Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (by Alexander McCall Smith)

Okay, so obviously this book is hugely popular and I like detective stories--so why hadn't I read it yet? (She asks, as if anyone were really wondering that.) I guess because I'm super picky about my detective stories. For some reason, I tend to like the ones written by women (Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich) and I don't like cheap-looking, lurid covers or mysteries about cats. (Please don't tell me that cat series is any good at all or my brain will explode.) I don't want to waste my time, because I feel like there's a lot of bad mystery out there. It seems weird to say "I like Janet Evanovich!" and "My standards are high!" in the same paragraph, but whatever. Moving on.

I picked up this book a couple of times and found myself bored with the first paragraph and put it down again. I wanted to like it, though, because it is a series (up to seven books or something like that) and I always love having a new series to read. But it didn't grab me. Then this weekend I drove to and from L.A. in two days, and I was going by myself, and I thought I might need a book to listen to to pass the time. This one seemed like the perfect choice: I was anticipating it being fluffy and easy to listen to, and I figured even a mediocre book was better than no book at all. And although I had some problems with it, for the most part I fell totally in love with it. It was way better than I'd expected.

The heroine (Mma Ramotswe I think is the spelling) is one of the best characters ever, seriously. How much do I love her? And sure, I'm biased because she's fat and proud of being a "traditional African lady" and all the men in the novel are in love with her. (Totally need to post about this on BFD.) But I also find her personality delightful. And I love the rich setting of Botswana, and the cultural touches, and the emotional complexity, and the simple, yet beautiful language.

I am thrilled to see that the next book is on Audible by the same narrator, who I think added a lot of charm to the book for me. I don't know what my experience would have been reading it on the printed page (maybe I'll find out if the later books aren't narrated by her) but it was delightful to listen to; if you like audiobooks (Beth) and you haven't read it yet, give it a shot.

My quibbles: I couldn't tell if the organization of the book was a little choppy; at times, it seemed so. I also did not understand the motives of the main villain whatsoever: made no sense. And also, at least one of the mysteries she solves (the one with the doctor) is very predictable, and I like to be surprised. But those are minor complaints. Basically, I can't wait to listen to the next book in the series.

So are any of you reading this series? Have any of you read the first one? I'm really curious to know what other people think, given that I listened to this instead of reading it. I hope the next book is as good as the first one.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Love in the Time of Cholera (by Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

My friend h pressed this book upon me, insisting that I had to read it before I saw the movie or the trailer and ruined everything. The other day we saw Michael Clayton and I even went so far as to stick my fingers in my ears and shut my eyes when the trailer came on, because I had been forewarned.

I've tried to read One Hundred Years of Solitude (by which I mean I've started it) so many times and I've never made it through. Someone recently called that book Thirty Pages of Boredom and I was like, that's right, I don't like magical realism, I don't like the opening of that book, I must not like Marquez. I WAS WRONG. This book is awesome, awesome. (Don't read the next paragraph if you haven't read it yet; just go buy it and then come back.)

I was predicting one ending, but the book surprised me totally. It's got such an interesting complexity to it. The characters do not fall neatly into roles. The lovesick lead is kind of horrible and directly causes the deaths of at least two women. Fermina Daza makes a choice that isn't even necessarily wrong even though in a lesser book, the author would judge her more evidently. Along the way you get this beautiful, lucid, poetic meditation on love and aging and devotion. It's such a gem. Highly recommended; thanks, h!