Friday, April 22, 2011

A day in the life of...

I just had to share this link with other incurable readers! What a wonderful idea, a day in the life of... thousands of fictional characters.

Go through the list, minute by minute, to revisit some great scenes from literature, meet up again with marvellous characters, and make stunning new aquaintances.

Of course you can also go through your personal favourite novels to find more phrases mentioning a specific time of day or night. Then why not add them to this growing list?

Have fun!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Big author, small book

Ever since I published my first novel, I've tried to keep out of the messy business of critisising other novelists. I particularly avoid reviewing fellow South African writers, because the pool is so small and the egos are so big and literary critisism often ends up being nothing more than a case of mutual back-scratching. Or reciprocal nastiness.

But praising other novelists is another matter. That's why I started this blog, to spread the Good Word of Reading, to tell other readers about books I love. When it comes to reading, I have the heart of an enthusiastic missionary rather than a strict judge.

If I don't like a book, why should I waste time writing about it? That's mostly my credo, also when blogging.

When I do agree to write a review for the traditional press, I try to choose an author I've admired in the past or a book I suspect I would like. I prefer being nice to being nasty - maybe it's as simple as that.

But nice doesn't always cut the dice. Recently a Johannesburg newspaper asked me to write a short review of Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa's latest novel - latest available in English, that is - The Bad Girl. A task I took on with pleasure because I remember enjoying Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter many years ago (the book, not the movie) and being impressed with some of Vargas Llosa's more serious works.

What a disappointment this turned out to be! Not because The Bad Girl a bad novel; no, it's a quite enjoyable little love story, but it's simply not good enough for the latest laureate of the most prestigeous literary prize on earth. I felt rather presumptious, a small author like me 'attacking' a literary giant like Vargas Llosa, but this time I simply couldn't be 'nice'.

If you read Afrikaans, you could read the original review published in Beeld earlier this week ( If not, let me sum it up: 'Of a Nobel Prize-winning author you expect more than a good yarn. You expect a deeper insight, a unique style, a personal vision of the world, something bigger than the sum of the story and the person writing the story, so that by the time you reach the last sentence you are not exactly the same person as when you started reading the first page. Great books change the reader. Unfortunately even the greatest authors cannot always produce great books.'

The Bad Girl is a small book - please note, not a thin book, at more than 400 pages - about lifelong obsessive love. Comparisons are odious, yes, yes, we all know that, but I couldn't help comparing this novel rather unfavorably to another Latin-American novel about the same subject written by another Latin-American Nobel Prize winner. I'm referring to the unforgettable Love in the Time of Cholera (the book, once again, not the movie) by Gabriel García Márquez - who used to be Vargas Llosa's friend, although apparently they haven't spoken to each other for more than 30 years. Thirty Years of Solitude? Only in South America...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A joyful reunion

Glory hallelujah! This week I unpacked the last of numerous boxes filled with books in our new house - which I can now start calling home. Because home, as any book lover knows, is not only where your heart is. It is also where your books are.

All our other boxes and belongings have been unpacked weeks ago, but the books required special attention. If you have a huge amount of books, you need to arrange them according to some system - alphabetically, fiction distinguished from non-fiction, whatever works for you - otherwise you'll never be able to find the book you want when you want it. My books are now not only alphabetically arranged, but also according to languages (French, Afrikaans/Dutch and English), with fiction separated from non-fiction, poetry and plays separated from novels, and non-fiction subdivided into travel, history, philosophy, literature studies, dictionaries and grammar books, etc. The food and cook books are on a special shelf in our new kitchen (where else?), while the 'coffee-table books' are not on a coffee table (because we don't have enough coffee tables for our collection) but all over the house, in the bedrooms, next to the toilet, on the staircase...

For the first time in years I can find any book I need within a minute.

The problem is that I don't live alone in this house, nor am I the only reader, and the other inhabitants (i.e. husband and children) are already messing up my beautiful system. As I don't see any solution, short of forbidding anyone else in the house to touch a book - rather counterproductive for a wife and mother trying to encourage reading,isn't it? - I suspect that by the time I post my next blog, I'll once again be searching all over the house whenever I want any specific book.

But I won't have been wasting my time unpacking and arranging my books so carefully. It wasn't a chore, it was more like a joyful reunion of a long ago school class. I found novels I didn't even know I had, and others I'd been missing for years, and still others I'd loved long ago and want to read again to see if the same passion can be rekindled.

Among the tempting group of old flames are Don DeLillo's marvellous comic novel White Noise and Robertson Davies's The Rebel Angels. Among those that went missing years ago and have now unexpectedly turned up all battered and dusty, are most of John Irving's earlier novels, including the unforgettable The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire and A Prayer for Owen Meany. But the loveliest surprise of all was the treasure I didn't know I owned, for instance the classic French novel by Madame de La Fayette, La Princesse de Clèves. I actually wanted to buy this very first modern novel, written more than 300 years ago, because it is one of French president Nicolas Sarkozy's pet hates (for a bit background, read 'Nicolas Sarkozy, murderer of princess of Clèves': and has recently been turned into two interesting French movies about contemporary teenagers, La Belle Personne and the documentary Nous, les princesses de Clèves , proving once again that good literature never really dates.

Now I can't wait to start reading all the 'new', refound and rediscovered books in my new home. Happy reading to you too.