Bedside Table books for November

Bedside table November

These are among the books that have landed on my desk this month. Some will be reviewed in full later.

Shackleton – a biography, by Ranulph Fiennes (Michael Joseph)

To write about hell, it helps if you have been there, says Sir Ranulph Fiennes in the introduction to this biography of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. And Fiennes certainly has: as he points out, no previous Shackleton biographer has man-hauled a heavy sledge load through the great crevasse fields of the Beardmore Glacier, or walked a thousand miles on poisoned feet. Fiennes say he wrote this book because he often disagreed with statements in the many books and films about Shackleton and his amazing exploits, unparalleled leadership and unflinching courage. The first book I read about Shackleton’s Endurance adventure was South, his own account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1917. It is gripping stuff, even in the formal, rather stuffy language of the time. I am very much looking forward to reading this biography.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

Bewilderment, by Richard Powers (Hutchinson Heinemann)

This novel was longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize (won by South Africa’s Damon Galgut). It tells the story of a scientist, Theo Byrne, who has devised a way to search for life on planets light years away. But he is also the father of nine-year-old Richard, clever and funny, but troubled, and who is facing expulsion from school for hitting a friend in the face with a coffee flask. Theo’s options are to put Richard on powerful drugs, or to take him to other planets in a bid to help save the one we have. Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous novel The Overstory, which was also shortlisted for the Booker, prompting Barak Obama to comment: “It changed how I thought about the Earth and our place in it… It changed how I see things and that’s always, for me, a mark of a book worth reading.”

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

The Heron’s Cry, by Ann Cleeves (Macmillan)

I love Ann Cleeves’s police procedurals, both the Jimmy Perez series set on the Shetlands, and the Vera Stanhope series set mainly in the North Pennines. And I loved both TV series too. The Heron’s Cry features Cleeves’s new detective, Matthew Venn – who debuted in The Long Call – and is set in North Devon. A group of artists have their idyll ruined by the murder of Dr Nigel Yeo. His daughter Eve is a glass blower, and the murder weapon is a shard of glass from one of her vases. It turns out Eve is a close friend of Venn’s husband, and he has to tread carefully in his investigation. And then another body turns up, killed in a similar way.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

Critical but, Stable, by Angela Makholwa  (Macmillan)

This local novel begins with a man looking at the body of his lover in bed. She was so warm, so full of passion, and now so still. Whom should he call? The ambulance? No, too late. The police? No, never. Her husband? Oh shit. Three families are living the high life in fancy homes, all members of the Khula Society, a social club with investment benefits. But under the glitz things are not what they seem. And now this death may change everything. Angela Makholwa writes gripping psychological thrillers. This novel was first published last year, was longlisted for the Sunday Times/ CNA Fiction Literary Award for 2021, and has now been published in paperback. I do feel the comma in the title is in the wrong place.

  • This is one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for November.

Rise, by Siya Kolisi with Boris Starling (HarperCollins)

Did Siya Kolisi’s yellow card cost the Springboks the match against the Lions at Twickenham on November 20? Maybe it did, but Siya Kolisi has been a Springbok hero, becoming the first black man to captain the team in 128 years and leading SA to victory at the Rugby World Cup in 2019. Yet he grew up in poverty, being born on the last day of apartheid, and spent much of his primary school period in Zwide in the Eastern Cape hungry. He started hanging out with some older boys, drinking, smoking weed and sniffing petrol. And then rugby saved him. He became attached to the African Bombers club, as a junior player, water boy, and odd-job boy.  He attributes his early success to coach Eric Songwiqi, the first positive male role model in his life. At 11 he was good enough to be selected for the Eastern Province Under-12 squad to play at a provincial tournament in Mossel Bay. There he was spotted a teacher at Grey College junior school in Port Elizabeth, won a full scholarship for his next six years of school – and the rest is history. He writes: “A good job for kids from Emsengeni (Primary, his school) was being a taxi driver. For Grey boys, the sky was the limit: they could be lawyers, doctors, businessmen. Even Springboks.”

  • This was one of Exclusive Books’s selected best reads for October.

A Taste for Life – How the Spur legend was born, by Allen Ambor

I once got a job as a waitress at the Golden Spur in Dean Street in Newlands. The first shift was technically “training”, and they paid me R1 (this was a while ago). I never went back – and I never waitressed again. But millions of students do, and it has been a lifeline for them. The Golden Spur was the first in Allen Amber’s empire, opening in 1967, trading until December last year when Covid-19 did for it. This is the inside story of one of Cape Town’s first steakhouses, how franchising took off, how the menu was designed and how Allen Ambor, aged just 26, would tell diners his aunt and uncle were in the kitchen to create the false but reassuring impression it was a family business. He also reveals a few secrets, such as playing the Four Tops’s Reach Out (I’ll be There) at the height of the Saturday night rush. “Customers would chew to the beat,” he confides, “and it helped turn tables.”


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