Alexander McCall Smith in Seattle: On being born in multiple places, kindness to authors, Mwa Ramotswe and other matters


Alexander McCall Smith in Seattle, April 2011
Alexander McCall Smith in Seattle, April 2011

My wife and I got to see one of our favorite authors at the Seattle Public Library on Friday, April 1st.

Alexander McCall Smith, author of several series of books, including the one on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, was in town to talk about his latest and twelfth book in this series: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. I will not get into details about the wonderful characters in this series set in Botswana, including the traditionally built detective Precious Ramotswe,
her husband and “garagista” J.L.B. Matekoni, the associate detective Grace Makutsi, her fiancé Phuti Radiphuti and others. But I will say this: if you have not yet sampled these books, you must – do not expect blood and gore, but instead, look for a lyrical description of a life where people and traditions matter, and where common sense prevails, with a little help from Clovis Andersen’s nuggets on private detection.

McCall Smith was in great form. He bounced into the packed lecture hall in a kilt, and talked about a variety of things. He talked of how people make mistakes introducing him, crediting him with having being born in Zimbabwe, England, Scotland, Botswana and other places! He talked about the need for reading groups to be kind to authors. “For all you know, the author may have been suffering from gallstones when he or she wrote the book. So when you read a book, ask yourself: is it likely that the author was in pain from gallstones when the book was written!” He gave updates on his other series: the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He read from two of his books and took some questions. In answer to one question, he said writing just come to him naturally, and he writes about a 1000 words an hour!

Later we got to get books signed by him. I told him about a paragraph from the Saturday Big Tent book which touched me deeply:

She [Ramotswe] looked at him fondly; that he [Matekoni] had been sent to her, when there were so many other, lesser men who might have been sent, was a source of constant gratitude. That we have the people we have in this life, rather than others, is miraculous, she thought; a miraculous gift.

When I first read this paragraph, I thought about this last sentence (which I italicized). We sometimes take the people around us, our friends and family, so much for granted. I thought about my family, and the catenation of circumstances which brought me to Seattle and to my wife and daughter. I realized that it is a miracle, a glorious gift, to have the family and the friends I do, and I ran downstairs to read the paragraph to my wife.

And when we were getting our book signed, I told McCall Smith all this. He paused, reread the sentence I liked, smiled kindly and said he was so happy to hear this — and I knew he meant it. And I thought: that we have Alexander McCall Smith, his felicity with the English language, his articulation of these simple truths, is also a miraculous gift to all of us.

#McCallSmith  #SeattlePublicLibrary


About Chandra

Interested in people, language, ideas, technology and their interactions.
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