Thursday, November 17, 2011

"44 Scotland Street" and "The Great Divorce" -- My Recent Reads!

A little fact about the St Andrews Aquarium: Between the months of November and April, few people brave the cold, wind, and rain and make it to The Scores, to peer at some cute clown fish and very scary 2 foot Black Tip Reef Sharks. Therefore, I am paid for 8 hours a day to greet the few guests who do find the Meerkat's irresistibly cute and to READ.

"44 Scotland Street"
Recently, I've found Alexander McCall Smith's delightful series "44 Scotland Street." Not only do the short chapters and goofy characters entice me, the books offers an honest perspective of the social environment of an upscale neighbourhood in Edinburgh. The first book in the series introduces a group of otherwise unrelated characters who all live in flats on 44 Scotland Street. From an extreme feminist woman Irene and he poor son, Bertie, to an anthropologist Domenica, to awkward art-seller,  Matthew, and old-fashioned artist Angus Lordie and his faithful canine, Cyrill, I can't help but laugh out loud. Garrick even grew irritated at my outbursts saying, "I can't wait for you to be done with that book!" Lucky him, I can read at work now!

Smith's ability to not only poke fun at the Scottish culture but to also highlight the positive aspects has given me an appreciation and understanding of my new surroundings. Because of the multi-book series, I will highlight a few of my favorite moments:

Bertie is an extremely intelligent 6-year-old. He has an overtly feminist mother, Irene and a defeated father, Stuart. Irene forces him to take Italian, Yoga, and to see psychotherapist, Dr. Fairburn. Bertie notices that his mummie chats with Dr. Fairburn for the first 45 minutes of every one-hour session. She raves about his academic acumen and wonderful personality often.  Ulysses is Bertie's baby brother, and one day during a session, Bertie blurts out that Ulysses sure does look a lot like Dr. Fairburn. Irene, fuming, forbids Bertie to ever mention this again or she'll hit him.

Matthew has never had a girlfriend. He owns an art studio and inherits wealth from his father. He spends his money on silly items, such as a distressed oatmeal sweater and burgundy trousers. Each morning, Matthew meets friend Angus Lordie and his dog Cyrill at Big Lou's coffee shop. Cyrill has long had a deep affection for Matthew's ankles. Upon seeing his ankles under the table at the coffee shop, Cyrill can no longer resist temptation and sinks his teeth into them. Cyrill's moment of divine pleasure is then shattered by his soon-coming punishment.

In all, the "44 Scotland Street" series is perfect for an easy-going, coffee shop read.

"The Great Divorce"
Re-reading is a wonderful way to understand a piece of literature. I read "The Great Divorce" during my junior year of college in my Advanced Expository Writing class with Professor Julia Young. I remember sitting in the brown leather chair in the D.V. Hurst Library, eyes glued to C.S. Lewis' masterpiece. Today was no different.

As mentioned in his preface, Lewis' goal is to provoke thought and contemplation of the after-life. I truly appreciate his style of conveying a sometimes difficult concept. He captures common hindrances in loving God and experiencing Heaven.

Upon arriving in Heaven, all of the humans turn to shadows or "ghosts" and the new environment is challenging. Unicorns run freely, the strong grass pokes the bottom of their feet, the river washes them away. Basically, they are living in an amazingly big and strong place and unable to thrive.

Meet the Bright People. These are humans who have chooses to live with God. They crush grass underneath their feet and swim in the sparkling river. They are hands taller than the ghosts, and radiate light.

A small, fat ghost meets a former colleague, in the new form of a Bright Person. They chat about their previous work in academia. The ghost, although interested in heaven,  is too concerned with presenting his paper to his small theological community he's formed and debating particulars of the resurrection. Ultimately, he rides the bus back to hell, back to his writing.

A mother arrives in heaven. She lost her son far too young, and is here to see him. Her brother, now a Bright Person, greets her excitedly. She demands to see her son. Her brother tells her she can see him soon, but first she must choose God. She asks her brother what kind of a God would come in between the love of a mother and son?  She has lived her life in the past, and as a result neglected her husband and other children. Her brother tells her she needs to love God more than her son, and she dismisses this idea, boarding the bus back to hell.

"The Great Divorce," although short in length, is dense. It's audience is not narrow, and has something for everyone.

Stay tuned for more of my recent reads!

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