Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Returning to the simple life in Botswana

Sometimes, when life gets a tad overwhelming, even reading material can add to the pressure.

It may be because the story is intense, distressing or tension-filled - or I'm simply racing to finish a library book due back in a few days.

But shouldn’t our reading be our “quiet time”? A time to reflect?

I tend to try and cram “doing” into every waking moment. Some days the closest I come to reflecting on life is while reading –and that only happens if what I’m reading is conducive to quiet reflection.

So, every now and then, I consciously choose to read a story I know will slow me down – in a good way!

This week, it’s been a return to The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith.

It’s a wonderful series set in Botswana, about Mma Ramotswe, a woman who “finds things out for people” as the owner of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

In between solving the small mysteries troubling her fellow townsfolk, she muses about the important things in life: the people she cares about, the landscape she loves, the country of which she is so proud. And spending time with her is soothing for a busy mind.

In Smith’s latest release, The Miracle at Speedy Motors, Mma Ramotswe finds her usually calm life stirred up by personal challenges. So what does she do? She squeezes her “traditional” build into her tiny old white van and takes herself back to the land.

She returns to a hill overlooking the village of her birth. There, looking out over the plains she loves so much, listening to the sound of cattle bells drifting up from below under a big Africa sky, she finds peace.

She sat, doing nothing, staring out over the plain below. If, when viewed from above like this, our human striving could seem so small, then why did it not appear like that when viewed from ground level?

In this place of contemplation, she finds perspective on the issues troubling her: an employee who may be the author of threatening letters; a husband willing to believe in a miracle cure for their wheelchair bound foster daughter; a puzzling search for a client’s birth mother.

Some series, with sweeping narrative and character arcs, beg for their books to be read back to back (JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a classic example).

Others, like The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, work best in isolation, because the growth of characters is so subtle and the pace so gentle. These are books to be savoured, not devoured one after the other.

They are my literary refuge when I need a reminder of the simple pleasures in life and the value of gentle stories.

Does anyone else have a book, or series, they turn to for a peaceful narrative experience?


the ink-stained toe-poker said...

Aye very good Westie. I enjoyed the first book, but I haven't been able to do any of his books after I read the detective one set in Edinburgh. It was horrible - the sunday philosophy club or something.
this link will take you to an intense dude whose plan is to write a short story every day for a year. Some of the stories are really good and others arenae.
Still worth taking a look though.

Bec said...

Hhhmmmm, I have read The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency which I did quite enjoy (except for the missing boy bit - I almost stopped reading at that point, but instead I went to the end to check just how badly it all turned out, and when I realised the ending was ok I went back and enjoyed the read....) but I don't think I would rate it in my 'peaceful narrative experience category'. Although the narrative was itself quite peaceful I guess, I found a certain tension there that played on me a bit...not sure exactly what it was but it did affect me. I'm afraid my answer to this is going to be horribly predictable. I know I bang on about Tom Robbins WAY too much - but these are the books I pull out to read again when I need a peaceful and positive recharge.
Oh, and thanks for dropping by to pick up your blog award!!! I meant to leave a little comment on everyone's blogs to let them know, but after I'd posted the day went to pot and I couldn't get back onto the computer (it's Kate's b'day to day so lots of preparations were in order yesterday). Glad you found it anyway - and thanks again for another great read :)
Cheers, Bec X

Paula Weston said...

Bec, I've not read any Tom Robbins - what would you recommend as the best novel to start with?

ISTP: I've got the Sunday Philosophy Club here somewhere to read at some point ... I guess I'll slip it further down the pile.

Gustav said...


I dig Robbins as well.

My favourite Robbins is "Jitterbug Perfume" which is also in my personal top ten books.

Robbins is not necessarily relaxing or peaceful, but he recharges my batteries. He is upbeat, comedic, wise, and erotic in his own way.

Poetry is my preferred peaceful menu choice for lazy afternoons underneath the shadow of a tree with the wind blowing softly across my cheeks.

My preference is too close my eyes and have someone else read the poetry out loud. Preferably someone I adore.

A couple of my favorite poets for relaxing:

1) Li Po
In the spring twilight/ The full moon is shining: / Girls take their places / as though around an altar. / I watch the bright moon, / Lowering my head / I dream that I'm home. (Li Po, trans. A. Cooper)

2) Dante
You are so near the final health of man / you will do well to go clear-eyed and keen / into that good, my Beatrice began. / Therefore, before you enter further here / look down and see how vast a universe / I have put beneath your feet, bright sphere on sphere. (Paradise, trans. J. Ciardi)

And finally this one from me to your "Great Stories" blog:

3) Chaucer
And as for me, although my wit is small, / I find that books most happily enthral ; / That I so reverence them in my heart, / So trust their truth, so pleasure in their art, / That there is scarce a single joy I know / That can persuade me from my books to go ... (The Legend of Good Women, trans. B. Stone)

Linda Jacobs said...

I'm with you! I love Mma Ramotswe and all the other characters. It does calm me down. I've read them all except this last one and plan on reading it soon.