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Recommended Reading List
The Book Lounge’s Mervyn Sloman gives us the lowdown on some of 2013’s best reads
The Book Lounge’s Mervyn Sloman gives us the lowdown on some of 2013’s best reads
Reading anything longer than 140 characters may be exhausting, and doing it on anything other than an Apple product may be unfashionable, but we still like to think that there are few small pleasures that can rival a good read and the smell of paperback.
Thus, we took our ache for some old-fashioned recommended reading to Mervyn Sloman, the head honcho of one of Cape Town city centre’s most well-known independent bookstores, The Book Lounge, to get an expert opinion on just which pages we should be turning in 2013.
Mervyn certainly didn’t disappoint, and he even gave some quick insight into what’s allowed his quaint corner bookstore to survive amidst a waning global literary culture and an ePublishing industry that’s closing the doors of even mega-chains.
“Most importantly, what makes us unique is the lunatic geniuses who work here, with the exception of myself – I’m just a lunatic,” he offers, rather wryly.
In spite of his self-professed insanity, the somewhat sardonic owner has quite clearly done something right, and it seems a large part of that something is surrounding himself with a brilliant brethren as passionate about peddling books as he is.
“I like to think, and I hope, that the level of service that we offer goes above and beyond what most places offer. A lot of people like to use us as a resource,” he continues. “Also, the events that we run have become the most important part of our identity; they’ve created a space that allows for interaction between writers and readers.”
2013 RECOMMENDED BOOK LIST FOR ADULTS
THE SHINING GIRLS by Lauren Beukes
Dark, creepy and evocative, Lauren Beukes’s third novel is, arguably, her best yet. The tale of a time-travelling serial killer charged with murdering bright, young women, the fast-paced story – it’s set in the great American city of Chicago – heaves readers into one radical era after another. Fans familiar with the internationally acclaimed author’s work – she’s likely the most widely recognised contemporary Capetonian writer – will find the wildly inventive and incredibly atmospheric “The Shining Girls” quite different from anything Beukes has put forth in the past. Part horror, part fantasy and part thriller, the book is nearly impossible to put down.
AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Undoubtedly one of the most promising young African writers of her generation, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie boldly takes on the themes of identity, loss and loneliness in her third and most ambitious novel (her second, “Half of a Yellow Sun”, won the Orange Prize for Fiction). The powerful story of two young Nigerian lovers who, driven by their hunger for choice and certainty, pursue separate lives in the US and UK, the tale masterfully explores the residue left by decades of racism in the ‘developed world’. As entertaining as it is perceptive, “Americanah” is, at heart, a love story, and, in soul, a work with the ability to alter the lens through which readers view the world.
WE NEED NEW NAMES by NoViolet Bulawayo (out in June 2013)
The debut novel of Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo, “We Need New Names” tells the story of Darling, a spunky 10-year-old growing up in politically unstable Zim. Rich, honest and stirring, the plot follows the courageous protagonist from war-torn Africa to her aunt’s house in depressed Michigan (US), where she grapples with the realisation that life in America is not all it’s chalked up to be. With crackling language and characters that leave your heart in your throat, Bulawayo’s tale explores the idea of ‘home’ and the effects of strife and poverty on the psyche of a nation. Bulawayo won the 2011 Caine Prize for her short story “Hitting Budapest”.
THE GREAT AFRICAN SOCIETY by Hlumelo Biko
Pegged by some as one of the most important books to be published in South Africa for some time, “The Great African Society” is a gallant critique of Mzansi’s past and present and an inspiring blueprint for a nation that, its author argues, is soon to be in danger of counteracting hard-won political and economic achievement. As the son of Steve Biko, the father of black consciousness, and Mamphela Ramphele, the former World Bank managing director and the founder of the political party Agang, Hlumelo Biko is no stranger to rhetoric. Even so, his well-researched practical policy suggestions and impassioned solutions to the problems of corruption and inequality are impressive. A must-read for anyone interested in the direction this country is headed.
THE THINGS THAT COULD NOT BE SAID by Frank Chikane
Offering behind-the-scenes insight into the Mbeki administration’s more contentious policy decisions, “The Things That Could Not Be Said” is former Director-General (1999 – 2009) Frank Chikane’s attempt at explaining why South Africa’s second post-apartheid president did the things he did. With a particular focus on AIDS and Zimbabwe, the work reveals how matters are often misrepresented (by public media) to a public that isn’t entitled to all the facts. This latest offering from Chikane follows on his work “Eight Days in September”, an in-depth look at the removal of Thabo Mbeki from power.
SHAME: CONFESSIONS OF AN AID WORKER IN AFRICA by Jillian Reilly
Self-published by Jillian Reilly in 2012, “Shame: Confessions of an Aid Worker in Africa” is one young American’s rather self-deprecating coming-of-age story. As she puts it, “the act of writing...forced me to admit that I will never be the wise she-warrior-cum-world-saver that I once believed I would be I am just another person struggling to make my life ‘mean something’, whatever that means.” Extremely well written and equally entertaining, the personal, even confessional, tale is based on Reilly’s experiences as an aid worker in Zimbabwe, where she found herself confounded time and again by what it means to be a “white woman in charge of money”.
WAY BACK HOME by Niq Mhlongo
Heralded by The New York Times as, “one of the most high-spirited and irreverent new voices of South Africa’s post-apartheid literary scene”, Soweto-born author Niq Mhlongo returns to the limelight with his third novel, “Way Back Home”. Darker and ripe with the sort of substance that, some believed, his first two works lacked, the tale follows Kimathi Tito, a South African exile who returns to Mzansi after the fall of the oppressive nationalist regime to attain wealth and influence. A caustic critique of SA’s contemporary political elite, the story celebrates Tito’s success only fleetingly before gambling, infidelity and ghosts of past topple the fictional protagonist’s fruitful existence.
THIRTY SECOND WORLD by Emma van der Vliet
Saucy, smart, funny and moving, Emma van der Vliet’s second novel is the perfect holiday read. The tale thrusts readers into the superficial and self-serving world of the South African film industry, where naïve newbie Beth and the sharp-tongued Alison are trying their best to navigate the sphere’s obsession with competition and appearance. When a shoot gets messy in a hellhole of a town, dark secrets are revealed and both characters are forced to come to terms with unwieldy truths. You’ll find yourself cheering the protagonists on in a Thelma and Louise sort of way, speeding along the storyline’s entertainings peaks and troughs with a smile on your lips.
SOUNDS OF A COWHIDE DRUM by Oswald Mtshali
One of the first book of poems by a black South African to be widely distributed, “Sounds of a Cowhide Drum” recently made a triumphant and relevant return to the shelves after being out of print for years (it was first published in 1971). An exploration of the extremity and banality of Apartheid South Africa through the eyes of working men, the collection gives heartfelt insight into the wall of racial separation that, to a certain extent, still stands tall today. While its re-release hasn’t incited the same sort of debate within the English literary scene as its original publication did, the work, nonetheless, remains an inspiration to the great poets of present and a masterful articulation of the thoughts and feelings harboured, still, by so many South Africans.
GRANNY CHIC by Tif Fussell and Rachelle Blondel
A bible for the crafty and creative, “Granny Chic” is jam-packed with recipes and inspiration for the handmade home. An essential for anyone who gets a kick out of breathing new life into second-hand objects, this book of how-tos includes instruction on everything from making notebooks from scratch to turning coat hangers into whimsical conversation pieces.
CONFESSIONS OF A HUNGRY WOMAN by Sam Woulidge
Based on four years of Taste magazine columns chronicling her culinary adventures abroad, Sam Woulidge’s much-anticipated cookbook takes readers on an exotic journey through the kitchens of the world. As much for stovetop novices as it is for connoisseurs, the vibrant and distinctly personal collection is filled with 45 fail-proof recipes tried and tested time and again by an author who’d “rather share a glass of wine with guests than worry over fussy, higher-grade-science-required recipes”.
2013 RECOMMENDED BOOK LIST FOR CHILDREN
A LITLE BIT OF WINTER: RABBIT AND HEDGEHOG by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
A warm and witty tale of two animal friends, this darling read – it’s best for kids under five – is filled with snappy dialogue and adorable illustrations. When hedgehog, who’s soon to go into hibernation, asks rabbit to “save a little bit of winter” for him, the forgetful bunny must come up with an ingenius way to preserve a sliver of the colder season for his beloved friend. Kids will love the way Riddell and Stewart capture the comic mannerisms of the two pals.
LION VS RABBIT by Alex Latimer
Much-loved South African children’s author and illustrator Alex Latimer’s third book is the classic story of an unlikely hero getting the better of a bully. Lion wins everything and is mean to all the other animals, so his victims advertise for help. Where Russian bears, Canadian mooses and even more formidable creatures fail, a rabbit succeeds. Latimer’s hallmark illustrations and an unexpected twist at the end make this a charming read (best for kids under five).
TIMMY FAILURE: MISTAKES WERE MADE by Stephan Pastis
Much in the same vein as the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, Stephan Pastis’s story of a playground loner, his polar bear sidekick and his wacky adventures as an amateur detective is a great read for kids 10 years old and under. Timmy is a dreadful detective, and his misguided theories are nearly always worthy of laughing out loud. Plus, Pastis’s quirky line drawings add an incrediby endearing, if not completely silly, element to Timmy’s hopeless quests.
ATTICUS CLAW BREAKS THE LAW by Jennifer Gray
The story of a cat burglar without sruples, “Atticus Claw Breaks the Law” is a great holiday read for kids under 10 who love and relate to animal stories. The plot follows Atticus Grammaticus Cattypuss Claw in his task to steal all the jewels from the quaint town of Littleton-on-Sea. However, in order for Atticus to complete the crime, he must first set up base with a host family. As fate would have it, he finds himself in the home of Inspector Cheddar, a police officer, and before he knows it, he’s second-guessing his commitment to a life of thievery.
THE WEIGHT OF WATER by Sarah Crossan
The heartbreakingly beautiful tale of a Polish immigrant desperately trying to fit in to a life in the UK, Sarah Crossan’s highly unusual novel – it’s written entirely in prose – takes on the themes of teenage loneliness and the responsibility children feel for their parents’ happiness. While the main character’s initial experiences with prejudice and bullying are emotionally trying, her ultimate success in finding friendship is inspiring and hopeful. The novel is ideal for those 11 and older.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green
The fourth novel from the much-celebrated John Green, “The Fault in Our Stars” is a love story that tells the tale of two young people staring into the face of death. The main characters are teenage cancer patients, brought together by a support group, who fall for each other despite the macabre future waiting in the wings. While far from light reading, the book is just as likely to make you laugh as it is to bring you to the verge of tears (best for young adults 13 or older).
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