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Publisher's Summary

When facing a moral dilemma, Isabel Dalhousie--Edinburgh philosopher, amateur detective, and title character of a series of novels by best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith - often refers to the great twentieth-century poet W. H. Auden. This is no accident: McCall Smith has long been fascinated by Auden. Indeed, the novelist, best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, calls the poet not only the greatest literary discovery of his life but also the best of guides on how to live.
In this book, McCall Smith has written a charming personal account about what Auden has done for him--and what he just might do for you.Part self-portrait, part literary appreciation, the book tells how McCall Smith first came across the poet's work in the 1970s, while teaching law in Belfast, a violently divided city where Auden's "September 1, 1939," a poem about the outbreak of World War II, strongly resonated.
McCall Smith goes on to reveal how his life has related to and been inspired by other Auden poems ever since. For example, he describes how he has found an invaluable reflection on life's transience in "As I Walked Out One Evening," while "The More Loving One" has provided an instructive meditation on unrequited love.
McCall Smith shows how Auden can speak to us throughout life, suggesting how, despite difficulties and change, we can celebrate understanding, acceptance, and love for others.
An enchanting story about how art can help us live, this book will appeal to McCall Smith's fans and anyone curious about Auden.
©2013 Alexander McCall Smith (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Rich S. on 12-09-13

On the Power of Poetry, Mostly Auden's

This audio book makes you feel as if you were spending a snowy evening in Scotland in the home of a popular scholar-author, who is discussing his favorite poet and how poetry changed his life.

Alexander McCall Smith, famous as an author of mystery novels, acknowledges that W.H. Auden (1907-1973) is probably best known to the present generation for "Funeral Blues," the poem recited in the popular film "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

But McCall Smith wants us to come to know Auden as a spiritual poet, who at the outbreak of World War II wrote these lines for a refugee friend:

We fall down in the dance, we make
The old ridiculous mistake,
But always there are such as you
Forgiving, helping what we do.

If McCall Smith's love for Auden resonates with today's readers, the next step is to explore Auden's poems and find their own meanings in the timeless verses.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Book Maven on 04-12-15

Enlightening personal story of a poet's effect

The narrator was good but for some reason I kept waiting to hear a jolly, uplifting Scottish brogue as with the novels. But this did not detract from the telling. I truly enjoyed getting to know W H Auden through McCall Smith's eyes (ears?)

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By W. Stokeley on 01-12-18


This was a deeply personal account of what WH Auden did for Alexander McCall Smith and I suspect “what WH Auden did for me” would have been a better title, but would be less likely to sell books. I’m also pleased he tacitly credits plagiarising Alain de Botton’s ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’ for the title as it spares me of accusing him of having done so.

This book is excellent. I’m fairly new to Auden and have come to him in my early 30s. It was great to get a perspective on him from another person and Smith (who I’ve never heard of before I bought this book on a whim) is so steeped in Auden it’s impossible not to be impressed, and a little humbled, by his level of fan-boy-ism.

On the way you will learn a lot about the poet and some of the impact he has left on the world.

Some of the book engages in, (although the author tries to restrain himself I suspect) braggadocio about his works, how he has met certain scholars and how he has established himself within an (albeit niche) literary elite. There was also an unhelpful diatribe on the impact of religion to the world in general which I suspect says more about what I believe is the author’s evident Christianity than a reasonable treatment of Auden needs. He correlates a decline in global sense of ‘community’ with the decrease in Christian values, and mourns it. He also seems a bit of a technophobe and nostalgic in the same way we think a lot of cantankerous late Middle Aged people are.

That said one cannot fail to be impressed by the depths of the knowledge of the subject matter nor the impact Auden has made on Smith, and indeed can do for you.

My main criticism is it could have done with quoting some more of the poems in full, instead of the tidbits we were given. It could be argued that this encourages you to go read them for yourself, or that longtime Auden fans would find it tedious to have whole poems in here. Coming to it from a novice perspective however I would have appreciated a little more.

A final note about the performance. On hearing neenan’s voice I thought it was dreary and dull and would make this book an absolute slog. On the contrary. It was actually perfect for the tone of the book and suited it down to the ground. I actually re-listened to it for a second time as soon as I’d finished it.

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5 out of 5 stars
By Kate on 07-22-15

Great introduction to poet WH Auden

A homage to Auden by Alexander McCall Smith. Interesting and informative, written from a personal and reflective perspective. For anyone interested in WH Auden who likes Alexander McCall Smith's style.

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