Whenever I'm so sick I can barely read, I grab one of Alexander McCall Smith's books and take it to bed with me. McCall Smith, who is so successful I doubt very much he cares, might not consider this the most flattering recommendation, but a writer could do a lot worse than write the bookish equivalents of say, a good cup of hot chocolate or a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. For my next bad cold, I've got my eye on The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, the latest in the Sunday Philosophers Club series (my favourite) featuring Isabel Dalhousie, which will be out soon. If I develop a sudden illness before I get my hands on that one, I'll be reading (or listening to) Corduroy Mansions, the serial novel that will be published online at the Telegraph every weekday for the next twenty weeks, starting today.
In a perfect demonstration of his perfect grandfatherly-ness,* McCall Smith is even willing to take plot suggestions from readers:
I am writing the story as it is published, usually keeping about twenty episodes ahead of publication. This means that I shall be very happy to receive suggestions as to the plot, and will play close attention to them, incorporating them if possible. Obviously I shall not be able to use every twist and turn proposed by readers, but I'll certainly be reading everything sent to me and will give it serious consideration.
What will it be about? Well, Corduroy Mansions is a building in London, not dissimilar to 44 Scotland Street. The story is about the lives of the people who live there: William French, a wine merchant, and his feckless son, Eddie; four young women, sharing the flat below; a dog named Freddie de la Hay. Other characters include Oedipus Snark MP, an odious politician; his mother, Berthea Snark; and Marcia Light, a warm-hearted cook. I propose to enjoy myself writing about this little slice of London, and I hope that you will share my enjoyment. There will, of course, be illustrations by that greatest of contemporary British illustrators Iain MacIntosh, who illustrates Scotland Street and the von Igelfeld books.
*I know that's not a word but it should be and I can't think of a real one that means the same thing at this moment. If you can think of one, please leave it in the comments. Maybe I'm already coming down with something...
I have great plans for my time while Luke is in school -- of course I'll try to focus on writing again. But I also intend to get back on the treadmill. And while I'm on the treadmill, I'm going to listen to some open university classes. I still haven't finished Paul Bloom's Introduction to Psychology from Yale. I've got two of his books -- he's fun and the course is a great refresher.
As a former Liberal Arts student, I'm a bit wary about trying to listen to scientific stuff while I'm on the treadmill. The physical exertion already makes my head feel like it's going to explode -- I don't need the mental exertion, too. But Walter Lewin is supposed to be very entertaining in this MIT Classical Mechanics class.
I'm also ambivalent about Death with Yale's Shelly Kagan. Death might not be the best subject to think about while one is on the treadmill -- but then again, maybe it is.
If I get through all that (or can't bear it) this course from Notre Dame might do, a political theory seminar on "the intellectual relationship of Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein, to her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of the first book on women's rights, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman."
I'm still looking for good open university courses on children's literature -- or on literature in general -- if you know of one, will you leave a comment or drop me a line?
Update: Here's a perfect one from Harvard: Helen Vendler on Yeats' poem "Among School Children."
In honour of Mother's Day, here is a lovely audio interview with the up-and-coming writing superstar (and fellow Canadian) Pasha Malla, in which Pasha is interviewed by his hard-hitting and absolutely adorable mother. It's about his first book of short stories, The Withdrawal Method, which is available available now on Chapters.
PASHA'S MOM: I have a question.
PASHA'S MOM: Why is your book called The Withdrawal Method?
PASHA: Oh my god. It's like a pun.
PASHA'S MOM: On?
PASHA: It's about, uh, characters who shut themselves off. But then I thought it would be uh... funny.
PASHA'S MOM: Oh, okay.
PASHA: There's no actual...There's none of that in the book.
PASHA'S MOM: Okay, all right. I'm glad you explained that to me.
PASHA: Well there's more to it than that but I mean, you're making me feel weird.
PASHA'S MOM: How many stories are there in it?
PASHA'S MOM: Oh! Was there a reason you chose thirteen?
PASHA: No. Well, I chose thirteen because I wrote thirty and seventeen of them were bad.
PASHA'S MOM: A baker's dozen?
PASHA: Well, there was another reason, too, but... I don't want to get into it.
PASHA'S MOM: What's the reason, come on, tell me.
PASHA: Come on, you want to get into this?
PASHA'S MOM: I'm curious.
PASHA: Oh god. Uh... a baker's dozen. That's it.
PASHA'S MOM: No no. I'm your mother and you have to tell me!
PASHA: What do you mean!?
PASHA'S MOM: You have to tell me. C'mon. You're looking secretive. It's going to look stupid. That's okay. You can do that. You can look stupid.
The rest of the interview is charming and hilarious and you can listen to it here.