Readerly #1


Readerly is SLiPnet's new blog series, which features some recent books and articles that have drawn our attention. The format consists of a breakdown of news and articles, followed by some of our favourite extracts. If you would like to suggest articles to feature in this blog series please e-mail me here with "Readerly" as your subject line. We hope you like it!

In the news

The Africa Writes Festival recently took place in London, and Dele Meiji Fatunla caught up with Mukoma wa Ngugi for an interview in which he discusses how he washes dishes and writes simultaneously, as well as falling in and out of love with authors.

The Caine Prize winner, Tope Folarin, was announced last week and this has sparked yet more debate around identity: Maaza Mengiste asks in The Guardian what makes a "real African?", while Simon Alison from the Daily Maverick follows the debate around Folarin's identity subsequent to claims that he does not have a very strong connection to Africa. Chika Oduah investigates why Nigeria dominates the Caine Prize and whether this is relevant. On the other end is writer Ngozi Adichie who stated in an interview that she does not pay much attention to the Caine Prize hype: "I suppose it’s a good thing, but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa."

A Shanghai-based artist paid tribute to Nelson Mandela by punching a wall 27 000 times. Jacques Pauw reviews the new biography of Glenn Agliotti by Sean Newman and Peter Peigl and calls it the "whitewash of a criminal". According to Pauw "[t]he result is a carefully orchestrated media attempt that is bland, tedious and tiresome."

Apple was found guilty of ebook price fixing. After a federal judge ruled the company guilty of conspiring to raise the price of ebooks from publishers, Apple spokesperson  Tom Neumayr stated: "Apple did not conspire to fix ebook pricing and we will continue to fight against these false accusations."

An asteroid has been named after writer Iain Banks and new scientific research suggests that singing synchronises choirs' heartbeat. Another study suggests that people who think of death often are funnier and show more humorous creativity. Writer Geoff Dyer revealed that he really, really likes to sit. Pediatricians in Winsconsin have started prescribing books to children as part of the Reach Out and Read initiative.

The Atlantic's Kelsey McKinney bemoans the fact that it is much too hard to find female characters in fiction who are not overly preoccupied with love. Ian Crouch from The New Yorker explores the relationship between writing and drinking and discusses the book which forced him to stop reading in bars. Damon Linker critiques new atheism and its proponents for their intolerance of religion and tracks its philosophical break from a more liberal strain of atheism: "The most thoughtful atheists – let's call them liberal atheists – have always understood that the impossibility of negative proof is a crack through which the gods, no matter how ruthlessly banished from the human world, forever threaten to return ... Accordingly, they did not go out of their way to act as missionaries for unbelief."

Quotes we like

We Need New Names - by NoViolet Bulawayo

We collide with their bodies and they catch us with those hands with black ink on them, because that is how they have voted, with their fingerprints, they tell us. They catch us and toss us so far up we see the blue so close we could stick our tongues out and taste it.

Bulawayo's "Darling" is one of the most engaging child characters I have come across in a while. Read this book, it is often funny and sad at the same time and its outrageously inventive analogies come across with a strength which is utterly captivating.

Miracle - by Tope Folarin

We make our stew thicker; we throw in more screams and prayers until
we can no longer distinguish one voice from another.

The Caine Prize winning piece is a compelling story about belief and religious ceremony in the diaspora. If you are intrigued by the thematic currents of this short story, also read this article by Tony Scherman, which recounts the fascinating life of the "mighty but divided soul", C.L. Franklin.

Mandela and Hip-Hop - by Ngoan'a Nts'oana

Madiba on money is like Che Guevara on t-shirts, the commodification of spirit and strength and struggle into a product that pacifies those aspects of human nature.

Ngoan'a Nts'oana interviews three Hip-Hop artists and asks them about their thoughts on Mandela's legacy.

The State of Writing in SA -  by Craig Higginson

The chaos of the quotidian and the actions of the protagonists of our times can also be reduced to bite-sized anecdotes – so there are stories about Malema or Oscar Pistorius that make us laugh – and laugh the threat of what these stories might represent or suggest to us, away.

Be sure to read this thoughtful piece by Craig Higginson which asks some of the tougher questions about post-apartheid writing in South Africa.

Excerpt from Get Me Started - by Sipho Hlongwane

As the sun rises higher in the sky, people start filling the dusty paths and all are convinced that President Jacob Zuma will make an appearance to tell them where to go to find their missing men.

Pan Macmillan has published an excerpt from Sipho Hlongwane's Get Me Started on the Books Live site. If you like Hlongwane's columns in the Daily Maverick you are probably as excited as I am to get your hands on this publication.

Excerpt from Skinned - by Antjie Krog

One-eyed people bark and snakes stand upright in the trees.

There's a new South African literary website on the block. Welcome to Aerodrome and thank you for publishing this excerpt from Antjie Krog's Skinned!

Landays - by Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy

Widows take sweets to a saint’s shrine.
I’ll bring God popcorn and beg him to kill mine.

This is an especially remarkable piece. Eliza Griswold and Seamus Murphy set out to collect the brave poems of Afghan women who write in secret and in defiance of both their own patriarchal culture and the U.S. invasion.

Nairobi Nights - by Dayo Olopade

There exists irrational compulsion, which makes people act in ways which are thought to lead to their own destruction, but can't resist it even when there are better alternatives.

Another striking piece of longform journalism which no one should miss. Read how the blog of a sex worker in Nairobi got the whole city, from the pimps to the pastors, talking about sex.

Dostoevsky, inequality, and Tsarnaev’s humanity - by Elizabeth Stoker

Circumstances do not determine destiny, and they absolve criminals of nothing; nonetheless, they shape the possible worlds in which violent tendencies are, in some, ignited.

An interesting piece by Elizabeth Stoker in which she analyses the moral confusion surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing in relation to Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

To Marlon Brando In Hell - by Joyce Carol Oates

Because when asked what you were rebelling against you said with wonderful disdain, What’ve you got?

Joyce Carol Oates pens a beautiful open letter to Marlon Brando in hell, which describes her love hate adoration for the actor. Recently Oates received some passionate objections from her Twitter followers when she voiced some anti-Islamic opinions. In May this year Conor Friedersdorf enquired in his Atlantic column whether one can divorce the political ideas of a writer from his/her work.

Taipei - by Tao Lin

But the emotion dispersed to a kind of nothingness – and its associated memories, like organs in a lifeless body, became rapidly indiscernible, dissembling by the metaphysical equivalent, if there was one, of entropy – as he realized, with some confusion and an oddly instinctual reluctance, blinking and discerning his new room, which after two months could still feel unfamiliar, that he was somewhere else, as a different person, in a much later year.

Taipei has received a divided response, with the New York Observer's Benjamin Lytal calling it a masterpiece and a mixed review by Annalisa Quinn for NPR calling it "boring and harrowing; dull and wildly creative." I agree with some of the criticism and understand why some people have the urge to call Tao Lin a "hipster writer". At the same time Taipei captures with astonishing accuracy the detachment, lack of sincerity and ennui that is such a chronic part of contemporary middle class youth.

Treasures in the Smithsonian’s attic  - by Sam Kean

Did you know you can feel crestfallen for a dog that died nearly a century ago?

Sam Kean wanders through the Smithsonian museum's attic and finds, among other things, a stuffed dog who was awarded with more than a dozen medals in World War 2, clam shells that were once used for currency and a remote controlled badger.

Google Street View glitches on the fringes of everything - by Joe Veix

It’s as if the digital world actively works against creating a sense of an ending, preferring instead to preserve the illusion of an infinite utopian present.

Joe Veix comes across some glitches on Google Street View and Google fails to respond to his e-mails.

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