Archive for June, 2011

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

I just finished reading the first book in Alexander McCall Smith’s new series, Corduroy Mansions…a very delightful read.   I am a big fan of his other two character-driven series:  44 Scotland Street and The Sunday Philosophy Club: Isabel Dalhousie Novels; the new series is on the same high-level as his others.  Perhaps, the best explanation of the series can be gleaned from Smith’s own explanation of the series:

“When I started writing serial novels in newspapers six years ago, I had no idea that the whole business would rapidly become addictive. My initial foray into this genre of fiction began after a conversation with Armistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City, which was a saga of life in San Francisco that ran to several volumes. The idea was implanted of starting a daily novel set in Edinburgh, and a few months later I embarked on 44 Scotland Street. After five years of producing a chapter a day for six months of the year, I decided to give Edinburgh a rest for a while and start a tale set in London. Corduroy Mansions, published each day in the online edition of The Daily Telegraph, was the result.

Like any saga, there is a story–but it is not a complicated one. These stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots.

There are quite a lot of characters in the story, many of them occupying a rather run-down block of flats in Pimlico that gives its name to the series. We are introduced to William French, a wine merchant who has just turned fifty, but who is in denial about that. He is a widower with a dreadful son, Eddie, who sees no reason to leave a comfortable home and set up independently, in spite of every encouragement by his father. William is admired by Marcia, a caterer who would like to marry him–or anybody really.

William lives at the top of the building. On the floor below is a shared flat lived in by four young women. One of these, Dee, runs a vitamin and health food shop not far away and is a keen exponent of alternative medicine in its various guises, and in particular of colonic irrigation. Then there is Caroline, who is studying for a master’s degree in fine art at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

Caroline is fond of James, who is doing the same course as she is. James is very artistic, with a particular interest in the work of the French artist, Nicolas Poussin. James likes Caroline a great deal, but is unsure as to what his real proclivities are. Caroline is optimistic that she can confirm him in the direction she would like him to take, that is as one who is interested in women, but will she succeed?

William, at least, is quite unambiguous in that department: he wants to find a woman. His long-time friend Marcia, however, thinks she just may be his match. In the meantime, William has for company a remarkable dog, Freddie de la Hay, a Pimlico Terrier.

Then there is Oedipus Snark, a Liberal Democrat MP. He is so unpleasant that his mother, Berthea Snark, is writing his unauthorized biography in which she has the intention of dishing every bit of dirt on her son that she can muster. Berthea is the sister of the mystically-inclined Terence Moongrove, an exponent of Bulgarian sacred dance and the unexpected driver of a Porsche.

That is probably all that one needs to know. But even if one cannot be bothered to absorb even those few facts, the story will, I hope, be abundantly clear. This is light social comedy, I suppose, but while I admit that the whole point of the exercise is for the reader to have fun, I hope in this story, nonetheless, to say something about how we live and about how finding love and meaning in the very small things of life may transform us, may make our ordinary lives more bearable.”

The second book in the series, The Dog Who Came In From The Cold  has just been released…and I have already placed it on my bookstore shopping list.  I highly recommend this series by Smith or any of his other series.


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Today’s Quote:

“Long after the kind word is spoken, the encouragement remains. Long after the good deed is done, the goodness lingers on.

Long after the moment passes, the joy continues. Long after the lesson is learned, wisdom keeps growing.

What you do in this moment brings value not only to this moment. Much of the value you create now can stay with you always.

The truth of who you are, and of what you do, accumulates as time goes on. That’s why staying focused on what’s truly important can bring such spectacular results.

The sooner you make the effort, the more its power can be multiplied. Value continues to build on top of value, so the best thing you can do right now is create some more of it.

Long after this moment is gone, you can be profoundly thankful for the way you lived it. This is your chance to make it count, now and long after.”

— Ralph Marston

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Perhaps one of the most popular verses quoted from scripture is “John 3:16” This verse was made famous in today’s world by Rollen Frederick Stewart , also known as Rock ‘n’ Rollen and Rainbow Man, who was a fixture in American sports culture, best known for wearing a rainbow-colored afro-style wig and  holding up signs reading “John 3:16” at stadium sporting events around the United States and overseas in the 1970s and 1980s. The verse as most of you know is: “For God so loved the world that he gave  his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16

Verse 3:16 is important and meaningful, however the subsequent verses 17 and 18 are just important… perhaps even more meaningful: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17 and “Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:18

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Tomorrow’s is Father’s Day…my dad is gone, and I miss him, but the most important thing he showed me was how to live a respectful and honorable life.

As a father and now a grandfather I’m reminded of a great quote about fathers from Tom Wolfe’s, The Bonfire of the Vanities: “Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.”

Happy Father’s Day!

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God has empowered  mankind with a lot of responsibility…hopefully we can live up to the responsibilities and the assoicated expectations:

“Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.” – Dalai Lama 

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Writing from an animal’s point-of-view is nothing new in literature, nor are descriptions of an animal’s life.  However, I recently read one of the most thought-provoking descriptions of a dog’s life in the book that I am currently reading, Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith: “Not much happens to dogs; they lead their lives around our feet, in the interstices of more complex doings, from which perspective they look up at the busier human world, eager to participate, eager to understand, but forever limited by biology and vagaries of evolution to being small-part players in the drama.  Every so often a particular dog might rise above this limited destiny, might perform some act of loyalty that attracts human recognition and praise.  But for most dogs such saliences are rare, their lives being punctuated by nothing more significant that the discovery of an intriguing smell or the sight of a rabbit or a rat–usually frustratingly inaccessible–or by some minor territorial challenge that requires a bark.  Nothing much, really, but for dogs, their lot, their allocation.” 

 I might add…most of us love them dearly!

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I have often read and also believe that exercise isn’t just good for your body – it’s also good for your soul. If you feel a bit down, and want to get up and get moving, these quotes might help:

“A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.” – Paul Dudley White

“Exercise and application produce order in our affairs, health of body, cheerfulness of mind, and these make us precious to our friends.” – Thomas Jefferson

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