|Bill in his library with his first edition Hound of the Baskervilles
Renewing acquaintances is one of the great pleasures of any Sherlockian confab. I had that delightful experience last month with the engaging Bill Mason of Nashville at the "Holmes, Doyle & Friends" conference in Dayton. I asked him a few questions later:
Q: Let’s start at ground zero: When and how did you become a Sherlockian?
A: My mother was a high school English teacher; and I was an avid reader, even as a child. On my 13th birthday, she gave me the Whitman Classics edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I was hooked on Sherlock Holmes from that point onward. And that particular volume is still the most treasured item in my collection—even though you could probably get a copy for a quarter at a yard sale.
Q: What are your main involvements in Sherlockian societies?
A: Well, of course I am a member of the Baker Street Irregulars (“White Mason), and I make the trip to New York every January. In my home town, I am a member of the Nashville Scholars of the Three Pipe Problem (“The Hydraulic Press”) as well as the Fresh Rashers of Nashville, where I am the founder and “Breakfast Ringer” (presiding officer). Currently, I am the “Head-Light” (president) of the Beacon Society, which gives grants to schools and libraries to teach about Sherlock Holmes. I am also a member of the Bootmakers of Toronto, in which I am a “Master Bootmaker;” the John H. Watson Society, in which I am a charter member and have the name “Billy;” The Sounds of the Baskerville of Seattle; and The Red Circle of Washington, where I lived for many years.
Q: When I was a younger, I knew very few Sherlockians. What has it meant to you to be part of a Sherlockian community?
A: For years, I thought I was pretty much alone in my love of Sherlock Holmes. I never missed any one of the Rathbone movies whenever they were on television, and I read (and re-read) all of the stories of the canon. Then, while in college, I came across the two-volume set of The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Baring-Gould. The annotations were great of course, but the real excitement for me was reading the dozen or so scholarly essays that opened the book and learning about the existence of scion societies, Sherlockian publications, and the Baker Street Irregulars. I wanted so much to be a part of that. My involvement in the Sherlockian world, all of the wonderful people I have met, the friendships I have forged, and the never-ending enjoyment of all things Sherlock Holmes have enriched my life tremendously.
Q: When did you become a member of the Baker Street Irregulars?
A: I received my shilling at the BSI Dinner in January 2015.
Q: What did that feel like for you?
A: I was elated and very emotional about it. I really had no expectation that it was going to happen that night, but I suppose that every Sherlockian hopes against hope to hear his or her name called into membership. I knew that a major milestone in my life had been reached, secondary to getting married of course, but comparable to graduation from college, paying off my home, or my first day as a staff member at the White House. The pleasure of it was greatly enhanced because only moments later Marino Alvarez of Nashville received his investiture. We were the first from the Nashville area to be so honored.
Q: You are a Sherlock Holmes collector. Do you have a subspecialty of books or other materials that you acquire?
A: For years, I snatched up anything Sherlockian I could find; but since the turn of the century, the avalanche of easily produced books and other items has forced me to be more selective. In recent years, I have specialized in the writings about the writings, first editions of early Sherlockian literature (starting with those books mentioned or excerpted in 1944’s The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes and expanding from there), and Sherlockian comics.
Q: Do you know how many books you own?
A: Currently, I own about 2,750 books and 825 comics, all pertaining to Sherlock Holmes. In addition, I have periodicals, journals, newsletters, DVDs, games, toys, and various collectibles certainly numbering in the many hundreds if not thousands. Even though I have an entire room of my home (and its walk-in closet) devoted exclusively to Sherlock Holmes, space is a problem. I carry a title list of my collection with me to prevent buying something I already own.
Q: One of the delights of your wonderful book of essays, PursuingSherlock Holmes, is the wide range of cultural references from Bram Stoker to Mel Brooks and – of course – the Three Little Pigs. What genres and particular writers do you like to read outside the Holmes universe?
A: In literature, my particular favorites are John Steinbeck and Jack London. In mystery fiction, I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie, and I enjoy the books of a Southern author named Margaret Maron. In action novels, I seek out the Jack Reacher novels of Lee Child and books by Jack Higgins. In non-fiction, I still try to read books in the field of my educational training (human resource management), and I am especially interested in World War II history. But that only mentions my main interests. I believe that reading a wide range of subjects is necessary for a well-rounded world view.
Q: What event(s) are you most looking forward to on the Sherlockian calendar this year?
A: I already have attended the annual conference in Dayton. The monthly meetings of the Nashville Scholars and the weekly meetings of the Fresh Rashers are the highlights of my regular schedule. My wife, Cindy, and I are already planning for New York in January 2018.
Q: What question have I not asked you that you would like to answer?
A: Well, I like being asked about my favorite Sherlock Holmes activity. For me, the conferences/symposia are the most fun and most meaningful. They bring together those with the strongest interest from all points, and they treat the subject matter seriously yet with a lot of fun. The conferences, even more than the Birthday Weekend or the local scion meetings, are really like family reunions, but with family members you chose for yourself. I just love them and have never been to one that I didn’t enjoy.
|Some of Bill's collectibles