why, I’ve read all Berg’s other biographies
    and enjoyed them. Maybe Wilson himself wasn’t a very interesting person. Good thing I’m
    not stuck in Outer Mongolia or something!

    • I have been known to carry 4-6 books in my luggage so I’ll never run out of reading material! I always have at least one going on my e-reader but I don’t prefer it. It looks like Scott Berg has written about some interesting people. Maybe Wilson excepted 🙂

  11. Hmm, this month I read The Sellout, by Paul Beatty (highly recommend), reread The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (bc what else would I read right now?), American Pastoral, by Philip Roth, and I’m currently reading Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, an anthology edited by Manjula Martin.

  12. Pingback: Accounting for: January | An Exacting Life

  13. Pingback: The Just-for-Me Book Club is Back! | An Exacting Life

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