Readersforum's Blog

December 23, 2010

SA’s best reads of 2010

Selected by employees and critics at The Times, and compiled by Andrew Donaldson

IN A STRANGE ROOM, Damon Galgut (Atlantic)

The Times of London described it as “absolutely brilliant”. Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Galgut’s intense and acclaimed triptych – a collection, if you will, of three novellas – has drawn the inevitable comparisons with JM Coetzee, but Galgut’s really is a unique and original voice in South African fiction. In the stories here, a young man embarks upon a series of journeys, through Greece, India and Africa, in a search for love, identity and home.

CONVERSATIONS WITH MYSELF, Nelson Mandela (Macmillan)

Gathered from unpublished writings, diary entries and correspondence in a seemingly raw and unmediated manner, Conversations gave us the most moving and intimate portrait of the former president. Certainly, it refreshed parts that A Long Walk to Freedom failed to reach. Though Mandela took great care to mask his emotions and feelings, his letters to his wife and children reveal a loneliness and isolation that is utterly heartbreaking.

TELLING TIMES: WRITING AND LIVING, 1950 – 2010, Nadine Gordimer (Bloomsbury)

A companion of sorts to Life Times, an anthology of her best short fiction, this hefty volume gathers up a half-century of non-fiction and reveals Gordimer’s life as a moral activist, political visionary and literary icon. The range of this book is staggering, and stretches back to the dying days of colonial rule to the present-day conflicts of HIV/Aids, xenophobia and globalisation. Throughout all this, of course, was the scourge of racism and apartheid, and it is Gordimer’s brave and commendable engagement with the Nationalist government and the order it sought to impose upon us that particularly enthrall.

SUMMERTIME, JM Coetzee (Vintage)

Completing the trilogy of “memoirs” that began with Boy and Youth, Summertime is a story about a young biographer working on a book about a dead writer, John Coetzee, by focusing on the 1970s when the awkward and bookish Coetzee was finding his feet as a writer. So the biographer interviews a married woman with whom he had an affair, a favourite cousin, a dancer whose daughter was taught English by Coetzee, as well as other colleagues and friends. Praised as edgy, black, remorselessly human, Summertime was also humorous and offbeat, even wacky a portrait of the artist as outsider….read more


A-Z of 2010 in literature

A rocker and raunchy cricketer made it to the shelves, writes Tymon Smith

A: is for Martin Amis, the bad boy of English letters, who started the year with a new book, The Pregnant Widow, which turned out to be one of his best, although it was overlooked for the Booker Prize short list. In publicity interviews, Amis stirred controversy when he advocated suicide booths for old people and dismissed JM Coetzee as having no talent, a comment for which he later apologised.

B: is for Barack Obama, Tony Blair and George W Bush. Obama was the subject of David Remnick’s mammoth narrative biography The Bridge, which surprised not only for its quality, but also in light of the fact that its author wrote it while holding down a 12-hour day job as the editor of The New Yorker….read more

Santa Anapests

Filed under: Today in Literature — Bookblurb @ 2:28 pm
    On this day in 1823 the Christmas classic, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (commonly known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) was published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel. Twenty years and much popularity later, Clement C. Moore claimed and was accorded authorship; recent scholarship by ‘forensic’ literary critic Don Foster has cast this very much in doubt….read more

December 22, 2010

The Rumpus Interview with Rebecca Skloot

Bestselling author Rebecca Skloot is everywhere these days. Her first book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was over ten years in the making and was recently dubbed a Notable Book of 2010 by The New York Times.

 The Rumpus caught up with Skloot at a Borders Books in Chicago, where Skloot has recently moved. Writer Tasha Cotter spoke with her about nonfiction writing, what it’s like to guest edit the Best American Science Writing series, and how to turn a bestseller into a book for a middle grade audience….read more

The Simple Software That Could — but Probably Won’t — Change the Face of Writing

It took T. S. Eliot about a year to compose his masterpiece epic poem, “The Waste Land,” and by the time he was done he had left a substantial paper trail. He wrote his triumph of modernism in a distinctly modern way, as a kind of bricolage, by stitching together some fifty short fragments ten to fifteen lines apiece. These draftlets he would then assemble, type up, and send in carbon copy to a few friends and prospective publishers.

We should be grateful. “The Waste Land” is long and hard to understand, deeply allusive and annoyingly (if brilliantly) fragmented. So any record of its production — in the form of drafts, letters, typescripts, annotations, and the like – could help us unravel its many convolutions.

Imagine what happened, then, when in 1971, forty-seven years after the poem’s publication and six years after the Nobel prize-winning poet’s death, his widow released a volume entitled The Waste Land: Facsimile and Manuscripts of the Original Drafts….read more

Bookseller Buys Dahl Story

The unfinished Roald Dahl children’s story that went up for auction on eBay last week fetched $1,900 for Jerry Biederman, who has owned the document and the rights to the story since 1982 when he paid Dahl $200 for its use in the proposed Do-It-Yourself Children’s Storybook…read more

The 12 Books of christmas

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 1:32 pm

The festive season without the comfort and joy of a good read? Not in my house, says Sarah Crompton.

When I was a child and a bookworm, Christmas became inextricably mixed up with books. Every year, Father Christmas would bring me a Princess Tina ballet annual, its covers stiff, its pages sticky, its promise of entertainment immense. In later years, the books were more serious, but just as engrossing: a pillow case that didn’t come stacked with oblong, bulky packages was a serious disappointment.

Perhaps because of this, as I grew, Christmas became linked with words on a page, with descriptions and stories that gain their own kind of magic by dint of repetition. Part of our festive ritual is to unpack a box of children’s books, which the boys have long outgrown, but which have become a familiar ingredient of our celebrations.

So this year, as I decorated the tree and started to worry about the cooking, I made a mental list of the 12 books that will see me through the season, the volumes I could not be without.

As I wrote them down, I realised how many reflect memories of happy times. They come weighted with emotion, bringing not only words of wisdom, comfort and joy, but also the ghosts of Christmas past and the people who lived there.

If you were to draw up your own list, the books might be different, but I suspect the feelings they conjure would be very similar….read more

E-Book Invasion to Eliminate Brick and Mortar Bookstores ?

Filed under: Bookshops — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 1:23 pm

A story about Barnes & Noble and similar large book store chains feeling the heat due to lagging sales and the increased popularity of online competitors such as and e-book sales caught my attention a few days ago.

Six years ago while I was attending a writer’s conference luncheon, an industry expert announced to us that smaller chains and independent bookstores were in danger of extinction, being replaced by the mega-bookstores. “If you can’t imagine your book finding a place on the shelf in Barnes & Noble, you haven’t got a chance for success in this business,” she announced to a room full of hundreds of aspiring and published authors.

For more than a decade the publishing industry has been changing dramatically, printing fewer titles, tightening markets, taking fewer chances on new concepts or unknown authors. We expected all those changes with the merging of many of the largest publishers into even larger media groups. I couldn’t imagine e-books replacing printed books then, or ever people preferring to browse websites for books over browsing through a bookstore.

Barnes & Noble and similar large bookstore chains that I once disdained for their influence in publishing industry are now sort of a guilty pleasure of mine….read more

Five-Million-Book Google Database Gets a Workout, and a Debate, in Its First Days

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 1:09 pm

Ngram, Google’s new searchable dataset of words and phrases from 5.2 million published books, got quite a workout on its first day. Within 24 hours after its launching last Thursday afternoon, more than a million queries were run.

Various Web sites have had fun with the new technological toy since its unveiling, running idiosyncratic searches on topics of interest….read more

Why the London Review of Books must not drop its personal ads

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 1:00 pm

For years, the London Review of Books’ personal ads have been witty, flirty and downright naughty. What a pity they are soon to be no more.

High seriousness is due to get higher. The editor of the London Review of Books, Mary-Kay Wilmers, has decided to drop the paper’s “personals“. For 10 years now these cheeky afterwords have raised naughtiness to new levels of wit. Even highbrows, they reminded us, have low desires; the difference is, the highbrows do it cleverer.

The LRB personals will be sorely missed….read more

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