Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Confessions of a Book Whore: Confessions of a recovering book snob

In today's confession, we host the bacon-loving, capetonian with a talent for the written word.  you can find her on her website, or tweeting with us birdies on twitter.  You can also find Cat's Book, When the Sea is Rising Red at your neareast Exclusive Books.
My father introduced me to two amazing things; classic rock and classic SF. I grew up listening to Led Zepplin while reading James Blish, the soundtrack to Stanislaw Lem was Uriah Heep, Jimi Hendrix played the way to Samuel R. Delany. I thought Dune was the Bible, and Sticky Fingers the holy songbook.
As I grew older, I drifted away from the landscape of my father's literature, exploring strange new islands: Huxley, Hesse, Fitzgerald, Le Guin, Atwood. And I ended up constantly going this way and that between them. I love speculative fiction and the way it sees the world, and I love the prose and playfulness in these other novels. I am happiest when stranded on some skerry that rises between them – where the language of ideas meets the ideas of language. 
So what's my confession then? That I'm never going to be happy with either side of the great literary divide? That because of my tastes I can whiplash between deed and denial faster than you can say Margaret Atwood? 
Well, no. It's quite simply that I am a reading snob. See, I was perfectly okay with dropping all those names up there. They make me sound vaguely literate, right? It's unlikely that you'll look at any of them and go, “well I wouldn't be caught dead admitting I read that rubbish.” (Okay maybe maybe Frank Herbert but I DON'T CARE <<< see, recovering snob) 
Because there's a fourth place (isn't there always?) a little beach where the flotsam and jetsam of my reading washes up, and I love those books. 
They do not explore any great new truths, or speak to us about the depth of the human condition. They are not lofty, they push no boundaries. Perhaps the best that can be said is that they appeal because of their emotional manipulation, or their use of archetypes so deeply embedded in our dreaming brains that they seem to us as familiar and comforting as nursery toys. 
We all have them – our comfort reads, our beach reads, our go-back-and-reread-once-a-year reads. If we were asked to defend our choices, we wouldn't be able to. (“Um...it's nice? I like it?”). And I'm going to say right now that “I like it,” is a perfectly valid reason to read something. To read it and enjoy it and not give a damn about what others think. And those books can be terrible by anyone else's standards but that doesn't mean you get to dismiss them and pretend that you don't really read them while your bookshelves groan under Eugenides and Eco and Murakami. 
There's a series of books by Mercedes Lackey - specifically The Last Herald Mage. I read the first one, Magic's Pawn, while eye-rolling my way through the reams of italics and angst, but I didn't stop reading. And I went on to finish the other two books in a day. Because life's too short to get embarrassed about the books you like.
So I'm going to stand up for the stories I love and say, “Because I do.”
Are you a book snob?  Tell us!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Author's Pie: Zukiswa Wanner


Welcome to Author’s Pie – a segment that I am so proud of! We showcase local authors, be them abroad or upon our shores; who cares they have South African blood running through them and South African books roaming our bookshelves.
Today’s pie is humbling, Zukiswa Wanner graces us with her talent and pure stance as both writer and woman – Thank you Zukiswa for taking part in Author’s Pie, it is an honour and I sit here in awe.

Zukiswa Wanner is a Jack of all Trades and because I cannot summarise her extensive and highly accoladed career here is her bio:

Born to a South African father and a Zimbabwean mother in Zambia, Zukiswa Wanner is the author of the novels The Madams (2006), Behind Every Successful Man (2008), Commonwealth and Herman Charles Bosman Award shortlisted Men of the South (2010). Her two children’s books Jama Loves Bananas and Refilwe will be out in October 2012.
As an essayist she has written The Politics of  Race, Class, and Identity in Education and 2011 Mail & Guardian’s book of Women Introductory essay, Being a Woman in South Africa.
She co-edited Outcasts – a collection of short stories from Africa and Asia with Indian writer Rohini Chowdhury to be published in October 2012. Wanner is one of 66 writers in the world (with Wole Soyinka, Jeanette Winterson, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams,  among others) to write a contemporary response to the Bible. The works were staged in London theatres and at Westminister Abbey in October 2011. 66 Books: 21st Century Writers Speak to the King James Version Bible’s proceeds benefit disadvantaged art students.
Wanner co-authored A Prisoner’s Home (2010), a biography on the first Mandela house 8115 Vilakazi Street with award-winning South African photographer Alf Kumalo as well as  L’Esprit du Sport (2010) with French photographer Amelie Debray.
She is the founder of ReadSA - a writer-initiated campaign to get South Africans reading more African literature with a particular emphasis on donating locally-written books to school libraries (and where unavailable, start libraries) and  was in the  inaugural writing team for first South African radio soapie in English, SAFM’s Radio Vuka.
She has been a regular participant at the prime literary events in South Africa, Time of the Writer, Franschhoek Literary Festival and Cape Town Book Fair and has also participated in literary festivals in England (London Book Fair), Denmark,  Germany (BIGSAS Festival of African Literature), Zimbabwe (Intwasa Arts Festival), Algeria (Algiers Book Fair), Norway and Ghana (Pan African Literary Festival).  In addition to this, she has conducted workshops for young writers in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Denmark, Germany and Western Kenya.
Wanner has contributed articles to Observer, Forbes Africa, New Statesman, O, Elle, The Guardian, Africa Review, Mail & Guardian, Marie Claire, Real, Juice, Afropolitan, OpenSpace, Wordsetc, Baobab, Sunday Independent, City Press, & Sunday Times.
1.       As a female writer in South Africa what is your biggest challenge?
Perhaps the biggest challenge is the labels. I do not want to be considered, a good black female South African writer as I have twice or thrice seen myself labelled as. I want to be a brilliant writer, full stop. 
2.       Which author’s inspired you to start writing?
I think more than anyone else, Lewis Nkosi should be blamed for my venturing into fiction. He did not so much inspire me as challenge me into doing it.
3.       What topic should writers be writing about?
No-one should ever tell any writer what to write, how to write, when to write, or where to write. A writer should just tell the story they want to tell and tell it well.
4.       Name one book that ‘changed your life’?
It would be gross injustice on my part to name just one book that has 'changed my life.' Every book I have read has changed my life. The good ones push me to aspire to be a better writer and the bad ones teach me how not to be a writer.
5.       What book are you reading at the moment?
I am currently writing so am not reading any book as this distracts from my personal creative process. I just finished reading Margaret Ogolla's Place of Destiny and am planning to revisit Lauren Beukes' Zoo City for the eighth time after I finish my writing.


Zukiswa’s Books

The Madams
Thandi loves her life. She loves her cute son Hintsa, her witty husband Mandla, her comfortably challenging work with the tourism board, and her best friends Nosizwe and Lauren. But she has to admit – it’s tough being Superwoman in South Africa today. Try being the perfect traditional wife and African mother at home, the perfect promotable black woman at work, and the perfect foil for her “Benetton” friends – one black and Xhosa, one white and English! Thandi admits defeat and decides she needs that great South African bourgeois accessory: a maid. And since she doesn’t have the heart to boss about a ‘sister’ in her own home, she decides it must be a white maid.

Behind Every Successful Man

Nobantu has everything a girl could dream of: a brilliant businessman for a husband, two cheeky but adorable children, and two of the best friends a girl could ask for. And yet, on Nobantu’s thirty-fifth birthday, surrounded by glitz, glamour and fame, she realises something important. What has happened to her ambitions? Her career? What has happened to Nobantu?
A funky, witty tale of a mother turned entrepreneur – to the great exasperation of Andile, her husband and BEE tycoon.

Men of the South

Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2011: Africa Region.
A fascinating novel about three men out from three worlds. Mfundo the musician and dad, Mzi - gay, but married, and Tinaye – a displaced Zimbabwean in South Africa.
“The beauty of Zukiswa Wanner’s Men of the South is that she creates, in a compelling prose, effective characters with whom I easily identify. I recognise them and therefore respond to them as people I know and experience daily. In their interaction important social issues of our time emerge organically in an entertaining storyline and are narrated in a voice that is both sensitive and witty.” Zakes Mda

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Awaiting: The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling

There is a moment in every one's childhood - or at least I hope - where they can pin (at least) one book or series (in my case it was books, people, places and even fictional characters that came to life) to a moment that either carved their reading career or ended it.
Harry Potter did that for most eager teens searching for something different (myself included in the late night queues); carving childhoods and keeping us off the streets (and let alone the fires our neighbourhoods were saved from) and locked in bedrooms, buried beneath covers waiting for the ultimate climax of Harry Potter (the boy who lived) vs Voldermort (he who shall not be named).
As the world exploded in Harry Potter fever, I found myself working for my mother (at the slave-pay age of 13); typing out endless business cards - weeks of work to keep me busy during the holidays - for the next installment of a thrilling Hogwarts visit.  It was worth it!
So how can one not showcase Rowling's first book for adults . . .  Perfect as it has been years since the last book left weepy fans hoping for a come back.  So here it is . . .

About the Book
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils...Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations? A big novel about a small town,
The Casual Vacancy is J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults. It is the work of a storyteller like no other.
Published by Little, Brown Book Group

For local readers (South Africa) you can get your copy of The Casual Vacancy by J.K Rowling at your nearest Exclusive Books. And for more information check out Penguin Books South Africa.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Confessions of a Book Whore: Dear Exclusive Books

Dear Exclusive Books Warehouse Sale,

I trust this blog post finds you well? In the midst of your Warehouse Sale, unpacking boxes and piling books like Santa’s elves – I imagine it with gruelling anguish and glitter (lots and lots of glitter).

However, I have a bone to pick with you ...  

I am a book whore at heart and am a sucker for a sale – be it shoes I can’t wear or pants that are too small. So when your sales roll around I am first one at the door wielding my credit card like a flaming baton – knowing that it is food or books, need I tell you the choice – and an ambulance at the ready (in case of hyperventilation).

So now for this bone I am picking, I have no shelf space left. See my issue – the juxtaposition of a sale monger and no space (and funds, but thank the gods for overdraft). I’ll be let loose; a hungry lion on a gazelle (Note: I see it as a misty graceful leap and skip rather than the rabid wheezing and clawing that will actually happen). A pile of books the victim in all of this (and never mind the unsuspecting mother of three holding the ONLY Winnie Pooh collector’s item that I don’t have).

What am I to do? So I have stolen myself from the hype and am heading on holiday, long endless days of sun and relaxation while customers pry through the books before I do. I am in a pickle!

If you read my previous experiences taking on the Warehouse Sale (I warn you now that this is PG), you’ll know that no book comes out alive (or a bank statement). Mark my words Exclusive Books, I’ll be at the Warehouse Sale and I’ll get my books; I’ll make this promise in blood if I must.

But in the meantime, reader, see here for more details on the When, Where and What of the Warehouse Sale – and should you see a Winnie the Pooh collector’s item, leave it be!


Friday, September 7, 2012

Author's Pie: Richard de Nooy

ORDER UP! Today we have a steamy hot pie fresh out the quirk oven and ready for serving.  Sit back and grab a slice.

Today we have Richard de Nooy, author of his debut, award-winning (winning the University of Johannesburg Prize for Best First Book, as well as an honourable mention for the M-Net Award and a long-listing for the Sunday Times Literary Award) Six Fang Marks and a Tetanus Shot (Jacana, 2007).  He has been a bouncer, cartoonist, translator, editor and copywriter.

You can find him on his website, blog and facebook

Thank you Richard for joining us on Author's Pie this week!

1. Why do you thread a great narrative that ties two different countries together?
Most novelists need one book to flush their youth out of their system, I needed three. When you move from one country to another, as I did from South Africa to Holland, you often wonder what your life might have been like had you stayed. You become acutely aware of your own identity and of the fact that you can, to a certain extent, reinvent yourself in your new homeland, surrounded by strangers. I was also troubled by the fact that every decision I took, each path I followed, left so many other paths unfollowed, unchosen. This question of “what if” is what ties my first three books together.

My first novel, Six Fang Marks & a Tetanus Shot, is driven by the question: what if one of my younger brother’s accidents had gone horribly wrong? How would that have played out? 

My second, The Big Stick, is driven by the question: what if I had been a gay lad growing up in conservative 1980s South Africa? How would I have handled exile to libertine Amsterdam?

The third, which I am currently completing, sees the foreign correspondent I might have become in conversation with the psychiatrist I might have become. Again, the “what if” question plays a vital role.

Together, the three novels form a “loose trilogy” that can be read separately and in any order. People who read all three books get the benefit of the bigger picture.

2. How would you classify your novels?
I find them very difficult to classify, mainly because they don’t really slot into a single category. However, I would love to see them shelved alongside the works of authors like David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, DBC Pierre, Dave Eggers and Mark Haddon, with whom I sense a certain bond in terms of the stories we want to tell, the way we tell them, and the issues woven into them.

3. Do you have any habits when writing?
I used to smoke a lot, but I stopped a week ago. I’ve promised my daughter I’ll keep it up. I’ve already chewed my way through half a Swedish forest in toothpicks. Other than that, I always structure everything so that I can write efficiently and don’t waste valuable time when I’m in seclusion.

Seclusion is a friend’s cottage in the countryside where I stay for three of four days at a time to get my writing done. I do all the reading and plotting and preparation at home, so that I can devote all my time in seclusion to writing. I’ll work up to 18 hours day during these periods. The total focus really helps keep the narrative together. 

Because I write my novels in Dutch and English, I have to rewrite each story. I wrote my second and third novels in Dutch first, because I received a grant from the Dutch Foundation for Literature. I then made a rough translation into English and rewrote them. I redid all the dialogue and made adjustments as I saw fit, sometimes adding descriptive or explanatory phrases, which was great fun.

I also read all my work out loud – whether it be Dutch or English – because I need to hear whether the rhythm works. If my tongue trips up, I check whether there’s a knot in the narrative. It’s interesting to hear that the same character may have a very different rhythm in Dutch and English, partly because I it can be difficult to render aggression convincingly in Dutch.

4. Where do you get your inspiration for the ‘quirk’ factor in all your novels?
I have always had a love for the absurd and the surreal. I also take great joy in wordplay, partly because I know and love both English and Dutch, but also because I love hearing how languages are spoken and how people juggle and struggle with them. I used to love doing accents and impressions, which really helps when I’m working on dialogue, because it allows me to get a good feel of what a character would and, more importantly, would never say.

I also have a soft spot for flawed characters. If you dig deep enough or put a character under enough pressure, you’ll find that almost everyone has little quirks and flaws. These are the things that make us human, unique, vulnerable. By putting these things on display in my books, I hope that my reader engage more closely with the characters and the story. Although I must admit I make no conscious effort to do so. I guess it’s just part of my style.

5. What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just read and reviewed Maya Fowler’s The Elephant in the Room and Michiel Heyns’ Invisible Furies. Because I know them both, I came up with an alternative review format on my blog: I select quotes from randomly selected pages, almost as if I’m strolling back through the book picking flowers.

I am currently reading an utterly intriguing and challenging book called The Black Swan in which Nassim Nicholas Taleb discusses the impact that highly improbable events have on history. Their impact has been huge, but they’re almost impossible to predict. I find this kind of thing fascinating, because I also constantly question the accuracy of forecasts, messages and information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. 

Richard's Books

A war correspondent sets out from Amsterdam to South Africa to piece together the fragmented history of Ace and Rem, two brothers from South Africa. Their bizarre and disturbing scrapbook recounts a suspenseful tale of trauma and heartbreak that crosses two continents and leaves a trail of shattered lives in its wake. Six fang marks and a Tetanus Shot is a superb, multi-layered novel that investigates the eviscerating effect that intense trauma can have on a young boy's mind.

Alma Nel leaves her home on the edge of the Kalahari to retrieve the body of her gay son in Amsterdam. Driven by guilt and grief, she resolves to reconstruct Staal’s life and the events leading up to his death, undertaking a bizarre quest in a strange and surreal world.

Guided by a coke-dealing Rastafarian, Alma opens a psychedelic can of worms, meeting many of Staal’s friends and acquaintances – scissor queens, leather men, rent boys, daredevils. But not everyone is sympathetic towards Alma, and some of Staal’s friends would prefer to keep their secret histories hidden in the darkrooms of the night. As her quest progresses, Alma discovers that a mysterious stranger is several steps ahead of her, trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle.

The Big Stick is poignant, comical, suspenseful and (strangely) sexy. Two telling compliments from Dutch reviewers give us a snapshot of their reactions: “Characters I’d love to meet in the flesh” and “How can a straight author write so accurately about the gay scene?”

Richard is published by Jacana Media and you can find his books at your nearest Exclusive Books.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Confessions of a Book Whore: "The Pottery" - S.A Partridge

 Today, Confessions of a Book Whore is hosting the delightfully talented S.A Partridge, award-winning author of The Goblet Club, Fuse, Dark Poppy's Demise and Triolet, Mauritius. One am, appears in the Home Away anthology.  Her blog can be found here and her Twitter account here

S.A Partridge confesses her bookish skeletons...


It’s difficult to think of one literary secret that stands out above the rest.

It took me a year to finish Bram Stoker's Dracula.
I've never read Jane Eyre.
I actually hated The Hunger Games.

I could probably think of a few more if I tried really hard. In the past I'm sure I've lied and said I've read books that I haven't to make myself sound more intelligent or to spare someone's feelings. I certainly don't have any guilty secret books (unless I've blocked them out somehow.)

The best secret I can come up with is that I used to get a little obsessed about the books I liked. Okay, scratch that. Really obsessed.
It’s no secret that I love Harry Potter. In the past I've posted about how I used to take the books out of the library time after time to make myself feel better. Its actually one of the few books that I can read a second or third or fourth (or eleventh) time without getting bored. To this day I keep a copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban or The Goblet of Fire handy for those particularly blue days.
It might be the escapist aspect that draws me. Any kid would give their front teeth for a chance to live in a world with real witches and wizards. If there was a way for me to dive into the books I'd be right there with Dumbledore's army, fighting the Deatheaters and Dementors. (My Patronus would be a bat or a crow or something equally gothy.)
S.A Partridge with the 'Monster book of Monsters'
Naturally, if I was in the books my love interest would be Sirius or Remus and... See what I mean about getting a little obsessed?

I was so into the series that I started compiling a guidebook called The Pottery that featured extensive character sketches and glossaries accompanied by pictures meticulously cut out of my mother’s You Magazines. The guide is currently gathering dust at the top of a cupboard at my parent's house where no one can see it along with all my Lord of the Rings collectable figurines.
That brings me to Lord of the Rings. Yes, I collected the figures. All of them. And yes, they are still in their unopened boxes. I also had all the books, including the rare ones, as well as my very own One Ring which is sitting in a box so I don’t lose it. And yes, I used to graffiti all over my school books with elfish and feel very clever about it.
Perhaps my secret is that I'm a closet fantasy fan. It would explain why I own every single Discworld novel (and the companion books) and why I cried for days when my parents refused to buy me Nanny Ogg's Cookbook for my birthday.

I still laugh at the mention of bananas. 

S.A Partridge in Dumbledore's office
As an adult I’ve calmed down a bit. I still use the hand-crafted Harry Potter bookmarks I made as a teenager, and during my recent holiday to the United Kingdom I made a point of visiting the Harry Potter Film Studios and bought a sack full of souvenirs. If I had a day to myself I’d more than likely sit down and watch the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings Films. And just the other day I picked up Witches Abroad for the fourth time to have a little giggle.

But the glory days of throwing myself headfirst into the sparkly waters of fandom are long gone. Who has time for that anymore? With working and writing and reading I hardly have time for anything else. Still, if I had to go back in time I wouldn’t change a thing. I really loved staying up till midnight so I could get a copy of the latest Harry Potter which I’d inevitably spend all night reading.  I miss the excitement I felt when my dad called me at home to say that he’d spotted an Arwen at Toys R Us and it was the one with the light-up sword that I didn’t have. Damn, I really miss it.
Perhaps growing up isn’t so great, after all.

- Post by S.A Partridge

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