My reading list

My how the time has flown. Some of the items on my list influenced my writing more than others. I feel that I’ve grown as a writer by choosing books to feed my imagination, and then reading them with attention.

I intend to go through the same process again in January and look forward to seeing where that will take me!.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

A beautiful novel. Anna is beautiful, intelligent and goes after what she wants. She pays dearly because even though a man having an affair is tolerated by the nobility of Russia in the late 1800 and early 1900s, a woman doing the same is despised. Anna is married to an older man, the pragmatic, cold Karenin, when she meets her lover, the potential suitor of her brother’s wife’s sister. This is a brilliant portrayal of the complex relationships between men and women, the push and pull, their power struggle if you will; and how isolation and shunning can warp the personality. Of interest to me was the nepotism of old Russia, especially when compared with the current status quo in South Africa; and the class structure of the peasants and the nobility. Tolstoy also incorporates discussion on pertinent issues of the time.

The master bedroom, Tessa Hadley

This is apparently domestic fiction. It’s the first time I come across this term. Domestic for whom? Women? My reason for choosing this novel is that it is written in a contemporary, fragmentary way. Kate Flynn (40+) returns home after an academic career to take care of her ailing mother. She doesn’t treat her mother well. Later she has an affair with an old friend’s husband, a doctor, and his 17-year-old son. One of the pivotal events in the novel sees her cowering in her bedroom unable to say no to the insistent advances of the teenager. Really? I can see I’m going to be challenged in reading this novel.

The restless supermarket, Ivan Vladislavic

Set in Hillbrow in the 1990s this post-modern novel deals with two old men trying to cope with the changes around them. Their regular meeting place is about to close. Once a bustling, cosmopolitan town in their youth; Hillbrow has changed into a decaying run-down area with an influx of new immigrants, mostly from Africa. The narrator is a retired proof reader who regularly intersperses his narration with discussions about language and grammar. At this stage, having just started the novel, I’m not sure about the purpose of this device. Hopefully this will become clear by the end of the novel.  A comment on the Goodreads website was that the grammar Nazis would love it.

The family of Pascal Duarte, Camilo Jose Cela

A serial killer goes on the rampage and kills his mother, a pimp, a horse and a dog. That is a lot of killing. And for animal lovers the murder of a horse and dog will upset. The story is apparently told through various narrators. I have not read the book yet but I am curious to see who these narrators are. The novel explores the concept that violence is the only way to solve a problem, something the Italian mafia swears by. Published in 1942 it must have caused quite a stir because it was banned. It tells the story of Pascal, an outsider trying to find his place in society.

Blood and guts in high school, Cathy Acker

A harrowing account of ten-year-old Janey Smith who has an incestuous ‘relationship’ with her father and is sent to school because her father wants to pursue a woman he has just met. Told from Janey’s viewpoint her life reads like a horror story: sleeping with daddy and his friend, contracting a STD, two abortions, drug addiction, joining a gang and being sold into prostitution. On top of this she contracts breast cancer. Just to see how such difficult subject matter is handled from the view of a child should be enough reward. I follow stories on human trafficking so this one should be a good read. Furthermore it is written in the collage technique which I would like to examine.

In corner B, Es’kia Mphahlele

This collection of short stories trace Mphahlele’s journey as an exile, especially in Nigeria. It is worth reading just for the Nigerian-English dialogue that jumps off the page to grab your attention. Mphahlele has a very fine ear for dialogue and for focussing on the amusing things people say. In one of the stories at a funeral in South Africa the people collect money to drown their ‘sorry’. He is a fearless writer in that he describes the foibles of his own people and others with equal gusto. His description of Nigerian women striding out at dawn on their way to the market, swinging their hips, with one hand steadying a load on their heads and the other hand holding a baby is an image that has stayed with me. It speaks of endurance and toughness.

A good man is hard to find, Flannery O’Connor

The title story about an elderly woman who meets a murderer and tries to talk him out of murdering her family but fails sparked my interest. She tells the murderer he is a good man but eventually he kills her as well. At the end the murderer says that she was someone who needed to be murdered every day. O’Connor is an Irish writer whose stories I’d like to examine in detail. She is a brilliant story teller and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the stories.

The house next door to Africa, Denis Hirson

A very short book (98 pages) this is a memoir written in short paragraphs. Poetic in form and image these paragraphs create an impressionistic vision of the author’s life and history. It is therefore no surprise to learn that the author is a poet. The book traces his great-grandparents’ journey from Eastern Europe to Palestine (the promised land) and from there down to South Africa. It describes the conflict of Europe meeting Africa in the story of his grandmother, not of sound mind, always looking for her handbag in which she has valuable cheques (worthless paper) because she believes it has been stolen by the household help.

This year you write your novel, Walter Mosely

Advice about writing is always welcome. I’m also hoping it will be prophetic and this year, indeed, I will be writing my novel. Inspiration to keep going is crucial.

The gospel according to Jesus Christ, Jose Saramago

Saramago is a brave writer to attempt a re-telling or alternate history to the life of Jesus Christ. It intrigues me, especially since it was written recently (1991) in the climate of a surging growth of fundamentalist Christianity in America and elsewhere. (South Africa has not been excluded). And to have a character, a devil named Pastor; well that is dark humour at its best. How his version deviates from the bible should be an eye-opener. Besides the obvious clash with organised religion, especially the Roman Catholic Church, and the born-again movement, this novel from a writer who received the Nobel Prize for Literature (1995) is a must-read, at least for me.

Woman in dunes, Kōbō Abé

A Japanese writer, Abé has been compared to Franz Kafka. It would be interesting to explore his work to see their similarities as well as their differences. The themes in his novel about a widow, employed to dig sand for her village, living in a house being swallowed up by the sand, should be a good place to start. Abé writes in different genres: poetry, novels, short stories, plays and essays. He also wrote the screenplay for the film. Comparing the novel to the screenplay would provide insight into what he deemed important to satisfy the demands of the film industry.

To hell with Cronje, Ingrid Winterbach

Translated from Afrikaans this is a historical novel about English colonial expansion and the Anglo-Boer war. Two soldier-scientists, Reitz and Ben, take a shell-shocked mate, Abram, home. On their way they do scientific research, carefully notating the natural phenomena they come across. I intend reading both the English and Afrikaans version which won the Hertzog Prize. My reason for choosing this novel is because I want to write a historical novel and it is imperative to see what other South African writers are doing and how they deal with our past. It should also be informative to see what the writer does with such an emotional topic, whether the novel will reinforce known stereotypes or provide a new angle.

A walk in the night, Alex la Guma

I have not read any stories from this writer that I can remember. My investigation revealed that the stories are socio-political, dealing with ordinary people’s lives in apartheid South Africa.

Some of her friends that year, Maxine Chernoff

Chernoff is a poet, novelist and short story writer. From Chicago she writes her stories in a humorous way. She is a new author whose stories I have never read but I am attracted by her versatility as a writer.

The collected stories of Lydia Davis

Davis has written six collections of short stories and has won the Man Booker Prize. She’s another author whose work I’m not familiar with. Her stories are known for their brevity (some stories are no longer than one page), conciseness and humour.

Pablo Neruda, The Poetry of Pablo Neruda (new addition)

I selected the poetry of Neruda because in my other life I would like to be a poet.

Shirley, goodness and mercy, Chris van Wyk

This novel caused quite a stir when it was released a few years ago prompting comparisons to Angela’s Ashes. I have not read it yet.

Who’s afraid of Kathy Acker (DVD)

The title is reminiscent of Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf so I want to see what this is all about.



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