Wednesday, May 13, 2009

#31 - Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

When I first started to work at Random House, I spent a lot of time getting to know the lists. It's not something that happens organically until you've worked at a publishing house for a while, and so I spent a lot of time combing through blogs getting to know the books. One of the first authors that I discovered was Alexander McCall Smith, and I started to read the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, quite simply because Sarah W had said so many nice things about the series that my curiosity was piqued. But the books are so short and easy to read, which meant that I devoured about six of them before feeling like I'd eaten too much candy: a little upset in the stomach but still somewhat high on the sugar.

Then, the TV show came along and I was worried, at first, that they wouldn't be able to capture the spirit and essence of the books. They did. Completely. Which meant that this weekend as the show came to a close, I was left without my weekly dose of Mma Romotswe. Well, that just won't do, so I picked up McCall Smith's latest book, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. And it's just as sweet as the six or so other books I've read. The central mystery revolves around Mma Ramotswe discovering the reasons why a local football (read: soccer) club keeps losing matches, fixing up Mma Makutst's love life (oh Phuti!), and figuring out what strange noises the little white van is making and why. The themes that are present in each of the other novels are present: a strong moral sense, defining people by how they are treated and treat one another instead of their social and/or monetary status, simple solutions to complex problems. What's also present is Mma Ramotswe's particular talent of coming to conclusions that are both full of common sense and sassy smartness that you wish you had a No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency to figure out your life.

If I have one (slight) criticism, it's that all of the books are essentially the same: local mystery, personal problem (either Mmas) that needs sorting, and larger life lesson. Yet, this is the very sameness I craved this week while feeling terribly unwell. Familiar characters, familiar situations. The experience of reading these books is akin to watching every episode of ER or Law & Order. And I know a lot of the repitition is for the people picking up the series halfway really, it's not a true critique of the novels themselves.

The book was delightful, I mean, of course it was -- it was just what I needed this week and my only complaint was that I read it too fast. Yesterday as I was waiting for the very late TTC, I finished this book, read the P.S. section of Bonjour Tristesse, and bemoaned the fact that all of my electronic reading gadgets had run out of juice. There's nothing worse than being a reader caught with no words to feast her eyes upon.

READING CHALLENGES: AMS was born in Zimbabwe. And he's actually the first African novelist I've read in ages for my Around the World in 52 Books challenge.

NOT WORTHY OF A FULL POST NOTE: I also read #32 this week -- Pillow Talk by UK chicklit author Freya North. The story was sweet, and I'm not going to lie, there were places where I actually teared up, even if I did get a little embarrassed by a couple throbbing members along the way.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge.


Kate S. said...

I tried The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency but somehow it never hooked me and I didn't persevere with it or attempt any of the others in the series. But I read McCall Smith's Scotland Street books in the same compulsive fashion that you describe reading the Mma Ramotswe ones. Clearly McCall Smith has got some kind of writerly magic, even if it's just working a formula in the best possible way!

I'm keen to read Olive Kitteridge and I'm looking forward to hearing what you think of it.

Heather said...

I just read the third book in the series "Morality for Beautiful
Girls", blogged about it monday. I loved every minute of it. Don't like bush tea(Rooibos) so I drank Earl Grey while reading. I intend to read more of this lovely series.