I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tea & Toast Books

There are only so many chick-lit books you can read before you figure out that:

a) the girl always gets the right guy in the end,
b) there will always be a best friend who is happily married with kids and full of useless advice,
c) the girl will always have either the world's worst OR the world's coolest job, and
d) they always seem to be eating endless amounts of take-out curries (especially for books set in the UK.)

While I have been known to devour chick-lit books by the thousands, they also tend to have a high 'pitch rate' for me...eg I read a couple of pages, get bored, and pitch the book back into the library bag. They are perfect for lazy days by the pool, sunny days on the beach, and on air planes where you want to be anywhere but cramped into a small seat with no leg room. Chick-lit, to me, isn't meant to be read on wintery, cold days. On days when all you want is a mug of tea and some toast slathered with (salted, French) butter. Days when you know you have washing, blogging, working, cleaning to do...but you just can't be bothered. On those days, I have two authors whose books I read over and over again.

The first is the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. A series of (so far) 10 slim novels, the books follow the life of Precious Ramotswe, a "traditionally built" woman of Botswana. She opens the very first (and only) detective agency in town, and these books are all about her professional and personal adventures. While I adore crime fiction (and that's another genre we'll talk about later), I don't really read these for the crime part of it. I read them entirely for the fantastic cultural depiction of life in Africa, and for the extreme affection I hold for the main character. I can realte to her in a lot of ways - from driving a car which is far too small for her, to being married to a kind a quiet man, to being an endless talker - I like to think that Mma Ramotswe is me, African style! I've read and re-read this series too many times to count, and yet every time I find I discover something new. A funny one liner, a description of a person or place which is particularly engaging; something which makes me smile.

I've tried reading some of his other books - notably the Sunday Philosopher's Club series - but I don't find them nearly as enaging. With the detective agency books, it's the whole package which makes it. The place on it's own is fascinating, but the combination of location, story line, and totally beliveable characters make these books into something special.

If you've not read them, I highly recommend them... even if you're not having a tea and toast sort of day.

My second author for tea and toast days is Maeve Binchy. Similar to the McCall Smith books, the atraction here lies in the setting. All of her books are set in and around Ireland, a place which I have wanted to visit for a very long time (and which I'm getting to, in November 2010). I find so much about the Irish culture fascintating, that reading these books really is pure joy for me. I suppose some might dismiss these as mere fluff, because they can be terribly predictable, and nothing earth shattering happens in them - kinda like the chick lit, I suppose! Those reasons are precisely why I adore them - they are the literary equivalent of cuddling into a warm quilt.

I recently finished Heart & Soul, which was a little disappointing but still very much a Binchy book. Among my favourites are Tara Road, Quentin's, Silver Wedding, Evening Class and Scarlet Feather. Most of the ones just mentioned share characters, so I get an special treat when someone I've read of suddenly pops up again. I sometimes wonder how she keeps it all straight in her head! While these books are most certainly pitched at the female market, it's the lovely descriptions of Irish life which keeps them from being in the same pile as the Cathy Kelly novels of the world. In terms of characters, she also keeps from being too hackneyed because all of them are different ages - from the young twins to the young adults to the oldies, everyone is represented. I suppose I feel as though Maeve treats her characters with respect. They are all people you could imagine meeting in Dublin one day.

...and if all those are not reasons enough to love her, Maeve describes her childhood self as "...fat and hopeless at games," and unashamedly dedicates every book to her husband. What I'm really saying is that Maeve is Precious Ramotswe, Ireland style.

So while Australia is busy heating up and getting ready for summer, all my Northern Hemisphere readers out there should be getting ready for plenty of tea and toast Sundays. Here's hoping you enjoy those days with a good book in hand.


the baker's wife said...

Perfect timing, I'm stuck for reading material and have no time to browse the library, let alone actually finish reading anything. I've been eyeballing the detective agency books for a while, but was unwilling to take a spin. You've sold me.

emzeegee & the hungry three said...

I should have said that so far only 7of the 10 titles are available in Australia. They are GREAT for those with babe in arms, though - small enough to hold and the chapters are those that you can read and put down, read and put down without feeling like you've lost the thread of the whole thing.

...when I make it out to M'ton (and I WILL), ,I'll bring you some. :)