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Nechama Brodie

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Julius Malema – at R1,50 a quote

Okay, this is probably going to come out all wrong but I’m going to post it anyway: at the checkout counter at Exclusive Books, I picked up and scanned a copy of The World According to Julius Malema, by Max du Preez and Mandy Rossouw (Kwela Books). Now I’m as interested in the next person in strange, interesting, funny and frightening quotes from interesting political figures. I have huge respect for Max, who I do know, and Rossouw, who I don’t really (but who has impressive credentials and reputation). And Malema is a wonderful target for any writer or journalist or creative – I love the “100% for Zuma / 20% for woodwork” T-shirt the Holmes Bros made.

But after I flicked past the (well-crafted) introduction, I was rather astonished to discover that the rest of the book – a total of some 90 pages, after the intro bits – contained exactly one Malema quote per page, a great deal of white space, and not much else. And at R133 a pop, my mental jaw did a little drop. Who are they kidding? This is a magazine article, not a book. And at that rate, it works out to nearly R1,50 per quote.

Did I miss something fundamental? If I did, can someone clue me in? Even the dude at the till seemed to agree with my very raised eyebrows and shocked expression.


SA Partridge & Fuse

A couple of weeks ago, Sally-Ann Partridge (who I know as @sapartridge, on Twitter) suggested I try reading one of her books – seeing as I was already a fan of what I naively referred to as “kids books” but, for tweens, teens and beyond, are more appropriately referred to as YA (young adult) reads. (I am learning about this publishing thing as I go, bear with me).

So yesterday I went into my local Exclusive Books, and found a copy of Fuse – Partridge’s new book, about a boy (Kendall) who is bullied at school, makes friends with the wrong sort of new boy, and winds up going on the run with his older brother (Justin).

Now most of my non-grown-up reads (little kids, young adults, whatever) tend to be science fiction and fantasy – I have spent a lot of time completing my collections of Susan Cooper’s superb “Dark is Rising” series, Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books, Asimov’s stories for kids, and so on – and I generally don’t read junior literature outside this genre. Well, except for Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators. And possibly Mallory Towers (is that a YA read?). In another universe, I wouldn’t have given Fuse a second glance; it would have been on the wrong shelf. But I am terribly glad that I did [pick it up], because it is an excellent little book. When I say “little”, I don’t mean to imply it’s a small project or anything – I mean it is neat, well-formed, perfect: a short novel, just the right size for a younger reader, with its story brilliantly (and concisely) told. It moves at a good, fast pace; it’s not self-indulgent (you know the sort, overwrought with descriptors); it’s believable (I think – my kids are too small, and I am too old to really know what teens are like today). It’s also cleverly structured – great themes – and produces some lovely surprises (I was not expecting *that* to happen when the gun went off – fabulous resolution!). And at the end of the exercise, I felt happy and proud. Because there really are some incredibly talented young authors emerging from South Africa. This is important for another reason: What I am finding about Twitter is that, if it’s used in a certain way, it is a tremendous little creative huddle of writers – published writers, not just people who think that writing sounds like a glamorous job (because we know that it’s not, and the pay sucks) – very inspiring in its own way, like a virtual writers’ retreat. The more we “hang out” with other good writers, the more this enables our own creativity. It sparks the right synapses.

Journalism is not always the same, perhaps because as a breed we are rather more mercurial and cynical than “writers of books”.

Oh, yes – I am also on twitter

Am surprised to find myself enjoying the random quickness of the world of Twitter – particularly around breaking news and stories. If you’re interested, you can find me @brodiegal.

Also, of course, a great opportunity to swap tweets with wonderful authors like Lauren Beukes, and the awe-inspiring Neil Gaimain (okay, not that he swaps tweets with me, but I enjoy following his posts).

Jim Butcher, and the magic detective

Just finished reading Jim Butcher’s latest Harry Dresden mystery, Turn Coat. Harry Dresden is a wizard who works as a PI for paranormal “stuff” in Chicago – Mike Hammer meets Harry Potter, maybe.

Butcher’s books aren’t bad – started reading them a few years back, and they’re engaging little reads. Appropriately dry (necessary for a nice detective story), lots of scary creatures (vampires, werewolves… and those are just the good guys, well sometimes), and a well-constructed alternative reality, one where wizards and faeries and spirit creatures battle it out for the streets and souls of Chicago and, occasionally, the rest of the world. Dresden’s become one of my favourite recurring bookshelf characters – to the extent that I ordered the latest edition as an import, from

Turn Coat is the first adult book I’ve read in a week – after a weekend binge on the latest installments in PC and Kristin Cast’s House of Night, and books 4 and 5 of Garth Nix’s Seventh Tower series (the latter, btw, was published several years back, and is now being re-released after Nix’s success with the lovely Sabriel series). I find that, as much as I love the kiddy’s section, it’s all-too-easy to devour more than one book in a sitting.

Bland fare for youth

There are some fantastic kids’ books on the shelves, worth a nose from adult readers – Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book, for example – but the rapidly expanding volume of youth and teen titles contain as many cubic zirconias as they do diamonds…

YS Lee’s A Spy in the House is a children’s Victorian detective story, about a young thief named Mary who is rescued from the gallows and educated at a private ladies’ school, where she is recruited into “The Agency”, a detective agency made up of women. The plot elements are perfect; Jane Austen (wrong era, I know) meets Nancy Drew. It should make for a cracking good tale… But I found it thin in places – like a good soup that’s been watered down. There’s plenty of action, but the “big reveal” is poorly constructed, too-quickly explained, as if the author spent all her time focusing on character development and not enough time on the crucial crime and detection aspects. Philip Pullman’s “Sally Lockhart” books were much more dramatic, better crafted (as stories), also set in Victorian times and featuring a young girl from the slums who is called on to save the day.

I’m not sure what the purpose is of writing up a negative review about a book, but I felt rather disappointed when I read this one, and motivated enough to write about it.

House of Night – better than Meyer (way better)

A quick post – I happened to pick up the first three volumes of the “House of Night” series, by PC and Kristin Cast. It’s teen vampire lit, set at a vampire finishing school called the House of Night (and, ahem, set in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of all places, but anyway…)

I’m impressed – it’s very well-written, teen angst and eye rolls included. It’s Mallory Towers meets Beverly Hills 90210 meets… Poppy Z Brite. Leagues better than Stephenie Meyer’s saccharine folly. And in this tale, the kids swear (!) and fool around. Like real high school.

Perfect plane reading

I had the privilege of catching an unaccompanied flight (i.e. no kids) to Cape Town – first time in years – and I bought two books: a thriller by Mary Higgins Clark (I cannot remember the name. It is about a boy/man who disappears, but who calls his mom every year on mother’s day to say that he is fine); and Freakonomics, by Steven and Stephen (can’t remember the surnames without having to Google them).
No prizes for guessing which book was better – Freakonomics may just change the way I think about the world.
But Mary Higgins Clark, as always, filled the two hour flight almost perfectly (okay, I am a fast reader) and was perfectly engaging for an average domestic route. Of course, I would have preferred a Jeffrey Deaver or Michael Connelly but I’m already more than impressed by their current rate of production (a new book more than every 12 months) and have no desire to dilute their excellence.
In Cape Town, I popped into the very lovely second-hand bookshop in Observatory, and was pleasantly surprised not only by the selection but by the prices… my local second-hand stores charge double or more for similar works! My husband picked up a Bruce Chatwin and I grabbed a good looking anthology of Nebula or Hugo Award winning short stories, and a second copy of Frank Herbert’s fantastic short read, The Godmakers (to replace my copy which is falling to pieces).
Back at the airport, the Exclusive Books yielded a new Ian Rankin (hooray) and Mark Giminez (double hooray – the most brilliant new writer on the crime scene), and I tottered back onto the plane happily overloaded with paperbacks. I’m not sure that a Kindle could ever quite take their place.

The Fantasy Debt

I can’t tell you how often I am told (bluntly, subtly, etc) that fantasy (and SF) is not “real” literature. Lucky for me I love my dragons, elves and wizards even more than the occasional Jilly Cooper…

Anyhoo: I was thinking, this weekend… Bookstores, authors, readers, owe a tremendous debt to the fanciful genre. Ten years ago, I remember trawling through the kiddy bookshelves, desperately trying to locate a copy of Enid Blyton or my own remembered childhood classics. And the only place I could find good old-fashioned kids’ books was in the second hand shops.

Today, the children’s section is alive, overflowing, bursting with beautiful covers and wonderful stories – new stuff, and re-published golden oldies. Now this is probably almost all due to the powers of Harry Potter, but let’s not forget Lemony Snicket and Philip Pullman and even the sugary Stephenie Meyer. The net effect is that kids are reading. Actually reading real books… And this means they’ll continue to read as adults.

Which is magic all of its own, not?

Watch me on Weekend Live this Sunday

Will I wake up in time? Will I be able to string together a complete sentence before a cup of strong coffee? Will my hair behave? These questions and more will be answered this Sunday morning, when I venture out to the SABC to be interviewed for Weekend Live (starting at 7am Sunday morning).

The last book I gave as a gift was…

Moky Makura’s book on Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs – I’m intrigued by great business stories from Africa, and I love that Moky has diligently captured the continent’s amazing entrepreneurial spirit. It’s lovely to be reminded that we’re not all about poverty, disease… and reliance on western intervention. Africa is perfectly capable of coming up with its own solutions, when capable people take charge.