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THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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I've decided to stop accepting review copies. The downside of getting buried in free books is that reading increasingly becomes an obligatory act. After some seven years of blogging books, it's time for me to return to the simple pleasure of reading only the books I want to read, when I want to read them.



  
From a random review:

  

« Olson, Karen E.: Secondhand Smoke | Main | Blunt, Giles: By the Time You Read This »

McCall Smith, Alexander: Blue Shoes and Happiness

  

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Anchor Books © 2006, 227 pages [amazon]
4.5 stars

I've been wanting for some years to begin reading Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. The series was begun in 1998, with another book added to it every year or two: the eighth book in the series, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, is due out in the U.S. this month (April, 2007). At last, woefully behind the author's prodigious output, I have stepped into the world of McCall Smith's creation, beginning with the seventh book, Blue Shoes and Happiness. I was worried that I might miss something by jumping into the series late, but I don't think I have: I was never left puzzled, at any rate, by any of the references in the book.

[INSET TEXT: But even with so much on her plate there is time for Mma Ramotswe to sit and think and to drink bush tea, to reflect on the traditional ways of her country and on the traditional troubles afflicting man, to enjoy a drive in her tiny white van and the enormous pleasures afforded by other small things.] Having read McCall Smith's three books featuring Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld (Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances), I was expecting this better known series to be similarly charming and warm and well-written, and I was not in the least disappointed. The books, set in Botswana, feature Precious Ramotswe, a wise, "traditionally built" woman who has set herself up as a detective--after reading The Principles of Private Detection by Clovis Anderson--with a view to solving life's smaller problems:

"'Mma Ramotswe does not solve crimes. She deals with very small things.' To portray the smallness, Mma Makutsi put a thumb and forefinger within a whisker of one another. 'But,' she went on, 'these small things are important for people. Mma Ramotswe has often told me that our lives are made up of small things. And I think she is right.'"

She is assisted in this by Mma (the term of respect is pronounced "mah") Makutsi, a graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College, and by Mr. Polopetsi, who is also employed by Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.

A number of problems are brought to Mma Ramotswe's attention in the course of this book, not all of them in fact small--a case of blackmail, a doctor prescribing unnecessary medicine to his patients, and not least Mma Makutsi's concern that she has scared off her fiancé with talk of feminism. But even with so much on her plate there is time for Mma Ramotswe to sit and think and to drink bush tea, to reflect on the traditional ways of her country and on the traditional troubles afflicting man, to enjoy a drive in her tiny white van and the enormous pleasures afforded by other small things.

McCall Smith's book is imbued with humanity and homespun morality. It's a gentle, languorous read that I suppose might not be to everyone's taste but which I find delicious. McCall Smith offers a gentle look at the human condition in prose that is sometimes poignant, sometimes humorous, and always immensely readable:

"'No,' said Mma Makutsi. 'I do not think that you need to go on a diet.' She paused, and then added, 'Others may, of course.'

'Hah!' said Mma Ramotswe. 'You must be thinking of those people who hold that it is wrong to be a traditionally built lady. There are such people, you know.'

'They should mind their own business,' said Mma Makutsi. 'I am traditionally built too, you know. Not as traditionally built as you, of course--by a long way. But I am not a very thin lady.'"

The book is also a sort of love letter to Botswana, where the author taught law for several years (at the University of Botswana), and where he reportedly saw a woman, chasing a chicken around a yard, who would, years later, inspire the character of Precious Ramotswe.

"So it was in Botswana, almost everywhere; ties of kinship, no matter how attenuated by distance or time, linked one person to another, weaving across the country a human blanket of love and community. And in the fibres of that blanket there were threads of obligation that meant that one could not ignore the claims of others. Nobody should starve; nobody should feel that they were outsiders; nobody should be alone in their sadness."

With four series and nearly twenty novels under his belt--to say nothing of his children's books and short stories and his academic writing, more than fifty books all told--Alexander McCall Smith is an impressively prolific writer.

Lucky for us.

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Comments

1.

I have read all of this series apart from this one. I enjoyed them very much at first, but they have kind of palled. I do think the first ones were probably stronger than the later ones, but if you haven't read any before I guess the rather innocent, sweet and easy telling is a treat to discover. Many people say that Botswana is painted in too rosy a fashion (there are plenty of hardships in terms of poverty, AIDS, etc, but they are somewhat glossed over) and call these books rather patronising. I did enjoy the ones I read, especially the first couple, but as I say I did feel that in the end they weren't going anywhere other then where they had already been. Nothing wrong with that, but I lost interest.

2.

If you have any interest at all in audio books, I highly recommend the Lisette Lecat recordings of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. She is a beautiful reader and I enjoyed the stories even more when listening to her read them.

3.

Thanks, Phoebe. I'm never in a position to listen to anything but fighting children, but I imagine some readers here are more fortunate. Thanks for letting us know about this. I can see how the series would work nicely for good, long drives.

4.

They do work excellently on good long drives - I have read most of them in the car to my husband!

McCall Smith is a genuinely interesting man who cares deeply about Botswana. While some have levelled "patronizing" at him, I don't believe that was ever his intention. He has definitely avoided some of the more contentious issues in Botswana, but what author writes about everything to do with a country? He is not exhaustively representing what is happening there, that would be arrogant to attempt. What he has done is make a believable series with characters we can all relate to and situated them in an African country that attracts our interest - it is not doom and gloom Africa, it is an appealing and attractive Africa. The world (how many million sales now?!) is actually enjoying reading about an African country and African people and relating to them - a major achievement.

5.

As suggested by Phoebe and Equiano, the audio of these books is very enjoyable. Lecat's voice flows perfectly with the pace of Mma Ramotswe's world.

6.

I thoroughly enjoy Mr. McCall Smith's 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' books!
Absolutely engaging stories of Mma Ramotswe. I always look forward to her exploits like checking in with a family member.
Adrienne Zurub
http://adriennezurub.bebo.com




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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Trying Neaira: The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  






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Book-blog.com by Debra Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - No Derivative Works 3.0 License.