I chose The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for July because I knew that the series is incredibly popular, funny yet substantive, and I hoped its ease would make good summer/vacation reading. The ready availability of many books, including sound recordings, is also a big plus for our book club!
Since I heard Alexander McCall Smith speak at the American Library Association conference here in Las Vegas, I was ready to show some YouTube clips of his comedic routines, a YouTube sample of Botswana pumpkin cooking, and the sweeping shots of Botwana shown at the start of the HBO television series adapted from the book. We had cookies and bush tea (red rooibos from South Africa).
Then we had some technical difficulties. W-fi, plugs, connections, laptop, i-pad, dvd, television. In hindsight it is rather funny to think of taking a seemingly simple story, people who have chosen to take time reading and coming out to discuss a book, and then throwing in technical media! It all worked out in the end, but not necessarily as planned!
I had anticipated enthusiastic, devoted readers and some skeptical newcomers. What we had was a rather quiet group. Those who had re-read the book found it appealing again. Others seemed to like it as well. Since none of us have been to Africa, we couldn’t truly judge its reality.
Before the meeting, one member commented that he found the narrator to be unreliable, since he knew that it was a white male writing about a black female detective. In general, since the author was raised in Africa, we accepted his narration. We discussed the accuracy of the dialogue. I was enamored of the author’s language and read several sentences that I had highlighted throughout. I also mentioned his use of many archaic words I appreciated. We discussed HIV and how it is not spoken of directly. About how positive a view this is of Botswana. We noted that the book is more like a collection of short stories than a novel, and how the author himself says he is afflicted with “serial novelism.”
Every member spoke and brought out interesting aspects prompted by the discussion questions and on their own. As we wondered about Mma Ramotswe’s youthful acceptance of her abusive husband, one member mentioned reading Of Human Bondage. Another compared the opening lines of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa with the opening lines “Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill.” I marvel at the common association we all now share.
As always, if there is something I have missed or something you’ve thought of that you would like to add or share, make a comment!
- Other works discussed:
- Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
- Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen