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Books to bewitch, teach, regale

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By Diane De Beer

The nationwide Exclusive Books Summer Sale is now on, with more than 180 000 books worth over R10 million on sale at an average cost of R60. It’s a good way to celebrate the start of a new year, so visit your local Exclusive Books to pick up some old favourites that might have slipped through, or buy gifts for family and friends which can be handed out the rest of the year at special times. The sale ends on February 6.

Here are a few of my suggestions: It’s a time to pick up those classics of favourite writers that slipped through unnoticed at the time, like Gabriel García Márquez’s Memories of my Melancholy Whores (R81), a title hard to resist; Colette’s The Vagabond (R31), described as one of the best and first feminist novels; Arthur & George (R38) by Julian Barnes, an author tough to ignore; Jazz (R81) by Toni Morrison, described as a blend of heart and language which is simply vintage from this author; The Prague Cemetery (R65) by Umberto Eco which tells an intriguing tale while blending history and fiction; and the great African writer Chinua Achebe’s The Education of a British-Protected Child (R62) which is a collection of essays and his first new book in 20 years. All of these are hard to resist.

For those with a financial bent, there’s a sturdy sample, but the pick of the bunch, depending on your interest, is Chasing Goldman Sachs: How the Masters of the Universe Melted Wall Street Down… and why they’ll take us to the brink again (R48). The title alone tells the story. The author, Suzanne McGee, calls it “the mindless pursuit of gargantuan profits earned by Wall Street’s most successful firm”.

Start at the beginning and dip into Pashas: traders and travellers in the Islamic World by James Mather (R103) which looks at how the British were drawn to the Middle East long before they came as occupiers because of the fabled riches of its trade and the enlightened tolerance of its people. The story runs across two and a half centuries and through the great cities of Istanbul, Aleppo and Alexandria. It’s a fascinating insight into the meeting of East and West before European imperialism.

Stay in the region and take a closer look at their food in Turkish Creative Cooking: The Mysterious blend of East and West (R33). Many will tell you that food lies at the heart of Turkish culture and life. It is a cuisine that blends different cultures including European, Arab, Asian and nomadic influences bringing together a blend of flavours and textures that can be quite extraordinary. It seems quite a lightweight book but should offer a simple introduction to a novel cuisine.

The World Encyclopedia (R174) was difficult to resist, but in this age of electronics perhaps not a wise decision. It depends on your interests. If, like me, you can be quite a dupe about geography and want to visit a spot in the universe, check exactly where to find it and discover all the things that might be familiar or perhaps quite foreign, it’s a good one. Looking at the South African map, however, the problem with these types of books is how quickly they date, which was obvious with a name like Pietersburg still dominant, and the Arab Spring, which according to this one had not yet sprung when it was printed. But still it’s a great one to have at hand if you want to grab a book and study the world in a way that answers personal questions. It should not, however, be bought for study purposes.

For the young, the book sale always offers much enchantment. Not going for the obvious, the title The Killer Cat’s Birthday Bash (R30) will do nicely as a gift for one of my cat loving friends. Written by Anne Fine and illustrated by Steve Cox, this is one for those who like their stories told with a touch of mischievousness.

Fairy stories, comic verse and fantastic pictures by GK Chesterton in The Coloured Lands (R46) reflect the respected author’s philosophy of life, proclaiming the need for wonder in the face of the world of fact. How better to turn anyone’s head and to get them to fall head over heels in love with the world of books.

Take it a step further with Songs of Innocence (R62), perhaps for those young at heart rather than the very young. It’s William Blake’s complete Songs of Innocence in addition to nine poems from Songs of Experience with the ethereal art nouveau illustrations of Charles and Mary Robinson.

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