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Jenny’s Reads: Christmas Books


Thank goodness. It’s enough with the book awards for 2017. It’s also enough with the book festivals for 2017. We need a break now that the Booker Prize 2017 has come and gone. Now it’s time for whatever peace we can find as we run down the steep slope towards the end of a turbulent year. The promise of remarkable reads over the next two months of almost-holiday frenzy lie ahead.

I am famously bad at predicting which book will walk away with any award, but for once I was right with the Booker. Listening to UK book reviewers on the night it was announced, it was clear that the only book really in the running was Lincoln in the Bardo. But you can’t chirp until the announcement is made and the author, dazed, excited and (sometimes) just a little bit humble, makes his or her acceptance speech.

George Saunders, 58, American and no stranger to words (he made his name with short stories) was beyond gracious as he accepted what is arguably the English language’s greatest literary prize, the Man Booker.

Lincoln in the BardoFor those of you perhaps battling with the ghosts which flit through the book, you are not the only ones. Saunders noted in his speech that the book has a weird form and “I think it’s off-putting to some readers. Anecdotally, people will reach a crossover moment of 30 pages and either go ahead or abandon ship.”

Here’s some more good news about this profoundly unconventional novel: the movie rights have been sold. Susan Sarandon, Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Lena Dunham and David Sedaris are among the 160-odd voices that will inhabit the ghosts’ characters. I can’t wait.

Of course, the Booker winner isn’t the only book replete with riches on the shelves. The Christmas books are flooding in, and you will find some of them reflected in my increasingly difficult book choices. My hands literally tremble as I open each package from each publisher, and page through opening lines, book cover shouts and that glorious smell of unturned pages. For me, no Kindle will ever replace the abundance and joy of a bound book with a good story and a good type face. So let’s start with my must must reads:

200 WomenHere’s a coffee table book you cannot ignore. It’s beauty is exceptional, as is it’s content. I wonder if it had been published 10 years ago it would have made the impact it will assuredly do today. It’s 200 Women, and it will occupy and inspire you for years.

Why you’ll enjoy it:
200 women around the world – many of them coming from South Africa – were asked a set of five identical questions. (What really matters to you; What brings you happiness; What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?; What would you change if you could? and What single word do you most identify with?) Some of the women are well known (a radiant Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is in pole position on the cover), some less so. All are, in different ways, memorable. A perfect book for our times.
200 Women: Who will change the way you see the world by Geoff Blackwell & Ruth Hobday, photography by Kieran E Scott (Bookstorm)

A Column of FireYou cannot, cannot, cannot go wrong with this book. Nothing Ken Follett writes does anything but soar to the top of the best seller lists around the world.


Why you’ll enjoy it:
Remember Pillars of the Earth and World Without End? Here’s Follett’s new story in the medieval series. It is Christmas, 1558. Snow is falling, obscuring young Ned Willard’s return to Kingsbridge. All the major players – Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham are in place. How Ned fits into the world around him, a world where Tudor plots can embroil even the most innocent of people, lies at the heart of this sprawling, complex, give-it-to-me-NOW novel. Buy it immediately. PS 766 pages of wickedly good plotting
A Column of Fire by Ken Follett (Macmillan)

The Way I See ItBongani Madondo (Sigh the Beloved Country), says this of Jürgen Schadeberg’s memoir: “… a broadcast of his journey … a reflection of (his) striking, interventionist visual journalism: considerate, questioning, empathetic and ultimately beautifying.”


Why you’ll enjoy it:
Think of Drum in it’s heyday. Think of iconic images of Can Themba, of Miriam Makeba, oozing sex appeal behind a microphone, think of the explosive farm worker exposé carried by the magazine, a peaceful Can Themba behind his typewriter – but so much more than another look at the South Africa of the 50s and 60s. He was born in Berlin, his mother was … unconventional and here he documents a life lived to the very full.
The Way I See It by Jürgen Schadeberg (Picador Africa)

Cancer: a Love StoryIf you saw a book on the best seller list called Cancer: a Love Story, would you grab it and rush to the tills? Or avoid it? If it’s the latter, take a stand, and open a remarkable, achingly honest and profoundly tender book opening beneath your hands.


Why you’ll enjoy it:
What do you say about a vibrant woman who has four brushes with increasingly serious cancer before her 50th birthday? Let’s go to Lauren’s own words: “Throughout my arduous journey into the world of cancer. I have discovered that proximity to death brings with it a proximity to life. I have learnt that luck and unluck, happiness and distress, hope and despair are tightly coiled into a life well lived.” Trust me on this one. I love it. And you’ll remember it for years.
Cancer: a Love Story by Lauren Segal (MFBooks)


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