What W. H. Auden Can Do for You (Writers on Writers)

by Alexander McCall Smith

Hardcover, 2013

Call number

811.5 MCC


Princeton University Press (2013), Edition: First Edition, 152 pages


"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."--Jacket.

User reviews

LibraryThing member PeggyDean
I chose this book off the library shelf on a whim, mostly based on my fondness for the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. This served me well as a general introduction to the British poet W. H. Auden and was a short, but interesting, read. The book would perhaps be of more interest to fans of McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series, considering Isabel's considerable interest in Auden. I would recommend this to fans of McCall Smith or those interested in the ability of poetry to wind its way into our hearts and enhance our perceptions of the world we live in.… (more)
LibraryThing member flydodofly
A delightful, personal view of W.H. Auden's work, simple and honest, and an encouragement to get inspired by the ideas and thoughts Auden investigates. McCall Smith believes Auden can help us better understand life and ourselves, which is something only a true artist can - reveal something we did not know before.
LibraryThing member meandmybooks
Not remotely a scholarly study of Auden and his poetry (thank goodness) – the author refers readers seeking an academic angle to other works – this is both a personal appreciation (Smith describes various ways Auden's poetry has given him insights and delight) and an exploration of the ways that poetry, more generally, can enrich one's life. Deeply familiar with Auden's work, Smith is not blind to his flaws, but he focuses on the lovely language and images, and on the idea that Auden offers guidance to a “middle path” in life, balancing between the human desires for political engagement/worldly achievement and for private pleasures and spiritual growth – between the active life and the contemplative one.

I picked this up not because I've been a huge fan of Smith's fiction or of Auden's poetry, but because my dad, who is not a religious believer, has found a tremendous lot of spiritual solace in recent years in Smith's books, and I've read a couple out of curiosity. So far I've liked Mma Precious Ramotswe, of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, best – Isabel Dalhousie (Sunday Philosophy Club series) and Professor Dr von Igelfeld (Portuguese Irregular Verbs) are both pretty obnoxious, at least in their opening books – but I have been impressed by the way Smith portrays a wide range of quirky individuals with real warmth and sympathy. The characters in the books I've read myself and those my dad has described to me are wonderfully diverse in backgrounds and interests – they engage in philosophy, linguistics, music, law, politics, natural science, etc. – suggesting an author who views the world with a friendly, intelligent curiosity. In this little book on Auden, Smith seems to credit the poet with helping him develop this outlook, emphasizing Auden's compassion for those suffering and his appreciation for the love and the loveliness which also fill the world.

I was surprised by the number of “typo” sorts of errors I ran across – the sorts of things that should have been caught by a proof reader, but this is a minor complaint. As I said, I didn't start this as a big Auden fan, but by the time I'd finished I had quite a list of poems Smith had discussed that I now need to read or reread. Recommended!
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