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by Alexander McCall Smith
The summer will soon be over. You have read mysteries, novels of romance and intrigue. You have even read some fine literature and literary fiction. Now perhaps you are ready for a change of pace. And that is what you will get if you pick up The 2 ½ Pillars of Wisdom. This is actually a trilogy of short comic novels by Alexander McCall Smith. Yes, he is the author of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency (reviewed here earlier in the summer), but there is little similarity in the two series. The common element is McCall Smith’s keen eye for human behavior; the kindnesses, foibles, and eccentricities. Beyond that these two series have little in common.

The books that make up the trilogy are Portuguese Irregular Verbs, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, and At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances. These books relate the story of Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld and his colleagues at the Institute of Romance Philology in Regensburg, Germany; Professor Doctor Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer and Professor Doctor Doctor (honoris causa) Florianus Prinzel. The three men are colleagues, friends, and rivals as they all attempt to make names for themselves in the world of academia. Their competition sometimes has hilarious consequences.

Consider the time that Professor Doctor von Igelfeld was invited to lecture at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Upon his arrival he was greeted by a faculty member who proceeded to give him an extensive tour of a hog farm and a chicken farm. He was curious about why the conversation always turned to animals. But he decided that this was some American custom, and he wanted to be sure to give proper respect to his host. He arrived at the lecture hall later in the day prepared to speak on his favorite subject, Portuguese irregular verbs and to sign copies of his successful book on the topic. Imagine his surprise when he learned at the last moment that the intended speaker was not the distinguished German professor of philology, Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld but Professor Igelfold, distinguished Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Munster.

“We’re so honored to have you here in Fayetteville”, said the man. “We understand that you are the world authority on the sausage dog…”
Von Igelfeld stared at him in horror. Sausage dogs! He was expected to talk about sausage dogs, a subject on which he knew absolutely nothing. It was a nightmare; like one of those dreams where you imagine that you are about to take the lead part in a Greek play or where you are sitting down to write an examination in advanced calculus. But he was awake, and it was really happening,

One misadventure follows another as the good professor travels the globe visiting universities in India, Columbia, Ireland, Italy, and the United States always with good intentions mixed with a bit of pride and pretension. It is very funny reading.

The three books that make up this trilogy are filled with wit, warmth, and tremendous insight into the human desire for friendship, love, and respect. Treat yourself. You are sure to enjoy what our author refers to as A Professor von Igelfeld Entertainment.