Category Archives: My Book Pile

These are books I have in my possession, and may get around to reviewing.

The true story behind the whimsical film Goodbye Christopher Robin

Review: Vivien Horler

Goodbye Christopher Robin – AA Milne and the making of Winnie-the-Pooh, by Ann Thwaite (Pan)

One of the first books I recall owning was a red cloth-bound copy of Winnie-the-Pooh, with a map of the Hundred Acre Wood where all the stories happened, marked: “Drawn by me and Mr Shepard helped”.

I loved it. Years later, in matric, I rediscovered the book and realised for the first time how funny it was. For instance: “Next to (Piglet’s) house was a piece of broken board which had “TRESPASSERS WILL” on it. When Christopher Robin asked Piglet what it meant, he said it was his grandfather’s name, which was short for Trespassers William. And his grandfather had had two names in case he lost one – Trespassers after an uncle, and William after Trespassers.” 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

A couple of good reads

new times rehanaNew Times – a novel, by Rehana Rossouw (Jacana)

It wasn’t easy being a journalist for the donnerse Engelse pers in the old South Africa, but it’s not that easy being one now either. Ali Adams starts a new job as a political writer for The New Times, a weekly Cape Town newspaper. Nelson Mandela is starting his second year as president, the Rugby World Cup is happening, and life is heady with promise.

But with a gallery seat in Parliament, Ali realises all is not well. The government’s new economic policy seems to be ignore the poor, there is the smell of corruption, and Ali exposes a major scandal.

While Ali, in her jeans and Doc Martens, may be a modern and politically sussed journalist, she lives with her devout Muslim family in the Bo Kaap, a family who want nothing more for her than to settle down and have children. Can she square both sides of her life?

Rehana Roussouw, who once worked at the Cape Argus with me, is now a journalist based in Johannesburg. Her first novel, What Will People Say? set on the Cape Flats, won the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Science prize for fiction earlier this year and was shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Literature last year.

tell tale archerTell Tale, by Jeffrey Archer (Macmillan)

Jeffrey Archer has had a rollercoaster of a life, from deputy chairman of Britain’s Conservative Party to jailbird (his Wikipedia entry is eye-stretching), but he is certainly a constant and prolific writer. Although a Daily Telegraph shout proudly quoted on the cover, “If there was a Nobel Prize for storytelling, Archer would win”, seems to damn with faint praise.

Tell Tale is the clever title to his second book of short stories. He says some of are loosely based on tales he picked up on his travels around the world, including to Cape Town, while the rest are the result of his imagination.

The few I’ve read have a feeling of being dashed off, but he starts off with one called Unique which is clearly polished. He says he was challenged by a Reader’s Digest editor to write a 100-word story with a beginning a middle and an end, in just 24 hours. He rose to the challenge – and his story is a delight: small but perfectly formed.

October 16

rapid fireRapid Fire, by John Maytham (Tafelberg)

Can a vegan eat a fig? Well of course. Except it turns out figs are tricky. Smyrna figs are pollinated in such a way that a female wasp dies inside the fruit. You won’t actually bite into the wasp – her body will be dissolved by acid – but technically the fruit will contain a speck of animal matter and that might put a very strict vegan off.

This is the sort of clever question – and answer – found in the book by John Maytham, who presents the afternoon drive show on Cape Talk radio. Because Maytham is a real know-it-all, he gets people to ring in on air with good questions to see if he and his team can answer them. Prizes are given for interesting rather than just difficult questions.

This is a fun quiz book covering topics from flags to food, from sport to spies. Here’s another question: which American president was the inspiration for a popular toy? Yes – you know this one, really.

The Blessed Girl, by Angela Makholwa (Macmillan)

Bontle Tau is gorgeous, and she knows it. If she had a choice between coming back as Albert Einstein or as Marilyn Monroe, she’d choose Marilyn Monroe every time. Marilyn Monroe was the original blessee, and you can quote Bontle on that.

Bontle likes the fine things in life – the designer shoes, the champagne, the penthouse, the expensive car, the beauty treatments. But all this costs, and she needs to keep her chaps on side, like Papa Jeff, who’s getting just a teeny bit fat; like Teddy, who seems to have messed up a tender business; like Mr Emmanuel, the lovely rich Nigerian; oh, and then there’s Bontle’s soon-to-be ex-husband.

It’s not easy, or as Bontle puts it, keeping all her boyfriends happy and living a fabulous life has its challenges.

This is Angela Makholwa’s fourth novel, following Red Ink, The 30th Candle and Black Widow Society. Makholwa is based in Joburg.

September 26 2017


Sheri just the way I amShéri – Just the way I am, by Shéri Brynard & Colleen Naudé (Lux Verbi)

Not many people with Down Syndrome write their life stories, but Shéri Brynard has. In the foreword co-writer Colleen Naudé says the book is based on Shéri’s own writing, supplemented by Naude’s interviews with her. Shéri is 35, has met Oprah Winfrey, has travelled the world as a motivational speaker, has a diploma in educare from a Bloemfontein FET college, and works at the Lettie Fouché School for mentally challenged children.

The second, shorter part of the book is written by Shéri’s mother Susette Brynard. Susette says she has learned more from Shéri than Shéri ever learned from her. “My child knows about work. Everything is hard work; nothing ever falls into her lap.” Thanks to this determination, Shéri , who is Afrikaans speaking, has remarkable achievements behind her, including being an ambassador for Down Syndrome International, which meant she had to learn to give speeches in English. Jonathan Jansen, former vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State and a key figure in Shéri’s life, says: “She has defied all odds… Her story inspires and educates at the same time, and makes one’s own struggles pale into insignificance.”

This week’s new books

overkill james clarkeOverkill – the race to save Africa’s wildlife, by James Clarke (Struik Nature)

In his introduction to this book, environment writer James Clarke says 90% of the world’s largest creatures have disappeared since humans migrated from Africa and fanned out across the world. The one landmass that has kept its giant animals – elephants, rhinos, giraffe – is, ironically Africa, where humans came from. The reason, he says, is that African animals knew very well to keep their distance from humans, something the mammoths and mastodons on other continents did not. It is only in the past couple of hundred years, when humans armed themselves with firearms, that African animal numbers began plummeting. Clarke believes that last year the African wildlife situation reached its lowest ebb, and that now the tide is turning.

tracks & signsInvertebrates of Southern Africa and their Tracks and Signs, by Lee Gutteridge (Jacana)

When people go to game parks and reserves they are generally looking for the big animals, the vertebrates, lions and elephants and eland and rhino. But there is a treasure of other creatures out there, often in your garden, the insects and spiders, the beetles and worms. Wildlife writer and guide Lee Gutteridge says his book is a first, a relatively untouched topic in southern Africa. This could be partly because many invertebrates keep themselves to themselves and live hidden lives, and also because they are so common we take them for granted. Many are of vital importance within the processes of nature, such as pollination, and others are important food sources. This book is richly illustrated, and shows insects as often gorgeous, highly coloured creatures. Others are a little less appealing.

This week’s new books – September 4 2017

the other hoffman sisterThe Other Hoffman Sister (Little, Brown/ Jonathan Ball)

Ben Ferguson

In 1902 the Hoffman family move from Germany to a bleak desert farm somewhere north of Okahandja in what is then German South West Africa. Ingrid, the younger sister, worries about her older sister Margarete, who begins to withdraw from her family, and who seems to be going slightly mad. Then Baron von Ketz, a nasty poiece of work who has a farm two hours horse ride away, is murdered, and his family and the Hoffman’s return to German. As World War I breaks out, Von Ketz’s son Emil asks Margarete to marry him, but she disappears on her wedding night. Nothing can be done at the time, but after the Ingrid is determined to discover what happened to her sister.

these dividing wallsThese Dividing Walls (Hodder & Stoughton/ Jonathan Ball

Fran Cooper

A grieving Edward lives in England, but has to get away, have a break. And so his friend Emilie offers him the use of her one-roomed Paris apartment, an apartment in a building far back on the Left Bank, set in a warren of quiet streets. This, says the shout on the cover, is not the Paris you know. Behind the building’s large turquoise door are five floors, and many people live there, the woman who runs the bookshop downstairs, the man who feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, the young mother. But although they can hear each other and often see each other on the stairs and in the courtyard, the people of No 37 keep to themselves. And as the summer heat builds, so do the tensions among the residents.