Monthly Archives: December 2017

We cannot live in a world without bees

history of beesReview: Vivien Horler

The History of Bees, by Maja Lunde (Scribner)

A life without bees is unimaginable. Honey is the least of it – pollination is the major service that bees provide.

And as we all know, honeybees are dying out around the world. Maja Lunde, who is Norwegian, had her interest in the subject sparked by a documentary she watched on the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder, something that she says both scared and fascinated her.

The result is this novel, a story about bees from three perspectives: one set in England in the 1850s, one set on a bee farm in Ohio in 2007, and one set in Sichuan in China in 2098. Continue reading

Northern Ireland’s Troubles cast a long shadow

woman of stateReview: Vivien Horler

Woman of State, by Simon Berthon (Harper Collins/ Jonathan Ball)

Maire Anne McCartney is a clever Catholic girl growing up in Belfast and doing her A-levels. Her family have high hopes for her. But she has a Provo brother and a Provo boyfriend, so there is an inevitability about the fact that she is recruited for an IRA mission. It’s a one-off, she is promised, and there will be no violence.

But they lied, and she is forced to flee alone to Dublin to start a new life for herself. It is lonely and tough, but she makes a sort of life studying law at university. Continue reading

Laughing our way into 2018, please God

zapiro hasta la guptaReview: Vivien Horler

Hasta la Gupta, Baby! by Zapiro (Jacana)

Hadeda La Land – A new Madame & Eve collection, by Stephen Francis & Rico

When I was a child we always gave my dad a Giles collection for Christmas. And then there’d be arguments after the big lunch as to who got to look at it first. Dad didn’t always win.

There’s no dad any more, nor is there Giles (although sometimes you find a dusty old collection in a beach house, and smile as you page through them, remembering political events of decades ago.)

madame & eve hadedaBut in South Africa we have jolly fine substitutes from our top cartoonists, Zapiro and Stephen Francis & Rico, and there’s nothing like revisiting the tough political events of the year with a sugar-coating of laughter.

In his book Penpricks, a serious look at South African political cartoons, author and writer Ken Vernon said there could be no better guide to the country’s complicated and convoluted political history than its mixed bag of political cartoonists.

Continue reading

Birds, in our gardens and out at sea, are a delight

garden birdsReview: Vivien Horler

Garden Birds in Southern Africa, by Duncan Butchart (Struik Nature)

Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa, by Peter Ryan (Struik Nature)

Poor old hadedas – in his forward to this delightful guide Duncan Butchart says we often forget to appreciate the pleasure birds bring, “although granted, the Hadeda Ibises can be a bit irritating!”

But we’re not as mean as the Australians. The Australian white ibis, which closely resembles our sacred ibis, is known there as a bin chicken, dump chook or trash vulture. Not kind. A skein of ibises flying home to their roosts at dusk is a lovely sight.

If you enjoy seeing little flocks of small grey birds with smart red beaks alight on your grass, but have no idea what they are, this is an ideal book. They are not wild finches as I first thought, but common waxbills, much more charming than their name suggests.

seabirds of SAFor the second summer in a row, a pair of greater striped swallows have spent time perching on a candelabra over my patio dining table, chirring charmingly and giving me much pleasure. I’m learning to live with the resulting mess on the table and chairs.

In a foreword, Mark D Anderson of Birdlife South Africa says the birds in our gardens provide opportunities for observation, education and conservation, and a chance to introduce children to the natural world.

He says as the vastness of the natural world shrinks, urban environments like suburban gardens are becoming increasingly important for the conservation of biodiversity. “Gardens play a small, yet important, role in protecting our heritage.” Continue reading

Brains, birds and bonking – you can’t go wrong with a book

christmas baubleWith Christmas just a week or so away, it’s time to refine the prezzie lists and go shopping. Some people are dead easy to buy for: me for instance. I want a canoe.

Sadly this is a tad over the R150 limit our family has set itself this year.

So are most books, but when you’re desperate, you might have to bend the budget a bit.

Here is a list of some fun and interesting non-fiction books that could be just the ticket for those difficult people who seem to have most things. I have ignored the obvious big bestsellers like Jacques Pauw’s The President’s Keepers, Redi Tlhabi’s Khwezi,  and Sisonke Msimang’s Always Another Country, which I assume you and yours ha’ve all read anyway. Continue reading

What we can take from the Bushman way of life


Why James Suzman thinks we all should read his book:

If we judge a civilisation’s success by its endurance over time, then the Bushmen are the most successful society in human history. Their experience of modernity offers insight into many aspects of our lives, and clues as to how we might address some big sustainability questions for the future.

affluence without abundanceReview by Vivien Horler

Affluence without Abundance – the disappearing world of the Bushmen, by James Suzman (Bloomsbury/ Jonathan Ball)

This is an astonishing book of a scale which manages to address almost every issue faced by people today.

Yes, it is about Bushmen, in part, but it is also about economics, farming, patriarchy, and why we value work so highly.

Or, as James Suzman put it in an interview with the New York Times in July: Continue reading

Beyond Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith

sieges of saReview: Archie Henderson

Guide to Sieges of South Africa, by Nicki von der Heyde (Struik)

Nicki von der Heyde’s Field Guide to the Battlefields of South Africa is a hard act to follow, yet she’s managed to do it.

Her latest book maintains the same high quality of her battlefields guide that has become essential reading for a growing niche in South African tourism. It’s not just her meticulous research and descriptions of events in both books, it’s also the advice she gives. I ignored this in her battlefields guide – and paid dearly. On the arrogant assumption that I knew what I was doing, I had the wrong footwear for climbing Elandslaagte (slip-slops instead of boots) and not hiring a guide. She has since given me the name of a good one. Continue reading

Heartbreak behind funnyman Stan Laurel – the other half of Hardy

Review:  Vivien Horler

He – a novel, by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton/ Jonathan Ball)he stan laurel

John Connolly is an Irish writer better known for his Charlie Parker thrillers, but he is different.

It is a novel about the legendary Hollywood comic duo of Laurel & Hardy, who won world acclaim between the mid-1920s and the mid-1950s, a period that straddled Prohibition in the United States, World War II and the fundamental shift in the film industry from silent movies to the talkies.

Connolly, born in 1968, after the deaths of both Laurel, the thin one, and Hardy, the fat one, says their films were part of his childhood, and that his affection for them has not dimmed.

But they were “figures from a distant past, moving through a monochrome world”, so he was entranced to discover that a friend in Los Angeles had once been given a derby hat by Stan Laurel.

“… it seemed impossible to me that someone I knew might not only have met one of them, but have been bequeathed a hat in the process.” Continue reading

The Book Lounge turns 10


book lounge

While book stores around the world have struggled against tightening economies and the onslaught of digital books, a Cape Town phenomenon celebrates its 10 birthday today.

The Book Lounge, at the corner of Roeland and Buitenkant streets in the east city, was opened by Mervyn Sloman 10 years ago today.

He had been working at Exclusive Books for some years, but believed chain bookstores and independent bookstores could happily co-exist.

“They serve different functions. I felt there was room for my sort of independent bookstore at the time, so I opened my own space,” he said in a telephone interview earlier today (December 1, 2017).

He confesses to being a little surprised the Book Lounge is still here, but adds: “It’s a tough world, no question about it, but we believe in what we do and we’ve worked hard at it.

“Every now and then I meet people who want to open a shop, and I say that it is possible, but you have to live it and be very passionate about it. That’s one part of how you survive.

“Also, from early on we received lots of support from people who saw value in what we were doing – not only in selling books but having conversations about books and setting up conversations between writers and readers. We’ve tried to set up a place where people feel comfortable.”

The store holds launches and gatherings three to four times a week, and Sloman says they also say no to a lot of things. Continue reading