schooling the professor

In the name of summer fun, I'm taking you to university. Specifically, to the Institute of Romance Philology in Regensburg, Germany, where Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, author of the 1200-page ultimate volume of Portuguese Irregular Verbs, lives an honorable life of quiet desperation, as he tries so hard to get the respect he deserves from his (clearly short-sighted) colleagues and the love of the beautiful dentist who has caught his eye. 

Author Alexander McCall Smith, probably best known for his mysteries set in Africa, The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, has also written a host of other books, including this magical gift that is Portuguese Irregular Verbs. This is the first of four small volumes of short stories about the confused and entertaining Dr von Igelfeld, and I highly recommend them all. 

With the dry wit of P.G. Wodehouse, the beautiful command of language of a lawyer, and the experience of years of the politics of university teaching, Smith weaves together a set of stories of these friends, German professors in language, whose adventures at home and abroad fill readers with delight. 

Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld has a way of getting himself and his fellow professors, Professor Dr Dr Florianus Prinzel and Professor Dr Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer, into situations that he can't talk his way back out of. He gets them involved in a duel. He has a misunderstanding in Ireland, which causes him to translate what he thought was Irish history but was actually pornography. He finds out that his friend is radioactive in Venice. And then there's my favorite story of them all. 

In "The Principles of Tennis," the professors are attending a conference in Zurich when they discover that there is a tennis court at the hotel. After borrowing equipment and reading a book about how to play (none of them had before), they head to the court. I won't give away what happens, but rest assured that all the other hotel guests come to watch the game. 

Because this is a skinny book of short stories, it's good for summer reading. It's easy to fit in between trips to the pool or to the library, for car trips out of town, or for (giggles) watching tennis. This is a book that ma be a bit of an acquired taste (it's pretty European), but if you're willing to give it a try, you'll get a great return on the investment of your time and money!