Monday, June 27, 2016

A Botswana Vacation


Some books I read but don't review. It just seems easier that way.

I've read 12 books from this series and this is only the second review, which I'm doing now because these are so perfect as summer reading, or as a break from whatever "heavy" reading one might be involved in, or as a reward for finishing something particularly difficult. If you haven't encountered them yet, they are well worth your time.

I used to read one of these during the semester breaks in law school. They're the polar opposite of law books, so they were perfect for that. Thanks to the prolific author, Alexander McCall Smith, there was always a new one out at just about the right time.

How he does it, I'll never know. Not only does he create these books regularly (16 books and counting), he also has multiple other series: The Isabel Dalhousie Series (11 books), the 44 Scotland Street Series (11 books), the Corduroy Mansions Series (3 books), and another series featuring Professor Dr. von Ingelfeld (4 books). His productivity is daunting, indeed. Here's his website if you want to keep up.

That said, these are obviously light reading. I previously described them as lemonade. More recently I told my bookseller that they're like meringues -- plenty of sugar and flavor, but so light on your tongue they're hardly even there.

For someone who's read them all, they can be a bit repetitive. Each story contains a few details from the previous ones, reminding us of the backgrounds of the characters, but because that's actually how we know real people, it's not really a flaw.

Don't expect serious literature here, full of sweeping action, major themes, or gruesome details of any kind; conflict and bad things are not explicitly described. Do expect a slowly-paced progression from scene to scene, where there's plenty of time to contemplate how the past influences the present, how difficult it can be to know the hearts of others, how important it is to maintain your own integrity. These are all set in a semi-modern town in Botswana, imbued with pride of place, respect for traditional African ways, and a peaceful nationalism. (Come to think of it: those are some major themes, aren't they?)

The mysteries in this particular book, to be solved by the founder and owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Precious Ramotswe, are identifying the unnamed recipient of a legacy left in an American tourist's will, determining why a husband and wife are so suspicious of each other's faithfulness, helping a man who has been defrauded out of a house, and resolving a family conflict involving her assistant detective.

The relative mildness of these challenges makes them no less serious, and Mma Ramotswe rises to the occasion with her usual combination of kindness and firmness, confident in her ability to discern the right path and follow it. She operates from a strong ethical base, and her unhurried approach to her life and work -- usually involving a cup of red bush tea -- gives her plenty of time for the discernment she needs.

These books always leave me determined to be more aware of maintaining my own equilibrium, to be more thoughtful about life's small challenges, to speak more kindly to and about everyone, and to drink more tea.

Excerpt:

Her next call was the President Hotel, in the centre of town, where she sat at her normal table, the one on the left-hand side of the veranda, looking out over the open square below. The waiter, who knew her well, brought over a pot of red bush tea unasked, and a large fruit scone. She sat back in her chair and contemplated both with satisfaction. The world was an imperfect place -- as the events of the last few days had demonstrated -- but within that vale of tears there were many sites and times of quietude and contentment, and this place and this moment on the veranda was one such.

6 comments:

  1. I love this series for the very reasons you enumerated. I feel myself slow down and contemplate things more. I think it's time for the next in the series - that would be #5 The Full Cupboard of Life, for me.

    Thanks for pointing out that summer is the perfect time for these!

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    1. I couldn't read them all the time, but they are a real treat when spaced out properly. You have a lot of good reading ahead of you!

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  2. I have one of the volumes from the Scotland Street series that I haven't read yet because I want to start with the first one. After reading your review of Smith's books, I'm more interested in getting started. I'll have to see what my library has.
    Thanks,Paula

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    1. I've only read one out of order and that was by accident. I think they're better read in sequence, so your plan is a good idea. Enjoy!

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  3. I so love this series. I keep telling myself that I should buy all those beautiful paperback editions, and read them all again. Maybe I should get a bookshelf just for them. AMS absolutely amazes me. He was born the same year I was, and seems like he has the energy of a 20 year old! I love the music playing on his website.

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    1. They would be well worth collecting. There are some boxed sets available now. (Just saying!) And per our other conversation, AMS is a great example of someone who's making the most of being older.

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