Tag Archives: To Kill a Mockingbird

Great, even life-changing – the books of 2015

Another great year of reading is coming to an end, although it did not start that way. I am grateful to the love that has returned my passion for reading to me when reading – when life – became unbearable.
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Knowing how few books one can read in a lifetime (I won’t depress you with the estimate), I have become quite selective and wise about what I read. Thus, out of the sixty-three books I have read this year (until today, some not for the first time), almost all were good, thirty-one were great – among them were a few which were life-changing – and only two I did not finish. Of these two, one was brilliant, but I was reading it on 6 February and have not been able to return to it. The other one I had wonderful hopes for, but I was so disappointed and frustrated that after a hundred pages I decided not to waste more of my time on it. In the spirit of the festive season, the perpetrator shall remain unnamed.

The great ones I have finished, I would like to divide among four categories: relevant, delightful, exquisite, and life-changing (whereas some, of course, overlap).

There are old-time favourite authors on my list like Alexandra Fuller and Ivan Vladislavić, but also new discoveries like Pamela Power or Mark Winkler.

Relevant
Ingrid Jonker: A Biography by Louise Viljoen
Back to Angola: A Journey from War to Peace by Paul Morris
A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
J. M. Coetzee and The Life Of Writing: Face-To-Face With Time by David Attwell
Books That Matter by Marie Philip

Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.
(A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion)

Delightful
The Unknown Unknown by Mark Forsyth
What Poets Need by Finuala Dowling
Ms Conception by Pamela Power
What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler
Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov
The Chameleon House by Melissa de Villiers
Embers by Sándor Márai
Tribe by Rahla Xenopoulos
The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

I had a very efficient guano maker installed in my bath.
(The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell)

Exquisite
The Long Dry by Cynan Jones
Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
101 Detectives by Ivan Vladislavić
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
The Dream House by Craig Higginson
The Alphabet of the Birds by SJ Naudé
We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Sugar Man: The Life, Death and Resurrection of Sixto Rodriguez by Stephen ‘Sugar’ Segerman and Craig Bartholomew Strydom
the myth of this is that we’re all in this together by Nick Mulgrew
Wasted by Mark Winkler
Notes from the Dementia Ward by Finuala Dowling

We have to admit our massive love for people. If we don’t ever need to know its depth, we just feel the light on the surface.
(The Long Dry by Cynan Jones)

Life-changing
Flame in the Snow / Vlam in die Sneeu by André Brink and Ingrid Jonker
Killing Floor by Lee Child
Water: New Short Fiction from Africa
Mountains in the Sea: A Celebration of the Table Mountain National Park by John Yeld and Martine Barker
The Art of the Publisher by Roberto Calasso

I would like to single out two books I haven’t written about. Yet. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins and Roberto Calasso’s The Art of the Publisher.
A God in Ruins
Atkinson’s novel is one of the most exquisite books I have read in my life. Its beauty and its declaration of love for the power of literature to capture eternity, to heal, to open up spaces in us we never even knew existed are staggering. Personally, I will always associate the novel with two seminal moments in my life. While reading it during one of those serene nights when you are at peace with yourself and the world, I saw something beautiful and drew a sketch of the scene at the back of the book. It is also engraved in my heart. And when I finished A God in Ruins, I was crushed by the inability to share it with André, but then something happened which gave me comfort and hope and the book will always be at the source of these feelings when it comes to reading. I hope to write about it before the year is over.
The Art of the Publisher
Calasso’s book speaks about everything I have ever known, felt, dreamt about or hoped for in publishing. I have known for years that one day I would become a publisher myself. The Art of the Publisher made me realise that the time has come to make that day become reality.

Review: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird“It is what it is, says love” is a phrase from a poem by the Austrian poet Erich Fried which echoed in my head while I was reading Harper Lee’s highly anticipated Go Set a Watchman. Published decades after her Pulitzer Prize-winning, internationally bestselling To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Lee’s only other novel to date, no matter what its merits or lack thereof, Go Set a Watchman is a literary milestone.

How the two books relate to each other reminds one of the ancient question about which came first: the chicken or the egg. It’s complicated. Or not? Although first to be published, To Kill a Mockingbird was written after Go Set a Watchman. Both tell the story of the Finch family, but they are set twenty years apart. In the late 1950s, Harper Lee was told by an editor who saw the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman, where the main characters are all grown up but frequently return in their memories of an earlier time throughout the book, to rework it to focus on those childhood stories. This rewrite became To Kill a Mockingbird. Without any doubt there are good reasons why the initial book hasn’t seen the light of the published page until now. And all kudos to the editor who saw its potential back then and challenged Lee to write another novel which millions of readers across the world have come to love over the last half a century.

My personal love affair with To Kill a Mockingbird began in grade 8. I still have my school copy of the novel with a dust jacket I designed for it myself. It is one of only a handful of books which travelled with me across three continents to settle in Cape Town. I mention this to emphasise the important part that the tale of the siblings, Scout and Jem, and their wonderful father, Atticus Finch, plays in my life. Full of wisdom and tenderness, beautifully written, poignant and funny, the richly layered To Kill a Mockingbird is a true classic. It is set in the imagined county of Maycomb in Alabama of the 1930s. Through Scout’s innocent eyes, it tells the story of her and her brother’s fascination with their reclusive neighbour, Boo Radley, and their father’s fight for fairness for a black man accused of raping a white woman in the Jim Crow South. The children learn that it’s easy to fear what you do not understand and that more often than not law has very little to do with justice. But what they also discover is that there are certain things in life worth fighting for.

When I reread the novel recently, my love of it was reaffirmed. And when you love something so much, it is easy to have your heart broken if somebody tampers with it in ways which are uncomfortably unpredictable…

Continue reading: LitNet

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