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Book Bites: 13 November 2016

Published in the Sunday Times

Early One Sunday MorningEarly One Sunday Morning I Decided To Step Out And Find South Africa
Luke Alfred (Tafelberg)
****
Known for his brainy sports writing, Alfred leaves the field in grand style with this delightful book, which recounts 12 long rambles he took across the cities and wildernesses of South Africa, from Soweto to the Groot Marico, from the Baviaanskloof to False Bay. His voice is by turns wry and lyrical, melancholy and jubilant, and his eye is superbly alert to the interminglings between our landscapes and our histories. There is much reverence for natural grace and for the remains of long-lost lives, from dam walls to Khoisan digging sticks to graves and railway tracks; “history throwing us a crumb across the great void of time”. It’s all an antidote to the national mood of mediated hysteria: a long stomp through the real world is the best way for urban worrywarts to get a grip. If you can’t get out there yourself, outsource the hard yards to Alfred, whose wandering mind is far from pedestrian. – Carlos Amato @CarlosBAmato

BlindBlind
Cath Weeks (Little Brown)
****
Twyla has just had her first child, Charlie, on Christmas Day and everyone says he’s perfect. Only Twyla fears that he is not, and is proved right when Charlie is declared blind. Driven by her love for her son, Twyla is determined to restore his sight, and the opportunity presents itself in the form of experimental surgery with a staggering price tag. However, despite her hard work and dedication to the cause, when the day of Charlie’s surgery arrives, he is abducted. Blind is a superb, gripping read and emotional rollercoaster. Weeks has definite skill in portraying emotional depth and anguish. – Samantha Gibb @samantha_gibb

30 000 Years of Art30,000 Years Of Art
Various (Phaidon)
****
This is the updated and slightly downsized version – it’s still enormous, but your bookshelf will protest a little less, thanks to a slightly smaller format – of a truly wonderful compilation of artworks from, as the title suggests, the last 30 millennia. It’s a great resource for art lovers, being instant inspiration for those who are already informed in such matters and a goldmine of information and sumptuous visuals for anyone who cares enough about art. The editors and compilers of this tome have combined quantity (nearly 600 artworks, each on their own page) with quality, packing a wealth of data into four or five paragraphs. This makes it possible to read the giant volume in bite-size segments. – Bruce Dennill @BroosDennill

The Bedside ArkThe Bedside Ark
David Muirhead (Struik Nature)
****
Muirhead’s essays on a “motley collection” of animals is hugely entertaining and informative. Whether or not the knowledge is useful is beside the point. Although, who knows, your chance to win a million rand may hinge on your knowledge of porcupines’ sex lives. Muirhead charts the animals’ past and current appearances in human society; revered god, omen and dinner, and shares the bizarre facts you probably won’t find in guidebooks. His book is a reminder of just how varied and strange the animal kingdom is. Each essay is long enough for a quick chuckle. – Jem Glendinning @jemathome

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