Friday, July 3, 2015

In Which I 'Read' a Marathon

I mentioned recently that after meeting that dear fellow Alexander McCall Smith I was going to reread all the books in his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. I am on now on Book 11 - The Double Comfort Safari Club.

I am reading them on my Kindle Fire. I finish one and just download the next one from the library's ebook collection. I read for 30-45 minutes or so each night before I go to sleep. 

Now, because I am reading on a screen, I feel as if I am reading one long book. There is no sense of beginning and ending. Since each volume averages maybe 250 pages, that means I am enjoying a 2500-page book (so far).

I have a friend who quit reading so many books on his Kindle because he said he never felt like he was making any progress.

Now I know what he means. I just keep reading and reading and reading...but so enjoy being in this world created by Mr. McCall Smith.

Bingeing on these books all in a row gives me such an appreciation for the philosophy of living that comes through in Mma Ramostwe's thoughts and actions. If one is looking for a North Star to follow in order to live A Good Life, these books offer a shining one.

The characters do often muse on the dangers of everything from adultery and other trashy behaviors to witchcraft (not the things one would want to incorporate into his or her life). But, more importantly, the reader gets a dose of the old Botswana ways of being honest, taking care of family, being kind, being thankful, respecting one's elders, revering the wisdom of one's ancestors, and above all drinking many cups of tea. 

Drinking tea gives one a chance to slow down and think. To let one's thoughts wander where they will like the Limpopo River that flows through Botswana on its way to the Indian Ocean. And a slice of cake with one's tea is also good for the soul. That is a well known fact.

Of course, these principles are universal and not original to Botswana. I am sure most of us were taught them growing up. I know I was, but I may not have always followed them to the the books are a gentle reaffirmation of these ideals.

The natural world of Botswana is almost another character in the stories. The weather plays a big role in these tales. The weather is something one can do nothing about. It is either dry or wet; hot or cold. These conditions offer a lesson in developing patience and an attitude of 'this too shall pass.' 

These books are perfect for a reading marathon. They are humorous, entertaining, and offer good examples of dignified living. Even though I have read them before, it is fun to be delighted anew. 

Have you recently 'read' a marathon? If so, what were the books or the author you enjoyed and how did it feel when you crossed the finish line...or in this case, read the last page? 

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Greenbrier and a Short Reading List

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The Greenbrier

Don't you just love slowing down and being catered to in a fine hotel? I do, and I just returned from a three-night stay at one of the finest: The Greenbrier in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia.

America needs more places like The Greenbrier with its genteel, subdued atmosphere. I was totally spoiled. There are spacious lobbies filled with comfortable chairs and sofas for chatting or resting. Afternoon tea is served every day at 4. The Victorian writing room's desk is filled with hotel stationery inviting one to sit and pen a note to a friend. There is a ballroom, a spa, a private casino, and many shops. The outdoor types (of which I am not one) can enjoy tennis, golf, swimming, horseback riding, skeet shooting, and croquet. Even falconry lessons can be had.

The Greenbrier is also the location of the government's once top secret emergency fallout shelter built into the mountainside in the 1950s. It was where members of Congress were to be sequestered in the event of a nuclear attack on the country. 

The Greenbrier has quite a history. Since the late 1700s, folks have been taking advantage of the property's regenerative sulfur springs. Its location, in the Allegheny Mountains, was originally filled with cottages built by wealthy Southerners in order to escape the summer heat. Then came a hotel and more cottages. During World War II the hotel served as an army hospital and relocation center. In 1948, it was reopened once again as a hotel by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and totally redesigned and redecorated by Dorothy Draper. The resort fell on hard times and in 2009 it was bought by local billionaire James Justice who just recently announced his candidacy for governor of West Virginia.

Many U.S. presidents, British royalty, golfers, tennis pros, and celebrities galore have stayed at what is touted as America's Resort. And now, I can add my name to the list.

Sigh. The worst part of leaving The Greenbrier is that I have to turn down my own bed at night...

In thinking about grand places to stay, I came up with a few books that feature hotels and their guests and even a murder or two.

At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie - Miss Marple revisits London and Betram's Hotel and becomes involved in a crime. Actually, Ms. Christie wrote several mysteries that take place in a hotel.

Eloise by Kay Thompson - The adventures of a clever young girl who lives with her Nanny at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Hotel by Arthur Hailey -  This story of a fictional hotel in New Orleans was made into a movie and a television series.

These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach - This is the book that the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is based upon. (I wrote about the book here.)

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving - I haven't actually read this one as I am not a John Irving fan, but the title came to mind so I'm listing it as well.

Do you have a favorite grand hotel to recommend? Can you think of any other books to add to the list?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

British Library Crime Classics

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Knowing that I am always on the lookout for a new/old mystery to read, Tullik, one of my most erudite and sharp-eyed readers, sent me a notice about the British Library Crime Classics series. All on the heels of the History of Mystery class that I have been attending.

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The series includes Golden Age mysteries that the British Library has rediscovered and republished. The covers alone are worth the price of the book (each paperback costs about $12). You can order them from the BL although I don't know how long it would take for them to arrive in America. I do see that some are available in the US from Amazon (of course), and others are due to be available in the next few months. They are or will be available for Kindle but then one wouldn't have the lovely covers to gaze upon.

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In further news, on June 20, the BL is having a conference, The Bodies From the Library, with all sorts of discussions and sessions on the greats from the The Golden Age: Allingham, Christie, and Carr. You would want to attend if... like puzzles - the body found in the middle of a snow-covered lawn with no footprints, the corpse found in a room locked from the inside; unbreakable alibis and unexpected murders; books with floor-plans of the manor and timetables of the suspects' movements; surprise solutions on the last page, the last paragraph, the last line.

Oh, yes. I love all of that and I do so want to attend, and would be thrilled to buy the entire series from the British Library, but it is short notice and airfares are quite high. Alas, I suppose I will have to wait and enjoy the books from my own armchair.

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There are 20 or so books in the series, of which I have only given you a sampling of the colorful covers. You can see them all here.