Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Charming Quirks of Others

In eight days I read three novels.  That's unusual and tells me how much time I spend doing crosswords!  The third was the seventh in the Isabel Dalhousie Novels series by Alexander McCall Smith. I've only posted on one of the others in the series: book five.  The problem with AMS is that the books have such a sameness because they are a continuation of the same core characters; the same places in Edinburgh and its environs; the same mentions of WH Auden; the same frequent use use of quotidian, egregious and palimpsest; the same charming strengths, failings and foibles of the characters; even the plots seem to be a variation on a theme.  It's all very comfortable and I love it for that.

It's taken me this long, though, to really appreciate that all that is just a comfortable way of delivering a treatise on what, for want of a better explanation, I shall call philosophy for the non-philosopher.  It's all done in bite-size pieces for the mind easily to assimilate.  One can accept it as a simple story or one can actually think.  The latter goes against the grain with me but this time I actually did (occasionally).

I can never recall reading a full review of any of his books but I must do so at some time to see how anyone actually gives a synopsis which isn't just 'copywriters blurb'.  The cover blurb for this book says "... the wife of a trustee of an illustrious school asks Isabel to look into a poison pen letter that makes insinuations about applicants for the position of principal.  And what's more, when a pretty cellist with a tragic story takes a fancy to her husband-to-be, Isabel finds herself contemplating an act of heroic and alarming self-sacrifice."  Frankly that tells the potential reader nothing about the book: certainly not a thing of value.

AMS is always throwing little teasers into his stories too: "...the rule was almost universally ignored and its authority, anyway, was questionable. Who established the precept anyway?  Why not split an infinitive if one wanted to?  The sense was easily understood whether or not the infinitive was sundered apart or left inviolate."  

There is also a rather interesting discussion on goodness which, for me, touches the issue of whether goodness if there because it is or whether it is there because we are told it is (by, e.g., a religion). 

Oh yes.  There's a great deal of though to be had amongst all that comfort.....if, that is, that's what one wants.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Importance of Being Seven

This is Alexander McCall Smith's sixth book in the 44 Scotland Street series and the second book I've read in less than a week.  There's little to be said about this series that I haven't already said.  The familiar characters and, for those of us who know and love Edinburgh, it's descriptions and use of the area make it a very 'comfortable' read.  
I have said on a number of occasions that I sometimes find AMS's continual references to W H Auden (a poet whom I don't enjoy) and vaguely ostentatious displays of his prodigious knowledge slightly irritating.  In addition I appreciate that using words like quotidian and palimpsest may increase the knowledge of many of his readers who might not otherwise come across such words very often (count me amongst that number) but to use them continually.........  That's a very minor point though because the series is rather like eating chocolate: once you have started then you will finish.

As always there is a plethora of quotes but some that come to mind in this book are:
The beautiful are forgiven; no matter how egregious  their shortcomings , they are forgive. 
Most of us, if pressed, are made uneasy by change.  We recognise its importance in our lives and there are occasions when we persuade ourselves that it's for the best - which, of course, it often is - but at heart we are concerned that, if change comes, it will bring with it regret 
'But we all waste opportunities,' said Domenica.  'Every single one of us.  Every young person does it.  It's because we think we have so much time, and then, when we realise that our time is finite, it's too late.' 
'Indeed' said the professor. 'But we are all fortunate in one way or another.  The task for most of us is to identify in what way that is, would you not agree?'

Monday, July 15, 2013

Teacher, Teacher!

Back in the distant days of January this year Librarian posted a review of the book Village Teacher the fourth in a series of six books by Jack Sheffield.  It sounded good enough to risk buying and on Amazon I took advantage of a special offer and bought the whole six for the price of one.  Over the last few days I read the first in the series: Teacher, Teacher!

Over the last few years I have read a few books by former teachers calling on their experiences in that profession: The Other Side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn and Freda Bream's  Chalk, Dust and Chewing Gum being two of them.  I didn't post on them unfortunately.   Freda Bream was a New Zealander who also wrote about her experiences as a postie in Whistles for the Postie and a host of who dunnits as well as another book of her teaching experiences I'm Sorry, Amanda.   Gervase Phinn has written more books following his experiences in education.

The one thing about being a teacher is that there is a wealth of material to be called upon if one is inclined to use it.  All three authors have very easy, comfortable and amusing writing styles.  

In Teacher, Teacher! Jack Sheffield has introduced a 'love interest' without interfering with the 'stories' of life during his first year as the head teacher of a village school in Yorkshire during 1977-78.  The book had me laughing out loud on several occasions and made me feel very sad on others.  It's a light read and a very enjoyable read.  It's also, in my view, well written.  One would have to work hard not to enjoy it.  
In speaking of the school groundsman - a former farmer - he says: "It (soil) was his creation following many hours of honest toil by a man who had grown old in the bosom of nature and measured time in the changing of the seasons." 
It having been agreed that a fortune teller known to the school Caretaker, Ruby, would be asked to tell fortunes at the school fete: " 'Will you let her know please, Ruby?' asked Anne. 'Perhaps she knows already' said Sally mischievously".  
Librarian's review is here.