Thank you...

... for taking the time to stop by. I hope some of these ponderings will resonate with you.

Leave a comment if you want to - your contributions are more than welcome.

(Unless stated otherwise, all text & pictures are © Lee Labuschagne, all rights reserved.)

Friday, July 1, 2011

1+1+1 for 365, day 40:


“Perhaps it was history that ordained that it be here, at the Cape of Good Hope that we should lay the foundation stone of our new nation. For it was here at this Cape, over three centuries ago, that there began the fateful convergence of the peoples of Africa, Europe and Asia on these shores.”  - Former President Nelson Mandela, during his inauguration speech on May 9, 1994.

The Chain Gang – Mayors who served in Cape Town’s City Hall by David Bloomberg

Today, something that links to a bit of nostalgia that I picked up online yesterday:  lovely collections of historical photographs and press clippings that have been uploaded to Flickr. Click here for one concentrating on Cape Town and here for one with lovely old post cards  and then this one that shows historic Cape Town in art.  Finally, another that takes one back to being a tourist/holiday maker in SA in the 1960s.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

1+1+1 for 365, day 39: About friendships, wry smiles and tears

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit."  - Albert Schweitzer

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

(This is a slightly longer version of a review I wrote for the Cape Times and which was published towards the end of last year.)

When Sir Andrew Motion, chair of the panel of judges for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, announced that the prize worth £50,000 (about R550 000) was won this year by London author and columnist Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, he commented:

The Finkler Question is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle. It is all that it seems to be and much more than it seems to be. A completely worthy winner of this great prize.'

So then time passed and...

So then time passed and between procrastinating, guilty conscience about procrastinating and generally trying to keep my head above water work-wise, my 365  project got dropped.  That's the short version.  The long version sounds similar but has many more details that are irrelevant to most people but me.

But meanwhile,  here in the middle of winter I am emerging from the long period of hibernation away from this blog. There are also lots of book reviews, stories & ideas on my computer and in the back of my mind, so I'm picking this up again and if it then turns out not to be 365 consecutive days, then let it be a kind of metaphorical 'year' of a period during which I write about books and share some pictures & quotes & things.

Let's see what happens.

Some pictures from the past (not mine, but fascinating)

Meanwhile, while I'm warming up to start with the books 'n things again, have a look at this bit of nostalgia - pictures scanned from a tourist brochure (1965-1966).

Friday, October 8, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 38: The Mysts of Fantasy


"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.” - Albert Einstein

Myst - The Book of Artrus and Myst - The Book of T'iana by Rand & Robyn Miller with David Wingrove

I did it yesterday, so I am cheating again by slipping in another two-for-the-price-of-discussing-one-book.   This is because once you've read the first of these, you more or less feel obliged to read the next. Like the three original books of The Lord of the Rings or the five volumes of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy (no mistake, Adams fans will know that!) and indeed of most fantasy novel series and sagas, they form parts of one big story.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 37: A brilliant answer to all those self-help books about becoming successful

"To Quin-Xiang-Yi who in 1846 was given the title 'distinguished failure' in recognition of his 20 years spent failing the Chinese Civil Service entrance exams.  Buoyed up by this honour he went on to failed several times more." - Dedication of "The Return of Heroic Failures" by Stephen Pile.

The Book of Heroic Failures - (subtitled The Official Handbook of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain) and The Return of Heroic Failures by Stephen Pile

So I'm breaking a rule (an appropriate failure) and talking about more than one book. But these two really go together and very sadly are both out of print, although available as second-hand copies from various sellers.  Thus sadly I don't expect a rush of people to book stores to try and acquire a copy.

But if ever a duo books caused belly-aching, tears-inducing, raucous laughter then these are the ones.   When Stephen Pile first published The Book of Heroic Failures in 1979, it became a runaway bestseller (thus failing at failing!) for good reason.   It was followed by The Return of Heroic Failures in 1988 and promptly  became yet another one of those books that you borrowed from a friend and found hard to return.

To illustrate that last statement, my copy of  The Book of Heroic Failures disappeared into that black hole created by trusted friends who 'will definitely return stuff', whereas the copy of The Return of Heroic on my bookshelf does not actually belong to me, but to a friend, as her name written on the inside cover clearly attests. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 36: a guide for digital photographers

“Some photographers take reality...and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.”  - Ansel Adams (American photographer, 1902-1984)

Digital Photographer's Handbook by Tom Ang

There are very many good books about photography on the market, and good ones do not come cheap - so for one of them to sell more than half a million copies, there must be something about it that makes it worthwhile. 

Tom Ang's books get rave reviews because he really manages to demystify the subject. He is a professional photographer, has presented TV programmes on photography and as senior lecturer in photographic practice at London's University of Westminster, also has that academic background working for him in this book.  It is virtually a short course in digital photography and excellent for beginners, but it does not stop there.  It is beautifully presented, and is also logical, has a useful glossary  useful and covers everything from choosing equipment to image editing on computer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 35: Pure cat-opera delight

“Parsifal - the kind of opera that starts at six o'clock and after it has been going three hours, you look at your watch and it says 6:20” - David Randolph

Opera Cats by Susan Herbert

I love cats - everybody who's known me for longer than a chance meeting, knows that.  The result is a large collection of cat figurines and illustrations of cats on objects - but also dozens of books about cats around my house.

Some of these deal with cat breeds or the care of your cat, but many of them are small books with sayings, stories and quotes - many of them gifts friends and family.  I enjoy them greatly.  This one by well-known artist Susan Herbert and which I received as a Christmas gift from my sister some years ago, deserves special mention - because most people who know me, also know I love music and opera (not all opera though - like David Randolph I don't much like Wagner's over-long operas and only really enjoy The Flying Dutchman).  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 34: Seville, priests and mysteries

Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends. - Virginia Woolf

The Seville Communion by Arturo Pérez Reverte

I thought this note on this book by Spanish TV-journalist turned novelist Pérez-Reverte would be a good choice for a Sunday, since its story concerns issues of Roman Catholic Church tradition and personal battles of  faith and conscience.

I enjoyed this book, for which Pérez-Reverte won the Jean Monnet Prize for European Literature. He  is a good story teller and creates some very well-drawn characters:  from priests who have lost their faith, Spanish aristocrats, ambitious businessmen, a mysterious computer hacker, a seductive Andalusian beauty, an old priest with an interest in astronomy and cynical members of the upper echelons of the church in Rome to smaller characters such as a once famous flamenco dancer and a bullfighter-turned-boxer-turned-small-time crook and a greasy tabloid reporter.  There are suspicious deaths, much inner conflict endured by many of the main characters - and tales of tragic romances.   All the ingredients therefore, for a good read: an interesting story that also makes you think written in the unpretentious style of a seasoned journalist.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 33: The magic that Walt made

"I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained." - Walt Disney


The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch

The first thing you notice about this book is that it is really big and heavy. In fact, at roughly A3 size and 450 pages, of which many are actually double pages that fold out, it is one of the largest books in my library and only rivalled by a really big atlas and some other coffee table books on art. The reason I mention this, is that I bought it during a trip to the US many years ago. It was only when I got to the teller carrying it and some other books, all of them fairly large, that I realised this was going to play havoc with my weight allotment for luggage on the plane back to Switzerland where I lived at the time.  But there was no ways I was putting back such a treasure. 

Because if it is very big, it is also very beautiful and contains a wealth of information about a remarkable man and his art.  (Although Walt Disney himself did not refer to his work as art - he maintained "I never called my work an 'art' It's part of show business, the business of building entertainment." ). So I paid for the book, left it at the store while I collected some more books I had bought earlier from my hotel, and let them mail it to my home address.

Friday, October 1, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 32: The artist as a poet - and the poet as an artist

Do what you will, this world's a fiction and is made up of contradiction. - William Blake

Songs of innocence and of experience - William Blake

Was there ever another poet whose exquisite illustrations for his own poetry can equal that of William Blake? Similar to the stories of many other artists and authors, he did not become well known during his lifetime, but his work became very popular posthumously. He is remembered equally as poet, visionary artist, engraver, printmaker and as mystic and intellectual rebel of his times.

My copy of the illustrated Songs of Innocence and Experience was acquired a long time ago in London and contains lovely reproductions of this illustrated poems in the original size. I picked it up on a whim at a sale and have never been sorry that I bought it. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 31: Not all beds are the same

“The bed comprehends our whole life, for we were born in it, we live in it, and we shall die in it” - Guy de Maupassant


The Bed Book of Short Stories
This compilation of short stories by women from Southern Africa - some well-known, others new voices - was compiled by Lauri Kubuitsile, edited by Joanne Hitchens and published by Modjadji Books, which is run by Colleen Higgs and who first came up with the idea of a themed collection. She says about the theme of the bedroom that "although I was wary of the stories being too explicit about sex, it seemed just the right theme to capture the imagination of reders and writers alike."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 30: a very long novel , but a very fine one...

TODAY'S QUOTE: "All our pursuits, from childhood to manhood, are only trifles of different sorts and sizes, proportioned to our years and views. " - Samuel Richardson

Clarissa by Samuel Richardson 

I don't expect that many of  the readers of my blog have rushed out to buy Clarissa, or the History of a Young Lady. The reason is not the storyline or the quality of the writing, but rather the fact that it is long.  In fact it is very, very  long and at around a million words (I had to look this up) it is one of the longest novels in the English language.  

But I've always thought one of my minor claims to fame is that I indeed read all of it and wrote a paper about it during my honours year at university.  I had to make do with library copies at the time, but today it would be possible to buy it at a reasonable price in printed format or even download it in e-book format.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 29: Don't panic - the answer is still 42

TODAY'S QUOTE:  "For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons." - Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe by Douglas Adams

Swoon warning: this is one of my top favourite books ever.  Or to be more correct, the trilogy in five parts that forms The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe is of those special things that I return to often for the sheer joy and fun of it: I always find something new to smile about or to make me marvel at the genius of Douglas Adams.

In his honour I try to remember Towel Day every year on 25 May (and yes, carry a towel with me).   After all, without THGTTG we would not have known that the answer to life, the universe and everything else is 42, that one should never underestimate mice or dolphins and that you should think twice before drinking more than one intergalactic Gargleblaster.

Monday, September 27, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 28: .. of people who are "different"

“No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?” - Elbert Hubbard

House Rules by Jodi Picault

The main reason why I am writing about a Jodi Picault book so soon again, is that I read this one over this past weekend as a form of escapism from "everything else".  It tackles an interesting subject:  the way that individuals and families are affected by autism and specifically Asperger's Syndrome.  The story line is one of a murder mystery that involves a single mother and her two sons and of course there is a bit of romance on the side.  I enjoyed it because it was well researched - as all of Jodi Picault's books are - and because she writes in a very accessible style.

I'm behind...

I'm behind with entries because of life interfering.  Some of the stuff has been written but needs to be edited.

So to those who are regular followers, I'll get back on track soon and will fill in the gaps.

Sorry about this....

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 23: Ode to a cook book

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.” Harriet van Horne

Kook en Geniet (Cook and Enjoy It) - S J A de Villiers

I would have included this book anyway at some stage, but decided to talk about it today as a small tribute to its author, Mrs SJA de Villiers, who passed away 2 days ago at the age of 91.

Kook en Geniet was my first cook book.  It was a book prize at school (for doing well in Biology, no  less!) and I was only too happy to have a copy of it, since it had been more or less the standard cook book in the country for a long time already by the time I received a copy of its 22nd impressum. It is illustrated by only four colour photographs - the rest, although numerous, are in black and white and if one looks at them today, the table settings and other items also tell quite a lot about of the interior decoration and style of the times.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 22: Away from the shire and back again

"It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him."

- J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again)

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, to give the book its full title, Tolkien's second most famous work and first published on 21 September in 1937 - and this date is the reason why I chose it for today's post.

I was given my copy of  by a poetic boyfriend a long time ago.  He thought (quite rightly) that my education would not be complete without having read Tolkien and he said best to start with The Hobbit before I get round to The Lord of the Rings.  I was in a phase where I read completely different things and at first I could not relate to its fantasy world. But the boyfriend patiently introduced me to the magic of hobbits and many other things relating to Tolkien. Maybe the many cups of coffee and glasses of sherry helped, but in order to ensure that I would actually read the book, my romantic suitor stopped reading from poetry books for me for a while, and proceeded to read from it out loud while holding my hand during long cold winter's evenings in my small flat.

Monday, September 20, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 21: A really long saga - but a good one

"Idealism increases in direct proportion to one's distance from the problem." - John Galsworthy

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

John Galsworthy, who was among the first widely read authors of the Edwardian era, published the first book in The Forsyte Saga (A Man of Property) in 1906, while and the others followed between 1918 and 1921.  The books that make up the sequel, A Modern Comedy, followed between 1924 and 1928 and  the last book of The End of the Chapter, the second series of sequels, was published posthumosly in 1933.  Thus it took almost 30 years - a whole generation of reading - for this remarkable example of a family saga to reach the bookshelves.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 20: A life in science

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction." -  Albert Einstein

Einstein - A life in Science,  by Michael White & John Gribbin

Anyone who knows anything about science or the history of the 20th Century, knows about Albert Einstein. Numerous biographies have been written about this giant intellect and interesting personality. Indeed, more books have been written about his work and various aspects of his life than probably about any other scientist.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 19: Off to the Groot Marico

"Oh yes, there are two varieties on this side of the Limpopo. The chief difference between them is that the one kind of leopard has got a few more spots on it than the other kind. But when you meet a leopard in the veld, unexpectantly, you seldom trouble to count his spots to find out what kind he belongs to. That is unnecessary. Because, whatever kind of leopard it is that you come across in this way, you only do one kind of running. And that is the fastest kind." - Herman Charles Bosman  (Mafeking Road)

The Illustrated Bosman - Herman Charles Bosman

After writing about Edgar Allan Poe yesterday, it was one easy step to the work of a South African master of the short story, Herman Charles Bosman, because Bosman studied among others the work of Poe.  
Herman Charles Bosman (1905-1951) was raised in both English and Afrikaans, and this reflected in his writing: he wrote in English, but his down-to-earth stories with their wry humour, unexpected twists in the tail and warm humanity, resound with a voice that straight from the African soil and indeed, the music of the Afrikaans tongue indeed Afrikaans is tightly woven into his work with Afrikaans words and phrases.  

Friday, September 17, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 18: Pioneer of whodunnit, scifi and horror

"I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat." - Edgar Allan Poe

Tales of Mystery and Imagination - Edgar Allan Poe

I admit, I don't find it easy to read Edgar Allen Poe, at least not when you first open a volume of his stories.  His old-fashioned prose can be difficult to follow, and I can easily understand  how modern students frown when they are first confronted with it.

But I found something of a cure years ago when a group of friends and I went out for a New Year's picnic: gather some pals, take this (or another) collection of Poe's stories and start reading out loud.  If one of your friends is good at reading, let them keep going as long as they want.  Then, simply listen to the story.  Having friends around also has the added advantage of having people to discuss his tales.

Besides, if you are a student of literature or an aspiring author in any of the genres of horror, science fiction or detective stories, or if you want examples of the art of short story writing, Poe's your man because of his his contribution to the development of these genres. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 17: The fairy-tale musician who died much too soon

"I love the physical thing of being on the earth that bore you. I have the same feeling when I walk in a very beautiful place that I have when I play and it goes right." - Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline du Pré by Carol Easton

This book was given to me by a friend shortly after it was published in 1990 and I immediately devoured it since I had always been a fan of Jacqueline du Pré.  The extraordinarily talented cellist had passed away in 1987 at the age of 42 - a victim of multiple sclerosis (MS).  The disease is a terrible one anyway, but for an artist of her calibre - one of the greatest cellists ever - it was particularly cruel.  It forced her to stop performing at the young age of 28, but by that time she had left behind some remarkable recordings and her name invariably comes up in any discussion of famous cellists.   Most often associated with the Elgar Cello Concerto, she also performed a wide range of the other great compositions for the instrument - many of which she also recorded.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 16: A Precious Lady Detective

"It is sometimes easier to be happy if you don't know everything." - Alexander McCall Smith (Morality for Beautiful Girls)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

The novels featuring Mma Precious Ramotswe, who sets up the first private  detective agency in Gaborone,  Botswana, have become international bestsellers.  These stories are as much about human nature and a celebration of the best things about Botswana as it is about Mma's Ramotswe's unique way of solving her cases - cases that are not about murders and other major crimes, but about those smaller yet intriguing matters that are important to her clients.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 15: Nightwatch

"Astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another" - Plato

Nightwatch by Terence Dickinson

Terence Dickinson's astronomy books are bestsellers.  Nightwatch, in particular, has been a runaway success.  According to its publishers, it has been called "the best general interest introduction to astronomy" and the three editions sold more than 600 000 copies.  It is in its fourth edition now, and is sure to sell hundreds of thousands more.

I was introduced to this book by my dear Canadian friend Ken Hewitt-White, who is also a well-known astronomy writer and speaker.  I own many astronomy books, but this one is certainly one of my favourites.  Another one of Dickenson's books, The Universe and Beyond, will also feature in this 1+1+1 project, because like Nightwatch, it is not only well researched, presented and illustrated, but the text is accessible and he has the knack of enthusing his readers.

Monday, September 13, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 14: "The best spy novel ever"?

"If you wish another to keep your secret, first keep it to yourself." - Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca)

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carré

When the Berlin Wall came down, the spy novel was suddenly under threat - because most of the best spy novels had their roots in the cold war between East and West.   The authors that specialise in that genre have meanwhile found new material in new conflicts,  but the classic Spy v Spy novel has undergone a shift towards a kind of international intrigue that is somewhat different in scope and focus.

If ever there was a single name that stands out among the writers of spy novels, it is that of John le Carré.  And if ever one book became the symbol of the genre, it is The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.   Graham Greene, who had written the screenplay for that most iconic of spy films, The Third Man, called it "The best spy story I have ever read."  

Sunday, September 12, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 13: Things that make your brain hurt


“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” - Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking has been in the news a lot this past week.  This follows the release of his new bestseller, The Grand Design  (co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow, with whom he had also written A Briefer History of Time).  Specifically the words "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going," are being quoted widely.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, Day 12 - Books of words

“Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap” - George Bernard Shaw


I’m breaking the pattern today by not talking about a specific book, but about some of the most useful reference books in my library.

Dictionaries – and reference books in general – are the quiet backroom boys and girls among books. I cannot think of anyone – with the possible exception of some and obsessive compilers of lexicons – who would read a dictionary for fun. Sure, they can lead to some fun: people use them to compile word games, crossword puzzles and settle arguments about what is allowed in a game of Scrabble. But curl up with a dictionary? Probably only if you are a desperate insomniac.

Friday, September 10, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 11: Beguiling Trinity

"The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart” - Helen Keller

Trinity Rising by Fiona Snyckers

Modern chiclit is not my favourite reading matter - I'm not exactly sure why, but much of it has to do with one-dimensional characters and predictable outcomes, or because I just don't get what makes some of it interesting to others.  I read some Mills & Boon novels once upon a time, but more or less stopped enjoying it around the time I left high school.

When one meets Trinity Luhabe, the heroine of this book, she's so completely the opposite of what I was as a student, that I thought "Oh no..!" 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

1+1+1 for 365, day 10: Old Possum's delightul cats

“When a cat adopts you there is nothing to be done about it except put up with it until the wind changes.” T.S. Eliot

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats - T S Eliot

I'll get to the serious, "big" things that Thomas Stearns Eliot wrote later. In fact, he is one of my favourite poets (Blake, Keats, the South African poets Uys Krige and Elizabeth Eybers some of Yeats and Milton are some of the others). 

But this volume  is the delightful one with light verses that most people who has seen the musical "Cats" know by heart.  It is playful, sad, sentimental, funny and generally whimsical entertaining for the whole family - not only for cat lovers. Eliot originally wrote these verses about practical cats for his godchildren and included it in letters to them during the 1930s.  In writing and sending them, he used the nickname name "Old Possum", which  Ezra Pound - his friend and fellow author - had given him.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

1+1+1 for 365 day 9: Imagining things


“You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” - Mark Twain

Second Glance, by Jodi Picault

I don't believe in ghosts. But nevertheless, I enjoyed Second Glance, first published in 2003 and one of the first two Picault novels I acquired (I also bought the more recent House Rules, but have not read it yet).

So this is the first book I'm mentioning in the "bestseller", popular genre.  There is no particular reason for it other than it is the most recent of that kind of novel that I've read.