Back in October, I was excited to learn that a book 11 in Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series existed. Finishing book 10 in September had left me feeling melancholy. I’d thought it was the last one. To find out just a few weeks later that an eleventh book existed felt a little like finding out a friend who moved away is coming back to town.
It’s the first proper series for adults I can remember reading. While I’ve read YA and middle grade series, my adult book preferences are almost always stand-alones. I’ve read mystery novels featuring the same lead character, M. C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth. But it’s not a series in an interconnected narrative sense. Some plot points carry over, but each book is self-contained. I’m reading them in order, but it’s not necessary to understanding each book. I can’t say this about the 44 Scotland Street series because it’s so much about the evolving relationships among characters.
The novels are set in Edinburgh and follow a diverse cast as they work and live in and around the city. In the first book, they’re mostly residents of the same building, 44 Scotland Street (hence the title). As the series continues, though, the geographic scope expands. Characters move out of the building or even the city. New characters are introduced. Old relationships evolve, as they do, and new ones develop. There are a few surprises, some hilarious, others heartbreaking. What mostly propels me through the books isn’t the events themselves. It’s the reassuring narrative voice, the wisdom I find in the characters’ meditations on their experiences, and the fascinating peek into every day life in an historic city. Over time, I’ve come to feel deeply connected to these characters and to care very much about what happens to them. This is as true with characters I don’t like as with those I do.
I preordered book 11 a week before the release date (February 7). This was totally unnecessary, of course, since it becomes available for download the day of the release. What, really, is the point of pre-ordering an e-book? It’s not like it’s going to sell out. It was a sentimental decision, like laying out an outfit the night before a class reunion. I couldn’t wait to reunite with these characters again.
Do you prefer to read series or stand-alone books? Do you have a series that you love? Have you noticed a difference to how you relate to characters in a stand-alone book vs. a series?
4 Replies to “Thoughts on reading book 11 in 44 Scotland Street”
This sounds like a really cool concept for a series, and I’m so happy for you that there’s a new one coming out – especially since you didn’t think there would be! And I can totally understand pre-ordering an e-book; it’s like, the day the book is available, BAM – it’s already there, waiting for you. I hope you enjoy it!
I inhaled it and enjoyed it, even though part of me always wonders if maybe I should have tried to pace myself. But…nah. I don’t know if these books would be for everyone because they’re not fast-paced, plot driven exactly. Lots of times it’s characters having conversations about ideas, working through their thoughts about culture, lots of insider references to Edinburgh and Scotland. But I really love them. I love that the books are so specific to their place. It makes it more interesting to read, actually, like visiting a place where you’re conscious of yourself as an outsider and that can be an occasion for reflection.
Sorry – I got so genuinely excited for you that I forgot about your questions at the end, which really got me thinking.
When I was younger, there were so many series I was into. But as I’ve gotten older, not so much. It’s not an intentional thing; for some reason, the books I’ve tended to read for the past, say, decade or so, tend to be stand-alones. Or if they are in a series, it’s a loose thing – like for example, books by authors like David Sedaris (insert heart emoji) and Edward Rutherfurd, whose works are usually very similarly themed from book to book. But I don’t really have a preference for series vs. stand-alones.
Although, coincidentally, the book I’ve just checked out of the library is “Bring Up the Bodies,” the sequel to “Wolf Hall”. I LOVED the latter when I read it this summer and am looking forward to continuing to follow the characters’ stories this time (well, the characters who are still alive, anyway). But that’s really an exception.
On the other hand, what you wrote about relating to characters in series vs stand alone books also gave me pause. It’s true that in many cases, the pleasure of a series is getting to see characters evolve and change, but then again, if a stand-alone book is done well enough, you might feel just as satisfied – maybe even more, depending on the series. The series I do follow would be TV ones, and for example, I feel like despite its complexity and numerous storylines, you probably could fit all of “Breaking Bad” into one (probably kind of massive) novel. Something for me to ponder, yet again – thanks for that!
Wolf Hall – I tried to read that a few years ago and just couldn’t get through it. I don’t even know why because it’s amazingly written. It just wasn’t the right time for me, I guess. You’re making me think it’s time to try it again. #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and all that. 🙂
You’re right, of course. With Homegoing, for example, we’re with each character for such a comparatively short amount of time, but they’re drawn so richly that it doesn’t prevent me feeling them. So how I relate to characters in a series vs. stand-alone isn’t about intensity of feeling. Ah, I have to think about it more!
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