Alexander McCall Smith

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Alexander McCall Smith in 2007

Alexander McCall Smith (born August 24, 1948) is a novelist. He was born in Rhodesia and worked in Botswana as a scholar of medical law before moving to the University of Edinburgh. He has become well-known as the author of several popular literary works including the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the 44 Scotland Street series, the Sunday Philosophy Club series, and the Von Igelfeld series.



The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series

  • What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those, of course.
    • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, chapter 1.
  • Everything you wanted to know about a person was written in the face, she believed. It’s not that she believed that the shape of the head was what counted – even if there were many who still clung to that belief; it was more a question of taking care to scrutinise the lines and the general look. And the eyes, of course; they were very important. The eyes allowed you to see right into a person, to penetrate their very essence, and that was why people with something to hide wore sunglasses indoors. They were the ones you had to watch very carefully.
    • The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, chapter 1.
  • The maid glanced at her employer. "Oh, you have heard of me," she said. "I am glad that he speaks of me. I would not like to think that nobody speaks of me." "No," said Mma Ramotswe. "It is better to be spoken of than not to be spoken of. Except sometimes, that is."
    • Tears of the Giraffe, chapter 1.
  • It is not enough just to identify a problem; there are plenty of people who were very skilled at pointing out what was wrong with the world, but they were not always so adept at working out how these things could be righted.
    • Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, chapter 1.
  • The thought of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni nursing secret, unfulfilled ambitions saddened Mma Ramotswe, as did the thought of people wanting something very much indeed and not getting the thing they yearned for. When we dismiss or deny the hopes of others, she thought, we forget that they, like us, have only one chance in this life.
    • Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, chapter 11.
  • Late people talk to us, she thought; they talk to us, but most of the time we are not listening because we are so busy with what we are doing here and now and there are so many problems to be dealt with. But then, when we stop for a moment and catch our breath, we might just hear the voices of the late people who love us, and they are whispering to us, quietly, like the wind that moves across the dry grass; and we know that it is them, although we also know that it cannot be them, for they are late. And so we try hard to hear, just to be sure, and their voices fade away and there is nothing once again.
    • How to Raise an Elephant, chapter 2.

The Sunday Philosophy Club series

  • The sentiment sounded trite, but then didn’t most good sentiments sound trite? It was hard to make goodness – and good people – sound interesting. Yet the good were worthy of note, of course, because they battled and that battle was a great story, whereas the evil were evil because of moral laziness, or weakness, and that was ultimately a dull and uninteresting affair.
    • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, chapter 3.
  • When we love others, we naturally want to talk about them, we want to show them off, like emotional trophies. We invest them with a power to do to others what they do to us; a vain hope, as the lovers of others are rarely of much interest to us. But we listen in patience, as friends must, and as Isabel now did, refraining from comment, other than to encourage the release of the story and the attendant confession of human frailty and hope.
    • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, chapter 5.
  • Each of us is born into our own mysteries…but the mystery of another might just take us in and embrace us. And then what a sense of homecoming, of belonging!
    • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, chapter 15.
  • We think the world is ours forever, but we are little more than squatters.
    • The Careful Use of Compliments, chapter 1.
  • And that, in a way, was the burden of being a philosopher: one knew what one had to do, but it was so often the opposite of what one really wanted to do.
    • The Careful Use of Compliments, chapter 2.
  • ’They are a very great boon to mankind, dentists,’ said Isabel. ‘And I’m not sure that we are grateful enough to them. I’m not sure that we even bother to thank them.’ She paused. Were there any statues of dentists? She thought not. And yet there should be.
    • The Careful Use of Compliments, chapter 8.
  • Our minds can come up with the most entertaining possibilities, if we let them. But most of the time, we keep them under far too close a check.
    • The Careful Use of Compliments, chapter 15.
  • People often don't appreciate how complex happiness may be. They think that happy people are shallow, which can be so wrong. It's actually far easier to be unhappy than it is to be happy. It requires more effort, more understanding, more character to be consistently happy.
    • The Sweet Remnants of Summer, chapter 4.

The 44 Scotland Street series

  • Pat looked up at the cornice. "I’m on a gap year," she said, and added, because truth required it after all: "It’s my second gap year, actually." Bruce stared at her, and then burst out laughing. "Your second gap year?" Pat nodded. She felt miserable. Everybody said that. Everybody said that because they had no idea of what had happened. "My first one was a disaster," she said. "So I started again."
    • 44 Scotland Street, chapter 1.
  • The woman shook her head. "Not easy," she said. "I believe that we have much less free will than we think. Quite frankly, we delude ourselves if we think that we are completely free. We aren’t. And that means if dear Bruce must have rather a lot of girlfriends, then there’s not very much he can do about it." Pat said nothing. Bruce had said nothing about the neighbours, and perhaps this was the reason.
    • 44 Scotland Street, chapter 2.
  • These tests are designed to exclude others from the discourse - just as the word discourse is itself designed to do. These words are intended to say to people: this is a group thing. If you don't understand what we're talking about, you're not a member of the group. So, if you call this place the Canny Man's it shows that you belong, that you know what's what in Edinburgh. And that, you know, is what everybody wants, underneath. We want to belong.
    • Espresso Tales, chapter 1.
  • It was true, of course, there was an abnormal level of narcissism in our society, but it did not do, he told himself, to spend too much time going on about it. Society changed. Narcissism was about love, ultimately, even if only love of self. And that was better than hate.... Did it matter if young men thought of fashion and hair gel when, not all that many years ago, their thoughts tended to turn to war and flags and the grim partisanship of the football terrace?
    • Espresso Tales, chapter 3.
  • It's like people inviting you to come along to a church service or an amateur orchestra. They're hoping that you'll join. People are recruiters at heart, you know. It makes them feel more comfortable to see the ranks of their particular enthusiasm swelling.
    • Espresso Tales, chapter 59.
  • It would be wonderful to have a guru; it would be like having a social worker or a personal trainer, not that people who had either of these necessarily appreciated the advice they received.
    • Love Over Scotland, chapter 6.
  • The people with the strong, brave exteriors are just as weak and vulnerable as the rest of us. And of course they never admit to their childish practices, their moments of weakness or absurdity, and then the rest of us think that’s how it should be.
    • Love Over Scotland, chapter 17.
  • One might expect bad behaviour from existentialists – indeed that was what existentialism was all about, was it not? – but to find this happening on one’s own doorstep was a shock.
    • Love Over Scotland, chapter 50.
  • And how we become like our parents! How their scorned advice – based, we felt in our superiority, on prejudices and muddled folk wisdom – how their opinions are subsequently borne out by our own discoveries and sense of the world, one after one. And as this happens, we realise with increasing horror that proposition which we would never have entertained before: our mothers were right!
    • Love Over Scotland, chapter 68.
  • But we make such mistakes all the time, all through our lives. Wisdom, I suppose, is seeing this and acting upon it before it is too late. But it is often too late, isn’t it? – and those things that we should have said are unsaid, and remain unsaid for ever.
    • Love Over Scotland, chapter 96.
  • Things can end badly, as they sometimes do in life. But if they do, then we know that something is wrong, just as we know it when a piece of music doesn’t resolve itself properly at the end. We know that. We just do. And so we prefer harmony.
    • Love Over Scotland, chapter 102.
  • It’s very important to be able to accept things, you know. Gracious acceptance is an art – an art which most of never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving.
    • Love Over Scotland, chapter 112.
  • Old friends, like old shoes, are comfortable. But old shoes, unlike old friends, tend not to be supportive: it is easier to stumble and sprain an ankle while wearing a pair of old shoes than it is in new shoes, with their less yielding leather.
    • The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, chapter 8.
  • Any extreme political creed brought only darkness in the long run; it lit up nothing. The best politics were those of caution, tolerance and moderation, Angus maintained, but such politics were, alas, also very dull, and certainly moved nobody to poetry.
    • The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, chapter 30.
  • Every small wrong, every minor act of cruelty, every act of petty bullying was symbolic of a greater wrong. And if we ignored these small things, then did it not blunt our outrage over the larger wrongs?
    • The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, chapter 48.
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