karen_w_newton (karen_w_newton) wrote,

The joys of an occupational hazard (not quite a book review)

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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Tags: book reviews, writers

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