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When someone does something either for a living or just because they love it, they pay more attention to it than other folks. If you write enough, and you participate in critique sessions, it can be difficult to enjoy books in the same way you used to because you can't easily turn off your inner critiquer.

But when you find someone who does an especially good job at some aspect of writing, it's a real joy to read their stuff. I recently got a $1.99 ebook copy of Alexander Mccall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, in spite of the fact that he does some things I don't usually like in a book (it's not sequential— in fact there's not really a traditional plot at all— and the point of view shifts around a lot).

But two things Smith does very well made me forget all that: characters and setting. His main character is Precious Ramotswe, a youngish (35 at the end) black African woman and the setting is Botswana in the 1990's. The AIDS epidemic was gaining ground by then, but that's mentioned only peripherally. In spite of being of Scottish heritage, Smith was born in Africa, in what is now Zimbabwe, and he he clearly loves it as much as Precious herself. And even though he's male and older, he does a wonderful job of creating Precious as a compelling character. He portrays other characters, too, such as Precious father, her Daddy, who leaves her enough money to start her own detective agency, but this is Precious' book and she inhabits it the way she inhabits her house— settling in, making herself comfortable, keeping the place tidy, and making visitors welcome.

The descriptions of the land, the vegetation, birds, insects, animals, all give you a real feel for the place, and for why Precious loves it so much. These also illustrated the advantages of reading on the Kindle because I could easily look up unfamiliar words like kopje (a small hill rising up from the African veld) and assorted insects I had never heard of. It's a charmer of a book, and I can see why it was a bestseller.

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 19th, 2010 10:37 pm (UTC)
Yes! Yes! and Yes! I totally agree with you.
I loved the character, Precious Ramotswe, and I loved the way he portrayed Africa. You can almost smell the earth, and the sand and the heat.
I borrowed it from my mom a while back, and had forgotten about it. Thanks for reminding me of it!
Apr. 19th, 2010 10:55 pm (UTC)
It might well be the closest I get to visiting Africa.
Apr. 20th, 2010 12:16 am (UTC)
I have eyed these books several times when I have gone into a bookstore. But I have sooooo many series I am reading right now. I am trying to avoid taking on anymore until I get at least two off my plate.

Thanks for the kinda-sorta-but-but-not-really review! :)

And I agree, when you write all the time, it is hard to just read. So when I find a book that I can get past the flaws and still enjoy and/or love it, I know it is something special.

Apr. 20th, 2010 12:18 am (UTC)
For what it's worth, while I enjoyed this book, it didn't end in the kind of cliff hanger that made me absolutely have to read the next one.
Apr. 20th, 2010 08:49 am (UTC)
I love, love great world-building. And yes, that includes real worlds :)
Apr. 20th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
A good point! I have written science fiction set on alien worlds as well as on this one, and one thing is, it is much easier to tell the reader "it had a lemony smell" or "it stank like rotten cabbages" than to convey odors with unfamiliar flora and fauna. If someone has never seen a lemon, they won't know what it smells like.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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