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Helen Moffett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

In Which I un-Grinch (a little)

Christmas angel courtesy Alison JanesAll my kith and kin know that I’ve boycotted Christmas since 1983. (This explains why.) But this year is going to be a little different. This time, I’m actually going to exhort you (gasp!) to buy presents.

This is partly because there are really lovely things you can do and get to signify a season of giving without participating in a vile, sweat-shopped, planet-destroying orgy of plastic and traffic fumes and bedlam malls. Never mind the obscenity of a middle-class frenzy of consumption in a nation in which so many are abjectly poor. (Right, obligatory ranty bit over.)

Also, spending a bit of time with Three Princesses aka┬áthe Adorable Gal Cousins while in the US this holiday season softened me up. Reading poetry and looking up fun stuff on Google and baking Christmas cookies and planning parties and decorating trees and trampolining with three girls between the ages of eleven and almost thirteen would melt the most dour Scroogeface. (The coconut-rum eggnog their dad made didn’t hurt.)

That tree-decorating thing. I learned all over again that if you MUST decorate for Christmas, get your kids to make their own ornaments, small pieces of art, origami. They enjoy it so much. One writer I know uses a bare white-painted branch that her children decorate with stuff they make. The Adorable Gals lovingly unpacked and hung pieces that had been in their families for generations, put up photos of loved ones and edibles. If you must shop, hunt down somewhere you can buy handmade local art and crafts. Make things yourself. I left almost an entire rural village in Maine supplied with jars of South-African-recipe apple chutney. It was FUN.

Stray-cover3-320x480To continue my worthy exhortations: if you haven’t already, go out and buy this book. The royalties go to TEARS Animal Rescue, and it is a beauty. Best cover of the year (I’m not at ALL biased) and wonderful reads inside, from Zukiswa Wanner to Damon Galgut to Finuala Dowling to Sarah Lotz. Exclusives, Kalk Bay Books and the Book Lounge should all have it, and I think the local TEARS shops have them too — ring first to find out. Oh, and Newport Deli in Green Point has copies. It’s suitable for teens and adults, and is the purrfect prezzie for animal lovers.

If you’re hunkered down at home, afraid to venture out, here’s a win-win scenario: buy an impoverished child their very first ever book via Book Dash. If you don’t know about this wonderful ECD project, click here — they issue very pretty personalised e-gift cards for you to send to the person on whose behalf you buy. I believe there is no gift as magical for a child as a book — this post explains why. Other (non-booky) prezzies I have a soft spot for, and which you can get online: olive trees for the Path out of Poverty peace grove at Goedgedacht; and if you have a special grand- or godchild far away, sponsor a donkey for them at Eseltjiesrus in McGregor — they send cute report cards and pics of “their” donkey to the lucky recipient.

If you’re looking for books that will take you to other worlds, try these two — because they’re short story collections, you can dip in and out, and there’s something to please everyone: the Short Story Day Africa anthology Terra Incognita, edited by Nerine Dorman (available on Kindle); and the Short Sharp Story anthology, Incredible Journey, edited by Joanne Hitchens (the Book Lounge has them, Goddess bless the Book Lounge).

And in my eternal quest to woo reluctant readers AND highlight stellar local books, here’s a selection of perfect stocking-filler books, all good for single session reads on the couch, or when you need to creep away from the madding crowd.

For everyone in your life who gets messianic or enraged at the mention of Banting or Tim Noakes (hell, for anyone you know who’s ever dieted), get Paige Nick’s Banting spoof, Death By Carbs. The good Professor gets bumped off on the first page. Easy, tasty, hilarious read with great local flavour. It’s available via Bookstorm, Amazon and (I don’t have to tell you) the faithful Book Lounge…

For all the cooks in your life, especially those whose enthusiasm outstrips their skill: Kathryn White’s novel-with-recipes, Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously. I gobbled it up in one sitting. The recipes are all mini-cliffhangers — will they or won’t they work? The chocolate-chili cake is a have-to-try. This should be in book shops right now.

For your favourite political activists — not exactly a light read, but everyone I know finished it in one sitting (many then started again on page 1): Thando Mgqolozana’s hypnotic, eerily prescient novel of campus life, Unimportance. Must-read for those following or part of the #RhodesMustFall movement. In good bookshops, or via Jacana.

For any bloke getting skittish about mid-life, and the women who love them or want to throttle them or both, Darrel Bristol-Bovey’s One Midlife Crisis and a Speedo. Very funny self-mockery, with a surprisingly sweet and unsentimental love story. If not in (where else) The Book Lounge, Umuzi will get it to you…

For those family members perpetually plugged into their gadgets, Fiona Snyckers’s Now Following You. Creepy, compulsive story of a young woman who lives online, and the stalker who gets obsessed with her. Should be in bookshops, otherwise via Modjaji.

That uncle/aunt who doesn’t read, but loves birdwatching and National Geographic: Justin Fox’s The Impossible Five, an impossibly endearing account of the author’s search across Southern Africa for the five rarest mammals. Quick, easy, smoothly written, but with a serious message underpinning hare puns and pangolin pranks.

Readers: for a fat, satisfying, absorbing and sometimes heart-wrenching trip into a world that is mostly entirely invisible to us, get Sindiwe Magona‘s Chasing the Tails of my Father’s Cattle; and for a lush, carefully plotted blend of environmental issues, Brazilian santeria religion, rum, romance and Elizabeth Bishop poems, get the equally fat and satisfying The Seed Thief, by Jacqui L’Ange.

That’s enough for now: stay safe, stay sane, tell the people you love how you feel, be kind, pay it forward. And remember it’s OK (in fact normal) to have spots or spells of sadness or loneliness at this time of year, especially if this is your first holiday season without someone you love. Escape into a book (see above), go for a walk with friends, stroke a pet, plant something, do a little bit of good. I send a cyberhug and good wishes.

Pic credits: Craft angel photo courtesy of Alison Janes; cover of Stray designed by Joey Hi-Fi.




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