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Posts tagged ‘Alexander McCall Smith’

Hillary Clinton’s Reading Choices

Hillary Clinton has been back in the news lately, thanks to the backlash about the outrageously high fees that she commands for speaking engagements, the publication of her new book, and a few choice comments she made about current US foreign policy.

HiIlary Rodham Clinton

About two months ago there was a short interview with Clinton in the New York Times, one that focused on books that she enjoys reading. This book interview column is a regular feature in the New York Times and I always find it fascinating to find out what various authors like to read when they are not writing, what they read when they were growing up, or in some cases the classic books that they admit to not having read yet. Here are a couple of excerpts from the column that featured Clinton:

Who are your favorite contemporary writers? Are there any writers whose books you automatically read when they come out?

“I will read anything by Laura Hillenbrand, Walter Isaacson, Barbara Kingsolver, John le Carre, John Grisham, Hilary Mantel, Toni Morrison, Anna Quindlen, and Alice Walker. And I love series that follow particular characters over time and through their experiences, so I automatically read the latest installments from Alex Berenson, Linda Fairstein, Sue Grafton, Donna Leon, Katherine Hall Page, Louise Penny, Daniel Silva, Alexander McCall Smith, Charles Todd, and Jacqueline Winspear.”

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

“At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.”


Well, she had me pleasantly surprised there for a while, picking authors that I also enjoy reading such as Daniel Silva, Alex Berenson, Laura Hillenbrand, and Alexander McCall Smith. But then she blew it with the lame Bible pick. I’m not sure if that was an “astute political choice” or truly a sincere personal pick, but either way it dismisses her in my mind as yet another religious wacko.

I’ve made these comments in past posts, but my feelings remain the same if not stronger: religion has no place in politics. If you are telling me that the Bible influences your way of thinking and how you make decisions, then I sure as hell (or should I capitalize that as a proper place name?) don’t want you holding elective office and making laws that affect my life.

In the United States a big deal was made about fifty years ago when John F. Kennedy was elected president, making him the first Catholic to hold the nation’s highest office. In the last US presidential election the fact that Mitt Romney was the first Mormon to run for office was also a source of curiosity. Personally, I’m waiting for the first atheist to run for office, someone who has the intelligence and fortitude to declare that they are not a superstitious half-wit who belongs to an organized religion. Please, just give me one such honest person.

I get so sick of seeing the same types of people elected to office in the USA. Most are career politicians with backgrounds in law, or perhaps they have some business experience. But do we really want more lawyers and MBA types running our government? Why don’t we elect scientists, teachers, economists, or people that actually have the brains and experience to effect change and make our lives better? Enough with these money-raising talking haircuts and dangerous religious fundamentalists; it’s time for real change. And even though she would be the first female president if elected, an insider like Hillary Clinton — especially one that apparently holds diehard religious beliefs — does not represent change for the better.


Detective Agency Charms

I can’t remember when I read my first book by Alexander McCall Smith. It was at least five years ago, but certainly less than a decade. And I didn’t do the “logical” thing and read the first entry in his “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series of novels, but instead started with another one, The Kalahari Typing School for Men. What can I say; it was there, so I read it … and liked it. Since that initial foray into the world of Precious Ramotswe and her crime solving pursuits in Botswana, I’ve read each installment in the series and have enjoyed them all immensely.


People often use the word “charming” to describe this series and that’s certainly apt. In the world of contemporary crime fiction, these books may not be hip or cutting edge, but they certainly are entertaining. The tales are fun and readers find themselves drawn to the cast of quirky and likeable characters, ones that we’ve grown to cherish and laugh with over the years. Except, of course, for that wicked and disagreeable wench Violet Sephotho!


Smith’s novels aren’t overflowing with gobs of gore or the usual suspenseful, page-turning action that you’ll find nowadays in most “thrillers” or crime fiction, but the gentle, neighborly nature is a big part of their appeal. The reader basically knows what they are getting: a light-hearted mystery with virtually no traces of blood or mayhem, but plenty of feel-good human drama. These are tales about people who make mistakes and do good deeds, people who cheat and deceive, but also love and forgive. Smith, in the form of Mme Ramotswe, dispenses lots of common sense and helpful advice; things that we intrinsically know and understand, but always bears being reminded. Smith’s solid and sparse prose can lull the reader into thinking that these are “light” reads, but he always sneaks in a few passages that are both eloquent and brilliant. These seemingly simple tales can pack plenty of depth and wisdom.


Although I’ve read every book in the series so far, I don’t rush out and buy the latest one when it comes out, as I do with the new novels of a writer like Lee Child, John Sandford, or Michael Connelly. But I do make a mental note to get the book eventually and if I’m lucky a secondhand copy ends up in my bookshop before that wait is too long. And that happened recently when I snagged his newest novel (well, it’s the newest paperback on the racks, at any rate; there is also a new hardcover that was published this year) in the series, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, perhaps even more than other recent titles in the series. This novel combines the usual multiple plot threads, as Smith weaves his subtle magic. Mma Ramotswe is the core of the story once again, and does her usual amazing job of balancing investigation, marriage, and diplomacy, all while dispensing helpful advice and solving those pesky crimes. In this latest episode, a couple of cows mysteriously die, Charlie the apprentice mechanic is suspected of fathering children, Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni buys a surprise gift for his wife, and Grace Makutsi, finally gets married … after ruining a pair of new shoes, of course! No DNA tests or ballistics results, but lots of smiles. If you’ve loved the other books in this series, you’ll enjoy this one too.


Smith has been putting out a ton of books in recent years. In addition to the “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, he is writing novels for three additional series; The Sunday Philosophy Club, 44 Scotland Street, and Corduroy Mansions. I haven’t tried any of the books in those other series yet, but at some point I’ll probably succumb and start one. If nothing else, you have to admire the output of Alexander McCall Smith. This man is a veritable writing machine.


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