What I’m Reading Right Now

Clearly this is a title I’ll be using regularly, because What I’m Reading Right Now does change with frequency. At the moment it’s Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith, from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Don’t be a snob now, and don’t even think of dissing my Mr. Smith. These gentle mysteries may seem simple on the surface, but they are full of the craft of writing and lessons on construction and pacing. They are packed with humanity and kindness and life lessons appropriate for any reader. Set in Botswana, the books reek of the dry African heat; Smith is a master of setting and milieu. His way with dialect—so important in an exotic setting—has nothing to do with phonetics, but as you read you can hear the rhythm of the speech as clearly as if you were there. I also love his descriptive euphemisms and word usage: Precious Ramotswe, the protagonist and proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is a traditionally built African lady; her beloved father is late (which is to say, deceased).

I absolutely love the Ladies series, but Smith is a prolific writer and has other series. I’m particularly fond of the Sunday Philosophy Club series, which features a character named Isabel Dalhousie. The first is called, oddly enough, The Sunday Philosophy Club. These also purport to be mysteries, but only just. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, they’re more comedy of manners and the human condition than anything else.

Then try the 44 Scotland Street series; Smith originally wrote these novels as a serial, on a dare from a friend of his, the publisher of the Scotsman, the national newspaper. Every weekday for six months—you try it! It presents a unique challenge, as he tells us in the introduction, to plan a novel as-you-go, as pieces of it get published. You can’t go back and change things. Lots of craft there, no?

Tweet: Alexander McCall Smith knows craft!

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