Category Archives: Book Reviews

I remember long ago my grandmother (now dead) once challenged me to keep a record of all the books I have read. I’m an avid reader and I have a few books that I’ve recorded this. Nowadays I get really irritated with my diaries, because they take up too much space. So I figured I might just as well put them on my blog. The “Books I’ve Read” category will depict mostly the back covers or excerpts from the books and a personal rating I’ve given the all over reading experience.

Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

Usually, when I read a book I like to begin with an open mind – meaning with as few information as possible. All I knew about Don Quixote was that it comes highly recommended. I don’t know why but I assumed Don Quixote was this Casanova character or something like The Prisoner of Zenda.

So, it turns out we return to the utterly insane world of nonsense.

In short, Don Quixote is about this guy that one day decides to become a knight, but he lives completely in this made-up world of knights, monsters, maidens, castles, etc and is far connected from reality. He and his squire go out in the world and meets other characters and have insanely funny, ridiculous adventures. He creates the heroine of his story – Dulcinea del Toboso – with whom he is madly in love with. Mind, he has only heard of her but has never seen her.

It felt like I was reading this book for two months straight – one thing I detest about old classics is that the paragraphs are usually just one long sentence and they take forever to actually get to the point. And of course every other character they meet has to first share their life story with us.

There are two things I’d like to point out of the book:

Somewhere in the book, they meet a woman who is very distressed and Don Quixote’s squire Sacho Panza makes fun of the way she speaks:

“The Panza is here, and Don Quixotissimus too; and so, most distressedest Duenissima, you may say what you willissimus, for we are all readissimus to do you servissimus.”

The second thing I’d like to point out is when Sancho gets separated from Don Quixote at one point and meets a group of pilgrims who shouts something in a strange language:

“Geld! Geld!”

The reason why I find this so significant is that “Geld” is the Afrikaans word for money.

First published: 1612 (English translation)

Rating: 4/5 It’s not badly written. I just found it very tedious.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

I absolutely loved reading this book from start to finish. It is really a beautifully written book with a beautiful message.

Imagine a world where books are banned. And if you are found with books in your possession, firemen come and burn your house down.

The book revolves around a fireman, Guy Montag, who grows a conscience. He meets a strange young girl, Clarisse McClennan, who asks him if he is really happy and he realises he is not. He decides to do something about it, but ends up losing everything he had.

Ray Bradbury’s book is similar to Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World. It touches on Huxley’s theory that there is no Big Brother. People allow and love their oppression, a world where people are controlled with trivial entertainment. Everything is superficial. Nothing has meaning.

To quote Neil Postman again with Amusing ourselves to death what we love will ruin us.  which is exactly what happens to Montag’s wife. She lives in a world where she is never alone. She listens to her “family” talking through their walls, she never sleeps. But it takes a toll on her. She cannot keep it up and she tries to end her life on more than one occasion.

There is so much truth in this book:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.”

“I don’t talk things, sir. I talk the meaning of things.”

“Don’t ask for guarantees. And don’t look to be saved in any one thing, person, machine, or library. Do your own bit of saving, and if you drown, at least die knowing you were heading for shore.”

First published: 1953

Rating: 5/5 stars and hearts

 

Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury: 9780345342966: Amazon.com: Books

A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

So I decided to read this book because everyone was raving about it. But I knew absolutely nothing about it except that everyone says it’s SO good.

So I start reading it. But I don’t understand it. At first I thought there was something wrong with the e-book, like it malfunctioned or something.

Then I find out it’s supposed to be that way. Anthony Burgess uses NADSAT language: a mixture of Cockney Slang and Russian words. Which I love, because it sounds so nonsensical. My new favourite words are: bezoomny (mad), Bog (God), appypolly loggy (apology), gulliver (head), eggiweg (egg), horrorshow (good), oddy-knocky (lonesome), razdrez (upset).

I loved the way how he made himself a character in the story.

What is a clockwork orange?
I get the clockwork part, not so much that it is orange?

The book/story takes place in a dystopian future world where the youth is prone to violence or “ultra-violence” and the parents are blubbering idiots.

First published: 1962

Rating: 5/5

I watched the trailer of the movie, but it looks very disturbing. I don’t know if I am brave enough to watch it.

Amazon.com: A Clockwork Orange eBook: Burgess, Anthony: Kindle Store

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Most people have heard about 1984 or Nineteen eighty-four: Orwell’s dystopian world ruled by Big Brother and constant surveillance.

What most people  don’t know is that Huxley wrote about a dystopian world ruled by pleasure – a predecessor to Orwell’s novel.

Synopsis: Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life continues may be the cure for his distress…

In Huxley’s Brave New World, there is no family. No mother, no father because everyone belongs to everyone.

In the world of books or philosophy perhaps there is the constant argument of which world would win? Which future world has become our reality? My money is on Huxley.

We live in a world ruled by consumerism of wanting more of; a world of comfort, pleasure, constantly staring at screens.

I read a book a while back Amusing ourselves to death by Neil Postman. That’s when I first learned of Huxley’s alternative future. What it basically comes down to is this: In Orwell’s 1984, people are controlled through pain. Contrary to that is Huxley’s future: people are controlled by pleasure and distractions.

There are several references to Shakespeare in Huxley’s novel. The title is inspired by what Miranda says in The Tempest: “O brave new world, that has such people in’t!” The Savage often quotes this in the novel.

What I absolutely loved about this book: is the nonsensical word “zippicamiknicks” (women’s underwear) I can add to my nonsense collection.

First published: 1932

Rating: 5/5

Image result for brave new world book cover"

 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

I read this book 10 years ago and decided to revisit it again. Still brilliant!

Backcover: Set in the closing months of World War II, this is the story of a bombardier named Yossarian who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. His real problem is not the enemy – it is his own army which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. If Yossarian makes any attempts to excuse himself from the perilous missions then he is caught in Catch-22: if he flies he is crazy, and doesn’t have to, but if he doesn’t want to he must be sane, and has to. That’s some catch…

If both Stephen King and Harper Lee recommends this book, then it must be good!

First published: 1961

Rating: 5/5

Image result for catch 22 book cover

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

jane eyre

I far more prefer a Mr Rochester than a Prince Charming. Mind you, if he had done the same to me as he did with Jane I would have kicked his ass!

I remember the first time I read this book, I fell completely and utterly in love with Mr Rochester and I was equally as heartbroken as Jane when the truth was revealed.

A second reading was no different, though I did pity him.

Dust jacket summary: 
Brontë’s infamous gothic novel tells the story of orphan Jane, a child of unfortunate circumstances. Raised and treated badly by her aunt and cousins and eventually sent away to a cruel boarding school, it is not until Jane becomes a governess at Thornfield that she finds happiness. Meek, measured, but determined, Jane soon falls in love with her brooding and stormy master, Mr Rochester, but is not long before strange and unnerving events occur in the house and Jane is forced to leave Thornfield to pursue her future.

My favourite quotes: 

The absurd conversation Mr Rochester has with Adele about him taking Jane to go live on the moon. (p.269-270).

“I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you – especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous channel, and two hundred miles or so of land some broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you, – you’d forget me.”
Mr Rochester

*****

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”
Jane Eyre

*****

‘I could bend her with my finger and thumb: and what good would it do if I bent, if I uptore, if I crushed her? … Whatever I do with its cage, I cannot get at it – the savage, beautiful creature! if i tear, if i rend the slight prison, my outrage will only let the captive loose.
Mr Rochester

*****

‘It is time some one undertook to rehumanise you,’ said I, parting his thick and long uncut locks; ‘for I see you are being metamorphosed into a lion, or something of that sort… your hair reminds me of eagles’ feathers; whether your nails are grown like birds’ claws or not, i have not yet noticed.’
Jane Eyre

*****

‘His appearance, – I forget what description you gave of his appearance; – a sort of raw curate, half strangled with his white neckcloth, and stilted up on his thick-soled high-lows, eh?’
‘St John dresses well. he is a handsome man: tall, fair, with blue eyes, and a Grecian profile.’
(aside) ‘Damn him!’ – (to me) ‘Did you like him Jane?’
Mr Rochester and Jane

First published: 1847

Rating: 5/5

 

 

The Family Fang – Kevin Wilson

*Spoiler: This is not a vampire story. 

We have all had those moments. When we thought we couldn’t possibly be created by these people (mom and dad), there must be a mistake, families are the worst.

Well, you haven’t seen (or read) nothing yet. If you think your family is bad… Annie and Buster will tell you, their family takes the cake. How would you like to be known as Child A and Child B by your parents?

Dust jacket: The family Fang create art: performance art, provocations, interventions – call it what you like. And many people certainly don’t call it ‘Art’.

But as Annie and Buster grow up, like all children, they find their parents’ behaviour an embarrassment. They refuse to take up their roles in these outrageous acts. They escape: Annie becomes an actor, a star in the world of indie filmmaking, and Buster pursues gonzo journalism, constantly on the trail of a good story. But when both their lives start to fall apart, there is nowhere left to go but home.

Meanwhile Caleb and Camille have been planning their most ambitious project yet and the children have no choice: like it or not, they will participate in one final performance. The family Fang’s magnum opus will determine what is ultimately more important: their family or their art.

First published: 2011
Rating: 3/5
Reason: I’ve read this book a few years ago and decided to read it again, because for the life of me I couldn’t remember how it ended. Now, if you can’t remember how a book ended there must be something wrong with it?

King Henry VIII and Cinderella

I’ve recently finished reading “The Boleyn Inheritance” by Philippa Gregory.

boleyn inheritance

The story is told through the eyes of three women: two of King Henry VIII’s wives namely Anne of Cleves (fourth wife) and Katherine Howard (first Anne of Cleves’ maid in waiting and later the king’s mistress – fifth wive); and kinswoman Jane Boleyn, who betrayed her husband and his sister (Anne Boleyn – wife number three) and played a part in every wife of King Henry’s undoing except for the last one.

Reading this book made me think of the story of Cinderella. But this is no Cinderella fairy tale. King Henry VIII was a horrible human being. He was old, sickly (he had an open leg wound that stank up the whole palace), he was obese. His Achilles’ heel was beautiful women, but he was very paranoid and insecure believing there was a constant plot to kill him.

He had his first marriage annulled and was excommunicated by the Pope. This caused the church and state to separate.

Why any woman would agree to marry him is beyond me. Although, apparently Anne of Cleves’s childhood home and life was so horrendous she would have done anything to get away from her brother and mother.

Cinderella:

There are a few things that bother me about the story of Cinderella. After she runs away when the clock strikes midnight and the prince is only left with her shoe – why doesn’t he just find out what shoe size it is? Judging from many adaptations of the story, Cinderella has freakishly small feet (like me) and by knowing that, he could have saved himself so much trouble.

Also, how do you not recognize the woman you have danced with and fallen in love with? If it were a masked ball or if the people were wearing wigs, I could understand why he didn’t immediately recognize her, but seriously? How thick is he?

And I do not for one second believe that when Cinderella marries the prince she is free. She remains a servant by becoming the prince’s wife – who says he won’t treat her as such?

Toorbos – Dalene Matthee

toorbos

Ek het nie gedink dis moontlik nie, maar ek het ‘n nuwe gunsteling boek van Dalene Matthee en dit is Toorbos!

“Liefde is ’n lang leer met baie sporte. Moeilik om te klim, want ons trap dikwels mis…”

My gunsteling dele uit die boek is waar Karoliena haarself soos ‘n boom vermom, want sy wil weet hoe voel dit om ‘n boom te wees; en later waar sy Abel Slinger se olifantvoete/skoene leen, want sy wil weet hoe voel dit om in die voete van ‘n olifant te loop. En ek sou wat wou gee om ook die boomspook te sien!

Binnebladbeskrywing:
Karoliena Kapp is ’n alleenkind. Haar pa is vroeg-vroeg deur ’n weerligstraal doodgeslaan en sy het die bos aanvaar as haar oermoeder. Sy is mooi en word gou raakgesien deur Johannes, ’n boswerkerskind wat hom uit die wurggreep van armoede losgewikkel het. Nog voordat sy twintig is, word sy met hom afgetrou en moet sy haar plek as dorpsvrou volstaan.

Maar Karoliena gebruik die eerste kans om weg te loop. Die dag na die troue weet sy: Sy het verkeerd gekies. Sy het van die bos af weggevlug en haar vryheid verruil vir ‘n kou. Nou is sy bang, en sy vat die pad terug.

Terwyl die pietjiekanarie sonder ophou roep: Wie’s-jy, wie’s-jy.

Eerste uitgawe: 2003

Sterstatus: 5/5

Female Protagonists

I’ve recently read two books back to back with not just one, but several really strong female protagonists. It also shares the same themes.

secret life of bees

Female Protagonists: Lily, Rosaleen, August, June and May.

Backcover: Lily has grown up believing she accidentally killed her mother when she was just four years old. Now, at fourteen, she yearns for forgiveness and a mother’s love. Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her harsh and unyielding father, she has only one friend, Rosaleen, a black servant.
When racial tension explodes one summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is compelled to act. Fugitives from justice, the pair follow a trail left by the woman who died ten years before. Finding sanctuary in the home of three beekeeping sisters, Lily starts a journey as much about her understanding of the world, as about the mystery surrounding her mother.

Thoughts: I absolutely adored this book. I love the idea of incorporating the metaphor of bees social life in the story. I also learnt a lot about bees. For example, I didn’t know most bees in the hive are female – I always assumed just the queen is female.

I also wrote a post a while back about bees committing suicide and apparently if they can’t find a new queen after the old one dies, they commit suicide.

First published: 2003
Rating: 5/5

the help

Female Protagonists: Miss Skeeter, Aibileen, Minny, Miss Hilly, Miss Elizabeth, Mae Mobley, Miss Celia, Constantine, the other maids, Mrs Stein.

Back cover: Enter a vanished world. Jackson, Mississipi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver…
There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from college, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.
Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…

Thoughts: It’s strange how many America and South Africa has in common. Sadly, in South Africa there are still a lot of black women working as domestic help and raising white children. The help have their own separate toilet and cutlery. They don’t sit at the same table as their employers.
I remember the woman who semi-raised me: Mina. I remember how she made us home-made “slap tjips” with lots of vinegar. She worked for my parents even before I was born. She was very hardworking and loyal. When we’d go away on holiday she would do house-sitting and feed our pets. I never asked her about her family.
Kathryn Stockett also writes about her own family maid, who raised her.

First published: 2009
Rating: 5/5