We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Monday, 8 April 2013

To Read or Not To Read - The April Edition

The days weren't long enough for the reading she wanted to do. Alan Bennett

Ask any bibliophile and they’ll quickly tell you that that is a stupid question. I would have said so too, but then things in my life changed, and well you do have to decide: do I read, or do I spend time with people? Do I read or do I take time to look at where I really am? Do I read and escape the reality in which I find myself, or do I enjoy where I am and escape when I leave?

6 Months ago I would have straight out said “Read! Why are you still asking?” Honestly, what is better than getting lost in a world that unfolds in your head at your pace; at your selection? At your control, instead of being sprung on you like things are in the real world? Is there a safer feeling than settling down in your favourite reading spot and escaping into the book of your choice?

But then, towards the end of February things changed a little bit for me. My time at home was restricted. It changed from indefinitely to 3 weeks. Sudden change like that brings about a certain change in perspective. I found myself having to ask, “Do I read, or do I spend time with people, enjoying the time I have left in Somerset East?”  This time reading got the short end of the stick. I can read any time  anywhere. I can be transported into the worlds contained within the pages in a book at any time I choose, but unfortunately they have not yet invented a way for teleportation to be possible, so I chose not to read. 

When settling down and finding my feet in Cape Town I will again be faced with the question, do I devote countless hours to reading or to living outside the pages of a book for longer than I am accustomed. So far reading has yet again gotten the short end of the stick as the time for reading has become less and less.

Reading is a refuge that both protects us from and prepares us for the harsh realities of the world. On the other side of the coin, reading is a solitary and selfish act that cuts us off from others whilst we are engrossed in the pages of the book we are reading. And yet, reading enables us to be more compassionate, empathetic and understanding of others and situations they may find themselves in, because we have friends in books who have encountered the same thing.

In his book -The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett examines this very situation. In An Uncommon Reader – the Queen goes to a mobile library, because well she is the Queen and to ignore it would go against One’s duty. The Queen actually reads the book that she borrows and finds that reading can be a pleasure, and not just something that one does because it has to be done. The Queen finds reading so enjoyable that she reads a great many books quite voraciously, and it becomes the only thing that she wants to do. Her duties become such a burden as it cuts into her reading time. Instead of being all present when driven to events, the Queen finds a way to read whilst being driven to events. This drives the King absolutely mad, not to mention all the advisers and members of staff that cannot understand why Her Royal Highness is so taken by such a frivolous activity such as reading. The more the queen reads, the more she wants to read. The more she becomes annoyed by the duties she has to perform. The more Her Majesty reads the more her view of the world changes, the more her interactions with others change. Her reading is certainly not taken well by many. The Queen finds it odd that there are not more people that are reading – she finds that diplomats and Heads of State are flabbergasted by her literary questions, and she does not understand why there are not more people that she interacts with that are as interested in reading as she is. Her Majesty is so transformed by all the reading she has done, and all the realisations that it has enabled her to have, that she makes a drastic change. Books certainly make many changes, and more often than not they are for the better.

I have been in Cape Town for 4 weeks now; and yet again reading has gotten the short end of the stick. Not because I have chosen to devote more time to getting to know Cape Town and to making friends, but because my day is structured so differently now that I am here. There is a very small window of time during the day for me to do some reading and so far weekends have been transitional. The whole 8-5 work day, 5 days a week is really draining. 45 hours of work, 15 hours of commute – it really does leave you feeling ragged. I sometimes read on the bus, but if I am standing, I would rather focus on not falling around in the bus than reading. It is really sad. I do hope that as time goes by I will become better at managing my time and will be able to read more.  It saddens me greatly, because reading is one of the best things in the world and one of my absolute favourite things.

Since arriving in the Western Cape I have only read 2 books, which is quite low for me – considering that this is the start of week 4 of being here. So read on for my two reviews for the April edition of Bibliophilia – two lovely books by South African Writers – one of whom I had the privilege of meeting last week.

When the Sea is Rising Red...

Title: When the Sea is Rising Red 

Author: Cat Hellisen

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

Pages: 296

Source: bought

The Synopsis

In Pelimburg – city of storm and sea and spray – magic is power. Both are controlled by an elite class, who inhale scriven dust to enhance their natural talents.

As the only daughter of the city’s founding family, Felicita has a luxurious but narrow life, one that is ruled by a list of traditionally acceptable and appropriate behaviours. When her dearest friend, Ilven, throws herself over the cliffs and into the sea to escape an arranged marriage, Felicita chooses freedom over privilege. She fakes her own suicide and escapes to the slums, leaving behind everything she’s ever known, including the means to practice magic. Soon she’s living in a squat, working as a scullery girl, and falling hard for charismatic renegade Dash while also becoming fascinated by the strange, thrilling magic of vampire Jannik.

Then translucent corpses begin to wash up onshore. As it becomes clear that Ilven’s death has called out of the sea a dangerous, wild magic that the upper class with their scriven are powerless against, Felicita must decide where her true loyalties lie – with the family she’s abandoned, or with those who would harness this dark power to destroy Pelimburg’s caste system, and the whole city along with it. 

The Review

I absolutely loved When the Sea is Rising Red – a truly marvellous debut novel by Cat Hellisen. The world that Cat has created is remarkable, and so well described, that I could quite vividly see it all in my mind’s eye the whole time that I was reading it. The city of Pelimburg – despite the huge disparity between the High Lammers and Hobs – sounds like a very magical place. The different names used in this book are so wonderfully original – Jannik, Felicita, Ilven, Firrel – I love it when writers stray from the norm as far as names go – it certainly gave this book something more – it just made it belong to the world of Pelimburg so much more.

What really gave me a kick out of When the Sea is Rising Red is that despite the way the rich Houses look down on the poor there are things that are not frowned upon. Even though within Hob society there are those who are better than others there is one way in which inhabitants are not judged. Within the Houses males have a higher standing than females – despite this there is that one way where they sort of rise above it all by their acceptance. I really loved that it does not matter whether you’re a boy who loves a boy or a girl who loves a girl it is just accepted. No one raises an eyebrow. Even if you are a boy who loved a boy and now you love a girl or a girl who loved a boy and now you love a girl – it does not matter. I long for us to live in a world where love is not frowned upon if it strays from the supposed norm.

Cat has created a truly marvellous story, and whilst I am happy that it is a stand-alone, because everyone and their grandma’s are writing series – I do wish that despite the conclusion of this part of the story that there was another book to look forward – another stand-alone within in the world of Pelimburg that gives us a bit more of this wonderful world.

I absolutely adored the way that tea has been woven into this world – especially Red Bush tea which is a wonderful South African tea. Tea is one of the things that bind the castes together – whether rich or poor everyone drinks tea. I found it really cool that there were so many different teas that had different purposes.

I am reminded a bit of Amanda Hocking’s Trylle Trilogy by this book, and also a little of Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Dash and the Whelk Street crew remind me a bit of the people that Oliver finds refuge with. To a lesser degree obviously, because things are not at all for Felicita as they are for Oliver – but it just made me think of that.

I especially loved how this story ends – and I shall not say much more for fear of spoilers – it is so fitting and so lovely a conclusion. I truly shall miss my time in Pelimburg. I must doff my cap to Cat Hellisen for the way that she wove in some South African words spelt in an English manner. Very, very clever! Also, the different forms of magic that exist in this book are so exquisitely thought out that it is just brilliant!

If you are looking for a fantasy novel that is not just the usual, and is not transparent in its plot or unfurling, then When the Sea is Rising Red is just the book for you. 

I was lucky enough to meet Cat last week Thursday, she is so lovely! She has also informed me that there is more available so that we can extend our stay in the world of When the Sea is Rising Red. For a short story click here, and for some other extras click here.   

Dark Poppy's Demise...

Title: Dark Poppy's Demise

Author: S.A. Partridge

Publisher: Human & Rousseau

Pages: 183

Source: bought

The Synopsis

I walked to class humming a song Robert had suggested I check out on YouTube. He said the lyrics reminded him of me. I blushed thinking about it. Here was a real, honest-to-goodness stunner of a guy, and he was into me! It didn't really make sense, but then, who can argue with true love? It couldn't have been more perfect.
I should have known it was too good to be true. 

The Review

Before you start reading this, you should be warned that there will probably be spoilers in this review, as there is no way for me to do this book justice except for telling it the way I am going to tell it.
If I were in charge of the books that are set as part of the curriculum in schools I would definitely make Dark Poppy’s Demise on of the set books for high school. For English whether first or additional language I would make it compulsory reading for Grade 8’s as this book is so incredibly relevant, but it is also so great that everyone should, no,  everyone has to read this book.

Dark Poppy’s Demise is very relevant for the day and age in which we live – with broken families and parents who work so much that their children never see them. Even with the way we interact more and more with people online that we do not know. This book really does need to be read by everyone – especially with the increase in social media platforms that makes us more and more accessible by strangers than ever before.

Dark Poppy’s Demise is a story like so many others out there, yet it is also unique. Set in Cape Town, it is a story of the capacity of humans to inflict great harm on others for their own pleasure and amusement. Jenna is a social outcast with her own social circle – she feels very plain and like she’ll never ever find a boyfriend. But then she meets a boy online – Robert Rose who adores her photography, and says that she is beautiful – seducing her and finally meeting her in person, where he seems harmless enough – but you can’t help feeling that something is not right. You know, that niggling feeling that this may be a predator- yet you wonder if you’re just being silly. And you are being silly because despite your gut instinct you find yourself liking this predator. Humans: the only species that runs to, and not away from danger.

As the story unfurls and Jenna starts to wonder about Robert, and gets more sucked in by him – despite sensing some danger beneath the surface. He has toyed with her so much that she does not know if she is being silly or not in this strange feeling she has. Robert is getting to the end of his game with Jenna though, and the time for him to get what he wants draws near. Luckily Jenna, is a clever girl, and manages to escape – which is not the case for so many others.

Dark Poppy’s Demise is also a warning, and a reminder to us all. In this increasingly digital age where we are more and more isolated from real people and have more online relationships – we need to be vigilant. In this day and age where people seem to find more and more delight in being cruel to others we need to keep our guards up and trust that little voice that says – be careful.

Dark Poppy’s Demise is a great way to open up a dialogue with younger people about the dangers out there – lurking in the form of cyber predators, or even real predators. People need to be reminded that we need to warn others to be careful and be aware that there are people who are grooming their next victims. We need to be more open about the dangers out there, and we need to let people know that it is not ever the victim’s fault – that it was the predator’s plan all along. This is something very important, especially in South Africa with the current state of affairs regarding violence against women and children.
This is a book you  have to read, and you have to get other people to read it too, because the subject matter is very important, besides that it is a really great book. 

How do you manage to make time for reading when life gets crazy? Has reading had to take the short end of the stick in your life?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Silence is not so golden

As some of you may know, I relocated to Cape Town Middlemarch. Since then, life has been a blur of work and commute and well there have just not been enough hours. Life is crazy - as Black Sabbath sang - I'm going off the rails on a crazy train.

It pains me greatly that my blog is so silent, but I shall try valiantly to get more posts out in the weeks to come as I attempt to get a better grasp on the new demands on my time. It also pains me because I have so much to share with you all.

This is unfortunately a very brief post, as I must dash to do work, but I would like to know how you all are doing and what you are reading and what has interested you lately?

Looking forward to regaling you all as soon as I can.

Bookish Greetings,