Literary Hub

Alexander McCall Smith: In Praise of W.H. Auden

Alexander McCall Smith, best known for the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, sees his latest book, My Italian Bulldozer, hit American shelves today.

What was the first book you fell in love with?
When I was a very young boy I had a book called Ginger’s Adventures. It was all about a dog that fled from a life of pampered luxury to go and live on a farm. I loved it when the dog made it to the country. I recently found a copy of this book and was delighted to discover that I remembered virtually every word of it.

Name a classic you feel guilty about never having read?
I must read Moby Dick. I may have started it when I was much younger—I can’t remember. Like almost everyone, I can quote the first line.

What’s the book you reread the most and why?
I often turn to W.H. Auden’s Collected Shorter Poems. Auden was a magnificent poet, a wise and humane voice. I think he was the finest poet in the English language for many centuries.

Is there a book you wish you had written and why? 
I rather wish that I had written Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey series. There are wonderful maritime historical novels, full of information about ideas of science and the world at the time. They are also a beautiful depiction of friendship.

Originally published in Literary Hub.

Related Interests

More from Literary Hub

Literary Hub7 min read
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Was a Brave Writer, and Would Have Supported Student Protest
When I first heard about the shooting, I felt only horror, the same as everyone else. But my second thought was regret that the bloodshed of February 14 in Parkland, Florida had tied the name Marjory Stoneman Douglas to the violent deaths of teenager
Literary Hub5 min read
Why Does Da Vinci’s Jesus Look So. . . Stoned?
Let’s not imagine (too vividly) Leonardo sitting back with a bowl of the local cannabis. Such speculations are clearly dangerous—not just to the historical record, but to me personally were I to ever attend a conference of professional historians (ro
Literary Hub5 min read
10 Trailblazing Environmental Books for Earth Day
Earth Day began in 1970 and is now celebrated in more than 150 countries. It’s intended to raise awareness about the environmental issues facing the world—something that writers have been doing for a long time. A History of British Birds by Thomas Be