In troubled times we all need excellent coping mechanisms. Mine is reading.
I often feel that I just cannot stomach the news: the actual news and then the politics surrounding it (which I don’t consider to be news). Within five minutes of reading, listening to, or watching the news, my heart feels heavy. We get big doses of sadness, anger, frustration and helplessness from the news of the world. Why would I then want to read books or watch movies that offer more of that? I don’t. Isn’t there already enough cruelty and horror in the world? Yes, there is.
I am looking for a respite from it.
A few years ago, I read a couple of Alexander McCall Smith’s books in his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I thought they were enjoyable but I wasn’t exactly wow’d by them. Nevertheless, I recently picked up Blue Shoes and Happiness (Now there’s an irresistible title!) at my favorite thrift store, feeling like I needed an easy book to read. I had said to my sister that nothing much happens and that the book was amusing but not Barbara Pym funny. But halfway through I fell in love with it. It really is lovely.
His many books (more than 100!) are charming and lovely, full of humanity, wisdom, kindness, and quiet humor. They are also filled with lovely descriptive and philosophical passages on love between people and love of place. Who would not want to live in Alexander McCall Smith’s beloved Botswana, a peaceful, communal, tolerant, and soulful country? I haven’t felt compelled to look and see if Botswana’s residents really do enjoy such a tranquil existence, nor do I care to. He could call the country Cuckooland and write it as utter fantasy and that would be okay with me.
It’s not as if nothing happens, though. The characters in these books have problems, of course, and they seek Mma Ramotswe’s detective prowess for help. In the end, all is gently resolved, and usually a cup of bush tea with a slice of cake is involved. Who would not want to have a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to turn to when troubles arise? Who would not want to share a cup of tea with the “traditionally built” Mma Ramotswe from time to time?
So if blue shoes can provide happiness (and I believe they can), so can the right books. One must be careful what one reads, I feel, especially these days and especially at night. Reading these books at bedtime is like getting a nightly massage for the soul. And I think we all need that these days.
“It is sometimes easier to be happy if you don’t know everything.”― Alexander McCall Smith, Morality for Beautiful Girls
“So the small things came into their own: small acts of helping others, if one could; small ways of making one’s own life better: acts of love, acts of tea, acts of laughter. Clever people might laugh at such simplicity, but, she asked herself, what was their own solution?” ― Alexander McCall Smith, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive
“I am just a tiny person in Africa, but there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own.”― Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
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Thanks for listening,
P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”