Newsletter: Tis The Season…To Read

December’s newsletter is out. This month, we’re talking about nothing but books, books, and more books. From cosy mysteries, to spy romances, thrillers, literary African fantasy, and non-fiction from how to be a man to radical love in the resistance.

Books piled on top of books, creating a narrow passageway towards a blurry window.

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Cover of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Features a white girl of about 5 on a beach in a one piece bathing suit holding a beach ball.

~I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t setting my story against hers.~

~Truth for anyone is a very complex thing. For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the tet? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world.~

~She once told me that the universe is a cosmic dustbin – and after I had thought about this for a bit, I asked her if the lid was on or off.
‘On,’ she said. ‘Nobody escapes.’~

~It took me a long time to realise that there are two kinds of writing: the one you write and the one that writes you. The one that writes you is dangerous. You go where you don’t want to go. You look where you don’t want to look.~

~Reading yourself as a fiction as well as a fact is the only way to keep the narrative open – the only way to stop the story running away under its own momentum, often towards an ending no one wants.~

~I decided to apply to read English at the University of Oxford because it was the most impossible thing I could do.~

~Going mad is the beginning of a process. It is not supposed to be the end result.~

~Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work very hard at feeling too little.~

The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman

The cover of The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman has a serpent coiled like the infinity symbol.

~Why did scientists have to create their own words, rather than use perfectly good existing ones?~

~Lord Silver, Catherine’s uncle, was London’s biggest libertine and the head of the Lichtenstein spy network. He was generally untrustworthy, devious, and well-dressed in equal measure.~

~”But from my personal experience, people don’t inform you that you’ve been poisoned if you’re about to die on the spot. It’s usually to blackmail you by offering the antidote-or something like that?”
“Wait a second…You’ve done this before?”~

~Fire wasn’t like water. Fire existed only for a moment, remade with every passing second, constantly replaced by newly created flames.~

~”You’re not going to rip out your own intestines with a pin and arrange them to make words in the Language? Because if you are, I may throw up.”
“Have you considered a career as a horror novelist?”
“No-but if I had, being around you would give me lots of inspiration.”~

Highs and Lows from 2020 in chronological order (I think)…

My mother started the year with three strokes (one main event, two minor events). I couldn’t fly overseas to help, I was on crutches and had a busted finger, nevermind my other chronic conditions.

I had surgery on my knee (successful) and a finger (after an ‘eff up and the surgery appears to be an ‘eff up too).

I started to walk again, without a cane or crutch, after nine months. I love it.

I rebooted our vegi garden. I knew there was no other way to keep fresh leafy greens in our household at our preferred levels if I only grocery shop once a week. The wins thus far have outweighed the losses. While I still supplement with grocery store veg, a good bulk of it comes from my home’s soil.

My daughter and I gained an unasked for foster horse, dumped due to South Africa’s level 5 lockdown (the strictest). At the time we were not sure my husband was even going to get paid that month, my income was in tatters. Plans were made, people stepped in to help (and still help). He’s old, he refuses to pick up weight despite being fed the most, his withers are scary high and he is cheeky as hell. But I love him and he takes care of me and my kid. I swear he saved my sanity this year. One of my favourite memories is riding him during “walking hour” in level four with my daughter. There she’d be, jumping him in the early morning mist, the town eerily silent. It was glorious.

My body felt better than it had in ten solid years.

A heaviness descended onto one of our family members. It’s like bailing out a leaky boat. Sometimes the water line is lower, but we never succeed in making it go away. This has haunted me. I’ve had nightmares. But so it goes.

Husband and I became grandparents to a cat. We never thought we wanted a cat. But we did it, because she needed a person and that person needed her. Now, we adore her. And like many grandparents, we let her get away with shit we would never let our fur-children (the dogs) ever do.

I learned to canter, after more than 2 years. Still needs work, but I did it.

I took Dune-the-foster-horse on an outride and he did not take off in the manner he was known for – he’s adapting, and I am grateful. (Yes, an gentleman in the work areas, speed demon in the bush.)

My daughter and I arrived at the stables to meet a foal only a few hours old.

A doctor suggested that if I fed my family leafy greens and chillies the heaviness in our family would subside. I cried.

Husband and I celebrated our 20th legal wedding anniversary. The weather was gorgeous, the food at lunch was crap, we saw many lovely animals, and then nearly home we had a motorcycle accident. Despite flying the furthest, I came out of it with no broken bones. Husband, however, had two fractures, one of which required minor surgery.

My daughter galloped Dune for the first time. She was stunning.

My sitting trot, which had vanished after Dune and I fell in December 2019, started to return.

Dune had a minor injury, so my daughter rode an amazing horse that, unfortunately, has no loyalty to my kid so when an arsehole flew past them in their ridiculously large van, the horse took off with no thought to his rider. At first, you would have thought she was riding him at a gallop on purpose, she handled it so well. But a whip turn, followed by a whip turn, followed by…eventually she came off. We spent some quality time in the hospital, she gained a plate. We learned that the medical world had also failed us again, and because of this, my daughter will probably always have a crooked spine.

My feet began to hurt while in the hospital. It didn’t matter if I was standing up or not, they ached as if they were bruised, they burned.

My children stunned us with their grades this year. They always do well, but the at-home-learning, the yo-yo learning, the jerk-you-around-learning, and the home-from-hospital-test-taking – who knew how they’d cope? But they did, even in Afrikaans.

The hurt feet didn’t stop hurting. They were the canary in the coal mine that my luck of good health had come to an end. Now everything hurts. I’m trying not to mind, but I do mind, very much.

I held a baby not even 24 hours old.

Yesterday we took down the tree, because today we have a birthday to celebrate. Always a positive way to begin the New Year.

In conclusion…

I have never been so grateful to my friends. They have been invaluable this year.

I have never written so many “thinking of you” and “wishing you peace as you grieve” and trying to find new words and phrases for all the pain and heaviness that has rolled through our collective lives.

I have had kindness given to me by people whose names I do not know.

I have seen selfishness at a grand world scale that has left me breathless.

I loved having my family home, for school and work.

I pushed my body hard this year, and despite the current situation, for the most part, it met the challenges and for that, I thank it.

I have been very fortunate this year, despite the bumps. I have been given much love. 2020 has not been easy, and I suspect 2021 will also demand much. But my hope has not died. My wish is that you still have a burning ember of light inside your heart too. One foot after another, my friends. May we persist.

The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis

Cover of The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis shows a chess board on a small table with a plain table cloth. Behind it is semi-transparent curtains. The shading is dark.

~Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard.~

~The coffin would be closed. Beth knew what a coffin was; Dracula slept in one.~

~”This will be my tranquillity medicine,” Mrs. Wheatley said. “McAndrews has decided I need tranquillity.”~

~Their Christmas dinner was microwave turkey served on an airplane, with a complimentary glass of champagne for Mrs. Wheatley and canned orange juice for Beth. It was the best Christmas she had ever had.~

~There was nothing in front of her now but the sixty-four squares and the shifting architecture of pawns-a jagged skyline of imaginary pawns, black and white, that flowed and shifted as she tried variation after variation, branch after branch of the game tree that grew from each set of moves.~

~She remembered a phrase from the first man she had made love with: “Too cerebral.”~

“It’s good to see you.” What she wanted to say was, “I love you.”~

Wikipedia Bio

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

~A better deal for white women could not be, would not be, the road to freedom for Black women.~

~The feminism at the University of Chicago on offer to the low-income Black women living in the neighbourhood might as well have been a scene from The Help.~

~It’s easy to say no one should ever sell food stamps, harder to justify that stance when you remember that people need things like pots and pans to prepare their food.~

~Soda taxes hit the people with the fewest options the hardest, because in a food desert, too often the “healthy” options are also the most expensive.~

~Respectability politics are, at their core, and easy way to avoid engaging with history and current events…We point to the suits and ties and dresses worn during the civil rights movement and ignore that the people in them were still beaten, still arrested, still lynched.~

~Black girls don’t have eating disorders, you see, except when they do.~

~When politicians talk about the working class and the rust belt, we can hear they understand the consequences of long-term poverty. They can grasp that it isn’t a moral failing or a personal failing, but instead the consequences of bad policy and limited opportunity colliding over time. But when it comes to the inner city, suddenly the morality of poverty must be debated. the idea that working-class people live there suddenly vanishes despite the city functions relying on those populations.~

~Many of Bernie Sanders’s most fervent supporters were seemingly convinced that verbally attacking anyone of color who criticized him was good politics.~

~When we talk about housing and feminism, we must remember that it isn’t just the concern of the young woman eager to start her business or find a home for her family. It’s a concern for older women, for our elders who rely on the rhythms and the norms of their community to be able to age in place with dignity.~

~We must push back against the idea that disability status is a predictor of fitness to exist, to be heard, to have a choice.~

Toto Among the Murderers by Sally J. Morgan

Cover of Toto Among The Murders by Sally J Morgan is white text set amongst fall foliage colours and designs.

~I hate the word fiancé. It sounds like some kind of whipped cream dessert.~

~Why does everyone think the Good Witch of the North is so nice, just because she’s all smiley and posh?~

~’I was thinking the magnetic [North] was probably the truer one; that one draws things to it. I like the idea of True North being a wandering thing, trying to find itself. I like the idea of it being a magnet that everything points to, but which can’t find a place to settle.’
‘If I was a compass,’ I say, ‘I would always be looking for that kind of North. It would be my fixed point. I would follow it anywhere.’~

~I think of Clarissa Dalloway kissing Sally Seaton only once and never doing it again. I think of opportunities never taken.~

~Whenever a woman protests a man’s behaviour, she’s called hysterical.~

~The service station rises in the distance like a fairy-tale city built on a bridge spanning the motorway. Dark gathers but the lights are warm and orange. We peer through the windows like Dickensian waifs. Waitresses in cheery sailor suits lean over smart couples drinking cocktails. I feel like I’m in a film. A really bad one.~

~I’ve been so lost for so long; I barely know who I am.~


See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur

In rainbow text on beige background the cover reads : See No Stranger
A memoir and manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valarie Kaur.

~This book is for anyone who feels breathless…I thought my breathlessness was a sign of my weakness, until a wise friend told me what I wish to tell you: Your breathlessness is a sign of your bravery. It means you are awake to what’s happening right now: The world is in transition.~

~”Love” is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving – a choice we make over and over again.~

~Violence is a rupture. Violence makes a hole – not just the damage it inflicts on the body of a person but the pain it causes in the body of a people. The hole swallows up language, memory, and meaning and leaves us in a scarred and stripped landscape.~

~You need a man who sees you up on that stage and is proud of you. Not someone who will diminish you.~

~Oxytocin decreases aggression in a mother’s body overall with one exception – in defence of her young. When babies are threatened, oxytocin actually increases aggression. For mothers, rage is part of love…The solution is not to suppress our rage or let it explode, but to process our range in safe containers emotional spaces safe enough to express our body’s impulses without shame and without harming ourselves or others.~

~We had made the film so that others would listen to our stories. What I did not expect was for the film to open spaces for me to listen to their stories.~

~Breathing creates space in our lives to think and see differently, enliven our imagination, awaken to pleasure, move toward freedom, and let joy in. For those of us who live in bodies that are denigrated by society, breathing like this is a political act.~

~You don’t have to make yourself suffer in order to serve. You don’t have to grind your bones into the ground. You don’t have to cut your life up into pieces and give yourself away until there is nothing left. You belong to a community and a broader movement. your life has value. We need you alive.~

~As scholar Naunihal Singh reflects, had the shooter been Muslim and the victims white churchgoers, it’s hard to imagine that anyone today would not know Oak Creek.~

~Transition is the most painful and dangerous stage, but it’s also where we begin to see what comes into the space we open up.~

The Kensington Kidnap by Katie Gayle

Cover of the Kensington Kidnap shows a British row of double story houses with a cat and a young white woman in a red jacket and blond hair.

~On a country lane, if you found yourself stuck behind a slow cow, you could just give it a sharp tap on the bum and it would move out of your way. But you couldn’t do that with a slow walker in London. Pip had discovered the hard way.~

~She adored her niece and nephew and hoped, in a general way, to have her own kids someday, but gosh it was a major thing. It was remarkable that so many people did it. All that work. All that money. For twenty years. Just to pass on their DNA.~

~Thank God she had a car. You couldn’t do a stakeout from the Tube.~

~So stupid of her. Of course there was a back door. There was always a back door. Any halfway decent investigator would have gone there instead of sipping some vegetables through a biodegradable straw.~

~If I was a cult leader in this day and age, I would use social media big time.~