November 20th, 2004

Reading Group

I'm moderating a book club at the town library. The first book we read was _This Day_ a collection of day diary entries from October 15, 2002. A lot of us did not finish reading it and it didn't matter, because it had no impact on the discussion. Nice group of women, interesting book.

December's book, unfortunately, is McCall Smith's _The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency_, which I just finished reading. It has some of the same elements I find enjoyable in Tony Hillerman (simple prose style, stylized, slow forms of socializing), but I found it troubling. Having the kid taken by witch doctors, fine, but then having barsawa beating the kid to keep him working strikes me as a racist slam at the bushmen. The paean to industrialization is a bit ironic, in view of what has happened in Gaborone in the last decade or so. And while Ramotswe appears to be a bit of a feminist, I don't think she really is. I think she's a man's safe idea of feminism: a woman who (having inherited money of her own, having been married once and the man gone, who employs two women, one at home and one at her business) is largely indistinguishable from a man. Even her close friends are men. She nominally has women friends (borrows that nursing outfit), but we don't see any real evidence of closeness or affection with them. Indeed, some of her interactions with women are openly hostile (whenever she encounters a woman in a bar). Others are condescending. And she has no idea why the woman who hired her to find out if her husband was cheating would be so angry that Ramotswe took him home herself.

In short, a creepy disappointment. I did some looking around on the web for indications that anyone else spotted the same problems, and found some indication. I figure the fact that McCall Smith slammed Irvine Welsh, and Laura Bush loves these books are probably telling bits of information.