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So bored with sex

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(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

 

Remember when we used the Encyclopedia Brittanica?

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I recently visited my parents in city far from mine. That feeling of having turned into a giant in a doll’s house has never left me. The place you grow up in always seems ridiculously small through adult eyes. When you are small, the space feels full of endless nooks and crannies.

One of the nooks I spent a lot of time in, was this one. It’s in the living room.

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On the shelf below the Encyclopedia Brittanica are my father’s records. Both – encycolopedia and LP’s – now seem like such quaint artifacts.

For years I failed to “see” that shelf, but this time the Encyclopedia Brittanica hooked my eye. What a proud row of books – and how useful it was. It was the first and last source for every project from about the age of 11 onwards. Trips to the library provided the meat on the research sandwich.

I opened one up and was amused at how small the writing is. How was I not intimidated back then? But I wasn’t. Those books were (almost) all I needed for research and independent work at home.

I pulled down the book that promised to have an entry for “Encyclopedia” and found an eighteen page (!) entry.

 

The entry for "Encyclopedia" from the Encyclopedia Brittanica

The entry for “Encyclopedia” from the Encyclopedia Brittanica

An encyclopedia is: “a type of reference work or compendium holding a comprehensive summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particlar branch of knowledge”. 

Then I looked up “Encyclopedia Brittanica” on its modern incarnation, Wikipedia, and discovered the following:

  • In 2012 it was announced that the 2010 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica would be the last printed edition
  • It was first published between 1768 and 1771, in Edinburgh in Scotland and it ran to three volumes.
  • The final set was 32 volumes. It was the fifteenth edition and it ran to 32 640 pages.

I remember when my parents bought the Encyclopedia Brittanica that it was an enormous financial sacrifice. In retrospect, it seems like it was a good investment.

Francis Bacon's classification of knowledge

Francis Bacon’s classification of knowledge

  • (Watch Joey from Friends in the episode where he can afford only one volume of the Encyclopedia.)

INDISCRIMINATE DEVOTION: Our bedtime story

Picture credit: Naimane 
http://naimane.deviantart.com/art/Bedtime-story-189037239

I first saw the heart-stopping War Horse in London six years ago. I came home bursting with the news of this amazing show with its mind-boggling puppets. I also brought home Michael Morpurgo’s book to read to the children. This December, I was delighted to finally be able to take my children to see the production at the Artscape Theatre in Cape Town. I was so happy that they were as swept away as I – and thousands and thousands of others – were by this profound production.

It reminded me of this column I wrote for Parent24 when I was reading the book to the children. My daughter has gone on to read several more Michael Morpurgo books, despite this scratchy start. michael morpurgo collection

Our bedtime story

When my husband goes away on business, the kids and I choose a book to read together. It’s one of those weird family rituals that springs up organically and happily ensnares you. “Oh look, I am duty bound to reading to my children every night whenever their father is away on business.” And by afternoon we’re already planning which must-dos we can dispense with in order to go to bed earlier and read.

My youngest child’s interest in our current story – Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse – is intermittent. She really wants to get it, but at six she’s struggling with the narrator, who, it turns out, is also the hero of the story: Joey, the horse.

Someone grooms Joey, brushing him from head to foot and she’s perplexed: “Why is someone brushing someone else? Oh, it’s the horse!”

My nine-year old sighs dramatically for the 50th time since we started the book, because his sister needs constant clarification.

We’re all being educated: trench warfare, World War 1, army lingo (“What’s a Jerry?”) and a whole regiment of new words like “outflank” and “cavalry”. Even I have learnt two new words: “bivouac” and “reveille”.

My son is engrossed, wide-eyed. My daughter is keen, but some of it’s a bit confusing and she gets restless from all the questions burning her up and which she knows her brother will get irritated by. Yet, the end of each chapter is met with a “nooo!” by both, and I – under very little duress indeed – continue until way past 8 o’clock. I say I’ll read another chapter if they promise – if they ‘promisepromisepromise’ – to go right to sleep afterwards. They promise passionately.

Finally we must put the book down, only because my mouth is as dry as the dust bunnies under the bed.

“Stay and cuddle?” asks my son. I lie with my head half up the wall, the down duvet mountainous over the three of us, a head on each of my shoulders.

“Mom?”

“No talking. Sleep.”

“Just one joke. What goes black white black white black white black white BLUE?”

“What?”

“A penguin rolling into the sea.”

I find this inordinately funny and my son and I rock the bed with mirth. My daughter is beaming up at the ceiling. Getting her hero brother to laugh at a joke is the lottery.

“Ssshhh. Sleep now.” I’m thinking of the work I must still do. We cuddle. Someone’s stomach grumbles and the kids begin to giggle quietly. I muster all my strength not to join in – everything’s funny when you’re not allowed to laugh.

They settle. The stomach grumbles again. They giggle. Then I’m laughing too. Quietly, but with their arms wrapped around my stomach they can feel it. So we just have a big explosion and finally, really, start settling.

My son is a perpetual motion machine, even lifting his eyebrows up and down, up and down, which I can feel because my hand is rested on his head and his scalp is moving. So are his toes, his knees, each individual finger, his eyeballs. This is how he is: he thinks, therefore he moves. He lies in bed, therefore he thinks.

My daughter moves once, to turn her back to me, quickly and efficiently falling asleep.

I struggle to keep my eyes open. This is not a battle I have ever won. I wake suddenly from a dream that’s made me laugh to find that my son has finally succumbed. It feels like the deepest part of the night. It is only 9pm. The duvet releases me reluctantly.

I won’t work after all because I am so bed-ready now.

I can’t wait for Chapter 10 tomorrow night.

When the language is music

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IMG_20150125_085153 copyEvery now and again you open a book and the language sings. It rockets off into unimagined word galaxies. Images pump through the pages into your veins like a transfusion of hot syntactic blood.

Like this stuff, found now in Richard Powers’ Orfeo – a scene early on when the protagonist, Peter Els, hears Mozart’s Jupiter for the first time when he is a child. Listen to this:

“Three movements of Symphony 41 pass by: destiny and noble sacrifice, nostalgia for a vanished innocence, and a minuet so elegant it bores the bejeezus out of him. And then the finale, its four modest notes. Do, re, fa, mi: half a jumbled scale…

Young Peter props up on his elbows, ambushed by a memory from the future. The shuffled half scale gathers mass; it sucks up other melodies in its gravity … At two minutes, a trapdoor opens underneath the boy…

Five viral strands propagate, infecting the air with runaway joy. At three and a half minutes, a hand scoops Peter up and lifts him high above the blocked vantage of his days. He rises in the shifting column of light and looks back down on the room where he listens. Wordless peace fills him at the sight of his own crumpled, listening body. And pity for anyone who mistakes this blinkered life for the real deal…

When silence sets him down once more, he no longer believes in this place.”

 

Q & A: Moira Richards – Poetry Reviewer

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 Moira Richards

Moira Richards

On the eighth day of every month, Moira Richards, poetry reviewer, will review a clutch of collections that are linked in some way. Not Not Darling, I’m Reading asked Moira eight questions.

1. Your day job is accountancy, which seems somewhat at odds with your abiding interest in reading and writing poetry. Or is that sort of question more indicative of an interviewer’s penchant for stereotyping than an accurate accounting of obvious contrasts?

No contrast at all, actually. I recently retired from practicing and teaching accounting to free time for my writing and editing work, but teaching Taxation to undergraduates confirmed to me the value of poetry to accountants (if not vice versa). Reading poems—engaging with unfamiliar words and word usage; getting inside the text of someone very different to you; teasing out the meaning of phrases and sentences and finding ways in which it applies to wider circumstance—those are all tools essential for learning and understanding the Income Tax Act as well as the myriad other legislation anyone in the business world has to navigate.

2. Do you remember the first poem that sunk its teeth into you? What was it? How old were you? Where were you?

Yes! I was about 10 years old, helping get up some sort of a show to entertain parents and there was Lewis Carroll’s poetry! I wanted Jabbberwocky with its delicious mouth-filling words, and the dastardly Walrus and Carpenter and all those eager little silly little oysters, and Humpty’s zig-zagging cliff-hanger of a poem that ends with “but—”. I didn’t want to ever let them go so I memorised all three poems and decades later, still have snippets in my head.

3. How did your interest in poetry develop from there?

I think Carroll started me on a love affair with words—how they can play and draw and touch as well as talk and teach, which I also love. Poetry in the education system here is (was?) so much dead white men’s angst that there’s little to really kindle fire in anyone who’s not a one of them—and so much that’ll have the resistant feminist roll her eyes and decide poetry’s for the (old) dudes.

My interest in poetry developed, I think, in the last 15 years when I began reading contemporary women’s work to write about it for book reviews. A bit upside down, I suppose, but my approach wasn’t that of an “expert critic” but that of a reader exploring the genre and like Alice (again) I found myself in a wonderland.

4. You practise form poetry and have a special love for renku. What is it about set forms that excite you?

I admire poets who can execute in form because I find it so difficult and I know the work and persistence it requires. Poems in form, can easily become all tied up and prisoner of the form, but when done well, poetry uses form as invisible scaffold from which it can reach into doing amazing stuff. The joy of renku is that it’s collaborative poetry—a whole new approach to poetry (and to one’s self-image as poet) to write with others :-)

5. Do you read anything at all except poetry? You seem to get through at least one collection a week. Is there time for other reading?

I currently read and review a collection of poems every week—the reading only takes an hour or two, it’s the thinking about the poetry and getting inside of what the poet is doing and finding words to convey that, that takes a long, long time. But I carry it all around with me inside my head and bring it out during quiet times with my vegetable garden so there’s time left for enough fiction that I usually have something to talk about at book club every month. Reading so much poetry has made me an impatient reader of fiction—those authors get very few pages in which to grab my interest enough to read their book through.

6. Do you only read poetry written by women? If so, why?

I don’t actively seek out poetry or fiction by men. I already get to hear so much about what men think and want and do—male opinion and ideas are slathered all over television, radio, newspapers (check the VIDA-count of your favourite medium) and etc. What I’m really interested in, is to find and hear the women who are never asked or permitted to speak—there’s usually pretty good reason why certain voices are marginalised by the mainstream.

Steyn, Yaa De Villiers, Molebatsi, Metelerkamp, Moolman, Schimke

Steyn, Yaa De Villiers, Molebatsi, Metelerkamp, Moolman, Schimke

7. How does South African English poetry measure up to what’s being done in other countries where most of the poetry is in English?

Maria Steyn’s tanka are admired and published in Australia, Canada, the USA, and further. A few years ago, Phillippa Yaa De Villiers placed in an annual international haibun contest judged in Japan. I’ve watched Natalia Molebatsi hold her own on the same stage as performance giant Patricia Smith. Joan Metelerkamp, Kobus Moolman and Karin Schimke, like poets abroad, have gone beyond realist, confessional “experience into words on the page” work and on into a music-like non-narrative transformation of words into experience. Perhaps, if South African readers were more adventurous, even more of our poets would be encouraged to be more adventurous too?

8. To which poets do you return?

So much to read, not much chance for returning, but I never miss a new collection from Finuala Dowling (surely it’s about time for another?) and do find Edna St Vincent Millay’s sonnets have something to say for every occasion. Here’s a couple:

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied

Oh, Oh, You Will Be Sorry For That Word

  •  Moira Richards is a freelance editor and writer, and (co)author of a number of accounting and business textbooks. She’s been reviewing fiction and poetry since 2000 and, with Norman Darlington in Ireland, occasionally publishes renga, renku, haibun and other fine work, but mostly renku www.darlingtonrichards.com.

 

 

 

 

“Hand-made” – litmag editor on publishing poetry

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Gary Cummiskey – writer, publisher and editor of the literary magazine New Coin

Gary Cummiskey was recently appointed the editor of New Coin, one of SA’s oldest literary magazines – it celebrates its half century this year. Cummiskey is a writer himself, and is the engine behind Dye Hard Press, which has published numerous titles by an impressive array of literary South African writers, including Arja Salafranca, Khulile Nxumalo, Allan Kolski Horwitz, Phillip Zhuwao from Zimbabwe, Gail Dendy, Kobus Moolman, Alan Finlay and Gus Ferguson. He shares his thoughts on publishing and on whether lit mags still have a role to play in the digital age.

Tell us about Dye Hard Press

I started Dye Hard Press in 1994, on a shoe-string budget, if that, and without having a clue what I was doing – I knew nothing about layout or design. But I did know I wanted to publish poetry, I had a computer and access to a photocopy machine … and staples. So I starting producing these chapbooks of A4, photocopied pages, stapled down the side. I called it Dye Hard Press because I hadn’t a clue what I was doing but refused to accept defeat.

dyehardpressIt was a fun time for South African poetry, just after the first democratic election. There were a lot of small journals that started up around that time – like BLeKSEM and Something Quarterly, for example. Home-made jobs. Kitchen-table publishing. People were optimistic and open. They were curious about what we were doing, curious about this poetry that was being written and published – it wasn’t the kind of poetry they had been forced to read at school. It was an exciting and creative time.

Since then, I have gone through periods of giving the press a break, but always coming back to it. Improving the product, as the marketing crowd say, evolving from producing these A4 stapled sheets to producing perfect-bound books, all professionally designed.

I haven’t bankrupted myself through Dye Hard Press, even though it has often been my own money that has gone into publications and most times I have barely covered my costs. But things are getting expensive, and even digital publishing is not as cheap as it used to be. And then trying to sell the books – especially poetry – is another matter. But small presses are important. We not only tend to publish the groundbreaking work, but also keep things going for poetry. Any big publishers putting out poetry at the moment? I don’t see any – only the small publishers, few that they are. But it is definitely getting tough. Bookstores are reluctant to stock poetry. Publishers battle to sell them. Most poetry now is sold at events – poetry sales have to be event-driven. And the poet has to play an active role in promoting the book.

During the three years that I will be editing New Coin, Dye Hard Press will have to take a back seat. But during that time I also want to rethink Dye Hard Press, particularly with regards to poetry publishing. Perhaps it is matter of returning to publishing chapbooks, to reduce the costs, and then sell them direct to readers at events or by mail order. This would also reduce distribution costs. There are many ways to get poetry out there – but it requires a change of mind-set by both publisher and poet.

Tell us about literary magazines in general – what are they for and who sponsors them? Can poetry magazines survived when there is so much poetry on the internet?

Literary magazines play an invaluable role in providing readers with a variety of voices within a culture, or maybe subculture or even subcultures – whether poetry, fiction or nonfiction. They can be almost like a snapshot of what is happening culturally at a given time. Not one voice, or even two voices, but several – all brought together, providing an insight into the diversity and richness of what is being expressed. South African culture is diverse, that is one of its strengths. In the past South Africa has had various literary journals, whether long-established, formal publications such as New Coin or New Contrast, and there was also Staffrider in the 80s and early 90s. But there has also been a wealth of small, home-published journals owned or even produced by an individual – I’m thinking of Lionel Abraham’s Sesame, there was also Gus Ferguson’s Slug News and Carapace, which is still going. There was BLeKSEM and Something Quarterly. We still have Botsotso, and Timbila, plus Kotaz in New Brighton. Some of these are or were sponsored, others not. I don’t think Carapace has ever received sponsorship. I published Atio in the mid-1990s, and then Green Dragon, which ran to six issues from 2002 to 2010.  Some of the journals have never appeared regularly, but so what? Some poetry journals were fairly short-lived, lasting only a few issues, but at least they were published and that is the main thing. And besides, maybe they were not meant to last beyond a few issues.

I would like to see more online publishing initiatives in South Africa – more online platforms for publishing poetry, whether journals or even chapbooks. These can be blog-based and you don’t need a degree in web design to get them going. But there is still a future for print journals. I don’t see the online and print scenarios as being either-or, but rather both-and. Online poetry has tremendous advantages – instant international distribution, for one. But print also still has its benefits. I like to lie on my bed or on a sofa and read from a book. I guess you can do that with an e-reader, but with print there is the physical feel of a book, you can feel and appreciate the texture of its pages. There is a sense of a book – of creation.

However, if print journals are to attract and retain readers they also need to be vital, the content must be seen as vital. They must be regarded by poets and poetry readers are essential reading and cutting-edge – in touch with what is happening.

Tell us about New Coin

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New Coin literary magazine turns 50 this year

New Coin is one of South Africa’s oldest literary journals and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It is published by the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA) in Grahamstown. It publishes mainly South African English poetry and reviews, and appears twice a year. New Coin is not available online as such, but is distributed electronically by various organisations, including  Sabinet Online. New Coin is available on subscription but we are looking at introducing the publication for sale at selected bookstores.

Submissions can be made electronically to newcoin@ru.ac.za. You will receive an acknowledgment of receipt. Poets should submit about six poems for selection, ideally as an attached MS Word document.

Do you have any particular desires or ambitions for New Coin?

My main aim is to produce issues containing quality poetry that is alive, exciting and challenging, as well as relevant to the contemporary South African poetry discourse and to poetry readers.

What do you read? 

Poetry, fiction, nonfiction. I recently finished reading DH Lawrence’s novel The Lost Girl, Jim Morrison’s posthumous collection of poems, Wilderness, and am now reading John Fowles’ first novel, The Collector. Last year I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which was one of the best novels I have read for a long time.

In terms of poetry, some of my favourite poets are Bob Kaufman, Gregory Corso, Sinclair Beiles, Ira Cohen, Mxolisi Nyezwa, Artaud, Rimbaud, Apollinaire, Henri Michaux, Frank O’Hara, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Lautreamont, Baudelaire, Lorca, Wopko Jensma, Seitlhamo Motsapi – the list is endless. Will I ever be able to read everything I want? I doubt it. There is just too much. And that is just the first-time reads – not the books one wishes to read again and again.

What is your own publishing history?

I had my first poems published in one of the final issues of Staffrider – that was such an exciting literary journal. Then Gus Ferguson published poems of mine in Slug News. Gus encouraged me – not only to write but also with my publishing imprint, Dye Hard Press. I have published quite a few chapbooks of poetry through Dye Hard Press, but back in the mid-90s Gus published a collection of mine, When Apollinaire Died, in his Firfield Press series. Have been published by Tearoom Books too – apart from publishing a print chapbook of mine, Romancing the Dead, Tearoom also recently published an e-chapbook of free-form haiku, called I Remain Indoors. I had a chapbook published in India, by Graffiti Kolkata, called Sky Dreaming. Through Dye Hard Press I also published Who was Sinclair Beiles?, which I co-edited with Eva Kowalska, plus my debut collection of short fiction, Off-ramp.

What sort of poems do you write?

I have been influenced very much by the US Beat poets and the French surrealists, so this does have an effect on my approach to writing poetry. I once referred to myself as a “dada-surrealist-madhouse screamer”, which I guess fits the bill. Yet when I Remain Indoors appeared, someone was surprised and said: “These poems are not surrealist!”

But why play in one room when you can play in several?

 

The goal and its challenges

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Having spent time in December making the goals, I spent most of January trying to remember them. This poem sums up the challenges:

Bullseye-Desktop-WallpaperThe Three Goals

By David Budbill

The first goal is to see the thing itself
in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly
for what it is.
No symbolism please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing
as unified, as one, with all the other
ten thousand things.
In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,
to see the universal and the particular,
simultaneously.
Regarding this one, call me when you get it.

Please, God, please: libraries

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Thank God for libraries and librarians…they are a source of hope

By Karin Schimke

The boy is mad about the girl. She’s not like the other children. She’s very quiet and she likes to read. She reads him poetry and he wouldn’t mind so much, if only she’d allow him to rest his head in her lap while she does.

Later she asks him to walk to the library with him. They walk through Valhalla Park, which he says is like walking through Bosnia: depressing and dangerous. At the library he makes fun of the covers of the Afrikaans Mills & Boons-type book she likes and she laughs at him. Then finds an Andre Brink’s book. She loves Andre Brink. She reads him the rude bits and they laugh. Later they walk back through the “war zone”.

chokers en survivorsThis story is sketched in one of the poems by Nathan Trantraal in his debut collection of poems called “Chokers en Survivors”. If his name seems familiar to you – and not from his Afrikaans poetry – then you may have seen it on the Cape Times’ weekly comic strip called The Richenbaums.

But this is not about Trantraal or poetry or comic strips. This is about synchronicity. No, this is about libraries.

Not long after reading the affecting story of teenage love in a library, Valhalla Park library bleeped on my radar again.

Apparently many readers there have an insatiable taste for the books of Sophia Kapp. Kapp, a lecturer, is a writer of Afrikaans novels – novels that are extremely popular. So popular that the librarians at Valhalla Park called her publisher and asked whether there was any chance at all that she could be a guest at the library during women’s month to talk about the empowerment of women through reading. (Her speech, in Afrikaans, can be read here).

Although she lives up country, Kapp came to Cape Town and braved last week’s spectacular Cape Town storms to speak to her fans at the library, where she made an impassioned plea for women to claim their rights, not just be aware of them.

Then, on Saturday, I read a long piece in an Afrikaans newspaper weekend supplement in which the writer visits his local library for the first time in many years, having slid into the comfortable middle class happiness of being able to afford his own glossy books. I had mixed feelings about the article. I thought it was an evocative homage to libraries as central and vital to many, many people, but was deeply irritated by his insistence on naming the race of the people he saw at the library (except when they were caucasian, which he clearly deems to be the default human race).

That aside, the piece warmed me again to the role of community libraries, and made me want to seek out the smell and feel of my local library, where the chief librarian always looks flustered and smells as though he baths once a month, but can be relied on to find what I want and always politely enquires about how my own writing is going. It made me want to find Susan again, the children’s librarian, who knew my children’s names and had a reliable hand in guiding them towards books they would like when they were little.

The Open Book festival begins in Cape Town this weekend. Its organisers aim to make a library for a school that doesn’t have one. This means collecting around 5 000 books with which to stock it.

They’ve managed this impossible-seeming task before. I have no doubt they’ll do it again.

I imagine every ounce of sweat, every cent, every over-time hour, every thought and every tiny effort put in by the people who love books – the authors, like Kapp, the publishers, like Lapa who sponsored her trip, the librarians, like those at Valhalla Park who care so deeply about the people they serve – and for the first time in weeks I feel almost mawkishly optimistic about life.

Libraries.

Sanitation too. And better health care.

But please, God, please, many, full libraries.

  • This column first appeared in the Cape Times in September 2013

 

Love Books

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“Books and magazines,” a friend of mine recently said about his parental home, “were our decor.”

And I imagine a quiet space, with dust speckling the sunbeams from a harsh African sun filtering into the cool of a mid-century home. There’s polished slasto on the front porch, a ball-and-claw diningroom table you can lie under and read without being disturbed, and a melamine kitchen table, where great wodges of white government bread are eaten with butter and tomato sauce after school, one hand feeding, the other holding up an open book.

I have no idea whether that’s what it was like for him, but that’s the picture I got.

Books make spaces beautiful. So a space made beautiful for books is a step in the direction of transcendence. Love Books in Melville Joburg is so entrancingly pretty, so clearly loved, that you want to sink into one of its cushy old chairs, tuck your feet under your butt, and settle in more or less for life.

It’s a smallish space. Two interleading rooms, on two different levels, are connected visually by both the books, and the quirky, unexpected shelving and furnishings. You’re drawn from the narrow end to the wider space, or vice versa, as though discovering secret places. It’s one of those shops where even if you’re not actually making little gasping sounds on the outside, you’re doing them on the inside.

The shelves are a hodge-podge. On some walls, invisible structures make it look like books are slotting out of the brickwork. In other places, nests of tables have been stacked and fixed on top of one another to form odd-ball towers that house books that don’t seem to fit into definite categories. Old ball-and-claw tables have been painted shocking yellow or candyfloss pink. Scrapheap shelves have been painted and glossed and stacked; eccentric tidbits hang from the ceilings and walls, old chairs have newly tapestried cushions. There are books on seats and ocassional tables, in loopy odd-angled shelves, on tables. Sometimes they’re even in staid straight-up-and-down shelves. Weirdly, it’s all fluid and harmonious, in spite of how it sounds.

Most inspired and original, though, are that the sections are announced in crossstitch, hung inside the embroidery circles they were stiched in by Anna Sacke, who works there.

Books make me breath a little harder. Warm, loved interiors give me mini nostalgia meltdowns, and textured spaces make me weak with something I can’t really name – longing, a happy melancholia, hope..?
I don’t just love Love Books. I want it. I want to gobble it down, or throw my arms around it. I want to find a threadbare old Eiderdown (remember those?) and curl up under the big old table in the front of the shop with a torch and a Nancy Drew book. And eat marshmallows straight out of the bag.

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How to make a dictionary even more enticing

DSC01583

DSC01583Working from the Cape Times offices yesterday, I needed to look up a word, so I went over to the editor’s secretary’s book shelf and found this beaut.

Is this not the most enticing dictionary dust jacket you ever did see? I was on deadline so it took every ounce of resistance not to look up “zoozoo” or “spoffish” or “estrangelo”. So I took a photo instead.

I have many dictionaries on my shelf, but not this one. I think I should remedy that. Especially since I couldn’t find many of these crunchy words in any of mine and had to go on-line – which is not my favourite way of looking up words. I might have to put The Chambers Dictionary on my birthday wishlist.

To the imagined question “If you were stranded on a desert island, which one book would you wish to have with you?” my answer has always been “a dictionary”.