Literary Quote of the Month

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies," said Jojen. "The man who never reads lives only one." - George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Importance of Reading... Alexander McCall Smith

Welcome to Sunday and The Sunday Salon! Sit back and relax; grab a cup of Joe and let's talk books! It's the first time in a while that I've been able to sit back and relax, but I've always made sure to grab a cup of Joe and have a book in my hand!

This week I've received a copy of Alexander McCall Smith's The Importance of Being Seven. I just love that title! What it refers to is Bertie turning seven, and if you're unfamiliar with the 44 Scotland Street Series you may be scratching your head. Today I thought we'd take a look at 2 series (and a mention of the other 2) that Alexander McCall Smith writes...

I first met Alexander McCall Smith with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency... "Meet Mma Ramotswe, the endearing, engaging, simply irresistible proprietress of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, the first and only detective agency in Botswana. With persistent observation, gentle intuition, and a keen desire to help people with the problems of their lives, she solves mysteries great and small for friends and strangers alike." I liked the writing and the book itself was charming. The setting was different, but the Alexander McCall Smith made it seem familiar. But for some reason, the series didn't quite capture my need to read further. Sometimes we read books at the "wrong" time. We may need an entirely different kind of book to quench our thirst, and I think that this may be what happened here. But I wasn't giving up on Alexander McCall Smith because I did like his easy going style of writing.... And then it happened- a new series by Alexander McCall Smith that did hit the mark....

The 44 Scotland Street Series... "Welcome to 44 Scotland Street, home to some of Edinburgh's most colorful characters. There's Pat, a twenty-year-old who has recently moved into a flat with Bruce, an athletic young man with a keen awareness of his own appearance. Their neighbor, Domenica, is an eccentric and insightful widow. In the flat below are Irene and her appealing son Bertie, who is the victim of his mother’s desire for him to learn the saxophone and italian–all at the tender age of five." The characters were fun and fresh, and I was able to peak into their inner soul. I liked the setting of rooming house and the story revolving around the characters more so than a "who dun it". And of course Alexander McCall Smith's writing has that wonderful British wit. The book reminded me of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, which was the fictional saga of life at 28 Barbary Lane, an apartment house in San Francisco, with young single Mary Ann Singleton opening the door for her and the reader to experience life there. I LOVED that book. I could relate to the era, the "innocence", and the characters in that novel. It was like I was visiting an old group of friends each time I opened the pages of that book. The saga of Mary Ann Singelton and 28 Barbary Lane continued on for 6 books plus a new stand alone novel Maupin wrote in 2007, Michael Tolliver Lives, revisiting one of the characters in the series. But about Alexander McCall Smith and his series...

There may be a reason that 44 Scotland Street reminded me of Tales of the City - Smith's series was the result of a conversation Alexander McCall Smith had with Armistead Maupin about the type of serial fiction that Tales of the City was, which was a story written in segments in a newspaper. That is how 44 Scotland began, as a chapter a day serial running in the local paper. It definitely works. The characters are quirky and Alexander McCall Smith knows how to endear the characters to the reader. I wouldn't call this series a cozy, but it has the feel of a cozy. It's a relaxing, humorous look at what makes people tick. He has the most amazing ability to put down on paper, what we would simply identify as human nature, but somehow we just never thought about it in that way. There are 5 previous books in the series, so it's not too late to get acquainted. And even if you've never read any of the other books in the series, you would enjoy the writing and the characters non-the-less. Just open the first page of The Importance of Being Seven, book 6 of the series, and tell me you just don't love that first line.

Which brings us to the next saga Alexander McCall Smith has written - The Corduroy Mansion novels.... "A delightful new setting—London—a wonderful new cast of characters and one incredibly clever dog. Corduroy Mansions is the affectionate nickname given to a genteel, crumbling mansion block in London’s vibrant Pimlico neighborhood and the home turf of a captivating collection of quirky and altogether McCall-Smithian characters. There’s the middle-aged wine merchant William, who’s trying to convince his reluctant twenty-four-year-old son, Eddie, to leave the nest; and Marcia, the boutique caterer who has her sights set on William." Here, Alexander McCall Smith leaves Edinburgh and travels to London and an old neighborhood in a section of London. The characters are different, but have the same endearing qualities that I'm getting use to in all of McCall Smith's books. Courtesy of Pantheon Books a division of Random House I have a copy of A Conspiracy of Friends, book 3 of that series waiting for me to dive in. Dive in is exactly what I'm going to do too! Love Alexander McCall Smith's writing and most importantly his characters. Not too late to go back and start from the beginning in this series as well. And I'll be reviewing this book soon.

There are two other series that Alexander McCall Smith has written. First, The Isabel Dalhousie Series, is about female sleuth Isabel Dalhousie with the setting in Edinburgh. 9 books in that series now. And The Portuguese Irregular Verbs, where we meet  Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philolog, and experience his foibles at life. I have not picked up either of these series, but based on the author's writing I'm sure they would be well worth a turn of the page.

About his books, Alexander McCall Smith writes, "Like any saga, there is a story--but it is not a complicated one. These stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots." I think that really sums it up quite nicely!

Other bookish notes for this week... Mingmei Yip has published her 4th book! I really enjoy Mingmei Yip's writing. Her stories are usually set in places such as China and Hong Kong, which fascinates me. I reviewed Song of the Silk Road April of 2011, which at the time I called "Bridgett Jones Diary meets Memoirs of a Geisha." Loved that book! You can still read my review of Song of the Silk Road, and get a glimpse of what I thought about her writing. Her latest, Skeleton Women, is about a young orphan girl in Shanghai and how life changes once she is adopted. But those changes are not quite the stroke of good luck one thinks at first blush. This book will be available August 21st! Keep your eyes open, I'll be reviewing Skeleton Women this week...

Hope you give Alexander McCall Smith a turn of a page, or at least have learned a little more about this prolific writer. What's been on your nightstand these days? Share what great reads you've had so we can all enjoy them! And as usual, let me know how you are doing!

Happy reading... Suzanne


Laura @ The Shabby Rabbit said...

What a great SS post! I did NOT know there were so many options out there! I'm a fan of Ladies #1 Dectective Agency, but had not branched past that.

Not that I need to make my tbr list longer but I'm so glad I did!!! :)

Thanks :)

dollycas aka Lori said...

Wonderful post! My wish list is growing. I have read a few in the series by Alexander McCall Smith. I need to catch up!

Harvee said...

What a prolific writer McCall Smith is! I have read a few of the books in the detective series and enjoyed the setting and characters.

Sherry said...

I love both of the series you highlighted first on your list, and I'm looking forward to reading about Corduroy Mansions soon. I'm intrigued by the Armistead Maupin series that you mention. Maybe I'll look that up.

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Laura!
I was a bit amazed that there were two other series I didn't know about by Alexander McCall Smith too! That man must get no sleep or sleep with his writing pen!

Thanks for stopping by!

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Lori!
Every time I read someone's posts I'm always adding the the TBR pile! I have to catch up on Alexander McCall Smith myself!

Thanks for saying hello!

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Harvee,
I really like the author's character's too. And he even admits himself that his novels are character based, which really puts the burden of character development on him, but he does an amazing job of making them all walk off that page, doesn't he!

Thanks for stopping by!

Suzanne Yester said...

Hi Sherry,
Definitely give the Armistead Maupin books a whirl. Maybe it's my age and how I could relate to the protagonist in Tales from the City, but I loved that series! Thinking about it, I may have to reread them.

Take care,

Carla said...

I love the dog on the cover! I'm a sucker for books with dogs on the covers.....
I've been meaning to read the #1 Detective Agency but haven't got around to it yet.
I got the free audio book from Audio Book Sync of Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson, and then listened to the library version of Peace,Locomotion afterwards. Really enjoyed them.

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