Jingle all the way – find the perfect bookish gift for every guest at your Christmas party!
Christmas is but a jingle bell away and many of us are yet to fill the stockings with our last-minute purchases from the Crazy Store.
We at Books LIVE believe that books are the perfect gift for any occasion and that even the most hardened book-heathen can be persuaded of our religion with the right edition in their hands.
No one has the brainpower to think this time of year, so we’ve compiled a list of books from 2015 for each individual guest at your festive dinner table (yes, even for that one uncle).
Not convinced? No problem. Read the excerpts from each book before you click the “purchase” button.
Happy Festive Season and oh, oh, oh – you’re welcome!
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For the Banting dissident
Death By Carbs by Paige Nick:
Not a day went by that Trevor didn’t wish he’d gone into bacon. People would always like bacon, wouldn’t they? Most of them, anyway. Not the Jews and Muslims of course, although some of them seemed to be coming around to it.
Earlier that morning, Trevor had considered the road paint business; people would always need road paint. Well, as long as there were roads. And before that, in the changing room at the gym, he’d eagerly considered the towel business (although he would definitely make them bigger, he thought – everybody made towels too small these days). There was also the running shoe business, and at this point, even the showerhead business seemed attractive. Surely those industries would be less stressful than the one he was in right now? Hell, working as head of public relations at Eskom would be less stressful.
It wasn’t even eight am yet, and Trevor had already weighed up at least ten different career alternatives to being the Managing Director of a company that manufactured bread, baked goods and snacks.
For the political satire junkie
Jimfish by Christopher Hope:
Spying an oddly coloured boy in the crowd, the President asked: ‘And what’s your group, young man?’
Jimfish did not hesitate: ‘I’m with the fish, sir. That’s my name and that’s my calling.’
The President was impressed. ‘Good for you, Jimfish. If we all stuck to our own school, shoal, tribe, troop and territory we’d be a lot happier. Those like Nelson Mandela, who oppose me, will stay in jail. There will be no mixing of the colours, no turning back and no going forward. In fact, no movement of any sort, not while I am in charge.’
Natives by Inongo Makome:
Ever punctual, Montse met Bambara Keita at the time they had agreed on. She drove him to Roser’s place, where she could see her friend waving from across the street. Montse told Bambara Keita that it was ok to get out of the car. As he obeyed her orders, she looked around to make sure that no one had seen their operation.
Bambara Keita went toward Roser. She walked ahead of him. When she got to her door she looked in both directions. When she saw that no one she knew was around, she gestured for the African to come along. She pressed the button for the elevator, but the light indicated they had to wait for the elevator as it descended from the top floor. Roser was nervous. She was afraid she would run into a neighbor.
Just as the elevator was about to arrive, the door to the street opened. Roser mumbled something that the African couldn’t understand. But he thought she was cursing her bad luck. He too was annoyed by the neighbor’s appearance.
For the connoisseur of local fiction
Rachel’s Blue by Zakes Mda:
Old hippies never die, an old song suggests, they just fade away. Actually, they just drif to Yellow Springs where they’ve become a haunting presence on the sidewalks and storefront benches. Some in discoloured tie-dyes, strumming battered guitars, wailing a Bob-Dylan-of-old for some change in the guitar case. Others just chewing the fat. Or giving curious passers-by toothless grins, while exhibiting works of art they have created from pine cones and found objects.
Jason de Klerk is too young to be one of the baby-boomer originals, though he puts a lot of eﬀort into looking like them. He was drawn to Yellow Springs after dropping out of high school, and in that town he fell under the spell ofa faded hippy called Big Flake Tomas with whom he busked at the public square or gigged at the Chindo Grille when no act with at least some regional proﬁle had been booked. The master’s fat ﬁngers strummed and plucked on an Appalachian dulcimer, while the acolyte furiously beat a conga drum, and then blew his didgeridoo.
The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself by Penny Busetto:
She enters, takes her seat without looking at him, and closes her eyes. From outside the windows she can hear the sound of traffic and the uneven dripping of rain. A depressed, empty sound. He clears his throat. – Come sta? I hope you will be able to talk to me today. I am going to put the tape recorder on again. Just in case. He smiles, a thin-lipped smile that is not reflected in his eyes.
Her mind hears his words but she feels no need to respond. She can’t stop her ears from hearing, but she can block her reactions to the words. – Vede, Signorina, posso chiamarti Anna, vero? Vedi Anna, you are in a lot of trouble. You need to help us to help you. Devi parlare.
She opens her eyes but doesn’t look at him. She is aware of his eyes constantly on her, following her breathing, watching her every reaction, trying to get inside, to penetrate beneath the skin. – I’ve been looking at your folder. La cartella clinica. Very interesting. I’m interested in your childhood. Your parents, for instance. Your father.
The Reactive by Masande Ntshanga:
Lindanathi means wait with us. What I’m meant to be waiting for, or who I’m meant to be waiting with, I was never told. Ever since I could spell its ten letters out, I’ve been trying to make it shorter, into five. You can take that as a hint on what to call me if you want. Or not. Either way, it won’t make much of a difference to me.
That’s what my name is.
I’m Nathi, and of the three of us, I’m the one who’s supposed to be dying. In order to do as much standing around as I do, you need to be one of the forty million human beings currently infected with the immuno-deficiency virus. Then you need to stand at your friend’s computer and design a poster over his shoulder, one telling these people you’re here to help them. Then you need to provide them with your details – tell them you prefer email or sms – and then start selling them your pills.
What helps, of course, is to try to forget about it as much as possible. Which is what I do.
Maybe it’s this whole slavery thing, Cissie says.
What Will People Say: A Novel by Rehana Rossouw:
Kevin was waiting at the school gate when Nicky and Shirley strolled out arm in arm at the end of the school day. He stepped forward as they came near. “Greetings ladies, can I escort you today?”
Shirley giggled. “Of course you can, right Nicky?”
Nicky didn’t want Kevin walking with them. He was only after one thing. She hadn’t gone to the SRC meeting at second break; she was too busy sukkeling with Shirley’s problem. She still hadn’t found a solution. As she expected, it didn’t take long – two steps out of the gate and Kevin started on her.
“So Nicky, I was expecting to see you in the meeting this afternoon. There’s work to be done. We planning to bring the country to a stand still for the tenth anniversary of the ’76 uprising.”
What About Meera by ZP Dala:
He sat on a wooden chair in the garden underneath the hundred-year-old thorn tree. His daughter sat quietly breathing near him. The crickets began to sing love songs, the swallows that flew north for the winter now revelled in the December dusk and came home like obedient children to roost in their muddy homes. Not so far away, in the shacks, fires burned and their wood smoke brought a fragrance to the night. The dew had not even begun to fall yet.
He looked with a side glance at the wild-haired child he had fathered. She seemed lost in the world around her. As always, she sat with one foot dangling off the stool and one tucked underneath her. His limber, tiny-boned girl. The daughter he knew nothing about, knew not how to talk to. He knew only that his heart would always betray him in her tiny presence. The little place-shape she took in the big wide world.
‘The swallows came back, Papa,’ she commented, breaking the silence. He breathed out loud and wondered why this child was lingering around him tonight.
Boy on the Wire by Alastair Bruce:
Cape Road leads from the centre of Port Elizabeth, near the cricket ground, west into the suburbs. At the national road it branches south and the tarmac becomes narrower as it leads away from the city. The houses grow larger and are set further and further back from the road. Some are invisible behind the blue gum trees. If you follow this road for about twenty minutes, until after the streetlights end, you will come ﬁrst to a single-storey house, painted white, but now brown with dust. ere is a light on in the lounge of this house. Next door is a larger house, two storeys, built out of red-brick. This house is in darkness, save for a single light over the front door.
John Hyde sits in a chair in the bungalow. The patio door is open and the drawn curtains shift in the breeze.
There is a full moon. The moonlight gets in between the gap in the curtains and washes over Hyde’s face. The light seems to wipe his features away.
Notes From the Lost Property Department by Bridget Pitt:
Her phone is croaking again. Iris eyes it warily. She’d thought that a frog sound would be soothing, but the croak is somehow more ominous than the bicycle bell ringtone that she’d had before. She’d ignored the last call, but the caller is apparently not easily deterred. She snatches up the phone and silences its croak with her thumb. ‘Hello?’ she suggests, tentatively.
‘Hello? Hello? Is that Miss … uh Langley?’ The voice is loud, nasal and institutional, bringing to mind the rubber feet on walking aids, the chilly humiliation of a bedpan.
‘This is Sister Samson from Lavender Lodge Frail Care Facility. Is Mrs Grace Langley your mother?’
‘Yes … Yes, she is.’ Iris sounds doubtful, as if apprehensive about what complications owning this relationship might subject her to.
For the True Crime buff
Gruesome by De Wet Potgieter:
In 1994, shortly after South Africa’s first democratic elections of 1994, two AK-47 rifles were shoved into Sergeant ‘Pedro’ Peens’s hands, accompanied by the command ‘Get rid of these very quickly, or we shall hang’.
With the two ‘hot’ rifles in the boot of his police car, Peens was panic-struck. He knew full well he had dynamite in his hands. He pondered what to do with the weapons, his stomach tied up in knots while he paced restlessly trying to work out a strategy. He realised he was on his own now. He dared not ask for advice, as the politics in South Africa had become so dangerously fluid that no one could be trusted any longer.
Colonel Eugene de Kock, commander of the state-sanctioned death squads at Vlakplaas, had already been incarcerated and was awaiting trial, while policemen and members of the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), the notorious covert unit operating under the South African Defence Force (SADF), had begun to sing like canaries backstage in an effort to save their own skins.
Grave Murder by Jana van der Merwe:
Late on Tuesday afternoon, the team studied the cellphone statements again. This time, Steyn offered to call the last number displayed on Michael’s phone, as if a different caller, much like a different gambler taking over an unlucky slot machine, could twist fate to their advantage.
‘Let’s hold thumbs,’ said Van Zyl.
‘Here goes,’ Steyn said as she punched in the number. It rang. She could not hide her elation as she mouthed and signalled the good news with a thumb’s up. On the spur of the moment, Steyn decided to pull an old trick she and Van Zyl had learnt from their good friend, the respected private investigator Leon Rossouw, from Bloemfontein. It was a trick that had worked time and again to lure possible suspects to the police.
For the spec-fic and sci-fi fans
The Raft by Fred Strydom:
Remember Jack Turning—
I fell out of my dream.
It took me a while to figure out where I was, where I had fallen asleep. It was the familiar scratch of sand beneath my clothing that first became apparent.
I sat up and looked towards the sun. It was sinking into the ocean, layering the sky in uneven smears of purple, yellow and red. The day was ending and I’d already spent most of it asleep, which meant I’d spend most of the night awake. Again.
“Do you know about the alp?”
The deep voice belonged to the large and swarthy man sitting beside me. Ropes of sun-bleached dreadlocks slung over his shoulders and down to the small of his back. His name was Gideon and he was as much of a friend as I could claim to have in that peculiar place. Still, I knew so little about him – where he’d been born, where he had originally lived, or what it was that he loved in this world. I didn’t even know his last name. All I knew was that he had been taken to the beach as I had, all those years ago, and that, like all of us there, he was a far and unconquerable distance from where he truly wished to be.
Terra Incognita edited by Nerine Dorman:
“How My Father Became a God” by Dilman Dila
My father was a god, though he looked like any other old man. He had a thick white beard, and a bald head with tufts of hair above his ears. He had no wrinkles. His ribs showed. His gait was slow, shuffling. He always wore large, green earrings, a rainbow-coloured necklace, and a black goatskin loincloth. He looked ordinary, but I knew he was a god. This was confirmed the day he showed me the egg-shaped thing. The object stood on two, bird-like legs that were taller than he was, and it had a pair of wings that were so large my father must have skinned twenty cows to make them. I wondered where he got the hide, for he had no wealth to buy cattle.
“It’s buffalo skin,” he said. “You don’t hunt,” I said.
“I paid a hunter.”
I frowned, but was too courteous to ask how he had paid the hunter. He was so poor he could not afford to buy a chicken.
“I sold him a trap,” he said.
Why You Were Taken by by JT Lawrence:
A well-built man in grimy blue overalls waits outside the front door of a Mr Edward Blanco, number 28, Rosebank Heights. He is on a short stepladder, and is pretending to fix the corridor ceiling light, the bulb of which he had unscrewed the day before, causing the old lady at the end of the passage to call general maintenance, the number which he had temporarily diverted to himself.
He would smirk, but he took himself too seriously. People in his occupation were often thought of as little brain-to-brawn ratio, but in his case it wasn’t true. You had to be clever to survive in this game, to stay out of the Crim Colonies.
Clever, and vigilant, he thinks, as he hears someone climbing the stairs behind him and holds an impotent screwdriver up to an already tightened screw. The unseen person doesn’t stop at his landing but keeps ascending.
Tracer by Rob Boffard:
Seven years ago
The ship is breaking up around them.
The hull is twisting and creaking, like it’s trying to tear away from the heat of re-entry. The outer panels are snapping off, hurtling past the cockpit viewports, black blurs against a dull orange glow.
The ship’s second-in-command, Singh, is tearing at her seat straps, as if getting loose will be enough to save her. She’s yelling at the captain, seated beside her, but he pays her no attention. The flight deck below them is a sea of flashing red, the crew spinning in their chairs, hunting for something, anything they can use.
Under Ground by SL Grey:
All morning I’ve been cleaning the condo, wiping down every surface with disinfectant, vacuuming the carpets and the upholstery and the purposeless drapes. There’re no windows down here, no natural light. Behind the curtains are just screens with moving photos: a forest scene in one frame, a snowy mountain, a tropical beach right next to it. They make me feel nauseous.
And built-in closets everywhere.
Thick, crisp sheets and built-in closets. This condo is so luxurious, I should feel happy, like we’re on some sort of dream vacation, but I’m hating it already. I wish we could just go back home. I wish Daddy had never bought this place.
For the poetry aficionados
Haiku for Africa by Marié Heese, illustrated by Edith Bukani:
In Haiku for Africa, Heese focuses on Africa and the African landscape, which lends a new dimension to this ancient Japanese art form.
Beautifully illustrated by Grahamstown-based artist Edith Bukani, the latest edition of Haiku for Africa comes complete with an audio CD, read by Natalia Molebatsi.
Listen to five poems from Haiku for Africa, performed by Molebatsi:
Chants of Freedom: Poems Written in Exile by Mathews Phosa:
Boys and girls are back
Humbly claim your victory, boys and girls are back,
looking into a treacherous tomorrow, this is your time,
to make or to break.
Give us the spirit,
we need a virile soul, give us a vision,
we need a tank of ideas.
Choose your side, you can’t be both and everything,
to fish and swines.
Bilakhulu!: Longer Poems by Vonani Bila:
I was born in 1972
Where Mudzwiriti River swelled over roads and boulders
But nothing green grew in Gazankulu Bantustan
Even plants and trees and shrubs
Even the animals and birds and reptiles
Even the mountains and lakes and streams
Felt the pain of apartheid war
I still live here in the backwoods
With the common people
Warming ourselves around bonfires
I’ve slept in grand sky-scraping hotels
And villas of the world’s jaw-dropping cities –
My name is inscribed in books, postcards, newspapers, zines and films
But I’ve never been active on Facebook or Twitter
When I finally sleep
I want to be folded neatly
Planted into a family cemetery
Head facing east
Please my children, don’t pile up goods on the grave
The rain will wash my memory away
The sun will dry them and wild fire will burn me to ashes
Please my children, don’t be foolish and chop the trees
I planted with passion
They’re your future oxygen, bread and soup
A Writer’s Diary by Stephen Watson:
It is, I think, in that sense that A Writer’s Diary is more than just a scrupulous examination of the abiding preoccupations of one of contemporary South Africa’s most eminent English-language poets, essayists and critics – arguably the most observant, humane, and digressive of his generation. For Stephen Watson’s insights into language, culture, landscape, ideologies, writers, painters, politics, society, and the baffling nature of the human condition nail his colours to the mast. In this, his small volume is also a manifesto. As an approach to life as an intellectually serious business, it presents a rich and engaging range of beliefs which fan out from a primary impulse. That impulse is to grasp at the heart of the matter, with unsparing candour.
DLP Yali-Manisi: Limbali Zamanyange: Historical Poems edited by Jeff Opland and Pamela Maseko:
In his poetry David Manisi sought lessons from the past in an effort to sustain the will to resist. The struggle might deploy different weapons: he valorised education, for example, associating it with celestial imagery, and offered it as a tool to redress the imbalances between black and white in South Africa. Whether or not the tools are peaceful, the struggle remains militant. In “Imfazwe kaMlanjeni”, Manisi heaps scorn on those who take no part in the conflict, who seek to preserve their own skins ignoring the needs of the nation. In Canto IV the warriors exhort each other:
Masife siphele madun’ akowethu.
Ofa ngozuko ngofel’ into yakhe,
Adunyiswe naxa selele kooyise.
Ngamagwal’ ancama konk’ okwawo,
Afe kaninzi kungafikang’ ukufa,
Af’ engenzanga nto kub’ akanto,
Okwawo kukuty’ ahluth’ alale.
For the history fundi
Wine, Women and Good Hope: A history of scandalous behaviour in the Cape by June McKinnon:
The dawn of the twentieth century brought the start of a new era for the Cape of Good Hope. Tensions that had built up in the preceding century between the British and the Boers finally came to a head with the Second Anglo-Boer War, fought from 1899 to 1902. The war cast a shadow on the country for over two years, and its effect on both the individual and shared lives of the inhabitants of the Boer republics and British colonies would change the course of South African history.
In the Cape, the war generated an influx of immigrants who would help to alter the social dynamics of the region. Although their arrival did have an impact on some of its broader societal issues, including the politics and conflicts in the colony, it also had social consequences that could be viewed as less grand or epic than what is usually associated with war. While many things changed, many other things stayed the same. And in regard to the high jinks that had plagued the Cape for nearly three centuries, the Anglo-Boer War had no less of an influence in diminishing their seedier aspects than any other major event occurring in its history. Indeed, you could say that the war brought this out in full force.
Recce by Koos Stadler:
In the 1980s many rumours did the rounds about the Recces. Because of the secretive nature of Special Forces training and operations, little was known about the units. Whatever was written about the Recces in the media was often distorted or misquoted. One Afrikaans magazine in particular had a penchant for Recce stories. An article I kept for many years portrayed the South African Special Forces soldier as a silent killing machine, programmed to sneak into enemy bases to slit the guards’ throats prior to an attack. We were depicted as superhuman warriors, fighting the enemies of our country.
I experienced first-hand the effect of someone taking these crazy stories too seriously. While on a visit to my folks in Upington, I picked up a lonely hitchhiker close to Vryburg, in what is today the Northern Cape. As soon as the guy got in I sensed from his body odour and scruffy clothes that he was one of the so-called knights of the road, vagrants who travel from town to town, making a living from benefactors and travellers who provide food and drink along the way.
A History of South Africa: From Past to Present by Fransjohan Pretorius:
What was apartheid?
The first time that the term apartheid appeared in print appears to have been in a pamphlet issued at a conference on the missionary endeavours of the NG Church in Kroonstad in 1929. It was used in the speech delivered by the Rev. JC du Plessis of Bethlehem. In Die Burger it was first seen in 1943 in a leading article. At about this time Dr DF Malan, leader of the NP, began to use the term in Parliament to differentiate his party’s policy from the segregation plan of the ruling United Party (UP).
During the premierships of Generals JBM Hertzog and Jan Smuts, South Africa was a segregated society. Black people had extremely limited political rights, schools and residential areas were segregated, the pass law was enforced to keep black people out of the cities, and there were separate sport and recreation facilities. On the other hand, during Smuts’s second term as prime minister (1939–1948) there was an increase in the variety of social services available to black people and the level of these services was improved. Furthermore, virtually every government report, especially the report of the Fagan Commission in 1948, recommended that black people’s permanent residence in the cities should be officially recognised. However, the NP was determined to curb this line of reasoning and to extend and enforce the separation between white and black people.
Eden’s Exiles by Jan Breytenbach:
During a century or more of intensive exploration by persistent adventurers of awesome stature, Africa – known as the dark continent because of its hidden secrets and treasures – slowly be came exposed.
Livingstone, Stanley, Selous, Speke and others opened up the continent for missionaries, hunters, traders and European farmers. Only a few uncharted corners remained where the white man’s foot had hardly trod because the cost of exploitation would be prohibitive both in money and in human life.
These areas became the last sanctuaries for the remnants of a profusion of wildlife that once roamed the African plains, forests and swamps. A harsh climate, remoteness and the tsetse fly formed a formidable defensive barrier which could not be breached by greedy man bent on wielding his non-selective rifle and willful destroying the last vestiges of a treasure which he, impoverished in spirit, failed to acknowledge as vital to his own continued existence on planet Earth.
For the revolutionary
Antjie Krog and the Post-Apartheid Public Sphere: Speaking Poetry to Power by Anthea Garman:
To understand more about this situation, I focus on one particular public figure in South Africa, Antjie Krog, the poet, journalist and book author, in order to unpick how the platform to speak in public is created and crafted. A focus on one seemingly anomalous public person, her biography, works, media coverage and trajectory illuminates the factors that constitute the making of such a public persona. Krog continues to speak into the post-apartheid South African public sphere when racial markers of identity, history and experience that attach to the person speaking remain powerfully in place in all spaces of dialogue, so that who talks for whom on what issues are very important but fraught factors.
‘Public sphere’ is a useful – but sometimes limiting – term for a shifting and liminal space in the world in which an abundant range of practices occur that are difficult to grasp in a comprehensive and detailed way. However, some recent work allows me to sketch some suggestive markers of the domain that give a sense of the major concerns, shape, spaces and guiding practices of the post-apartheid (yet still transitional) public sphere.
Africa Uprising: Popular Protest and Political Change by Adam Branch and Zachariah Mampilly:
From multiple directions, crowds converged on Burkina Faso’s National Assembly on 30 October 2014. For days, massive protests of tens or even hundreds of thousands had mounted against President Blaise Compaoré’s effort to push a constitutional amendment through parliament that would allow him a third term. Finally, frustrated at the lack of response from the government, thousands of protesters smashed their way into the parliament compound, setting ablaze vehicles and ransacking the building. Soon, flames flickered up the sides of the white-tiled structure as soldiers stood by and watched. Other government buildings were soon burning, and, despite the military’s attempt to put down the uprising, Compaoré had no choice but to announce his resignation on the following day.
A new wave of protest is sweeping across Africa today. The multiparty regimes and neoliberal economies that emerged from the upheavals of the late 1980s and early 1990s have proved unable to meet popular aspirations for fundamental change. Starting in the late 2000s, what we identify as the third wave of African protest has posed dramatic challenges to the established order in over forty countries across the continent.
Creating Africas: Struggles Over Nature, Conservation and Land by Knut G Nustad:
For centuries the Umfolozi River has been washing down silt, creating a river delta with extremely rich soil on its way to the Indian Ocean. The flats, covered in bush, stretch all the way to the ocean in the east and are met by a subtropical forest to the north. Between the forest, the river and the sea lies one of Africa’s largest estuaries.
It is teeming with wildlife — hippos, crocodiles, elephants and other animals are here in abundance. Africans had been using the forest and the area as hunting grounds and as a place to hide during conflicts as the impenetrability of the forest made it hard to traverse. For a long time the forest and the flats were protected from white hunters as well because malaria made travelling here extremely difficult. But at the beginning of the twentieth century the potential of the area as agricultural land was realised, and a heroic effort to make the land suitable for sugar cane production began.
Reporting from the Frontline: Untold Stories from Marikana by Gia Nicolaides:
It was Thursday 23 August, exactly a week since the shooting. There was a strange atmosphere in Marikana. Death still hung in the air. The community, particularly the women, were grieving. At the same time the men were more determined than ever to continue with the strike. Over the past few days the miners continued meeting on the koppie, but they didn’t stay there very long. As soon as they had a large enough crowd, they would start marching towards the mining shafts. They would sing and dance and then all drop to the ground and sing in hushed tones before standing up again and moving forward. Doing this, it took them several hours to get to each of the shafts. Their motive was to ensure that no one else was working.
They gathered outside the shafts and a few of them would storm in and chase away anyone who was seen to be working. They even went as far as throwing stones and bricks at those who were found inside. The shooting had also attracted more media attention and several well-known international reporters had arrived in Marikana. One of them was Alex Crawford from Sky News. On a quiet afternoon when the miners had retreated to their shacks she interviewed me on the koppie. I was surprised that she wanted to speak to me. Alex had told me she had been listening to my radio reports and wanted to get a more in-depth view of what had happened. I had watched her television reports for many years and had always considered her a veteran journalist. It was quite an honour to discuss such a relevant story with her.
For the thrill seeker
The Score by HJ Golakai:
Vee flipped a hand for silence, frowning over the document open on the flatscreen. It was all over the place. Jumbled, wordy in the wrong places, the punch sucked out of it. The online team were a pack of butchers – why else would every thing of beauty that passed through their feral mitts come out the other end looking, sounding if that were possible, like a mangled carcass?
Prose was doomed to play the ugly stepchild to graphics in their world, as if readers only visited the digital page to look at pretty pictures. She chopped a few limp lines off the third paragraph, thought better of it and deleted it completely. “Dammit!” she threw her hands up. “What’ve you done?”
“This,” Darren Februarie tapped the screen, “is a masterpiece.”
“This is shit spattered on a bathroom wall, that’s how readable it is.” She readjusted her chair. “Last time I give you anything for comments.”
Hour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe:
Fred sat in his car and watched the lights go off in the houses on the street. One by one. He checked his dashboard clock. Eight p.m. exactly. Then the light in his house went off. Natasha would take something like Earth Hour seriously. She’d got some weird ideas in her head. He didn’t mind. It was best to do what everyone else in this neighbourhood did, and not stand out in any way.
The house looked unlived-in from the outside: a seventies, split-level affair with wood and slasto details. Only a rental, as impermanent as every other place Fred Splinters had occupied. He deserved something better by now. It gave him a sour taste in his mouth to think he might be a failure. It was not a good thought, not a helpful thought. Why had Natasha insisted on this area? She liked the ‘ordinariness’, she’d said, that she could walk to the shops. However, it was also close to Diep River Police Station, only four blocks away, which did not suit Fred at all. He preferred to give the law a wide berth. He clicked the gate remote. The metal gate shuddered, partially opened, and then stuck.
For the moody foodie
Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery by Sally Andrew:
Isn’t life funny? You know, how one thing leads to another in a way you just don’t expect.
That Sunday morning, I was in my kitchen stirring my apricot jam in the cast-iron pot. It was another dry summer’s day in the Klein Karoo, and I was glad for the breeze coming in the window.
“You smell lovely,” I told the appelkooskonfyt.
When I call it apricot “jam” it sounds like something in a tin from the Spar, but when it’s konfyt, you know it’s made in a kitchen. My mother was Afrikaans and my father was English and the languages are mixed up inside me. I taste in Afrikaans and argue in English, but if I swear I go back to Afrikaans again.
Cooked Up: Food Fiction from Around the World by Ben Okri and Mukoma wa Ngugi, edited by Elaine Chiew:
When my friend Daniel Chan confided in me that Jennifer was leaving him because he was washing his wok with soap, I laughed till I started to wheeze.
And when I came up for air it was to use the little psychology I knew to assure him he was obviously displacing. Jennifer could have left him for any number of reasons – he was too short, had a missing front tooth, and even though only in his mid-twenties, was already balding. To his credit he was an excellent chef, but he was considered a bit eccentric because he exercised, which is to say he ran a mile every other day. To all this Chan promptly responded, ‘Fuck off.’
The more I thought about it, the more improbable it seemed – that in a culinary school in a small town in Kenya called Limuru, a soap-washed but clean-rinsed wok could come between two lovers from China, and leave the man ostracized from both his community and his adopted society
For the nature nut
The Alphabet of Birds by SJ Naudé:
Shortly before his mother’s death he sees her naked for the first time in his life.
He enters the bedroom. The bathroom door has been left open, in case she should fall or lose consciousness. It frames her: the body shapeless, the small towel she quickly presses against herself too small to cover her lower abdomen. Each pubic hair with a drop of clear water clinging to the tip. They both look away. Later they pretend it never happened.
Let’s first go back in time, a few months, to where he is standing, halfway down the cellar stairs, looking up at Joschka. Joschka is hesitant, calling him back, a large old-fashioned key in his hand. They are staying at Joschka’s brother-in-law’s castle, Burg Heimhof, in the Oberpfalz, not far from Nuremberg.
Green Lion by Henrietta Rose-Innes:
Mossie was standing under the tree outside the Lion House, as he knew she would be. She drifted over to him like smoke settling on his clothes, his skin. He remembered his mother’s musty odour: cigarettes and sweat and sweet eastern scent.
Con was a little out of breath, and the sweat felt chill on his skin. He’d walked, fast, all across the city from the hospital, jogging at times. It had taken a while; the day had faded, the sky growing soft and purple as a lake, and the cars switching on their pilot lights, approaching white and receding red, as he crossed their glittering wakes.
It was not intentional; not a route he’d plotted or planned. It was just where the walking had taken him: not back to Elyse’s flat, but up, back up again to the blue-green mountain.
For the young at heart
The Last Road Trip by Gareth Crocker:
Within hours of the funeral, Jack was back in the water. As usual, he had lost count of how many laps he had done. Given how long he had been in the pool, he knew it had to be a reasonable number. At the age of seventy-one, it surprised him that he was still capable of swimming prodigious distances – more so than he ever imagined possible at this stage of his life. Not that feats of endurance mattered much to him these days.
However, intrigued to see just what he was capable of, he had recently decided to test himself and had embarked on a swim with no end goal in mind. When boredom, rather than muscle fatigue, had brought a premature end to the experiment, he was astounded to learn from his friend, Sam – who was sitting poolside and counting diligently – that he had managed a rather remarkable 238 lengths. The equivalent, almost, of six kilometres. Still, it meant little to him. He was no longer obsessed with fitness the way he once was. The competitive urge that used to gush through his veins – that drove him to swim internationally for a time – had long since left him. He swam now because it was a form of escape and he still savoured the sensation of cutting through the crisp blue water, the comforting rhythm and solitude of it all. It was also the one place where he allowed himself to think about those things that, outside of the water, he knew were better left alone. More than anything, swimming was his way of connecting back to Grace.
For that one uncle
A Bantu in My Bathroom by Eusebius McKaiser:
A good friend of mine, Seth, confessed to me many years after we first met that he had a rather horrible thought the first time he saw me. He walked into my philosophy tutorial at the beginning of his university career and when he realised that I was the tutor, he thought, ‘Oh dear, my luck to be assigned the incompetent black tutor.’ That is the sort of confession one can only trot out if your friendship is more solid than the skull of a politician. I chuckled, and we laughed it off over a pint of lager – or three.
We didn’t need to analyse the confession. It was obvious what was going on: my skin colour was assumed to be carrying information about me. And in this case, my black skin carried the warning, ‘incompetent!’ The onus was on me to disprove the assumption. Only white tutors could be assumed to be competent unless proven to be useless. It was the other way round for black tutors.
Could I Vote DA?: A Voter’s Dilemma by Eusebius McKaiser:
To be honest I feel sorry for Helen Zille sometimes. Especially as leader of the DA she must feel a bit like she’s stuck in the Hotel California: you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave. There is no one who can currently replace her, and so even though she has been willing to step down as party leader, senior leaders would have none of it, including some of those who do not always agree with all of her strategic calls.
Let me start by being blunt about my take on Helen Zille. I think Helen Zille is a +god leader. She was the perfect person to build an excellent foundation for the DA in the post-Leon years. In fact, I would go a step further and suggest that she hasn’t yet been given adequate recognition within the party and within our political landscape for her role in opposition politics.
But, she’d be the wrong person to lead the party beyond 2012. It goes without saying it is too late for her to be ditched ahead of the 2012 elections. But soon after the 2012 elections the DA must search for a new leader.
- A Bantu in My Bathroom: Debating Race, Sexuality and Other Uncomfortable South African Topics by Eusebius McKaiser
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Image courtesy of I Am Second