Back from the Tavern of the Seas. So what other than the nuptials has scraped its way into my memory neurons?
First and foremost I should mention that iKapa has two of the finest book-stores [to my knowledge] on this planet: Clarke’s on Long Street and the surpassing Book Lounge [on 71 Roeland St., not that this matters one bit]. Clarke’s reminded me that, as fond of [and guilt-ridden] as I might be concerning my Amazon Wishlist of books, it is a rather small-mindedly Eurocentric selection that I’ve clicked together. And which now and then haunts my daydreaming hours. So much so that in the course of the unapologetic book bender I went on, greedily buying 11 volumes in one more day, only one of them hailed from the said wishlist. Incidentally it is a profoundly African book, Tutola’s Palm-Wine Drinkard, the first four pages of which I’ve ran my eyes over and which are highly entertaining, written in an exquisite, idiosyncratic Pidgin. Coming into Clarke’s, the title soon came to my mind and it was right there, an early edition, immaculate, for 150 rand.
Then there was another local book [see below, CT, what coincidence] I searched for but couldn’t find; the lady of the place told me to go upstairs and search among the wall-covering second-hand volumes [which reached back through centuries of African history/lit]. I did so. Sure enough I found an intacto, pleasantly yellowed issue of the Drinkard at a much more account-friendly sum: 30 boks. That other CT evaded me for the time-being.
Among the rest of my CapeTonian bibliobooty, indubitably equally ironic, only two more African titles are to be found: Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s Decolonizing the Mind, simply because I want to understand more about language’s place in [African] lit and see if I can somehow, perchance surrealistically, establish points of connection with Biko and, indulge me, Frantz Fanon. Which will be a pain if I don’t re-read the man soon. En passant, I also came across two Fanonian volumes, which due to their price-tag, with a modicum of sorrow, I left on the shelf. Not to not mention the fact that I have become exceedingly selective about my non-fiction reading: I cannot shake the powerful notion that, while they have a lot to say about the soi-disant empirical reality, they have considerably less to tell me about human existence the straight fictional dope, in other words, they are strapped for certain humanistic insights I most want to consider presently. [e.g. Who are you and I and we? Where are we going? What the flip is all this?, et yadda, et yadda, et yadda].
The other could by some luck be guessed if I hinted it is a dead South African penman with a very obvious, epidermically-thin link to myself: Can Themba. Finding out that Themba is his surname was a grain of irritation I was able to swallow, though I am yet to excrete it again; a pearl might yet flourish in my guts. Name: A Requiem for Sophia Town; a collection of short stories. I read quite a bit about the tragic figure of D’Orsay Canadoce Themba, I even recall having perused one of his stories and that, combined with my pathetic name-saken sense of loyalty, was more than enough to dig out my ruinous plastic. There are scores of lines to be quoted from RfST, I’m sure but on the second page, one eerily captured one of the persisting tonalities of social interaction I was picking up on during my stay: ‘The most fluent user of English in the Africa of his time.’ Taban Lo Liyong [whoever he is]. Alternatively, try imagining the following on page three of a tome by Bellow, say Herzog: ‘During his era he was certainly one of the US Americans most competent in using the English language.’ Ahhh, the subtleties of denigration! Anyway, I will read D’Orsay soon enough for myself.
The others in part followed my new-found dictum of enjoying the fruits of short fiction, brief novels and novellas. After having been bowled over by Aira’s Varamo it seems to me an effective reading strategy. A) It allows one to sample a most diverse range of writers and literary styles B) It seems that many a writer comes fully into bloom when they permit themselves only somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and fitty pages to express their ideas/characters/plot; ideally, a density of style, an economy of plotting is developed that short-cuts much of the dross in arc- and character-building. I experienced such in Omega Point, Varamo, Lumpenroman, The Lathe of Heaven and hope to keep the streak up with The Body Artist, Sleep, RfST, Foe, The PW Drinkard, The Stand [hihi, side-splitter], a.s.f.
And then there were the books that simply screamed out to me to be read, bearing a halo of unignorable [self-]importance: Sartre’s The Imaginary [in this case, I sheepishly admit, I might have been seduced by the cover art and binding], Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others [I’ve had her a long time coming], Aurelius’ Meditations [clearly the most forgivable acquisition and possibly a good fit with The Art of Meditation], Small is Beautiful [which some-unknowable-how seduced me, inexplicable other than by a nostalgic longing for those heterodox econ classes at Knox…], Kureishi’s Black Album [a restoration of symmetry after I lost a copy in SA three years ago, an act of closure] and The Invention of Solitude [??? I finished The New York Trilogy on the plane, is the best I can say???]. This is the place where one could delve into what can reasonably and deductively be expected from these books but I will spare you and myself. Finally, there are the books which with much effort and vinegar-sweating and repressed tears I left behind on the rack, the way many allied soldiers were certainly left to die on god-forsaken beaches of WWII: much by Mda and Coetzee and The Third Reich [I’m beginning to surmise that q) A. Belano is not truly deceased after all r) RB is a nom de plume for a bevvy of ingenious, underground Chilean writers who concocted a tall-tale about that fuzzy-headed vagabond; I welcome further speculations].