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The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith
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The Importance of Being Seven

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The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith
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Aug 21, 2012 | ISBN 9780307739360

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    Aug 21, 2012 | ISBN 9780307739360

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“Fans of the series (which McCall Smith conducts in daily installments in The Scotsman before book publication) will rejoice at hearing again some of the familiar treads on the fashionable tenement’s stairs. . . .  By following an assemblage of characters on and near 44 Scotland Street, McCall Smith manages sidesplitting send-ups of contemporary pretentiousness and wry and often poignant commentary on the roles of chance, cruelty, and fate in our lives. . . . Delightful.”
     —Booklist (starred review)
“Life in Scotland Street is a more pleasant, leisurely business than it is for most of the rest of us. . . . There’s plenty of time for idle thoughts, occasional shafts of wit and gentle dissections of absurdity—sometimes all at the same time.” —The Scotsman
“It is that all-prevailing pleasantness, the unfaltering optimism and the gentle pace of life that holds the key to McCall Smith’s success.” —Independent Magazine

“Sweet. . . . Graceful. . . . Wonderful. . . . Gentle but powerfully addicting fiction.”—Entertainment Weekly
“[McCall Smith] is a pro, and he delivers sharp observation, gentle satire . . . as well as the expected romantic complications. . . . [Readers will] relish McCall Smith’s depiction of this place . . . and enjoy his tolerant, good-humored company.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Alexander McCall Smith . . . proves himself a wry but gentle chronicler of humanity and its foibles.” —The Miami Herald
“McCall Smith’s plots offer wit, charm and intrigue in equal doses.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Just about perfect. . . . Contains a healthy helping of McCall Smith’s patented charm.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“McCall Smith’s assessments of fellow humans are piercing and profound. . . . [His] depictions of Edinburgh are vivid and seamless.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Entertaining and witty. . . . A sly send-up of society in Edinburgh.” —Orlando Sentinel

“McCall Smith, a fine writer, paints his hometown of Edinburgh as indelibly as he captures the sunniness of Africa. We can almost feel the mists as we tread the cobblestones.” —The Dallas Morning News

“Alexander McCall Smith is the most genial of writers and the most gentle of satirists. . . . [The] characters are great fun . . . [and] McCall Smith treats all of them with affection.” —Rocky Mountain News
“Irresistible. . . . Smith has rendered another winner, packed with the charming characters, piercing perceptions and shrewd yet generous humor that have become his cachet.”
Chicago Sun-Times

Author Essay

Preface to The Importance of Being Seven

I started writing the 44 Scotland Street series without any idea that it would turn into something of a saga. Now here we are six volumes later, returning to the world of that motley collection of people who live in the Edinburgh New Town and whose lives I have recorded in daily episodes in the Scotsman newspaper. I am very pleased to be back amongst these characters, and do not intend this to be my last visit to them. Domenica Macdonald, Angus Lordie, and all the others have somehow become part of my world, just as I believe they have become part of the world of quite a number of readers in many countries. That, incidentally, gives me the greatest possible pleasure—the knowledge that we are all linked by our friendship with a group of fictional people. What a pleasant club of which to be a member!

I am often asked at events whether I have a favourite fictional character. I find that a difficult question to answer, but it is certainly the case that Bertie, the six-year-old boy in these novels, is somebody for whom I have particular affection. It will not have escaped the attention of readers that Bertie started as a five-year-old five volumes ago and has not really progressed very far. In fact, Bertie is still awaiting his seventh birthday, although it does not actually happen in this book. Why has time stood still for Bertie? The main reason for this, I think, is that Bertie at six is absolutely perfect, and I have no wish for him to grow up. He is at that wonderful stage where he understands the world, but not quite; when his mother is still in complete control of his life; when he has yet to learn how to lie and dissemble, or indeed to be cruel, in the way in which adults seem to find so easy. His world is an attractive one—a sort of Eden—from which we know we are excluded by the loss of our own innocence.

I have lost count of the number of times I have met people on my book tours who say to me that Bertie is a special character for them. This happens throughout the world. Earlier this year I was McCain India, at the Jaipur Literary Festival, and I met numerous Bertie fans there. The same was true in Australia, Singapore, Dubai and Hong Kong—places that I went to after my Indian trip. The question I was asked most frequently in each of these places was the same: when will things get better for Bertie? And in each of these places there was a great groundswell of support for this poor little boy, egging him on, wishing him freedom from the regime of improvement planned for him by his mother, Irene, and siding with him against the dreadful Olive and the appalling Tofu. I wish I could have said that things were soon to change, but, alas, that would have been untruthful. Bertie’s situation is as difficult as ever; his is a hearth from which freedom seems for ever excluded. And that, alas, is true for so many of us. How many of us are really free of our past, of the things we have to do that we do not want to do, of the furniture of our life that is never really in quite the right place? Perhaps that is why Bertie is so popular. He reminds us of a yearning that many of us instinctively recognize within ourselves: the yearning to be seven—really seven.

I have dedicated this book to one of our greatest broadcasters, James Naughtie. James is a central pillar of the national conversation that we have with each other in Britain. I can imagine him engaging with any of the characters in this book—interviewing Angus Lordie, perhaps, on some artistic project, talking to Domenica Macdonald about her latest anthropological essay, or simply chatting to Big Lou about Arbroath and her years in Aberdeen. But he could also talk to Bertie, I think, and Bertie would be comforted by the conversation. James would make Bertie feel seven, even if he is still six, and that, I think, is a great art. Thank you, James, for everything you have done for me, for the cause of rational debate, and for the millions of people to whom you have brought enlightenment, amusement, and comfort.

Alexander McCall Smith
Edinburgh, 2010

Excerpted from The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith Copyright © 2012 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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