Here we are at the end of 2020. What a year it has been. Plenty of time and opportunity for reading, during long lockdown periods. Thank heavens for books, and my Indie bookstore that delivers. Sanity savers, both.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also toss a thank-you to Amazon and my Kindle device. During my brain-fog period, they supplied cozy mysteries which alleviated the boredom and loneliness.

I shattered my Bookish Resolution  to limit my book buying. Blame it on the pandemic. But one Bookish Promise that I did  fulfill, was to read more books by African authors: books from  Zambia, Nigeria, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and South Africa slid past my bifocals this year.  African writers need all the help they can get.

If you’re interested in my  2020 reading summary , please go to my previous post 2020 Hits & Misses, where I hand out the bouquets and the bricks.

December has been a wildly eclectic melange  of books, most of which I enjoyed. My Rave Read would be The Shallows, by Ingrid Winterbach.


The Shallows – Ingrid Winterbach translated by Michiel Heyns.  A complex and complicated book by an established Afrikaans author. Superb descriptive writing about Stellenbosch and environs. Its a character driven story, not plot driven. The plot is enigmatic, to say the least. A rich and rewarding novel. Readers of Literary novels will love the novel .

The Universe versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence. A coming of age novel, set in England; Alex survives a direct hit by a small meteorite and life is never the same again. A quirky, enjoyable read, but also offers surprising  existential depths.

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese. A rich, family story set in Ethiopia, with a medical background. An all round satisfying novel both from the perspective of the plot, the characters and the setting. An engrossing enjoyable read.

Cinnamon Gardens – Shyam  Selvadurai. Ceylon, late 1920s, through the eyes of a Sinhalese writer. British Colonial rule ending, political and social change, and the restricted lives of women inching towards modernity. A book evocative  of life and  South Asian settings.

Earthlings – Sakiya Murata. Unless you’re a diehard fan of Sakiya Murata, avoid this novel. See my review: http://thebooksmithblog.

Tangerine – Christine Mangan. Dark twisted psycho drama mainly set in Tangiers. Obsessive college girl friendship turns horrendously into disaster. Hitchcock fans will love it. I didn’t.


A Writer’s World. Travels 1950 – 2000.  Jan Morris. Alas, she died very recently, but what a life she had! Traveller, and historian, and writer par excellence. Armchair travel at its best. Informed, erudite but never dull. I shall miss her.



In this year of accursed years, whose events have unfurled like bad writing for a television series that went off the rails a few seasons back and I would’ve ditched if we weren’t living it, I am indebted to the authors and books that offered solace, refuge, a safe harbor. The books that shepherded me through the tumultuous news cycle, provided companionship through the pandemic, while trying to reckon with ….. the   slew of other dreadful happenings that marked this year. I’m beholden to the books that enticed me to think harder, to be present, the books that convinced me again and again there are worse things than solitude, books whose language, vitality, and mindfuckery made me feel alive, still, and grateful to be so, mostly. Year In Reading: Anne K. Yoder  Posted: 13 Dec 2020 08:00 AM PST

The above passage from The Millions sums up 2021 perfectly, I thought.

One of the few good things about the 2020 global lockdowns was that book sales rocketed upwards by 50% as the world caught up on its reading.  I read far more books this year than I usually do, not that reading is a competitive sport, I hasten to add.

My Book Budget was shattered to smithereens around about May month, and my book buying continues to expand vigorously; and yet, life lurches on. Maybe setting a Book Budget is a fruitless exercise?

I’ve listed the hits and the misses below. Do share your year-end lists or views.


Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo


The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern


The Old Drift – Namwali Serpell


The Shallows – Ingrid Winterbach,  Translator – Michiel Heyns

Celestial Bodies – Jokha Alharthi, Translator – Marilynne Booth


The Broken Road – Patrick Leigh Fermor


Miss Benson’s Beetle – Rachel Joyce

The Bear – Andrew Krivak

Akin – Emma Donoghue

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese

Actress – Anne Enright


Travel Light, Move Fast – Alexandra Fuller


North & South – Mrs E Gaskell


A Manual for Cleaning Women – Lucia Berlin

BEST SERIES (e-books)

The Sophie Katz crime series – Kyra Davis


The Boy Behind the Curtain – Tim Winton


84K – Claire North

Ducks, Newburyport – Lucy Ellman

Kintu – Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

The Road – Cormac McCarthy


Sometimes, when you’re driving, you see something out of the corner of your eye and you think: Huh? What was that ? No! can’t be!  But by then you’ve driven past, and you tell yourself, no, I must have been mistaken. Quite impossible.   Has that happened to you?

When I’d finished reading Earthlings, I experienced the same WTF was that? What did I just read? What did I experience? No! surely not!  

The novel left me in a state of  mental and emotional upheaval, and has  – I don’t want to say haunted  –  lingered uneasily  for days.

Now I’m accustomed to the opacity and otherness of Japanese novels, having served my reader’s apprenticeship with Haruki Murakami (no disrespect intended).  But this Murata novel  sucker punched me. I was expecting SF or Fantasy. What I got was a terrible tale of childhood abuse, a dysfunctional family and a traumatized girl, Natsuki, the narrator.  So much for the first half.

In the adult section of the story, Natsuki  passes for a normal adult member of Japanese society, whereas she is anything but. She radically disagrees with Japanese societal norms and expectations about the role of women, marriage, and social obligations. She puts her disagreement into action, quietly escaping  under the radar with a non-consummated marriage with Tomoya  (he’s seriously off the scale weird), until the end of the book where she is re-united with her childhood friend,  soul mate,  childhood husband Yuu. Oh, and Tomoya  joins them as  Number Three in this disturbing trio.

From here on in, things take a downwards turn, with a vengeance. I use the words advisedly. One of the book’s minor themes is sibling rivalry.  The main theme is a radical dismissal of life in modern Japan. Another major theme is the role of Fantasy as a mechanism for dealing with/escaping trauma.

I felt that the ending, to coin a phrase, lost the plot, with a descent into horror, Fantasy and/or full-blown madness. Take your pick. But, on reflection,  the ending of this bizarre tale was always going to be difficult.

One reviewer said the novel was a coming-of-age  book. I disagree. To me it was a radical, revolutionary book and a blunt criticism of modern Japan. I’m surprised the writer‘s citizenship hasn’t been revoked!  No doubt many will disagree with me.  You’re welcome.

Other reviewers found it funny. Not to me it wasn’t.  Weird, off-the wall, terrifying,  tragic, haunting, stunning, unexpected; anything but funny. .

If you’re looking for cherry blossom, geishas, merry sake parties, Japanese uber techno- modern life, this is not the book for you. I’m not too sure it was the book for me, either.

Unforgettable, yes. Original, yes. Weird, yes. Re-readable, no. Anybody want my copy? If you live in South Africa you may have it, gratis. Either collect in Cape Town , or be willing to pay the courier charge.


13th BIRTHDAY for my favourite indie bookstore, The Book Lounge, Roeland Street, Cape Town.

To mark the occasion they held a one-day only book sale. A fitting gesture, and well-timed, after the madness of Black Friday, don’t you agree?

I shopped online, and to my delight, the books were delivered on Thursday. During the pandemic the Book Lounge started making home deliveries, in an attempt to boost sales during the slump of Levels 5 to 3. Young staff members arrive outside my door, with the signature plain brown paper bag – no plastic here! And when I ripped the bag open, this is what fell out:

I’ve started Earthlings, and received a punch to my gut – was expecting SciFi or Fantasy, but that was not what I got! Suffice to say the first third of the book is low-key, stoic and tragic. Today I’ll tackle the middle section and who knows what awaits? Japanese novels are often obtuse and/or challenging. Watch this space.

One of the reasons I bought the Ocean Vuong was because I’m enchanted with the name. Ocean – imagine being named Ocean? I’ve read reviews, so no nasty Asian surprises here.

I’m looking forward to The Eternal Audience of One because its set in nearby neighbouring Namibia, and in line with my goal of reading more African novels in 2020, it will neatly tick the box.

An interesting sale trio.