JUNE READING ROUND UP

                                    TBR SUCCESS

At last! I finished Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari.  The book languished on the TBR shelf for over a year.  I had to go back to page 1, but it was worth it. YNH has got to be the liveliest historical writer of the century, plus his panoramic vision of history, across a wide spectrum encompassing religion, science, humanism and the age of AI, makes for a thought provoking  read.

Two of my favourite sections were ‘A Short History of Lawns’ (astonishingly pertinent) and the final section of Dataism.  Other reviewers described his writing as  fresh and lively … a master storyteller and entertainer. Thrilling and breathtaking

If you like  a substantial read, that is actually enjoyable along with the radical ideas about what the future might hold, then read this book.

                                    WILDLY CREATIVE! WEIRDLY ORIGINAL! Gotta be Nicola Barker’s Five Miles from Outer Hope. One reviewer said: you will gasp, wince and laugh out loud. I did. The narrator is sulky 16 year old Medve ( from Hungarian, and translates as ‘bear’ – paws ‘n claws.)  Medve’s eccentric family is disrupted by the arrival of a South African conscript who is a deserter; we’re in the 1970s.  Events deteriorate disaster-wards from hereon in.  The book is awash with crochet garments, lentils, rice cakes, the hippy lifestyle, and fond references to the American humourist James Thurber. What a read! If you crave something different, this is the book.

                                    BIRTHING THE OED – The Dictionary of Lost WordsPip Williams

Huh? What? The Oxford English Dictionary, the authoritative 29 volume fount of knowledge, that was 73 years in gestation? Yes, that one. A novelized account of the unsung workers, all women, who helped the mighty project to finality. It’s a skillful blend of fact and fiction, taking in the Victorian age with its huge families, domestic servants, life in academic Oxford with its dons, gowns, bicycles, colleges; and also, the Suffragettes. There’s a low key  love story, plus touching accounts of women’s friendships and, of course, the lost words of women: intimate and earthy, deemed unfit for inclusion in  the august OED. I loved every page and lovers of the English language will enjoy the book.

                                                            FRENCH MAGIC

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure –  Joanne Harris.  More Vianne Rocher chocolate magic, lush late summer in the small village of Lasquenet, discord between the French villagers and the new incomer from North Africa; culture clashes, religious intolerance, and the mystery Woman in Black? Who is she? A sensuous book but with dark undertones.

FICTION

The Dictionary of Lost Words – Pip Williams . Women’s words, lives and friendships. Oxford be

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure –  Joanne Harris. Tons of French charm. To my surprise, I was captivated; it’s a good story and that always works for me. Recommended.

Five Miles from Outer Hope  – Nicola Barker. Quirky, off-the-wall 1970s family slice of life. Exhilarating, funny and different. A huge hit with me!

Us and Them – Rosemund J Handler. A book that darkens as the story of twins Paola, Aliza, their Jewish mother Jen, and Irish father Gordon, unfolds. The burdens and secrets of family history, heritage, tradition,  superstition and mental illness develops against a  Cape Town background. I was enthralled and read obsessively until I was finished.  

The Moroccan Daughter – Deborah Rodrigues. Arabic Moroccan traditional marriage norms collide with young Westernized Moroccans who return home from California to attend a family wedding. Much family drama ensues. A quick light read, with bags of Moroccan atmosphere – the souk, spices, the medina, life in a riaad,  the desert, etc etc .

With your Crooked  Heart – Helen Dunmore. An intense, convoluted story of two brothers, one wife, one child. Moody, dark exploration of family and relationships.  

NON-FICTION

Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari. Prepare to have your  every belief, cherished  theory  and your very identity, briskly shaken, Spring  cleaned, then reassembled in different configuration.  Futurists should enjoy this one. Highly recommended.

HELLO! NEW BOOKS!

I often have to wait months, and sometimes months, when I order books on line. The above wonderful trio was well worth waiting for.

I partially read Vesper Flights, before returning it to the Library, but knew I needed to have the book on my shelf, so I ordered a copy.

As for the other two books, I’ve always enjoyed Deborah Rodrigues and I’m fascinated by Morocco , so …

And as for the Cauliflower book: well, irresistible to me! My 20+ year history as a yogi, and my love of quirky books made this one a must read. Plus, it has a very unusual and quirky cover.

I wonder if any of you have read these books? if so, please share your thoughts in the comments section.

So: watch this space for reviews.

Early May book delivery happiness!

AUGUST 2020 READING ROUND UP

August has been Memoir Month. Not by design, by chance.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Diana Duff’s memoir, The Leaves of the Figtree, particularly the chapters about life in colonial East Africa. While I  didn’t live in either Kenya or Tanganyika, I was born and brought up in neighbouring Nyasaland (now Malawi ) and I learned that our lives contained many similarities. 

I read another memoir, this time from Alexandra Fuller, who is always at her best when writing about her larger than life family. I own and love her previous three books on the theme, and #4 was wonderful. She writes about her parents, and the Bush War in Rhodesia – so familiar to me, as I experienced that period, but in the South of Rhodesia /now Zimbabwe, and the Fullers were living in the North East.

The book opens with her father dying in Budapest Hospital, and her Mum  being brave in her inimitable style. Later we learn much more about her parents nomadic farming lifestyle, and their final farm in the Zambezi Valley, situated in Zambia. What a colourful story, two energetic individuals dealing with life, no matter what. It’s a marvelous read, I loved every page. Even the sombre ending. The Kirkus Review said “ … Another elegant memoir from a talented storyteller.”  Absolutely correct.

And then the eccentric artists: Christo and Jeanne-Claude – famous for many years for their landscape art projects, and wrapped buildings projects, all of which are logistical exercises  of staggering size and complexity.  I have never seen anything like their work and I guarantee, neither have you. The German publisher Taschen has given us a book with lavish photographs, a stunning cover, and informative text. But when all is said and done I find myself thinking : Yes, but is it art?

I couldn’t wait to read Emily St John Mandel’s newest novel, The Glass Hotel. Her previous novel, Station Eleven, was marvelous – inventive, original, speculative.  But the latest one? Hmmm. I’m still trying to decide. Yes: the basic premise is original: a Ponzi scheme finally collapses, but this is not  your typical Wall Street crime/business/sex novel. I suppose its an exploration of  21st century Canadians’ moral compasses. But, equally, I might say : it’s a sort-of-kinda- ghost story. And I could toss in: with overtones of speculative fiction. The time line and character focus jump around. Ultimately there’s a circularity to the story. ESJM offers a tangled tale of how some of the characters are connected, but often the connections are tenuous or fleeting. Frankly, I’m baffled. Maybe I just didn’t get it. I’d love to hear from other readers.

I was looking forward to the debut novel by Tommy Orange, a Native American (Indian), titled ‘There there.’  I found too many tragic and disturbing parallels to our own fractured South African society to make it an enjoyable read. A familiar story of broken families, absentee fathers, over worked and abused women, a people dependent on alcohol and drugs; young people unemployed and engaged in crime. The only difference were the exotic Indian names like Jacqui Red Feather, and the odd Indian cultural detail sprinkled here and there.  The book received rave reviews in the USA and the UK, and I can see why. A dramatic read, but not an enjoyable one for me.

I did two more Re-Reads: the Beverly  Rycroft novel, set in small town Eastern Cape.  I enjoyed the book more this second time around, and realise how  under-valued it is. If you can find a copy, read it for a story with humour, depth  and vivid characters.

The other Re-Read was Matt Haig’s wonderful book The Humans. I think I enjoyed it more the second time around. Thinking it over: what does it mean to be human?  A very good question indeed. Read the novel and see if you agree with the writer.

FICTION

The Glass Hotel – Emily St John Mandel. An odd novel, original, but  not what I was expecting. Try it and see how you feel about it – waiting for your verdict!

There there – Tommy Orange. A powerful debut novel telling the stories of urban Native Americans planning, and attending, a Pow-wow in Oakland, California. Rave reviews in the USA last year, and a Pulitzer finalist but can’t say I enjoyed the book over much.

The Zanzibar Wife – Deborah Rodrigues. An exotic story of Arabian magic, jins, Moslem polygamy, a chaste  Omani romance,  and a war weary American news  photographer. I enjoyed the  African/Arabian setting and the exotic ingredients of the story.  Finally: something different!

A Slim Green Silence – Beverly Rycroft. The inter-twined lives, stories (and secrets) of a small town in the Eastern Cape. Despite the laid back, casual style, there’s plenty going on that results in tragedy, love, a baby and a boomslang.  Highly recommended.

The Humans – Matt Haig. Funny, quirky, profound and not to be missed. I suppose I must classify it as Fantasy Genre, but don’t let this put you off.

NON FICTION

The Leaves of the Figtree –  Diana Duff. A charming colourful memoir from the author’s childhood in Ireland, and on to Kenya, Tanganyika and South Africa as her life unfolds. If you enjoyed Elspeth Huxley’s books, this is a book for you.

Travel Light, Move Fast – Alexandra Fuller. Fourth book in the unfolding of the Fuller family’s life. A wonderful memoir by a memorist at the top of her game. Not to be missed!

Christo and Jeanne-Claude –  Jacob Baal Teshuva. Two avant garde landscape artists, great pics. Another lovely Taschen Art Book.