Lum: My addiction: Audible Books
Book reports would be at the bottom of my list of column topics if I kept such a list. I hated writing them at school and that feeling persists to this day, but I can’t resist recommending to my fellow addicts a series of books called, “44 Scotland Street.”
Especially now, when I’ve been trapped at home with a bad back for what seems like forever, the longer an audible book is, the better. Most books run about 6-10 hours but Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” a time-travel novel about an attempt to save JFK from assassination, was 31 hours long. “Alexander Hamilton”—good but less exciting—was 39 hours long.
“44 Scotland Street” is comprised of 10 volumes amounting to the staggering total of 127 hours. Yes!
Written by Alexander McCall Smith of the African lady detective fame, this enjoyable romp of books were written and published for six months a year as a serial in “The Scotsman” newspaper.
What is amazing to me is that the serial ran every weekday. I can (barely) imagine someone writing a chapter once a week, but cannot at all imagine writing a chapter every day. Gads. Since there are 10 books, I’m assuming (dangerous) that McCall Smith has been doing this for 10 years.
Picture trying to juggle 5 or 6 major characters while advancing the story, which must end with a bit of a cliffhanger, while knowing you cannot go back and change anything.
McCall Smith’s characters live in “flats” on Scotland Street and its environs in Edinburgh. Chief among them are Bertie, a 5 year-old prodigy who is forced by his overbearing mother to learn Italian and play the saxophone; an artist and his dog with a gold tooth; 2 lady anthropologists; an art dealer who marries Bertie’s teacher; a steadfast
woman who owns the local eatery/pub and of course many peripheral sidemen and nut cases.
I had drifted away from the lady detective series long ago, but a friend of mine put in a good word for 44 Scotland and I was off and running.
If you liked Maupin’s “Tales of the City,” which ran (weekly) in the San Francisco Chronicle—a series of 9 which I thought petered out at book 4 or 5—you’ll love this. I’m on the 9th of the 10 books and am already worried about the ensuing mourning period.
Stop the presses. I just went online to verify the name of the books’ reader—Robert MacKenzie, who is excellent—and discovered that an 11th book called “The Bertie Project” has just come out. YES! It’s not up on audible books yet, but I’ll put it on their wish list. What a sweet surprise.
There’s a big difference between reading and listening to a book. A lousy reader can ruin the best of books, while a terrific reader can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. As a listener I found the series a rollicking soap opera that I “couldn’t put down” and was just the thing for a very bored and pissed off patient.
My daughters (then 12 and 15) spent a couple of days in Edinburgh (pronounced Edinborough) in the course of a three-week European junket. I remember dark buildings, lashing rains, lots of big hills and never being so cold in my life. It was early May and my hands were so freezing and shaking I couldn’t get my 5-pence into the heater at our B&B.
I did manage to fill my hot water bottle (Who gave us the great advice to take hot water bottles?) and thaw my hands. “44 Scotland Street” showed a funny and tender different Scotland.
Su Lum is a longtime local who is always looking for book recommendations. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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