10 August 2010


The CT Book Fair turned out to be a mixed bag of offerings, more lucky packet than treasure chest.

The downside

The CTICC hall was overheated, under-ventilated and glaringly lit, which made for soporific spectating; the acoustics were pretty bad and there was nowhere to sit unless you were attending one of the author appearances or book launches. The smaller meeting rooms upstairs were better in those respects, though the number of seats was limited and the door continually opening and closing, and people shuffling in and out, at the back of the room should have been better controlled.

The upside

Wole Soyinka was relaxed and friendly. He has a wonderfully deep, rich voice, and a good sense of humour. A sample of his views: A subtle communication can take place between the reader and the book. After a long or hard day’s work, after a day of soccer and vuvuzela*-blowing or -avoiding, you can turn to a book for solace or escapism, amusement or enrichment; the book doesn’t answer back but your reading process is two-way rather than singular, a silent interaction. He would hate the aesthetic of ‘the book’ (its scent, its weight, the texture of the pages, the design of the cover and the text) to be lost; books are from the Neanderthal world and we must defend them and fight to keep them in existence. He writes because he’s a closet masochist. Slightly more seriously, he feels the written word has the power to open doors and minds; we would be far the poorer without books.

* Not a soccer fan, he was unfazed at failing to pronounce the word correctly

Along with Sindiwe Magona and Elinor Sisulu, Antjie Krog took part in a conversation with Becky Nana Ayebia Clarke about African Love Stories. Ayebia Clarke worked for Heinemann Africa before branching out and forming her own publishing company, and achieving one of her goals: publishing this book of short stories by African women. Magona and Krog contributed stories to the volume, while Sisulu has written a biography of her parents-in-law, Albertina and Walter Sisulu. These women chatted about love affairs and relationships that existed behind the scenes in the southern African political arena in general, and those of their own families in particular. The final question from someone in the audience: ‘How do you have the courage to write about such intimate things?’ To which Krog replied with the suggestion that the more intimate and unique writers seem to be, the less they are being so. Because as soon as they are being unique and intimate they fail to reach their audience. ‘If you’re going to naval-gaze,’ she said, ‘your description of your naval must have similarities with other women’s navals. As soon as your naval becomes obviously only yours, your voice becomes yours alone and reaches no one’ (paraphrased). It’s an interesting idea. Poorly executed, such a story could simply be neutral and superficial; I guess the trick or the skill would be in infusing the story with universally resonant elements while making it appear particularised and extra-ordinary.

Jodi Picoult was clearly well seasoned in public speaking and appearing, and refreshingly down to earth. She brought one of her sons with her. The two of them blitzed the entire hall for a few moments with their wolf-call harmony, something they learned in England while she was researching wolf calls for one of her novels. Her average day sounds full – up at 5:30, taking a three-mile walk with a friend, getting the kids off to school, at her pc by 7:30 answering all her own fan mail, writing from 8:30 to around 3, being mom for the rest of the day; and her average year sounds thoroughly scheduled, with its set months for research and writing, editing and proof checking, and squeezing in book tours. She says she’s blissfully happy, and she looks it; I would baulk at knowing exactly what the coming year held, never mind the next and the next one. But each to her own.

Also, another litoverlap:* Recently I came across Petina Gappah’s blog, and walking into the hall the first book I saw on display at the Wordsworth stand was An Elegy for Easterly.

* Litoverlap n. The unintentional, serendipitous and/or noteworthy occurrence of thought, word or deed in more than one place and time; usually, but not always, in the same field. Not to be confused with coincidence. It’s the word I’m using until I find a better one, though I quite like this one, with ‘lit’ indicating literary and implying a sense of illumination both in the overlapping elements (they’re briefly spotlighted) and in one’s discovery or experience of the overlap itself.

Finally, personal highlights of the trip, among others: seeing friends, some unseen for absolute ages, and Noordhoek.

Before us, great waves bounced on the blanket of beach.
Briny air soaked us up, filled our lungs to bursting.
Behind us, the shimmering hill handled the vast whip of the wind.