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Stories of the Everyday with Terry-Ann Adams

The third season of A Readers’ Community has launched! The first episode explores narratives of the everyday in fiction, featuring an interview with Terry-Ann Adams about their new collection, White Chalk, and with recommendations from Omphile Raleie of Bookamoso.

 Omphile recommends The GoldDiggers by Sue Nyathi, The Ones with Purpose by Nozizwe Cynthia Jele, Bows and Butterflies by Xoli M, and Searching for Simphiwe by Sifiso Mzobe.

Listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.

Hosted by Vasti Calitz. Produced by Vasti Calitz and Andri Burnett. This season is made possible by a grant by the National Arts Council.

Listen Now: Stories of the Everyday with Terry-Ann Adams

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Mervyn Recommends Hammerman and Unforgiven

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Liz McGregor

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Mike Nicol

Crime and (not so much) Punishment

A couple of pages in to Mike Nicol’s superb new novel, Hammerman, the reader is taken to the middle of a horrendous shootout in Manenberg. Hours before I started reading, news had broken in the real world of yet another mass killing in Cape Town. Crime fiction as escapism? Not so much. 

Hammerman is classified as crime fiction. It is also current affairs. It is travel writing. It is urban studies. It is Cape Town. It is South Africa. It is grim. 

Nicol’s clipped style (Cape Town noir perhaps) propels the action forward at a rollicking pace – he is a master of plot and character and that kept me turning those pages way past my bedtime. I desperately wanted Vicki Kahn and Fish Pescado to survive and to provide me with a resolution that I could believe in, even if it was only till the next morning’s news broke. No spoilers here, you’ll have to read it to find out if Vicki and Fish make it through unscathed.
Please note this is a work of fiction. In the real world, The Book Lounge does not keep secret documents for State Security Agents, though we do appreciate the fictional shout out, as always!

Unforgiven: Face to Face with my Father’s Killer by Liz McGregor is another kind of crime writing. The author’s father, Robin, was murdered in his home in Tulbagh in 2008 and this thoughtful, candid memoir charts McGregor’s process in trying to come to terms with her loss, a process that slowly evolves into a burning desire to meet the man convicted of her father’s murder. At the heart of this story is an exploration of the possibilities of restorative justice and the space it occupies (or could occupy) in the criminal justice system. McGregor is a highly skilled writer and her honesty, her willingness to share her vulnerability on the page and her consciousness of her class and racial privilege ensures that this book works on a variety of levels. A heartfelt memoir, an exploration of the psychology of grief and a vital spotlight on the possibilities (and problems) of restorative justice. 

Two very different books, both highly recommended.
Mervyn

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Mervyn Recommends The Sentence and These Precious Days

Every now and then I discover books having a conversation with each other. 

I loved The Sentence by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Louise Erdrich. I had been on the point of discarding it from my leaning tower of “possible to read on holiday” pile, because it’s billed as a wickedly funny ghost story. I’ve got nothing against wicked humour though I vary rarely find books that are described in such terms actually make me laugh, but I’m not exactly a fan of ghost stories (the world is dark enough ho hum yawn), but the fact that much of the novel is set in an independent bookshop saved it from the holiday chop and that was the best decision I’ve made so far this year.

It’s a beautifully constructed novel which I found to be seriously unfunny, telling in part the story of Tookie, who after serving time for carting a corpse with a whack of cocaine taped to its armpits in a truck to a friend of hers (ok, maybe a little bit funny), finds work in an independent bookshop in Minneapolis. The promised ghost is that of Flora, a seriously annoying customer, who refuses to allow the small matter of her death to come between her and browsing. 

Erdrich centres Native American experience and culture in her writing – her wiki entry notes that she “is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance” but despite the ghostly themes of trying to deal with traumatic pasts, The Sentence is a fiercely contemporary novel. Tookie’s Minneapoolis is torn apart by the murder of George Floyd while the bookshop is trying to find ways to survive under Covid – and yet Erdrich manages to weave a timeless quality into her storytelling that belies the 2020 environment, and perhaps that is because Erdrich’s love of books and belief in the power of stories shines through the narrative. 

It was only after finishing The Sentence, that I discovered (hello google) that Erdrich does in fact own an independent bookshop, that the slightly distant owner of the bookshop in the novel named Louise is in fact her good self. (How the hell did I miss that?)  And to prove that she is as much bookseller as writer, Erdrich includes a long list of books at the end of the novel – some of which are referenced in The Sentence. The eleventh book under the heading, The Sailboat Table (it makes sense once you’ve read The Sentence) is The Dutch House by Ann Patchett, who is quoted on the back cover of The Sentence, proclaiming that Erdrich is her “favourite writer”.

Ann Patchett’s latest book, These Precious Days, is a fine collection of essays that hit these parts in early December. I read some of the essays when it arrived – I had really enjoyed another collection of essays she published a few years ago, and the fact that she is the part owner of an independent bookshop is of course also a pull for me. After reading three or four of the essays, I put it aside, satisfied that I’d read enough to recommend it to customers, moved on to something else with the idea that I would go back to it on holiday in January. And as soon as I finished The Sentence, I returned to These Precious Days. 

One of Patchett’s strengths is her ability to write about her friends, her family, herself in engaging and entertaining prose. She is also preoccupied with death, particularly when starting work on a new novel. She obsesses about what will happen to her characters if she dies before finishing their stories – she manages to be both whimsical and unsentimental about her writing, but her prose is permeated by her love of books, her love of writing and the sense of community that is clearly at the heart of her bookselling project. And yes, she too writes about the challenges of keeping her bookshop going under Covid, and it was round about then in my reading of These Precious Days that these two wonderful books started talking to each other. 

Their conversation was about the role books play in our lives, about love and respect and caring and humility. And then they talked a little about resilience and the importance of book buying communities and gratitude. There was a lot that I wanted to say, but I took the advice that I long to give to so many – “shut up and listen” and for once, I did the right thing.

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Wole Soyinka Reads From Chronicles From the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

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Our Ghosts Were Once People: Interview with Bongani

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Bongani Kona

Vasti interviews Bongani Kona about the process of editing the collection, Our Ghosts Were Once People.

About the book:

Death is a fact of life, but the experience of grief is unique to each of us. This timely collection brings together a range of voices to offer reflections on death and dying, from individual losses to large scale catastrophes.

Karin Schimke revisits her troubled relationship with her late father, a Second World War survivor ‘whose brain had been broken by violence’. Madeleine Fullard, the head of South Africa’s Missing Persons Task Team, draws us into the search for activists who were ‘disappeared’ or went missing in political circumstances between 1960 and 1994. Caine Prize winner Lidudumalingani remembers his childhood in a small village in the Eastern Cape, and how his mother always listened to death notices read over the radio as a way of bearing witness to the grief of strangers.

The other contributors in this poignant and thought-provoking anthology turn their minds to subjects as varied as the ritual of washing the body of the deceased before burial, the ethics of killing small animals, and the extinction of humankind.

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Q&A: Qarnita Loxton on ‘Being Dianne’

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Qarnita Loxton

We’re more than a little excited for the final installation of Qarnita Loxton’s Being series. Mervyn – a long time fan of the series and of Qarnita – was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy by Kwela, and Qarnita was generous enough to answer a few questions.

Less than 4 and a half years ago, you published your debut novel, Being Kari. How would you have reacted if someone said to you that by August 2021, you would have published four novels and brought the stories of Kari’s 3 friends – Lily, Shelley and Dianne to life? (If my memory is correct, you weren’t initially planning on a series?)

Disbelief! There is no way I would’ve even imagined that I would be able to write and publish these stories. You are right,  I wasn’t planning a series. The reality of these books is a combination of my compulsion to write these stories, the support that I received from my publisher, Kwela, and the support of readers. Also wanting to prove to myself that I had more than one book in me coupled with a big dose of luck! It has been an incredible and wonderfully unexpected experience. 

Your novels are all written in an incredibly easy-to-read style with great dialogue and wonderful use of social media (particularly WhatsApp) and at the same time there is a complex issue or theme at the centre of each one, told through the lens of the title character of each of the novels, and also told through the lens of friendship. The issue at the centre of Being Dianne is sexuality/sexual orientation with a focus on parenting. Dianne has a secret same-sex relationship while her daughter is being bullied at school for possibly being gay. What made you decide to focus on sexual orientation for Being Dianne and what were the major challenges in writing it?

When Dianne came out to her friends in Being Lily it was not something that I had originally planned for the character so it was surprising to me too, it was as if she revealed herself to me – but it turned out to be just right for Dianne. I like challenging stereotypes in my novels (in Dianne’s case a pretty regular divorced suburban mom of two, you think you’d know exactly what she would be like). Dianne gave me the opportunity to challenge stereotypes of sexual orientation that I could not pass on. The major challenge for me was not to fall into stereotypes myself when writing her. I also wanted to be true to the character and her many facets, her sexual orientation being just one aspect of her make-up.   

The horrific homophobia of other parents was horrible to read but felt really true-to-life. Was that a product of research or did you just easily find those words yourself?

I spent a lot of time doing online research, reading books and talking to parents and individuals who have experienced homophobia. One of the WhatsApp scenes was actually inspired by something I had experienced as a parent and that grounded me in everyday life, to know how easily and unthinkingly homophobia is expressed. Because of this the words came quite easily.  

Teen Pride, a social event for queer teens and their straight allies which used to happen at the Book Lounge in pre-Covid times is included in the plot and so Book Lounge gets a lot of airtime in your novel including my new favourite line “what is the Book Lounge anyway?” Thinking of having T-shirts printed with that line on it. Thank you. (This is not a question, clearly!)

But the answer is ‘Yes please, I’ll have a T-shirt!’

When I started reading Being Dianne I did so feeling a little sad as I assumed that as Dianne was the last of the four close friends to get her own book, this was the end of something. But you cunningly brought Shireen (Kari’s sister-in-law) into the friendship group in the new novel. Does this mean we can expect a fifth episode in the series? 

As the series progressed, the friendship circle of Kari, Lily, Shelley and Dianne expanded naturally to include Shireen (I’m so glad – cliquey Capetonians already have a bad rep!). I didn’t have plans to do a fifth episode for Shireen but who knows? I also feel a little sad that this is the end of the series,  so maybe one day Shireen will push me to write her story as well. 

What is the most difficult part of starting a new novel? And are you one of those writers who knows pretty much how the story will pan out when you start writing or do you get surprised by your characters along the way? 

I am a combination of the two. I start with a vague plan which operates much like a security blanket, and then as I write I have less need for the security blanket and the characters start showing themselves. For me, the hardest part of starting a new novel is having the courage to start. Each time I have to talk myself into believing that I can write, that I can make words become a story. 

I see that you’ve collaborated with three other writers on a joint novel that will be published next year. How did that come about and tell us a little about the experience of writing collaboratively? 

Pamela Power, Amy Heydenrych, Gail Schimmel and I met up in Joburg in February 2020 for the launch of Being Shelley and we were so looking forward to all the literary festivals for the year. Everything was cancelled soon after and we were massively disappointed. To ease the lockdown blues we decided to write a fun novel about four friends, each of us as a different character. We had a very broad story line but it was a lucky packet as each of us took turns writing a chapter and we had no idea what was coming. As a writing experience I learned a lot about other writers’ processes and writing capacity but generally it was just fun and full of laughs as we surprised each other with ‘what happened next.’ I think it worked because even with the fun we were all quite disciplined and wrote when we committed to doing so.    

What are you reading at the moment? Anything you’ve read this year that you’d like to recommend? 

I’ve just started reading Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau which is proving to be a fun trip into the 1970’s. My faves of this year are Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, The Vanishing Half by Brett Bennet as well as local reads Suitcase of Memory by A’Eeysha Kassiem, Go Away Birds by Michelle Edwards and How I Accidentally Became A Global Stock Photo by Shubnum Khan. Last year I struggled to read but this year has been better luck.   

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Nen and the Lonely Fisherman, read by Stephen Fry

Far out to sea and deep below the whispering waves lives a merman called Nen. Nen spends his days exploring his underwater kingdom, but something is missing: his heart is empty. So, Nen ventures to the forbidden world above and it is here that he meets Ernest, a lonely fisherman. But can two people from different worlds be together and what will happen when a terrifying storm gathers? A lyrical, beautiful celebration of love, acceptance and faith, with a gentle message about how we treat our oceans, and each other.

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Why We Read with Mphuthumi Ntabeni

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Mphuthumi Ntabeni

In this final episode of the season, we look at stand out reads from 2021, featuring a conversation with Mphuthumi Ntabeni, author of The Wanderers.

Jess’s favourite picture book of the year so far is The Rock From the Sky by Jon Klassen, while the book that has meant most to Colin this year is The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr, and Luami’s stand out read is a spec fic novel, Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Hosted by Vasti Calitz. Produced by Andri Burnett.

Listen Now: Why We Read with Mphuthumi Ntabeni

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Down Memory Lane with Robert Hamblin

In this episode about memoirs, we bring you a conversation with Robert Hamblin about his just-published book, Robert: A Queer and Crooked Memoir for the Not So Straight or Narrow, and staff recommend their favourite memoirs.

Megan’s favourtie is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Luami loved Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood, and Carmen’s recommendation is Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway.

Listen Now: Down Memory Lane with Robert Hamblin

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Female Fear Factory

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Pumla Dineo Gqola

Female Fear Factory by Pumla Dineo Gqola is the eagerly ­anticipated follow up to the 2016 Sunday Times Alan Paton Award winner Rape A South African Nightmare. Like the previous book on which it builds, Female Fear Factory fuses intellectual rigour and extensive research. Gqola, a rockstar of South African feminism, brilliantly traces the construction and machinations of the female fear factory by exposing its myths, lies and seductions. It is an insightful and sobering account of global patriarchal violence but also offers a hopeful vision through the eyes of an unapologetic feminist.

The ongoing explosion of sexual violence demands more space for the development of the female fear factory concept as well as its possible antidotes. Where Rape: A South African Nightmare introduced strategies for disrupting rape culture at an individual level, Female Fear Factory offers an even bolder vision for collective action against all cultures of sexual violence. ~ Prof Pumla Gqola

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A Feast for the Eyes with Team Kwezi

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Clyde Beech

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Loyiso Mkize

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Mohale Mashigo

An episode about comic books, graphic novels, and graphic biographies. We speak to the dream team behind Kwezi, South Africa’s first superhero comic, Loyiso Mkize, Clyde Beech and Mohale Mashigo (aka Carol Mashigo).
 
Jess talks about the graphic biography Kusama by Elisa Macellari, the adaptations of Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell, as well as the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Noah recommends Nimona by Noelle Stevenson as well their memoir, The Fire Never Goes Out, and Luami loved Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg and Fangs by Sarah Andersen.

Listen Now: A Feast for the Eyes with Team Kwezi

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Reading Slump Remedies with A’Eysha Kassiem and Naledi Mashishi

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Patrick Radden Keefe


This episode is all about books to read when you’re struggling to read. We speak to A’Eyasha Kassiem, author of Suitcase of Memory, as well as Naledi Mashishi, whose debut novel is Invisible Strings.

The book that rescued Mervyn from a reading slump recently is Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong, while Megan was saved by Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe, Carmen’s solution is essay collections, and she recommends A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib.

Listen Now: Reading Slump Remedies with A’Eysha Kassiem and Naledi Mashishi

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