Tuesday, May 23, 2006

BOOKS: Just What the Non-Paddle-Wielding Doctor Ordered

After the literary rollercoaster I've been on for the past couple of weeks, Alexander McCall Smith's newest instalment in his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series wasn't just balm for my soul. It was like somebody took my soul, slathered it with warm honey, then put it under a heat lamp for a nice, long nap.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
by Alexander McCall Smith (#17)
And I read the large-print edition, no less. Have any of you other normal-sighted folks ever read a large-print book in bed? It's delicious. Sure, you have to turn the pages more frequently, but these days that's how I get my cardio workout. You can prop your book up on a pillow a couple of feet away from your face and let your arms sort of relax, rather than lying with your arms scrinched up like a tyrannosaurus to hold your book close to your eyes. Try it out for yourself, and like me, your new typeface motto may become "Go big or go home."

Anyway, a quick re-cap of my recent amazing adventures in literature: I had just come off McCall Smith's rather charming trilogy The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom, when I decided to jump into Dropped Threads 3, an anthology of non-fiction writing by women, which was hugely poignant and inspiring and insightful. All fired up, I got into my mental trebuchet and catapulted into
Kazuo Ishiguro's latest novel, Never Let Me Go, from which I had to be revived with those little electrical paddle thingies that doctors seem to rely on so heavily on television. It was FANTASTIC, don't get me wrong, but it left me reeling. I needed some lighter reading fare, but it couldn't be pap. That would be like chasing fine wine with Rockaberry Cooler, and that's just not right.

Fortunately, I had
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies waiting in the wings. And it was just what the non-paddle-wielding doctor ordered.

I've enjoyed the previous four books in the series (though they were a bit of an acquired taste, as I've written about elsewhere), but I feel that McCall Smith has really hit his stride with
Cheerful Ladies. The novel doesn't just have the odd, gentle humour of the earlier books, nor does it just showcase the humane, generous morality of the series' main character, Precious Ramotswe. It's also the first of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books to give me a real glimpse into the inner lives of Mma Ramotswe and her assistant detective Mma Makutsi, as Mma Ramotse deals with a painful secret from her past and as Mma Makutsi finds love in a surprising place.

This book warmed my heart right down to its very last cockle, and now I can't wait to read the second-latest book in the series, The Full Cupboard of Life, which I managed to skip somehow. But I'm going to have to pace myself and space these stories further apart, because let me tell you, if the stack of unread books on my shelf is any indication, I'm going to have a tough row to hoe in the next couple of months.
Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. John Banville's The Sea. Russell Banks's The Darling. And -- lord help me -- Stephen King's latest sleep-wrecker, Cell.

You know, just your typical light summer reading.

Help.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love the Precious Ramotswe stories too, and I sometimes find it difficult to explain why when friends ask me. No, nothing really exciting happens. No, it's not a normal mystery, per se... I just like reading the books - they make me happy! Anyway, I'm glad you enjoy them - I'll have to borrow your explanation of why they're awesome the next time someone asks me.

One thing - The Full Cupboard of Life is the fifth book and Cheerful Ladies is number six. At least that's what it says on my copies... but I doubt it matters that much what order you read them in!

Mike said...

Are you sure you have to read the Stephen King? What if we just ate cookie dough instead?

Anonymous said...

Just picked up "Never Let Me Go" and "Dropped Threads 3" on your rec -- may I suggest getting to Capote's "In Cold Blood" sooner rather than later -- woooooo, a truly scary book -- the first time I read it, I was still in high school and I had to stop about a third of the way in -- it was just too overwhelming.

Tara said...

Ew, don't read Cell. I know you're not down with Entertainment Weekly anymore, but King's column in it is so fucking fatuous -- it's like Family Circus-calibre crappy, for real -- and based on the Cell excerpt the magazine ran a few months ago, I think I can summarize it for you: people who use cell phones are philistines who deserve to turn into zombies, whereas people who don't are classy and superior.

Carrie said...

That sounds like a pretty heavy list, sans Cell. Seriously, use the time you were going to read Cell to read Aimee Bender's Willful Creatures instead. It is short (stories) and excellent.

I have a soft spot in my heart for King, what with Different Seasons and Carrie and all, but his new books scare me in a undelightful way.

If you want a real scary book, read the Exorcist.

K. said...

I found _In Cold Blood_ to be far more readable than I'd expected. The beginning is brutal, but it gets a bit easier (and less terrifying) once you're into the middle of the book, I think.

Joan Didion's book is great, and not necessarily as depressing as one might think. OK, yeah, it's pretty depressing, but also really reassuring. It shows that you can survive horrible heartbreak, and that the crazy thoughts you have in the immediate aftermath are utterly normal. it's a great book.

I'm sad that Studs Terkel didn't make the list, after the post a few days ago. Keep him in mind, he is GREAT reading!

Anonymous said...

I picked up In Cold Blood and before I even got a chance to read it I happened to catch the made-for-TV version of it. Needless to say, since seeing the movies, the book has sat unopened - practically untouched had I not moved recently - on the bookshelf.

Someday I'll get to it, I just fear I'm too big of a wuss to handle it - especially with it being true.

Juliane said...

"Mental trebuchet" Good grief, are you trademarking these things? Brilliant, baby! Brilliant! Mind if I borrow that?

I read Mutiny on the Bounty followed by Jenny McCarthy's Bellylaughs... what's the antithesis of "mental trebuchet"? mental impaction? mental constipation? mental lemon drop? You get the picture :)

hip_ragdoll said...

Um, I think the large print might have been my fault -- I might have sent the wrong books. Silly ragdoll...promises to replace them with regular copies the next time you need books. Sorry!

caitlin said...

It sounds like you've got a lot in your to-read pile, but I just thought I'd add that there's actually a brand new McCall Smith Mma Ramotswe book, that just came out about a month or so ago--Blue Shoes and Happiness.

Paul said...

Ever read any non fiction?

cd said...

I urge you to put Didion before Capote. (Well, to be fair, I've never read In Cold Blood, but Year of Magical Thinking was SO WONDERFUL that you shouldn't wait another second.) It has been absolutely the best book I read in 2006.

Your blurb on Never Let Me Go makes me nervous. I'm not mentally tough enough to read such a depressing book. Although, I might be able to withstand it if it's a beach read. For some reason, sun and ocean waves can trump sad book at any time.

Mike said...

cd: Never Let Me Go is definitely not a beach read.

It's pretty devastating.

I'm off to go cry some more, and think about Ruth.

Doppelganger said...

Whoa... spend a day not checking the comments section, and look at everything I've missed!

Thanks for the tips about the ordering of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, Anonymous and Caitlin. I sort of fixed my post, but not really. I'm feeling lazy today, and verisimilitude is always the first thing to go.

And thanks Tara and everyone for the Cell advice. Maybe I'll just continue to ignore it sitting there on my shelf. Though it is so huge and luridly red. Mike, this cookie dough... home-made or from a tube? I'm easy either way, but just wanted to know.

Carrie, I've read The Exorcist and man, it WAS scary. So I guess my next scary read is looking to be In Cold Blood (though I swear I'll be reading A Year of Magical Thinking soon, CD). Do I have any volunteers to come to my house and hold my hand while I sleep? Oh, and also, I'm bookmarking Aimee Bender's short story collection, 'cause you know I'm a sucker for those, but I've made a pact with myself that I have to get through at least half of the books on my to-be-read shelf before I bring any new books into the house.

K., see above re: Studs Terkel. And hey, did anyone catch Zefrank's vlog post yesterday? He showed a quick clip of Studs Terkel! I was watching it over Rusty's shoulder and I yelled "That's Studs Terkel!" Rusty looked at me like I was nuts.

Juliane, feel free to borrow it, steal it, or claim it as your own. I'm giving you full linguistic license for your region. Heh. And I'm struggling to think of a term for what happens when you go from reading Mutiny on the Bounty to Jenny McCarthy. Dingdingding! I believe you may have stumped the panel.

Hip_Ragdoll, no need to apologize for the large-print edition! And I hope I didn't come off as if I were mocking it. I actually thought you'd done it on purpose as a joke, and it was honestly as pleasant a reading experience as I described in my post. Heh.

And CD, if reading Never Let Me Go on the beach is what'll help you get started, go for it. I'm interested to see if sun and sand can actually trump in this case. Please report back and let us know!

Mike, just reading your last comment has refuelled my sense of quiet despair. I'm off to go sob gently into my pillow.

Christa said...

Hear Andrew McCall Smith Readings