Monday, November 17, 2008

The Careful Use of Compliments

I know many, friends and family included, find Alexander McCall Smith's books about the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency to be a little gem of a series. Myself I, as mentioned a few times before, don't. I find them too simplistic, I regard Mma Makutsi's obsession about her 97% on the final exams from Botswana Secretarial College to be quite annoying - there's so much more to life that top grades - and the way the main characters always seem to beat about the bush - oops, pun here - instead of actually talking to each other non circuitously irritating. And the way the characters, traditionally built or not, never seem to move forward in life, bugs me.

Sure it's a sweet, mildly humorous, easy read and it has its moments of appeal and amusing, subtle observations. So I read the books (borrow them from my mother who loves them) when I want an easy read before lights out and something that won't keep me toss turning thoughts swirling at night. The latest two I've finished reading are "The Kalahari Typing School for Men" and "The Full Cupboard of Life". None of them, of course, mind evolving but they did gave me some good sleeps after reading them at bedtime.

Having said that, again, about this book-series of McCall Smith, I must of course also, again, mention that his Sunday Philosophy Club series is a wonderful reading experience. I positively love those books. And they're just so very easy to relate to on a whole other level, with the Isabel Dalhousie character being a philosophizing, human behaviour observing, intellectual with perhaps too much time to spend doing just that. She's a woman of independent means in her mid forties, editor of a somewhat nerdy, but irresistibly fascinating, small magazine of applied ethics, living in Edinburgh, being a patron of the arts as well as a sleuth when she finds something, some behaviour worth investigating. I mean, what's not to love about such a character?

Even though, admittedly, there's a very obvious lack of straight talking between the main characters in this series too. Slightly annoying that is. But since I'm completely smitten by the whole concept and storyline I let that detail slide. Did I mention that the Scottish milieu descriptions are quite delightful too?

What I find most appealing about the books and the Dalhousie character is the way she often notices and philosophises about, sometimes borderline obsessive, about just the things I too think about. Which would mean there are more beings out there, hopefully more than in an odd book here and there, that share my wavelength of mind.

Having said that, let me share two - of many - amazingly apt in their seemingly simplicity thoughts from the latest book, "The Careful Use of Compliments";

"...the trouble with most people is that they are so literal. Very few enjoy flights of fantasy and to have that sort of mind which enjoys dry wit and understands the absurd leaves on in a shrinking minority."

And this summarize my view on humanity, a word that's so strangely one-sidedly looked at and used, when humanity is such a complex, and not overall and far from necessarily kindhearted thing;

"Humanity is, after all, not restricted to kindness and sympathy. Qualities of humanity can surely be bad, because that is what humanity is like."

And yes, I'm fond of using compliments, when they are due and the nice thing to give, I'm happy when I get them myself and I do enjoy giving a bit of happiness in a compliment, but I'm also careful in the use of them.


Kaylia Metcalfe said...


I always enjoy reading your reviews and blurbs about things.. and no, I am not just complimenting you.

I have avoided the books in question because of the very reason you say you dislike them… and really there are so many many things out there that are deep and powerful and stimulating that I find myself hesitant to settle for the mindless escapist sort of books.

Anyway, I also love your quote here about the importance of the flight into fantasy. I don’t know if it is true that most people aren’t capable of it… just that most people seem to want others do do the work for them (and these are the people who spend most of their time watching TV or movies and little time reading and much less creating….)

Webradio said...

Cool Pia ! Cool !

Pia K said...

Great comment, Kay. True, true there are so many amazing and powerful books out there and to read "easy" books to pass the time really isn't an option, or meaningful. Though sometimes I do feel the need of just emptying my head and then this kind of non-mind-evolving books are quite relaxing... And harmless, and they sure beat watching mindless TV.

Thanks, webradio!

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