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Oh, but your information really is so beautiful!

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infoisbeautifulInformation Is Beautiful

David McCandless

Collins

“Do you have something I can press on?”

I was in a meeting, but we got shifted out of the boardroom and I had to make notes on my printout on my lap. A colleague passed me Information Is Beautiful.

I have wanted this book for many years and I’ve just not bought it. I spent the rest of the meeting trying surreptiously to page through it. At the end I just gave up and asked whether I could borrow the book until our next meeting.

So I spent a happy afternoon over Easter weekend paging through this book and exclaiming some random bits of information to whoever walked into the room. But you can’t. You simply cannot randomly quote from this extraordinary book. This is a book you have to see and spend time with.

McCandless, in an effort to better see and understand the information he felt swamped by, decided to filter what he was finding on the net through a visual net – or several different kinds of visual nets. The result is a colourful and fascinating book that presents a miscellany of ideas and facts as charts and graphs and pictograms.

Some of these are quite incomprehensible to me – either because of the complexity of the visual presentation, or because the information was of no interest to me. McCandless made pictures form the things that interest him – “subjects that sprang from my own curiosity and ignorance – the questions I wanted answering”. And since none of us wonders about the same things, a 100% overlap in interest is unlikely.

But that in no way detracts. Every page is quite beautiful, made so made so by a particular kind of mind, that sees and processes in a specific way.

One segmented polar grid (I know it’s called that, because there’s a page with a graphic presentation of Types Of Information Visualization), I was particularly drawn to was “Being Defensive”.

Defence mechanism from the outside in.

Defence mechanism from the outside in.

Salad Dressings

Salad Dressings

Being often completely puzzled by my own or other people’s behaviours, I have on numerous read about psychological defence mechanisms to make slightly better sense of things. McCandless puts them all together in a very interesting way that gave me a new – and fuller – perspective on the matter.

Some of the information is utterly completely useless to me (useless, but never dull). Other information is so useful, you want to tear out the page and stick on the fridge or the notice board. Like this one, which gives you a breakdown of how to construct salad dressings.

I’ll have to return the book next week, but I’m so glad I’ve had a short sojourn into the McCandless mind. There’s lots more on his website – and some of the graphics are interactive. Go and check out Novels Everyone Should Read and Non-fiction Books Everyone Should Read.

QUICK REVIEW: Finding The Thread

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finding the threadFinding The Thread: A Story of Knitting and Crochet in the Cape

Lydia Abel

For years, the crafts of knitting and crochet retreated shyly from the public eye. Then, a few years ago, and for reasons that may or may not have to do with a hipster nostalgia for all things handmade, knitting became de rigueur – a slightly wacky, but quite cool thing to do.

As a some-time knitter myself, I could only find my kin on the net, where all adherents of odd and obscure pastimes go for community. I was delighted to come across this book of Abel’s, and even more so that the production of the book – the quality of the paper, the careful lay-out and the photographs – indulge that aspect of yarn work that so pleases me: tactility.

Abel has managed both a work of reverence for an old craft and a form of light social history in this marvellous book. – Karin Schimke

Read about the knitters of Robben Island here.

I’M DROOLING OVER: Tina Bester’s Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake Tart

choc-cheesecake-tart

Tarts-Cover_webTarts

Tina Bester

Quivertree Publications

Review: Lesley Byram

There are few things more exciting to me than a visually stimulating recipe book. Don’t even bother showing me one if there aren’t photographs accompanying the recipes. First, I need to see if it’s tempting enough to try and second, what it’s supposed to look like when I’m finished.

Which is why I love Tina Bester’s cookbooks. Not only are her recipes simple and delicious, they are always incredibly well-illustrated – thank you Quivertree Publications. Of course it helps that she’s known as the Queen of Tarts and many of her dishes lean towards the sweet side of the scale.

This book, her sixth, is about making the most of seasonal produce for both sweet and savoury tarts and it’s organised by season for easy reference.

Tina’s books are very user-friendly and, apart from the basic conversion tables, she’s also included a variety of crusts and pastries for you to choose from:sweet shortcrust, savoury shortcrust, chocolate, rough puff, well-behaved (good for just about anything), sour cream, cheddar-cheese, almond and cream-cheese.

When I mentioned her in my previous blog this recipe immediately sprang to mind. It’s one which took my breath away when I first flipped through the book and whenever I pick it up it’s where I get stuck. I have made this several times, only once with the chocolate pastry and as one large cake. The rest of the time, I’ve made it as cupcakes.

It’s surprisingly quick and easy and looks far more impressive than the minimal effort required.

One could ice the cake or cupcakes with cream cheese icing but it’s not necessary and, apart from covering up the lovely marbled effect, would possibly make it too rich.

If you’re making cupcakes you can be quite generous with the cheesecake. The first time I made them I used the cheesecake sparingly and ended up having to make a second chocolate mixture to use it up.

They will keep for a couple of days but are absolutely amazing when they’re very fresh and, unless you are baking for two, there are unlikely to be any leftovers anyway.

Bonus: There are two bowls to lick!

choc-cheesecake-tartChocolate brownie and cheesecake tart

A gorgeous-looking tart that will make any special occasion
that much more memorable.

1 quantity chocolate pastry (see recipe below this one)

Brownie

350g castor sugar • 150g butter, melted • 4 large eggs • 100g flour • 70g cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt •  teaspoon baking powder •  teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Cheesecake

90g castor sugar • 450g cream cheese • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract • 1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Press the chocolate pastry into a heart-shaped tin
and bake it blind for 10 minutes. No need for baking paper and beans with this pastry.

To make the brownie mixture, combine the sugar and the melted butter in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Add the eggs and mix well. Fold in the dry ingredients and mix to a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the prepared tart shell, reserving half a cup for marbling the top.

To make the cheesecake mixture, beat together the castor sugar and cream cheese with electric beaters until very smooth and light. Add the vanilla and the egg and mix until smooth. Pour this batter into the centre of the brownie batter, keeping it away from the sides of the tart. With a teaspoon, carefully spoon the rest of the brownie batter around the top of the tart. Run a butter knife through the pools of brownie batter for a marbled effect. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely on a rack and then remove the tart
from the tin.

Serves 6-8

Chocolate pastry

110g butter • 100g sugar • 1 large egg • 1 large egg yolk
225g flour • 25g cocoa

Process the butter and sugar together in the bowl of
a food processor and while the motor is still running,
add the whole egg and the yolk. Add the flour and cocoa
and blend into a dough. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm
and refrigerate until needed.

Eighth Day: Music Poetry

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Spoken-word poems and poems that employ music—its powers, its rhythms—these are some of the richest, most evocative poetries that describe the indescribable and eschew the page. MOIRA RICHARDS shares five collections that have music at their hearts.

AngSeeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu

Arlene Ang

Cinnamon Press, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-907090-06-6

A black-gowned cellist bows a stormy wake for a white shrouded image of herself, half sucked into (half spewed from?) a heavy Pandora’s box-like chest/coffin. The cover of Ang’s fifth book alerts me to the unquiet read that follows.

Her poems are of bereavement and anguish; her poetry, turbulent, surreal, beautiful. I can’t stay long here – confronted, too vividly, by old pain I’d thought grown over with protective scabs. But I can’t resist returning – this poetry, an affirmation that death, as part of life, is magnificent too.

 

 

DeliveryRoomBeyond the Delivery Room

Khadija Heeger

Modjaji

Nineteen years since our emergence from the delivery room, South Africa and South Africans too, are as imperfectly perfect and as brimful with possibility as any teenager on the verge of adulthood. Like teenagers, we rail at what disappoints us, not yet sure of the extent to which we actually hold the power for change; like teenagers, we struggle to find our own true, rather than conferred by others, identities. Such is the stuff of this collection, first part of the trilogy, Separation Anxiety.

This performance poet’s poems remonstrate, repudiate and, sometimes, keen. Her words, written for speaking aloud, swell and recede along irregular line lengths and, with repeatings of sounds and phrases, wind a sinuous rhythm through the pages.

A sad yet optimistic love song for us and our not-yet-adult country, and I look forward where the poet takes us in the next part.

 

VanitasVanitas

Jane McKinley

Texas Tech University Press

How does a poet survive tragedy? Teenaged sister dead in car smash… This poet, at the open graveside, listens and ‘In seven notes of Bach, she has enough / to live. The boxwood sings.’ She stops writing poems; learns to play the oboe.

After ‘thirty years of silence, of images clutched / wordless in darkened corners of her mind’ she lays aside her instrument to write once more. She writes the music of that sorrow; memories threaded through with Mozart, with opera and especially, with Bach who lost a young wife and ten young children to death.

‘I gather up small pearls of Bach / … / an oboe’s dying phrases echo pain. / I linger at his Stammtisch, sipping tea.’

 

ConfidentConfident Music Would Fly Us to Paradise

by Carol Levin

MoonPath Press

Playing on life’s stage, cast as supernumerary (non-singing performer) for an opera company and subsumed in the flamboyant and sublime, is the poetry of Carol Levin’s fourth collection.

Whether girl with the giggles slid into a burlap sack doubling, at her mother’s behest, as the dead body of Rigoletto’s Gilda, or grown woman dancing the role of a Grace attendant upon Tannhäuser in the grottos of Venusburg, it is the spaces in the sounds the poet explores. The grander the music, the more profound the silences it communicates – as imaged in a poem describing the exquisite prelude to Das Rheingold in which Wagner “sets you adrift / on an inhale of the baton.”

And finally:

Wena

Ntsiki Mazwai

African Perspectives

ISBN: 978-0-981439-81-5

Before reading the poems in this collection, you’d do well to log onto the poet’s website, www.ntsikimazwai.co.za and listen, first, to the few sound tracks uploaded there. Hear Ntsiki Mazwai’s poetry performed to the mesmerising rhythms of music, get a sense of her work as performance, learn how you might read Wena out loud inside your head.

We’re none of us ignorant about what life serves up to South Africa’s women, whatever their ages, and this is a young poet who says, “I don’t write quiet storms.” Her collection of poems, the celebration of a spirit determined to triumph, refuses too, to be read in quietude.

 

REVIEW: Fields of Blood

Fields of Blood

fields of bloodFields of Blood  

Karen Armstrong 

RandomStruik

REVIEW: Sue Townsend

“Political differences can be resolved. Religious ones cannot.” So said a commentator on the most recent outbreak of fighting in the Middle East.

Fields of Blood can be thought of as a determined, carefully argued rebuttal of the sentiment expressed in that comment. Armstrong says, on the first page of this book: “In the West, the idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted and seems self-evident.”

Armstrong, once a Catholic nun, now a commentator on religious affairs, begins her argument in prehistory. Starting with cave paintings, she writes that through most of human history, people have chosen to integrate religion (of some kind) with all their other activities, including, notably, how they are governed, “because people wanted to endow everything they did with significance,” she says.

Within the major religions that we consider today – Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the more Eastern Buddhism and Hinduism – she considers the tension between violence and aggression on the one hand, and pacifism and justice on the other. Contrasting medieval crusaders and modern day jihadists with the pacifist teachings of Jesus and the Buddha, she insists that the violence almost always begins with the state and spills over to religion, rather than the other way around. This, she says, is because any government, whether democratic or tyrannical, peace-loving or expansionist, “was obliged to maintain at its heart an institution committed to treachery and violence,” and because violence and coercionlay at the heart of social existence.

“As an inspiration for terrorism,” she writes, “nationalism has been far more productive than religion.”

Armstrong then goes on to discuss examples of violence involving each of the major faiths, from the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century to the Islamist (and other) extremists of the 21st, including ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. In most of these cases, she argues, violence that originated elsewhere (with nationalism, territorial skirmishes, resentment at loss of power) could be perceived as “religious” but really had little to do with faith or religion.

Referring to colonisation she writes: “Once colonized, a people often depends heavily on their religious practices, over which they still have some control and which recall a time when they had the dignity of freedom.” This is extrapolated to an attempt to explain connections between the heated American faith-versus-science disputes on evolution, same-sex rights and climate change, to world events a century ago.

Armstrong is at pains to show that in modern times Hitler, Stalin and Mao were all atheists, and that the power behind the Holocaust was ethnic rather than religious hatred. An overemphasis on religion’s damage can blind people to the ‘unholy’ terrors that their states inflict.

This is a dense, serious read that should make us think more deeply about our preconceived ideas.

 

 

Can happy make you money?

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Andrew Bradley

Andrew Bradley knows money. His long career in the wealth and investment industry proves that. But in How Much Is Enough? he and his co-authors reveal the side of money that seldom gets discussed: the emotional side. Karin Schimke interviewed him.

Hearing you speak and reading your book, I got the impression that you became interested in psychology only after many years as a financial adviser. Is this correct, or had you always had an interest in psychology?

I was always a people watcher and was fascinated with how people behaved and conducted themselves – even as a young boy. However, only much later, after many years of being a financial adviser and then working with and guiding other financial advisers, did I realise that all this behaviour had a psychological basis. This has led me to informally study and read extensively in the field.

Psychology and emotions are often taboo subjects in the corporate and financial worlds. I suppose I remain under the impression that in certain sectors of society talking about how things make you feel is a sign of weakness. Is that erroneous? And if not, do you think there’s a chance this is changing any time soon?

I agree. Psychology and emotions have always been viewed as something to avoid at work. However, things are changing fast in corporates as organisations grapple to compete in the market place for quality employees. Today’s employees want to be engaged and inspired so they can connect with the company’s purpose and link this with their purpose. If they do not connect they will move to where they get this. We all have ‘life issues’ and behavioural biases and we cannot ignore them.

They are not weaknesses but strengths – if we can understand them and harness them.

What we are talking about in the book is more about understanding these dynamics in our consumer/client base. In my opinion if organisations do not get in tune with this and connect with their clients they will not thrive. In fact they will struggle to survive – certainly in the financial services segment. This is a challenge in this segment as we are not naturally endowed with skills.

Our clients are not looking for a transaction. They are looking for a relationship. So a focus on these dynamics is critical – not taboo.

This book is clearly the product of a journey of research. What were the absolute “a-ha” moments for you? What really struck you about the research you were doing? And did any of your a-ha moments resonate on a personal level?

There were a number of a-ha moments that resonated with me. These include:

 Investment markets perform well but most investors fail over time

 Behavioural biases are the primary cause of wealth-destroying behaviour

 Money does not bring happiness. Happiness generally brings money

 Happy people are better investors than unhappy people

 It is possible to significantly enhance your happiness with conscious awareness and behaviour. Based on these learning I have made a number of changes to my approach, with good results – not least of these is a happier relationship with my wife.

 It is possible to prevent wealth-destroying behaviour, just like it is possible to change behaviour regarding exercise and eating habits. Yes, this takes effort but the results are significant.

 We can help our children improve their happiness and set them up to live a happy and meaningful life. We can also help them to understand how to create wealth for themselves. Personally, I was trying to teach my kids about money, but I realised that I was going about it the wrong way. The result was that it was having the opposite effect. I have now changed my behaviour.

You embarked on this research because you were puzzled by something that you’d been seeing in your business for years – something that wasn’t clear to you. What was this puzzle?

Investment markets were performing well over time. All the information to capture this in investment portfolios was available. Only some investment managers and investors were making use of this. Many were taking bets against the market to try and beat it rather than optimise it. Those that take bets against the market generally do not beat the system. This results in unnecessary losses.

In addition to this, most of the investors we came across in these portfolios were also trying to second guess what was happening and trying to outsmart the investment managers – and failing.

For our clients we discovered that our biggest challenge was for them to stick to their plans after we helped them put them in place. This specifically occurred when investment markets were either performing very well or going through a slump – these were the times when they felt the need to second guess their decisions.

Why was this all happening? Our conclusion – bad human behaviour. Our hard wiring from generations of survival behaviour means that we try and follow the crowd. In investments the opposite is usually required.

You and your fellow writers show very clearly that money is not a “neutral” tender, but a highly emotional one. What, in your experience, are the most common emotions around money and which of these are most destructive?

Yes, it is emotional. In our society money is largely and unfortunately seen as a reflection of self worth – when it should not be. Money is also the means to live the life we desire to live.

The most common behaviours that can and do destroy wealth are:

 Getting the short-term and long-term trade-offs wrong

 Not coming to terms with the trade-off of the tangible versus the intangible

 Uncertainty and lack of control

 Using price as a proxy for quality

 Living for the day

 Peer pressure and status

 Loss aversion and particularly myopic loss aversion

 Rules of thumb, saliency, and over-confidence

What do you think is an appropriate and useful emotion towards or response to the concept of “money”?

Money is not the end itself, but a means to an end. Knowing the life you want to live that will bring you happiness is the most important start. How can you achieve that in the most efficient manner? This includes trying to win the hedonic arbitrage war – how to you get more happiness for the same money (or same happiness for less money). As an example if you have R100 to spend what will bring you the most happiness? Spending the day on the beach with your family or going to the mall to buy something. Understanding the difference between a need and a want is a helpful guide as well.

And finally, is it that achievable? Can people really change their attitudes towards money in time increase their wealth?

Yes. Absolutely. Just like many people have successfully changed their health and fitness habits/behaviours, you can do that with your wealth behaviours. We have seen many examples of where clients have made very meaningful changes that have had positive results.

REVIEW: How Much Is Enough?

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IMG_20150211_133500How Much Is Enough?

Andrew Bradley, Arun Abey and Andrew Ford

Zebra Press

REVIEW: Karin Schimke

Money.

Say the word and wait. Sooner or later, an emotional response rises.

For some, the emotional response takes a little longer to surface. For others, the anxiety or glee or bitterness spills out immediately. “Money” is a heavily loaded word in every possible realm of our lives. In the conversations we have with ourselves when we need or want something that we have to purchase in order to have. In our intimate relationships and those with our children or our parents. When we think about retirement. When we have a major domestic crisis. Every time we have a bad day at work. And in our social and political relationships – especially in South Africa, where poverty and affluence rub up against one another daily.

That money and our emotions are inextricably entwined is not a new concept, and yet the idea has not found enough traction in our day-to-day dealings with our wealth, however small we perceive that wealth to be.

It is this idea that the authors of this accessible financial how-to book explore at some length: that the average person they see in their work as financial advisers do not make any connection between money and feelings.

They exploit the cliché “Money can’t buy happiness”, turning it on its head to show that happiness might, in fact, be the starting point for increasing the wealth you already have.

Bradley, in an interview, said that he and his colleagues had observed that while investment markets performed well, most investors failed over time and that behaviour was the primary cause of destroying personal wealth.

In the book, which is packed with memorable anecdotes, the authors tell the story of Isaac Newton who was a keen share investor. The story starts well enough for him with a certain investment and he seems to make all the right decisions, but then he’s influenced by fashion, acts rashly and loses a great deal of money.

Even rational thinkers, even Newton, a respected scientist, is influenced by emotion.

In this book, layer by layer, the authors show that money can’t bring happiness, but that happiness can bring money. Drawing strongly on psychology and the vast amounts of happiness research that is available, the authors construct an argument for working on the self before working on the money.

Once they have shown how emotionally charged money is, they begin to colour in their arguments about why happiness should be the starting point of wealth work.

They show, in fairly broad brush strokes, what exactly “happiness” is and how it can be attained, referring to a great number of well-respected researchers in the field. They demonstrate how behaviour towards and around money can be changed, just like eating and exercise habits can be changed. And they also address in simple and easy-to-understand terms, actual investment.

I have a fairly firm grip of, and have done quite a lot of reading about, happiness and I have a general interest in psychology, so while the first part of the book did not hold any major wow moments for me, I am quite convinced that the straightforward manner in which the authors tackle that complex area will have a great impact on many readers who are not au fait with the science of the human mind and how it affects behaviour.

But I am less comfortable with the language of investment – to the point where I get edgy because I’m convinced I am not going to understand the jargon – so I was pleased to get through the “technical” chapters with great ease and with a much better understanding of investment than before. The authors must be lauded on being able to write in such a straightforward way without sounding patronising.

Also valuable is the chapter entitled Kids, Money and Happiness. It contains simple ideas that had never occurred to me. I realised that, while I have nurtured an open relationship with my children on social, political and sexual matters in order to prepare them for the world, I have been oddly coy about money.

Reading this book, I realise that it is learned behaviour that I can unlearn and that if I do unlearn this behaviour, my children stand a better chance of having an easy relationship with money.

And an easy relationship money – where you feel in control, where you understand what you have, what you want and how you can get – is the beginning of the kind of wealth that means some freedom from the anxieties about what exactly “enough” is.

REVIEW: Some Luck

some luck feature pic


some-luckSome Luck                            

Jane Smiley                           

Mantle (Pan Macmillan)

On reading the blurbs and beginning to read the book itself, the initial impression was that I was paging through The Saturday Evening Post while episodes of The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie were showing on the television. Not for long however.

Prolific American writer Jane Smiley has given us the first book of a planned trilogy telling the story of the Langdon family over a span of a hundred years. Beginning in 1920, she gently but relentlessly introduces us to the Langdons – Walter, pater familias, of Scottish and Irish descent; Rosanna, the blonde blue-eyed daughter of German Catholics and their five very different children: Frank, the brilliant, stubborn first-born; Joe, whose love of animals makes him the natural heir to his family’s land; the beautiful Lillian who enters a seemingly fairy-tale marriage with a man (a spy?) only she will fully know; Henry, the bookworm who simply does his own thing and Claire, the laatlammetjie.

Moving from post-World War I America through to the early 1950s, each chapter covers one year – a useful device – Some Luck gives us an intimate look at this family’s triumphs and tragedies, focusing on the realities of farm life.  While using all the family members as narrators, the storyline is essentially devoted to Frank as he grows up, leaves the farm to study, goes away to fight in the second world war (in France, Italy and Germany); but Some Luck is not simply an observation of family life on an Iowa farm and the pressures it is naturally susceptible to; it is also a subtle analysis of the idea of family, and of the truths its surface impressions will mask.

Smiley uses the dramatic changes that occur during the first half of the twentieth century to highlight changes in the family dynamics.The extent to which each of these vast events is dwelt upon depends largely on the narrative’s shifting focus: so we find ourselves brought up close to war-time battlewith Frank, who, having spent his childhood on the farm shooting rabbits and foxes to sell the skins for pocket money, becomes a sniper in the allied army. This is one of the novel’s cleverest ploys: its rhythmic unfolding lulls us into the sense that, somehow, we can tell what is going to happen. We can’t; we think we’re in for another tranche of unpredictable corn prices and then suddenly someone’s married a spy.

But, already, stories have gone untold – there are things we never really know much about at all. Family episodes are alluded to and then left hanging, sometimes to be picked up again and sometimes not. So the narrative rolls on encompassing dramatic childbirths,tentative romances, long lives and unexpected deaths, all the while set against the relentless development of increasingly powerful modernity. Written with much compassion and wisdom, Some Luck takes us through the cycles of births and deaths, passions, and betrayals, displaying Smiley’s deep understanding of human nature and the nature of history, but never forgetting the role of fate and chance.

 

 

 

 

So bored with sex

bored_frustrated_pink_41_xlarge

(This was the weekend that THAT movie based on THAT book was released in South Africa.)

When I was a teenage reader the only place I could find out anything about sex was in novels. The information was sketchy, erratic, disjointed and usually unexpected.

I’d be happily reading away and all of a sudden I’d trip over a couple of fornicators. Equal parts embarrassed and intrigued – and more, rather than less, confused – I would stumble ahead in the book, but keep going back to that part, feeling like a voyeur. Though of course at the time, I had no idea the word “voyeur” existed.

It’s odd to read about something that is both forbidden and fascinating. I was dying to know more about this thing people in books were doing, but I had no one to ask and no experience to draw from. My only experience to that point was that sex was a deeply scandalous and dangerous something-or-other, and not a topic for discussion.

Skip ahead a decade or a two and my curiosity had gone from an academic interest in the existence of such an odd pastime as getting naked with someone else, to the opinion that the repression of conversations about sex was damaging in all kinds of ways.

It damages people. It damages thought. It has contributed to the violence surrounding sex. It has damaged our society.

A few years ago I edited a collection of short stories called Open (Oshun) in which I requested South African women writers to contribute stories in which sex featured. This was before the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, and while I might have contributed in some small way to opening up conversations about women’s more positive experiences of sex (or that’s what I thought I was doing at the time), I certainly didn’t hit the graphic-sex-in-literature wave on time to make myself or the contributors any significant money.

Since then, Helena S. Paige (three South Africa women writing under one name) has garnered international book deals with a series of sexy books. Joanne Hichens has recently brought together a whole lot of wonderful short stories in which sex features in the book Adults Only. And, perhaps most noteworthy, is that an Afrikaans writer, Fanie Viljoen, has penned a book for young adults called Uit, a book that I think breaks new ground in the discussion of sexuality amongst young Afrikaans readers. I do hope it’s going to be translated into at least three of our other national languages.

I welcome these developments while at the same time, I’m bored silly by pop culture’s obsession with sex.

It borders on rabid, with everyone clamouring to say or do or show something new about sex in pop lyrics and videos, in adverts and slogans, in TV shows and magazine features.

Sex is so ubiquitous now it has become as boring as it once was forbidden.

Perhaps this is just the backlash: an over-the-top obsession with talking about sex in as public and graphic way as possible in order to get over the repressed past.

Maybe only when we’ve exhausted ourselves will we be able to stand on some sex middle ground, where neither shame and fear, nor braggadocio and victory are the main elements of the discussion. – Karin Schimke

 

Outgrow? Books? LOL!

"Twas brillig, and the slithy roves did gyre and gimble in the wabe"

Susan Samuel Van Rooyen is a journalist, a teacher and a mother of three children. She will be writing regularly for Not Now, Darling. I’m Reading.

How do you fit reading to your children into your busy life? 

I don’t really. It’s a struggle. We binge-read over holidays and weekends when I’m relaxed and I can sit still for a while and read to the children. But in the week during the term it’s difficult because there are extra-murals and homework and admin and chaos. My children are lucky to have two grandmothers who like reading to them and whom we see often. They take the pressure off me. That’s the wonderful thing about grandparents.

I try, though, to set an example by practising reading for myself as a necessity, not a luxury. My children often see me read – in the car while I wait for them, or next to the sport fields. They have to see that you don’t have to wait for holidays to read.

Why is reading to your children important to you?

It’s important for me that my children realise that if their lives are boring, they can still have fantastic experiences through reading. In a small town, with protective parents and a laid-back community, books will be their saving grace one day. It will relieve them of a boring, grey existence and will make them look forward to the life that awaits them in the future.

So they need to learn to be patient, to give books a fair chance and to experience the value and joy of books. This ability has to be learnt. It doesn’t come all on its own. To read to children is the only way you can show this world to them. It’s so much harder to discover an unknown place by yourself. You might miss the best corners and hidey-holes. As a reader and a citizen of this world, I feel it’s my duty to show my children a lot of the old favourite before I leave them so that they can discover more with self-confidence.

Does South Africa produce good enough books for children and young adults? 

I think so. I often see typical South African books on the shelves and it’s excellent quaility. I do think, though that little attention is paid to local English books, probably because the overseas English market is so productive and interesting. I’ve read a few wonderful English books for which I couldn’t discover a single review.

The market for Afrikaans books for children and teenagers has its very own unique personality and even though the market is small, it’s very active. There are a few local writers who dominate, which is a little disturbing sometimes, but that often happens in a small pool. There are lovely books being translated into Afrikaans and I appreciate the effort publishers go to in order to introduce international writers to Afrikaans chikdlren, especially writers of classics. I just wish they’d make the effort to choose good translators. I’ve recently come across a few truly awful mistakes in translations in children’s books.

When your children have outgrown books, how do you choose which to keep and which to pass on?

Outgrow? Books? LOL!

Which books from your childhood do you remember most vividly and why?

house by mouseI especially remember Bill Peet’s books. He was an illustrator who worked for Disney and many of his books were translated into Afrikaans in the early eighties. One of these books, Woempe, is about pollution and selfishness, and I recently discovered it in our local library and often take it out for my children. Two others, also translated into Afrikaans, that I remember are Mamma en Die Wilde Baba and Mirabella Muis who designed houses. I could look at the pictures for hours.

What do you think the marks of quality are in children’s literature? Do you actively seek out books that have these qualities or are you of the any-book-is-a-good-book-as-long-as-they-are-reading school of thought? 

Illustration is very important and not all illustration works equally well. To be able to draw well is not necessarily the same as drawing in an interesting way. A child is not necessarily engaged by ‘n pretty picture, but rather by an interesting picture. I buy books with good illustrations and where they story works well, but not all the books I buy my children are of equal quality. But I don’t just by any book. Some publishers are sloppy. Sometimes the drawings irritate me. So I stand at the shelves for a looooooooong time and look before I buy something.

Older children are influenced by trend reading and read what their friends are reading. In this instance a library – especially a school library – is invaluable, because I don’t necessarily want to go out and buy all 64 books in the Geronimo Stilton range.

I seldom throw books away and choose well what comes home with me.