Monday, November 07, 2011

Analyzing Authors

Today I was writing about my addiction to tea, and in researching I ran across the best analysis ever of tea, by our old friend Alexander McCall Smith of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series.

Here it is.

Tea, for me, is one of the great subjects. It is a romantic trade, it does not pollute excessively, it has all sorts of health benefits, it calms and wakes you up at the same time. It promotes conversation. You can give it to the vicar when he calls – if vicars still call – and you can give it to the builders when they come to knock down your wall. Builders still take sugar, but then I'm sure they need it.

Tea can be drunk by everyone. Pilots high in the sky drink tea as they fly across oceans. Captains on the bridge of the humblest vessel drink it as they plough slowly through the waves. Submariners drink it as they sail under those very waves. A person who is troubled in heart can drink tea and for a moment feel happier about life. A person who is happy with his lot can drink it and perhaps think about those who are not quite so happy. Members of Parliament may drink it – at our expense – and not feel too guilty. Policemen drink it – as the Ahlbergs point out in the story of the cops of London town – and so do robbers. I have seen a horse who loved to drink it from a cup. Dogs like it, too.

I must now go and put the kettle on.

He is the first person I've ever run across who acknowledges the horror of mixing the flavors of tea and coffee, and of how American motels err in this regard.

Certainly you will find tea (in the form of tea bags) in your room, but how do you make it? The answer is that they expect you to make it in the coffee maker.

Now the problem with that is that if there are two flavours in this world that cannot – in any circumstances – be combined, it is tea and coffee. To make tea in a container that has been tainted with coffee is to ensure that the resultant tea is undrinkable. The flavour of coffee lingers in a vessel long after the last cup was brewed, and it is impossible to use that vessel for tea-making no matter how much it is washed. Try it. Put coffee in a vacuum flask and then, after washing it out thoroughly, try to use it for tea.

He just GETS the charm of tea. Read it if you like tea also.

Meanwhile we move on to another favorite author of mine--Lucy Maud Montgomery. I have been over-indulging in her stories ever since Emily found me a new and very inexpensive Jetbook (Kindle knockoff) at the bent-n-dent grocery store where she works and Matt helped me download half a dozen free collections of LMM's short stories.

I've also been analyzing her stories to figure out their structure, hoping to emulate their charm someday.

And I've come across some very interesting things that keep coming up which I may or may not emulate.
1. A first sentence that plunges you right into the story. "I had two schools offered me that summer; one at Rocky Valley and one at Bayside." "At sunset the schoolmaster went upstairs to write a letter to her." "Miss Hannah was cutting asters in her garden."

2. A recurring theme of families fragmented by death, and of children being raised by people other than their parents. With all the halfs and steps it reminds me of children today, but the sequence was always marriage-death-remarriage rather than marriage-divorce-shacking up etc.

3. Girls at boarding school having fun. That happened a lot back then.

4. Women who got to stay home and keep house were to be envied. Women who had to be employed were to be pitied. The former got married, or were adopted by rich relatives. The latter were thin, haggard old maids who didn't have any family and had to live in bare boarding houses and either teach school or work in department stores or be maids for wealthy people.

5. Bachelor farmers were quite common, and quite self-sufficient. They usually had housekeepers, grim old aunts who didn't darn the socks and didn't clean corners.

6. Women farmers were surprisingly common too. Most of them were the efficient-manager type who got along just fine with a hired man and a French-Canadian boy to run errands. The exception was the little widow with two little boys whose pigs kept getting into the bachelor farmer's garden, and at first he got all upset but then he fell in love with the widow and married her, and then she was to be envied because she was well taken care of and got to stay home and keep house and do all the cooking she wanted without worrying about the pigs.

7. Unrequited love was a good and noble thing, and if you wrote secret love letters for 20 years and kept them in a box up in your room because you could never marry because you were from two different classes, your love was still a good and noble thing, and somehow you kept up the energy of this high and noble true love and didn't get tired of it after 20 years even if you never talked to each other.

8. Young men who weren't accepted at home or who wanted a new start always went out West, usually to Manitoba. Many came home rich after 20 years away. This sheds an interesting light on Paul's great-great-grandpa Christian Smucker who we are told was the black sheep of the family in Ohio and came out to Oregon many years ago, and who never had much to do with the Ohio Smuckers ever again. So evidently he never went back and snuck down a moonlit road and found his former love out wandering around at night, still unmarried and still thinking about him.

9. Family members kept losing contact with each other and finding each other when a random person did something noble. Like, a man would die leaving a wife and child, and eventually the wife would remarry when the child was in his teens, and they'd have another child, but then the wife would die also, and the younger child would live with another family and the teenager would go out West, and they would totally lose contact. Years later they would meet by accident when the older guy would go to a friend's house for Thanksgiving, and meanwhile the friend's younger sister would after a sleepless night of tormented conscience decide to invite the shy girl in the bare boarding house home for Thanksgiving, and the two guests would take one look at each other and realize they were long-separated half-siblings. And then the brother would take his half sister home with him and she was so lucky that she had a home she could be the mistress of and could leave the awful boarding house and her awful job as a teacher.

10. Abrupt endings. I'd say 75% of LMM's endings are just WHAM. Done. That's it. Before you're quite ready.

Like this.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!! Look at that spider!!!
Ben: WHOA! That thing's got like a cubic centimeter behind!


  1. Just so you know, oh tea folks, that tea tainted coffee is undrinkable, as well. Undrinkable in this case being a mild term. I thought of more succinct words but decided to stick to the polite form of expressing dislike.
    All those nice things the author said about what tea does for us? Same is true for coffee. Just so you know.

  2. Arla's comment is so right.

  3. I think I saw that same spider.

    I'd really hate to think there's more than one! (((shudder)))

  4. Reminds me of many years ago, when I ran water through my coffeemaker to make tea in the coffeepot for my brother and my sister-in-law. The tea was horrible! My brave SIL said, "It's not TOO bad." Upon investigation, I learned that I had not emptied the last coffee grounds before I made the tea. BOY, talk about "Live and LEARN"! -PC in VA

  5. So glad to meet another LMM fan! My favorite will always be Anne of Green Gables, but the Story Girl is a pretty close second. The scrapes and pinches those crazy children got themselves into via their awful imaginations makes me laugh every time. And I'm not a laughy-as-I-read kind of gal either.
    You should tell us more about your favorite authors. I am curently trying to do some book recs on my blog and I always like new ideas.

  6. Alexander McCall Smith is just The Best! I don't think I like any set of books as much as his #1 Ladies Detective Agency series. And now I am ready to read again some Montgomery. My favorite is The Blue Castle. I really like your concise points on Montgomery's style. So, so true. And so loveable. I've always been quite proud that she was a Canadian. :) Have you ever read Philip Gulley's Home to Harmony series? They are a fun read on the nature of humans in general and church folks in particular.

  7. I love the "Anne of Green Gables" series. Since this was the case I read others of LMM's books. There is one, I think they were the Emily series, not sure, but there was so much superstition in it that I could not finish it. Elswyth Thane's books had it in the "Williamsburg" Series,especially the early ones. I do not know if this mindset was common in that era of time in which it was written, but it seems like it. Sandra

  8. I loved your comments on LM Montgomery. I read Anne and the rest starting with finding them in my public School library over 50 years ago. I just loved them and they are almost part of me. I believe I've read them all but maybe there are more books printed after her death that I haven't caught up with. I'm not a writer but sometimes I encounter a person or see a place that I would love to incorporate into a book if I had half of Lucy Maud's skill.

  9. Oh and I'm looking forward to your fiction book someday and expect to find some of Lucy's Maud's style. I've pondered over her style and wonder if it's not her great insight into who people are. I sort of like the kitchen maids or household help who "run" the family and are always up to the latest gossip or scandals!

    Mary Horst (same anonymous as above)

  10. Arla--I was trying to think of how tea and coffee are different, besides the taste not mingling. Coffee seems more like fuel chugged down in the middle of our busyness. Tea is more come apart and rest and sip. At least for me.
    PC--yes, very "eww." Something similar happened to me when I ordered tea at Wendy's once. Terrible.

  11. Vicki--I always love to meet another LMM fan.
    Luci--No, I haven't read those books but I'm going to look them up.
    Sandra--Yes, the Emily series wandered off into some almost creepy stuff. They just seemed darker all over than the Anne books.
    Mary--I think you're right about LMM's insight into who people are and that's why her books are so interesting.

  12. any Anne reader must be a kindred spirit.......never heard of AMS can I find him # library? Pauline Martin