When things are at their ultimate suckiest, their scurrilous worst, when it seems absolutely certain that hope for improvement is an impossible dream… That is when it is utterly essential that we remember the best, most gallant, valiant and humane aspects of our being.
The greatest gift my love of literature has provided me over the years is countless opportunities to experience (albeit via my imagination) candid and poignant moments in the daily lives of individuals from all walks of life and from all metaphoric corners of this orb we call home.
In my humble opinion one of the hallmarks of civilization is the second-hand store. These mystical temples of practicality offer solace to the struggling student, the starving artist, and the single parent. Most often these noble establishments operate to the benefit of charitable organizations, an admirable endeavor.
My most recent humanitarian mission carried me back to the island of Paros in the Cyclades chain where I lived from 2005 to 2009. I was to host a memorial service for a friend taken in an automobile accident. The one bright spot in that otherwise solemn journey was that P.A.W.S. (the Parian Animal Welfare Society) had opened a second-hand nook in the Old Town.
My criteria for what constitutes a “good read” may diverge considerably from many mainstream opinions, my title choices more erratic than heat lightning. My delight at the discovery of the new nook was amplified by the fact that the used books were five for 3€ ($3.90).
On this particular sortie I picked up the 2001 edition of The Best American Short Stories, a wisecracking collection of sex & the city style columns titled If You Can’t Live Without Me Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?, a hard cover 1959 edition of tribute articles to Nobel Laureates, as well as Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother (I loved The Curious Incident…). The real hidden treasure though was an unassuming 198 page novel by Alexander McCall Smith, to whose writing I had not yet had the pleasure of being introduced.
The particular title I stumbled across was The Full Cupboard of Life, and it reached out to me as a personal message of encouragement in the wake of a rather difficult several months. Once back in Athens at my mother-in-law’s bedside I became acquainted with Mma Precious Ramotswe, proprietress and chief sleuth of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana.
I soon found myself sitting serenely under the paw-paw trees, savoring the Botswana pace of life – blissfully oblivious of the 6+ million residents of Athens seething through the city on their quest to adopt genuinely European stress levels.
I was transported by the tenderness, sensitivity and authenticity of Mr. McCall Smith’s pen. Each character proved a delightfully unique individual, with even the annoying apprentice mechanics exhibiting a realistic depth to their shallowness.
I am not generally drawn to series fiction, but in this case after having read the 5th installment I am feeling a considerable thirst for a cup of bush tea and an opportunity to enjoy the previous exploits of Mma Ramotswe and her neighbors.
Admittedly my first true love was reading, thankfully my husband knows better than to try to compete with my many lovers on the page!
Victoria Andre King is a freelance writer and audiovisual professional her novel The Führer Must Die is available for pre-orders and will be released on November 8th 2016 with Yucca Publications, an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing NYC.