Friday, July 22, 2016

Just the Thing

Reading choices are funny things, aren't they?

Sometimes you want to roll up your sleeves and dive into a challenge. Maybe something you should have read ages ago, as part of your education. Or something that says to the book universe, "Challenge accepted!" -- whether that means sticking with a 500-page novel, or tackling that book in your TBR pile that you've been putting off, or finally making progress on one of your reading lists. 

But sometimes you need something light, something innocuous, something that engages your interest without taxing your intellect too much. For those times, allow me to recommend the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series.

I am reading them all, as a break from "heavier" reading, and continue to find them delightful. (Don't be completely fooled, though: I still get credit from the Mount TBR Reading Challenge for this one.)

The latest one in the series, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, tells how Precious Ramotswe, founder of the agency, meets her mentor-by-book-only, Clovis Anderson, helps the most capable apprentice in her husband's business face up to some undeserved legal trouble, and resolves a serious difficulty involving her friend Mma Potokwane, the matron of the orphan farm. Meanwhile, associate detective Grace Makutsi and her new husband are building their dream house, but something is fishy there, too. With the introduction of this last story line, the focus easily and naturally drifts away from Mma Ramotswe for a bit, allowing us to learn more about those characters.   

Even after many books, all these characters continue to hold my interest. The lessons their experiences impart are gently delivered but resonant: the foibles we're prone to, the essential need we all have for connection to people and places, and how the good we do ripples out into the world, often in unexpected ways.  

Throughout the difficulties she faces, Mma Ramotswe's sense of herself keeps things grounded. Emblematic of her self-awareness is the repeated reference to her person as being "traditionally built." One never knows how much she weighs, but with this honest and nonspecific phrase she turns what could be an awkward or negative thing into an asset. Here is a woman who stands solidly on her own two feet, proud of herself, her heritage, and her capabilities, honoring tradition while being undeniably modern. She is not quite unflappable, but she is never off balance for long. All this without being overbearing or conceited.  

Although the impact of this book is gentle enough to qualify it as "light reading," that label fails to give it its due. While it's certainly a break from more challenging writing styles and subject matter, plenty of substance lies in these pages. Not only am I already looking forward to my next opportunity to spend time with Mms Ramotswe, I hope to hold her example of kindness and self-assurance in mind, in the meantime.


"But I know how busy you are, Mma Ramotswe," the Bishop said, "what with your business and all those investigations, and so on."

She nodded politely. He was right, but it was the so on that was the trouble now, and in particular that bit of the so on that was made up of Mma Potokwane's troubles. And then there was Fanwell, whose trial was due to take place the following day.

"Yes, Bishop. There are many things to worry about in this life. Many things."

The Bishop smiled. "But we must not those overwhelm us," he said. The smile faded, to be replaced by a look of concern. "You are all right, aren't you, Mma Ramotswe?"

She looked up at the sky. The man to whom she was talking, she reminded herself, had major concerns to think about. He knew the issues of Africa, its sorrows. He knew all about the burdens and difficulties of those who struggled to get by in countries where there was cruelty and oppression. It was all very well for her to stand here drinking tea in a peaceful and well-ordered country, but what about those who did not have that luxury?  And should she then worry him  with her petty concerns -- very small ones, really -- when there were many weightier things occupying his attention? No, she thought. No. "Everything is all right, Bishop," she said.


  1. I love this series, and I always forget between episodes just how much I enjoy them.

    You've summed up Mma Ramotswe perfectly. Thanks for reminding me that I need to get back to these.

    1. I kind of forget them, too, between books. But then it's refreshing to return!


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