Year’s ‘best books’ that add to life’s golden mo­ments

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE - BEV­ER­LEY ROOS-MULLER

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.

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