Imagine my delight when a publisher heading a large international publishing house confided that he woke up every morning around four thirty, brushed his teeth, slipped his feet into slippers if it was winter, wrapped himself up in his dressing gown, made himself a cup of tea and settled down in a chair and began reading.
He told me that the quietness of the early morning gave him some of the most satisfying moments of his day and the richness of what he was reading enhanced his life. He frequently forgot where he was, awakening from the reverie reading sometimes induces, to the sounds of other feet padding through his apartment.
I too read early in the morning, although not with his majestic sense of place, the chair, the positioning of it to catch the dawn light, the table for the books he was working his way through.
Snatching a cup of coffee in a busy coffee shop, I was forcibly reminded of him when I saw a man across the room totally absorbed in the book he was reading. A week ago, in another busy restaurant, a woman allowed her tea to go cold. She was deep within Petina Gappah’s award-winning An Elegy for Easterly. On a flight to Cape Town, the radiologist next to me was deep within a Lucinda Riley paperback. It was, she said, very light. “But are you enjoying it?” I asked her. She looked slightly embarrassed. “It’s the first book I’ve read in 10 years and I’m loving every word,” she told me.
I like to think that the following choices will entice you to open just one of the books I’ve chosen. You don’t necessarily have to read them at four am.
Something’s stirring in Zimbabwe and it’s not the turbulent politics. It’s the writers. Think No Violet Bulawayo and her exquisitely crafted and moving We Need New Names. Think Petina Gappah’s collection of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly which garnered international acclaim for her. And now, think Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu.
Why you’ll enjoy The Theory of Flight:
This is what I read on the back cover: “On the third of September, not so long ago, something truly wondrous happened on the Beauford Farm and Estate. At the moment of her death, Imogene Zula Nyoni – Genie – was seen to fly away on a giant pair of silver wings … Of course, she was rumoured to have hatched from a golden egg, so anything was possible.”
The blurb was irresistible, as was the cover. Lest you think this is the sequel to Aladdin, it is a dazzling work of fiction rooted in Zimbabwe from it’s early days to the present. There is a significant cast of characters, including a gap-toothed freedom fighter, war veterans, sinister politicians, a homeless man called Jesus who rescued Genie as she flew through the air after being hit by a vehicle, The Chronicle journalist Bhekithemba Nyathi who discovered that he had been selling his soul for years without being aware of it, until, on a certain day he was ordered to write a lie. Above all, it is Genie’s own story that captivates. Complex, joyous, unflinching and filled with the kind of magic we thought existed only in fairy tales, this is a novel torn straight from the heart.
The Theory of Flight by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu (Penguin)
Why you’ll enjoy The Great Alone:
Kristin Hannah is the former lawyer turned best-selling novelist, author of the New York Times‘ multi-million best seller The Nightingale which to date has sold around four million copies (and is being made into a movie by Michelle McLaren, director of Game of Thrones, Westworld and Breaking Bad). In this novel, Hannah has turned to the great icy wastes of Alaska for her inspiration. Essentially, this is the story, set in 1974, of a family in crisis struggling to survive in a harsh and challenging climate. Hannah knows the terrain intimately, having holidayed with her family at Tulsa Bay Lodge on Kachemak Bay. There is something of the early American pioneers in this novel, as a volatile family with 13 year-old Leni in early, bewildered rebellion, decide to move to Alaska to improve their lives. They didn’t bargain on the ferocity of the weather, the harshness of the climate, the brutal and isolating winter. Leni tears you apart as she meets kindness and love, her parents fight with each other and also fight stay alive and, as the publishers say, this is one of those perfect book club novels that you read compulsively until four in the morning. Fun.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (Macmillan)
Why you’ll enjoy Tales from the Old Karoo:
You will want this book next to your bed. First published in 1989, poet and writer Guy Butler wrote short stories set in the old Karoo with almost tangible affection. I almost wept as I turned the pages of the book, published by the venerable AD Donker, so redolent they are dusty road trips, the smell of sheep, of clanking windmills and isolated farmhouses that had not been done up. Like Nelson Mandela, we celebrate the centenary of Guy Butler’s birth with this collection. There is a gentle humour in Butler’s stories, and a warmth for some of the characters (some real some imaginary) who walk through the Karoo as it tugs at your heart. Not to be read in a hurry: just remember as a child the donkey-drawn carts and the heat which almost suffocated you as you drove towards the Western Cape. Remember those icy Coca Cola bottles held to the back of your neck to cool you down? One criticism, however: there is neither an introduction nor a foreword. This book badly needed a something to contextualise Butler.
Tales from the Old Karoo by Guy Butler (AD Donker Publishers)
Why you’ll enjoy Jamie Cooks Italy:As good an Italian cookbook as you’re likely to find on the shelves with the added bonus of Jamie Oliver’s simplifying even the most exquisitely complex dish. Jamie writes in his introduction (Viva l’Italia!) that ‘I want you to think of this as your go-to Italian book, a manual of deliciousness that you can dip into any day of the week.’ There you have it. But there’s more from the man who has cooked with some famed Italian chefs (Gennaro Contado and the late Antonio Carluccio): JO has fallen for the nonnas as passionately as he makes semolina gnocchi. Swathes of the book are given to the women who really run Italian kitchens: the grannies. Two of the nonnas hold sway in villages where I’ve gone walking and maybe, without knowing it, one of them (in Pitigliano) made the first real Tuscan bread soup I had ever tasted. You’ll have smiles from ear to ear when you cook from this substantial book. I SO hated the bright yellow titles. Yes, they’re cheery, but my word they’re difficult to read. No, it wasn’t my glasses.
Jamie Cooks Italy by Jamie Oliver (Penguin/Michael Joseph)