Sunday, November 04, 2007

Sunday Salon on the Sly

The Sunday

Debra Hamel and Clare Dudman have suggested that readers/bloggers spend a part of each Sunday reading and periodically blogging comments on the books they've chosen. They've named this highbrow enterprise The Sunday Salon. I'm not sure how successful I'll be at this because my family still doesn't know that I'm blogging. I've been at this for a year and a half now, right under their noses, and they still haven't caught on. (...Yes, we're a rather stupid lot.) Debra coaxed me to participate "on the sly" and I'll try to do so. Of course, it's difficult to be sly when there are time constraints to consider, so I think I'll need to come up with some creative solutions to the problem. It's no use trying to read when my husband is around anyway. There's no ignoring Peter. He'll stand beside me, talking, demanding responses. That's just too frustrating. So, this time I won't attempt to do periodic updates. I'll just tell you what I'm reading at the moment.

I've got two books on my bedside table: "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert and "44 Scotland Street" by Alexander McCall Smith.

Daniel Gilbert is someone you'd like to have over to the house. His book is interesting and cleverly written. He's a university lecturer and you know that his classes will be well attended because he has the witty approach appreciated by young people. His book discusses why it is that we seldom know what we really want or what will truly make us happy. I've already used his advice to advantage. He illustrated how we are apt to make purchasing decisions based on the wrong criteria. Stores will display a variety of products and frequently convince the consumer to choose enhanced features or capabilities which are neither wanted nor desirable. We are routinely influenced to turn our backs on what we actually want in favour of another item which may in fact not suit us as well. A variant of the same kind of thinking can be applied to relationships too. A worthy book.

"44 Scotland Street" is something of a disappointment. The title quite possibly is a reference to the long-running British soap-opera "Coronation Street". It would make sense, because the book is very much like a soap opera. Originally published in "The Scotsman" (newspaper) in serial form, this book - the first of a series - has one hundred, ten abbreviated chapters.

Alexander McCall Smith is a likeable, very accessible writer but he's no Clare Dudman. I find his characters relatively unbelievable and lacking dimension. Really, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series is where he shines. I think that's because his respect and affection for the African people is so evident in his books. Perhaps my own lack of familiarity with Africa allows me to more readily accept the lack of nuance too... While it may not be 'great' writing, McCall Smith produces a pleasant, highly marketable product and if he isn't rich as Croesus now, he soon will be. There's a lesson to be had here: It needn't be exquisite writing to be commercially successful. In fact, I think really good writing may actually limit commercial success. After all, most of us (the reading public) are ignorant clods who don't want to be bothered with reading anything too demanding.

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At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Ann Darnton said...

After yesterday's shopping expedition when i was really just going into town to meet a friend for lunch and eventually staggered into the restaurant struggling under the weight of my parcels, I could really do with the Gilbert book.
Where '44 Scotland Street' is concerned I am so glad to at last meet someone who feels the same way about it as I do. To speak against Alexander McCall Smith in the UK is tantamount to treason but I really don't find any substance there at all.

At 11:27 AM, Anonymous Debra Hamel said...

Excellent post, Susan. I find myself wondering how you've used Gilbert's advice to advantage.

At 11:34 AM, Anonymous Clare said...

Oh, you are so kind, Susan! I was just nodding along with all that you were saying (including the reference to A.McS) when I stumbled on my name! Thank you so much.

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Maxine said...

Agreed, lovely post, Susan.
Interesting what you say about Ladies' Detective Agency series, I read the first five of these and have fond thoughts of them because they were the first books that me and my eldest daughter both read at the same time -- her first "adult" novel! However, for some reason, I have become less keen on them, and I don't know why, as they are so warm yet they don't gloss over the realities of AIDS, poverty, dehydration, economic misery.
I absolutely adored The Coroner's Lunch by Colin Cotterill. It is in a similar genre to LDA but far better -- the detective elements are more rounded but also the "hero" is so lovely -- a 70-something year old -- and the way in which he subverts the Laos regime just by being himself is so funny. Do give him a try - he is so good, I think you'll love him.
PS your comments about your blog being secret from your family -- what would happen if they knew? My family know I blog and in my daughters' cases, they themselves started blogs of their own for about 3 months and then abandoned them. The MP (my husband) knows but has no interest -- he does not konw the URL and has never read it - but I think he is generally encouraging - not sure -- we don't have the same level of interaction as you and Peter :-)


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