Alexander McCall Smith

Since I'm never not reading anything, I've come across many different types of books; some good, some bad, and some just plain ugly. I like to sort my favorites by author, since normally they've written more than one book and I typically like their writing style just as much as their story. My mother introduced me to the 44 Scotland Street series last year and I knew then that I had a new favorite author to add to my list. Alexander McCall Smith's writing ability is a rare, special power that should be cherished and used, but not spread all over. Not because his books are above some people or anything, it's just a matter of the type of book it is.

44 Scotland Street, the first book in the series of the same name.
This series will always be a favorite of mine.
 Although McCall Smith is known as The Author of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, his most popular series, my personal favorite from him is the 44 Scotland Street Series, an engaging story of the intertwined lives of an arrangement of contrasting characters, one of them being a dog. In other stories told by other authors, being a dog might minimize the amount that they contribute to the story. This is not the case with Cyril, my favorite fictional canine friend.

The series is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, and through McCall's Smith's transporting language, it provides to be the perfect getaway from day-to-day life. It's not the typical, utopian world one normally thinks of when the word 'getaway' is mentioned. Reading, or rather watching, the small problems of these characters play out is calming without seeming to be. Escaping my life of school and stress to go to Big Lou's bookshop-turned-coffe-bar, Matthew's art gallery, or seeing if Bertie's mother will let him play rugby is a better relaxer than yoga. There is no fast-action or thrill, but I can assure you that it engages you just the same. The plot is not boring, but rather a peaceful chaos. There is no great mystery, adventure, or drama, but instead there are mini ones; I find these types of books are perfect to pick up anywhere and lose yourself. Yes, there's the obvious problems on the surface, such as over-protective mothers, relations between characters, parties to be planned, apartments to be rented, etc., but what really causes your mind to drift into this world is the philosophical aspects; McCall Smith always includes many simple and complex thoughts that really get into your mind, stick there, and will come back to you at the oddest of times (in the shower, in the car, waiting in line, buzzing around your mind during that early morning state between being awake and asleep.)
McCall Smith himself.
This is the photo on the back of most of his novels; when my peers go to look at what I'm reading they always give me the strangest of looks when they see him because, being in Middle School, they expect some dystopian, sci-fi, teen writer. I like to keep them on their toes.

I consider myself an on-the-side writer, but a writer nonetheless, so I look up to him as an idol; as a goal.

Like any other series they are meant to be read in order, but unlike most other series, with his books you can normally pick one up and read the others later. For instance, right now, I am reading The Careful Use of Compliments (I love the titles of all of his books: Tears of the Giraffe, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, The Right Attitude to Rain; I'll leave the rest to your imagination), the 4th installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series, but I haven't read any of the others (I looked for the first book, The Sunday Philosophy Club, at my library but this was the earliest one they had.)

The last little thing I love about the 44 Scotland Street Series is that they always end with a lovely party and a speech by one of the protagonists, Angus Lordie. Today, I leave you with his poem from Bertie Plays the Blues:

Dear friends, gathered again together in a place
That has become so familiar to all of us,
We might wish to forget the world outside,
Might wish to think that here, with our friends,
We are the world. Would that were true:
The world outside is not the world
We would like it to be; I don’t need
To enumerate its woes – they are legion,
And greet us each time we open a newspaper.
But it would be wrong to become cynical,
Would be wrong to dismiss the possibility
Of making bearable the suffering of so many
By acts of love in our own lives,
By acts of friendship, by the simple cherishing
Of those who daily cross our path, and those who do not.
By these acts, I think, are we shown what might be;
By these acts can we transform that small corner
Of terra firma that is given to us,
In our case this little patch of earth
That we call Scotland, into a peaceable
Kingdom, a place where love and friendship
Are writ large, not doubted, nor laughed at,
But embraced and proclaimed, made the tenor
Of our quotidian lives, made the register
In which we conduct ourselves.
How foolish I once thought I was
To believe in all this; how warmly
I now return to that earlier belief;
How fervently I hope that it is true,
How fervently I hope that this is so.

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