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BOOKS

Festive books — our guide to holiday reads and literary gifting

Festive books — our guide to holiday reads and literary gifting
Supplied selection of book jacket images

The team at The Reading List has put together a guide to the key books of the season — whether you’re looking for a perfect gift for that special bookish someone, or to spoil yourself at the bookshop. Reminder to all: stay festive, and buy from independents!

Our Book of the Year

In a crowded field of superb reads, The Quality of Mercy by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu is our Book of the Year. It’s the final novel in her award-winning City of Kings trilogy, weaving together elements of social comedy and cosy crime while examining the history of a country transitioning from a colonial to a postcolonial state.

Get the literary tome you only have time for on holiday
Passionate about page counts? Bag one of these belletristic door stoppers over the break.

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (560 pages)
The Latecomer by Jean Hanff Korelitz (448)
Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer (448)
Devil House by John Darnielle (416)
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou (416)
Trust by Hernan Diaz (416)
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (400 pages)
The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy (380)

***

Take these reads to the beach
Lift them up occasionally to squint at their words. Keep them away from the tide. 

Livid by Patricia Cornwell, in which chief medical examiner Kay Scarpetta is the reluctant star witness in a sensational murder trial when she receives shocking news. The judge’s sister has been found dead.

The Winners by Fredrik Backman is a small story about big questions. It starts with a storm — and a death. But how does it end? And what are the residents of Beartown willing to sacrifice for their home? Answer: Everything.

Forever Home by Graham Norton. Yes, that Graham Norton. In his tense and darkly comic new novel, Norton casts a light on the relationship between mothers and daughters, and truth and self-preservation with unnerving effect.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry. Set over one sizzling August, Henry’s latest is a new, chemistry-filled “rivals to lovers” romcom involving literary agent Nora and editor Charlie. She’s no heroine. He’s no hero. Can they take a page out of an entirely different book?

Marple: Twelve New Mysteries by a dozen authors is a brand-new collection of short stories featuring the Queen of Crime’s legendary detective Jane Marple, penned by 12 remarkable bestselling and acclaimed authors.

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Figure out how to relax already
Breathe in, breathe out.

Zero Bullsh*t Meditation: The 6 Phase Meditation Method by Vishen Lakhiani. Learn six thought exercises that you run through your head as a hyper-efficient programming script. No boredom, special breathing or “clearing your mind” required. And there’s a free app! 

The Book of Boundaries: Set the limits that will set you free By Melissa Urban. Reclaim your time, energy, health and relationships with 130+ scripts with language you can use to instantly establish boundaries with bosses, co-workers, romantic partners, parents, in-laws, co-parents, friends, family, neighbours, strangers — and yourself. 

Hiking Cape Town: 35 Spectacular Hikes in and Around Cape Town by Evelyn John Holtzhausen. Easy-to-follow directions, approximate walking times, distance, difficulty ratings and full-colour maps. Get outside.

Behind the Bar by Alia Akkam. A guided tour of bars around the world and — critically — their gin cocktails. The Negroni Sbagliato is on the menu, natch.

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Do not give this book to the bibliophobe in your life
See also: hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia

The Book of Phobias and Manias: A History of Obsession by Kate Summerscale. A captivating A-Z that explores our fears and fixations in all their contradictory glory, from pre-history to the present day. A thrilling compendium of 99 obsessions that have shaped us all, from ablutophobia (a horror of washing) to syllogomania (a compulsion to hoard) to zoophobia (a fear of animals). Fun!

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Toss these titles to SA sports fundis
Howzat? 

Sultan: A Memoir by Wasim Akram tells the story of cricket’s greatest left-arm bowler, and one of its greatest survivors.

Faf: Through Fire by Faf Du Plessis with Marco Botha provides unique insight into the mind and heart of one of South Africa’s most interesting and charismatic national captains. A no-holds-barred autobiography.

Gqimm Shelele: The Robert Marawa Story by Mandy Wiener tells Marawa’s broadcasting journey, from hosting World Cups and interviewing presidents to what he believes are the political forces behind attempts to end his career. 

The Legend of Zola Mahobe and the Mamelodi Sundowns Story by Don Lepati and Nikolaos Kirkinis. Zola Mahobe, “Mr Cool” as he was known, burst onto the SA soccer scene when he bought Mamelodi Sundowns at the age of 31 and appointed the flamboyant Screamer Tshabalala as coach. Paying huge sums to attract top players, he grew Sundowns into one of South Africa’s leading teams. Then Mahobe’s mistress, Snowy Moshoeshoe, was arrested…

Rugby, Resistance and Politics: How Dan Qeqe Helped Shape the History of Port Elizabeth by Buntu Siwisa. Daniel Dumile Qeqe (1929–2005), “Baas Dan” or “DDQ” — take your pick — was the Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) leader whose struggles and triumphs crisscrossed the entire gamut of political, civic, entrepreneurial, sports and recreational liberation activism in the Eastern Cape. In this powerful and moving account of Qeqe’s life, Siwisa has, magnificently, written a people’s history of Port Elizabeth.

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For everyone who takes cheer from the Heydays Prices adverts
Take the mission out of book shopping. 

Whitey: The Rise and Rule of the Shoprite King by Niel Joubert, with a foreword by Johann Rupert. Joubert pieces together the complex, fascinating story of how Whitey Basson grew Shoprite from eight small stores valued at R1-million into the largest retailer in Africa, and the 35th largest retailer in the world.

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For weekend bingers
Get them all? 

Before Your Memory Fades by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. The third novel in the international bestselling Before the Coffee Gets Cold series follows four new customers in a cafe where customers can travel back in time.

The Twelve Topsy-Turvy, Very Messy Days of Christmas by James Patterson. No stockings, no gifts, no tinsel and no tree — has Christmas been cancelled? It’s mid-December and for the fifth year in a row, there is little sign of the festive season in the Sullivan family’s home in South London. That is until a mysterious someone starts sending strange gifts to widower Henry and his two children.

Sex, Lies and Alibis by Eva Mazza. The much anticipated final instalment in Mazza’s “sex trilogy”, featuring the sometimes sexy and always dysfunctional cast from Stellenbosch, with its penchant for impropriety and unapologetic wealth. Steamy.

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Get into Mzansi True Crime
Not literally, though. 

Samurai Sword Murder: The Morné Harmse Story by Nicole Engelbrecht. When 18-year-old Harmse walked into his high school in 2008, armed with a samurai sword, he had one mission: to commit a massacre. By the time his slashing spree had ended, a pupil was dead and three others brutally injured. Samurai Sword Murder puts together the pieces of this brutal tragedy. 

The Profiler Diaries Volume 2 by Gérard Labuschagne. More riveting cases from the files of former police psychologist and bestselling author Gérard Labuschagne. 

Fruit of a Poisoned Tree (new ed.) by Antony Altbeker. In 2005, Fred van der Vyver was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Inge Lotz. During the trial, his lawyers sought to turn the tables on the police. Now updated with the tale of the events that followed the verdict, Altbeker takes you into the heart of the epic courtroom battle.

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For politicos who just can’t look away
Titles to help you establish a false sense of control over our topsy-turvy times.

The World in Conflict by John Andrews. Join veteran Economist journalist Andrews as he analyses the old enmities and looming collisions that underlie conflict in the 21st century. 

Days of Zondo by Ferial Haffajee and Ivor Chipkin. The definitive guide to what was formally exposed during the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, with players ranging from the Gupta family and hangers-on, to former president Jacob Zuma, plus numerous others.

Clash of the Cartels: Unmasking the Global Drug Kingpins Stalking South Africa by Caryn Dolley. Assassinations are common. Life can be snuffed out over a stash of pills. A high in exchange for a hit. This is South Africa, home to cutthroat gangs and the lair of some of the world’s most notorious drug lords. Dolley has spent years tracing their footprints and shows how different criminal empires have overlapped, merged and clashed in South Africa.

The Unaccountables: The Powerful Politicians and Corporations Who Profit from Impunity by Hennie van Vuuren, Mamello Mosiana, Michael Marchant and Ra’eesa Pather. An urgent and passionately argued call to action, profiling the large corporations and private individuals who are all implicated in economic crime but have never been held to account.

In My Life: Stories from Young Activists 2002–2022 by Shannon Walsh, Claudia Mitchell and Mandla Oliphant. Follows the paths of a group of racially diverse young Aids activists from Khayelitsha and Atlantis, first brought together as part of an educational HIV-prevention programme in Cape Town in 2002. They tell stories of hardships and loss, mental health issues, grief and violence, but also of personal transformations, love, friendship, artistic achievements, community connection and thrilling social justice wins.

The Lost Prince of the ANC: The Life and Times of Jabulani Nobleman ‘Mzala’ Nxumalo by Mandla J Radebe. The first, full account of the South African revolutionary, which traces Mzala’s life from birth to his untimely death in London in 1991, at the age of 35.

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For teachers
A gem here. 

My Word: Ideas for Creating a Writing Culture in the Classroom by Thérèse Hulme. The title says it all. “I think what Thérèse is doing must be prescribed at every school. The book has the potential to change the world.” — Hunter Kennedy, songwriter for Die Heuwels Fantasties and Fokofpolisiekar. Ook beskikbaar in Afrikaans!

***

For music fans of certain vintages
Pouring sweet and clear. 

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story by Bono. Writing with candour, self-reflection, and humour, Bono opens the aperture on his life — and the family, friends and faith that have sustained, challenged and shaped him.  

The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan. Dylan’s first book of new writing since winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. Here, he offers extraordinary insight into the nature of popular music.

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For kitchenistas
Remember what Bourdain said: “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park.”

Bliss on Toast by Prue Leith. You understand you have to buy this cookbook for the title alone, right? Seventy-five recipes for things on toast will help you make quick, delicious and versatile meals year-round — from working-from-home lunches and cosy Sunday suppers to light bites, indulgent treats or impressive canapés. 

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Extra Good Things by Yotam Ottolenghi. Flexible, flavour-packed dishes that all lend a little something “extra” to your next meal. Ottolenghify every mouthful.

Giuseppe’s Italian Bakes by Giuseppe Dell’Anno guides you through making breads, panna cotta, tiramisu, rum baba, Sicilian cannoli and, of course, pizza, among many other delectable treats. 

Easy Speedy Vegan by Katy Beskow. The go-to cookbook for new and established vegans, and also for home cooks looking for effortless ways to bring plant-based meals into their kitchens.

What’s for Dessert by Claire Saffitz. One hundred recipes for all types of dessert people, whether you’re into impressive-yet-easy molten lava cakes, comforting rice pudding, or decadent chestnut brownies.

My Favourite Recipes by Ina Paarman. The focus is on fresh seasonal produce, and Paarman’s clear writing ensures stress-free cooking. 

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For the love of beautiful books
Transport someone. 

The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel. Waterstones’ Book of the Year for 2022. The history of art as it’s never been told before, from the Renaissance to the present day, with more than 300 works of art. How many women artists do you know? Explore the astonishing work of the women defining art from the Renaissance to the 2020s.

The Journey: A Big Panda and Tiny Dragon Adventure by James Norbury. Join the two friends as they continue their journey, overcoming life’s obstacles together, brought to life by a writer and artist inspired by Buddhist philosophy.

Rough Guides’ Make the Most of Your Time on Earth presents 1,000 ultimate travel experiences across the globe, packaged perfectly for your coffee table.

From Africa by Jon Dowling. A celebration of creativity from Africa, featuring 17 creatives and their work, including Vukile Batyi, Blood, Sweat + Polony, Bold Branding, Ahmad Hammoud, Elio Moavero, Mrs + Mr Luke, Thandiwe Muriu, MUTI, Thabiso Ntuli, Sindiso Nyoni, Hust Wilson, Pearly Yon, Studio Onss Mhirsi, Studio PIC, The Ninevites, Daniel Ting Chong and VM DSGN.

Haruki Murakami Special Editions. Collectors’ editions of three of Murakami’s best, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore and Norwegian Wood. Bliss.

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Get the teens off their screens
Bet. 

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas. A breathtaking, Mexican-inspired fantasy from the author of the New York Times-bestselling Cemetery Boys.

Crossing the River by Fred Khumalo. Nozizwe and her mother, sister and aunt escape a group of rebels that have captured them to be sold into slavery. They end up in the clutches of human traffickers, imprisoned on a farm. Nozizwe escapes and makes her way to Johannesburg to become a street child. No one she approaches believes her fantastic tale and they ignore her appeals for help.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé. Hello, Niveus High. It’s me. Who am I? That’s not important. All you need to know is… I’m here to divide and conquer. — Aces, anonymous texter, revealing two students’ darkest secrets. But who really holds all the aces?

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For the inevitable Bryson fan in your life
Better than his African Diary

The Body Illustrated: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson. A new, beautifully illustrated edition of Bryson’s best-seller, which takes us on a head-to-toe tour of the marvel that is the human body.

***

For budding cosmologists
Facts to ponder from our pale blue dot. 

Black Holes: The Key to Understanding the Universe by Brian Cox. At the heart of our galaxy lies a monster so deadly, not even light can escape its grasp. It’s time to explore our universe’s most mysterious inhabitants, black holes, where space and time are so warped that, according to Einstein, inside lies the end of time.

The Milky Way Smells of Rum and Raspberries by Jillian Scudder. A light-hearted book dive into some of the more arcane facts that Scudder’s work has revealed. Did you know: the galaxy is flatter than a sheet of paper; supermassive black holes can sing a super-low B flat; it rains diamonds on Neptune; and, of course, the Milky Way smells of rum and raspberries? Well, did you?

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For the South African lit set
Dive into top reads from local authors. 

How to Be a Revolutionary by CA Davids. The Book Lounge’s Book of the Year for 2022. Connecting contemporary Shanghai and late apartheid-era South Africa, the novel is a heartbreaking exploration of what we owe our countries, our consciences, and ourselves.

In the Shadow of the Springs I Saw by Barbara Adair. An exploration of people and their lives in the Art Deco buildings of Springs. In times of doom and complaint, this novel creates a new narrative: one of revival, vigour, and celebration.

My Thirty-Minute Bar Mitzvah by Denis Hirson has echoes of a detective novel as the author gradually tracks down answers to questions about the wider ancestral and political strands of his story.

The Eye of the Beholder by South Africa’s Queen of Crime Margie Orford is a sharp, well-written female revenge thriller that looks at trauma and the complicated ways in which it manifests.

Return to the Wild by James Hendry is the latest in his bestselling series featuring the MacNaughton brothers and set in the Sasekile Private Game Reserve. Expect high drama, much hilarity and close encounters with wildlife.

The Dao of Daniel by Lodewyk G du Plessis is the astounding debut by an octogenarian author, winner of multiple awards in Afrikaans, and now available in English, translated by Michiel Heyns. DM/ML

Visit The Reading List at www.readinglist.click for South African book news, daily.

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