This is a great time of the year to make progress with that stack of unread books. One of my daughter’s gifts was What W.H. Auden Can Do For You by Alexander McCall Smith, famous for rather different books. The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a hugely successful series of 15 novels; the first published in 1999. In 2004, McCall Smith began his Sunday Philosophy Club series, the Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries (she references Auden) and in 2005 launched 44 Scotland Street.
McCall Smith’s phenomenal publishing success with over 20 million copies sold is actually his second career. Rhodesian-born, he is now the Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at Edinburgh University, an internationally renowned expert on bio-ethics and for many years chair of the Ethics Committee of the British Medical Journal. He, his physician wife and daughters live in Edinburgh near JK Rowling, Ian Rankin and Kate Atkinson. With scores of million copies sold between them you might think there’s something in the water but really they share a particularly Scottish love of words.
In his delightful Auden book, McCall Smith recounts a speaking engagement in a Perthshire village public library built in the 17th century by a landowner wanting to share his intellectual tastes with the locals. He dates this love of books to the Scottish Reformation (c.1560)when it was resolved to establish a school in every parish. ‘Books were the instruments of truth’; they still are.
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