Community Read takes on McCall Smith book

Over 300 tickets have been snapped up so far for Alpena County Library’s Authors in the Fall appearance of international best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith.

“People seem to be responding really well,” said Alpena County Library Director Eric Magness-Eubank. “People are really fond of his books, and he’s such an interesting character. He is very entertaining to be around.”

Even though McCall Smith isn’t scheduled to speak in Alpena until Nov. 10, the library already has fielded many calls about his upcoming visit from around the state and beyond.

“We’ve had calls from out of state,” Magness-Eubank said. “We’ve heard from people from Wisconsin and Illinois who have no connection to Alpena. They just want to hear him speak. That’s always fun. And we have had an entire book club from Cadillac make plans to come.”

In preparation for the author’s appearance, the library once again is inviting everyone to participate in a Community Read of one of McCall Smith’s best-known books, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.” Local book clubs, other community organizations and individuals are encouraged to pick up a copy of the book, read it, and then discuss it or attend some of the other related events planned around the Community Read, including a film series and a lecture on African literature.

“The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” is the first book in a 13-book series and has been translated into 45 languages and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

“He’s written over 50 books, so there were a lot to choose from,” Magness-Eubank said of making the selection for the Community Read. “‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ far and away is his best known. It is a good introduction to the themes he weaves in and out of his books.”

McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and was educated there and in Scotland. He became a law professor in Scotland, and it was in this role that he first returned to Africa to work in Botswana, where he helped to set up a new law school at the University of Botswana.

For many years he was a professor of law at the University of Edinburgh, and has been a visiting professor at a number of other universities elsewhere, including ones in Italy and the United States.

In addition to his university work, McCall Smith was for four years the vice chairman of the Human Genetics Commission in the United Kingdom, the chairman of the British Medical Journal Ethics Committee, and a member of the International Bioethics Commission of UNESCO.

Magness-Eubank said the author has a great mind and wrestles with weighty issues though he does so in a way accessible to everyday people and everyday life. Those issues often find their way into his many works of fiction, including “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”

“There is a real strong and moral content in what he does, but he does it very gently and humorously so you don’t realize these great moral themes are woven in because you are too busy laughing at his humor,” Magness-Eubank said.

Though the book that is the subject of this year’s Community Read may sound like a mystery novel, Magness-Eubank said it is not in the strictest sense. Instead, it centers around a strong, kind-hearted female protagonist who just happens to be a detective.

In book, Mma. Precious Ramotswe decides to go against any conventional notion of what an unmarried woman should do when she spends the money she got from selling her late father’s cattle to set up a detective agency in Botswana and become her country’s first female detective. She solves crimes through an innate, self-possessed wisdom that often relies on an understanding of human nature.

McCall Smith’s November presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Alpena High School Auditorium to accommodate more people. The topic of his talk is “The Importance of the Very Little Things in Life.”

“Two friends sharing a cup of bush tea in his novels is just as important as figuring out who a murderer is,” Magness-Eubank said of the topic. “And the fact that his books are so lighthearted at an age when everything else seems so overwhelming or depressing is something that at the heart is very good, and something that people crave and want.”

Tickets to the Nov. 10 talk are $10 and available at the library or through the library’s website, For more information, contact the library at 356-6188.