Year’s ‘best books’ that add to life’s golden moments
IN A WHOLE year of wonderful reading, it’s a hard task to pick out a handful of “best books”. Those making a final list are the ones that provide a sense of delight within their pages, and a gratitude that they have been written. They added to life’s golden moments.
I was pleased to note how many books from southern Africa made the list this year, on merit alone.
Here are eight “best books”, in no particular order:
The crown prince of the local literary scene, Van Heerden produced two great books this year (including Klimtol, in Afrikaans). In Love’s Place, a fine English translation, has a strong urban swagger overlaying the lure of the veld. It’s a seize-by-the-throat cautionary tale of a post-1994 South Africa refitting itself into a new order’s worldly and sometimes feral ways. Here is innocence and heartbreak, generosity and guile, and a charter of survival. It’s complex, yet accessible – it stunned me.
She showcased her gigantic talent by rocketing to the short-list of the most prestigious English-language fiction prize, the Booker, this year. Her talent seems to have fallen from the skies, perfectly formed. No mistake about it: this is a carefully crafted, prodigious concentration of talent, a novel that reveals the plasticity of English in the hands of the truly talented, and of how far the boundaries of meaning and culture can be taken and transformed. It blew meaway. This debut novel by American-born Ron Irwin features competitive rowing and its mesh with youthful passion. It is a part-biographical novel, fluid and graceful, of the loss of love connected to a time 15 years back when all was fresh, beautiful and possible, and therefore brief. Those early years may leave tribal scars for life. Entrancing.
It’s a smart, sassy, comic take on the seedier downside of metropolitan life and male menopause, and a reminder that his fine first book, Entanglement,
heralded a considerable local talent.
His extraordinary, beautifully written and moving latest novel seemed to have slipped past us without much attention, yet it was a deeply felt, often funny story with a core of molten gold.
In an attempt to escape her mundane, exhausting life, Dellarobia Turnbow climbs a mountain in her rough, rural US world for a tryst, only to be confronted with what looks like the forest on fire – the shimmering wings of millions of monarch butterflies. They have arrived unexpectedly to roost for winter in an act of survivalism, for their winter habitat in Mexico has been destroyed and unless they find a safe haven they will all die. My “wish” for 2014 is that this book would be required reading in every school.
Fly-fishing is Brown’s passion, and the subject of a vigorous and sometimes intemperate debate about these “non-indigenous” game fish, in South Africa for more than 100 years. We are on the cusp of critical decisions, including the “belongingness” of South Africans of different DNA descent, Karoo fracking and how we cope with future environmental challenges. I thought it writerly, witty and engaging, and it asks a number of urgent, pertinent questions.
Our “common sense” sometimes lets us down, says Gladwell, a fascinating figure in the world of counter-intuitive thought. He explains why David was always going to win that famous fight, why small classroom numbers aren’t always in children’s best interests and why being born into riches can be a rather bad thing. It’s about learning, and not making snap judgements. Easy to read and great long-term food for thought.