30 September 2014

Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen (Patricia Taylor & Melinda Ferguson)

So, here it is: the book review I got into trouble for - Oscar: An Accident Waiting to Happen. Tho, admittedly, not half as much trouble as I expected.

Barring being called a 'woman-hater'. (Which is, I think, a weird thing to call a woman. Do you think someone thought 'Tiffany' was a boy's name?)

If you've followed the Oscar Pistorius trial, you should read this book review. Why? Because there are loads of #Oscar books coming our way (actually, there are some dreadful Oscar e-books already out there) and this is not one you should spend your hard-earned money on.

Wait for Behind The Door, by Barry Bateman and Mandy Weiner, who are real writers. Nuff said?


20 September 2014

Get That Feeling (Ian Fuhr)

So, I’m a Sorbet regular. What they call a ‘guest’. Nails and hair. Weekly.

But I wouldn’t have read this book, no matter how much I like the brand, unless I recognised the guy on the cover (I went to school with one of his children).

And I certainly wouldn’t have expected to enjoy the book. After all, how many ‘serial entrepreneurs’ do you know who can tell a good story; pepper it with business tips (and life tips and Aha! moments); give behind-the-scenes insights into a top franchise brand and offer a glimpse of the country’s political history…

…all without penning a self-aggrandizing, back-patting tribute to themselves?

Very few, right? Well, Ian Fuhr can. So, as you may have gathered, his book - Get That Feeling: The Story of a Serial Entrepreneur - was not what I expected.

As a small business owner, it was instructive. As a student of history, it was fascinating. As a Jew living in South Africa, it was heart-warming. As a writer, it was pleasant and easy to consume. And as a Sorbet guest, it was quite delicious.

I don’t want to give away too much, but here’s a summary, a share and a tidbit:

The summary

Ian Fuhr has covered a lot of professional ground since ‘76, from retail, records and race relations to beauty treatments, haircare and Joburg’s popular Lion Park. And along the way, he’s broken new ground, succeeded, failed and succeeded again.

The share

Fuhr is fanatical about service, sharing valuable lessons for entrepreneurs and self-starters, like ‘brand first, profit second’, corporate culture is not always transferable, there is nothing you shouldn’t do to ‘win back’ an unhappy customer, and ‘either live by your stated value system or remove the posters’. Love that last one.

The tidbit

Fuhr is surprisingly upfront for a businessperson writing an autobiography, admitting that, in 1976, ‘I was a white guy in a lower-end retail business [K-Mart] and I realised I needed to understand a lot more about the reality of black people to survive.’

Once, when training an employee, Ralph, to be a K-Mart manager, Fuhr discovered that Ralph was one of the leaders behind a boycott of K-Mart. Ralph’s life was “so bad outside his job” that he said he had to act for change. ‘It was then that I reformed my management strategy and became more political in my thinking,’ says Fuhr, who was one of the first business owners to appoint black directors and shareholders.

Bottom line? If you like local non-fiction, you’re interested in what makes successful businesses (and their people) tick, and you need something good to read, dip into the Sorbet story. It is, as you’d anticipate, fresh, sweet, uncomplicated and guilt-free.

Two little reviews (about women, by women)

What She Saw – Novel by Lucinda Rosenfeld

What a great idea! To write your debut novel with its protagonist looking back on a list of past boyfriends. Each chapter finishes the sentence, What She Saw... in 'The Stink Bomb King of Fifth Grade’, ‘Spitty Clark’, 'The Anarchist Feminist’. And so it goes, as Phoebe Fine struggles to unpack who she is and what she wants. 

The author brilliantly presents Phoebe's hilarious and sometimes frankly dreadful romantic, emotional and sexual encounters. I liked this book so much I read it twice.

The Witness Wore Red (The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice) – Memoir by Rebecca Musser

I’m fascinated by cults. Always have been. And I’ve read everything ever written about fraudster/child molester Warren Jeffs’
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. So this inside story, penned by 85-year-old Rulon Jeffs’ 19th wife (a child bride), was a must for me. 

I was fascinated by Rebecca Musser’s decision to bear public witness against the prophet of the FLDS, to protect little girls from being forced to marry. Yes, it’s long, but it’s well-written. And totally believable.


Barracuda (Christos Tsiolkas)

I have always loved books set in Australia. I don’t know why. It’s probably Bryce Courtenay’s doing. And then Paullina Simons’. And now … yup … it’s all down to Christos Tsiolkas, whose fourth novel, The Slap, rocked my cynical literary socks.

With its unapologetic depiction of Australia’s racial, sexual and familial politics, The Slap astonished me. So I grabbed Barracuda, Tsiolkas’ next effort, with no small measure of glee. And it didn’t disappoint.

(In fact, I told my husband that I was taking special pains to read it slowly, so it would take longer to finish. And when it did, I was utterly bereft.)

If you’ve read The Slap – even if you haven’t – you’ll know that it kicks off with its major event: a stranger klapping someone else’s bratty kid at a barbecue.

In contrast, Barracuda makes you wait (almost) until the end before revealing its trump card. A very different experience. A very different cast of characters. A very different ebb and flow. And a very, very different portrayal of conflict.

In The Slap, we’re voyeurs to the ugly conflicts within and between ethnic communities. In Barracuda, we see the ugly conflict within a young man’s own soul.

Daniel Kelly is a working class ‘wog’ who gets into a posh school on a swimming scholarship, where he stands out among schoolmates with ‘the clearest skin he had ever seen and the best cut hair and the whitest and most perfect teeth.’

This experience moulds him into ‘Barracuda’: a violent teen for whom winning is the only way to deal with the teasing of his schoolmates and the sacrifices of his family.

Along the way, we encounter the brutal physicality of competitive sport and the pitiless grip of failure and shame that comes when you‘re no longer a super-jock.

What’s so interesting about the way Tsiolkas writes is that, as another reviewer put it, “[he] is…clear-eyed about the way hatred can hold communities together. He calls racism by its name, but is not ashamed to dig around in the experience of racism and its effects.” And all of this culminates in an ending t both believable and life-affirming.

If you loved Courtenay’s Australian novels of yester-year, Tully by Paullina Simons or Tsiolkas’s The Slap, read Barracuda. It’s utterly brilliant.

The Headmaster’s Wife (Thomas Christopher Greene)

Although Thomas Christopher Greene has written three award-winning novels, he was new to me when I began reading The Headmaster’s Wife. And I’m so thrilled to have found him, in a world where – so far – I’ve chosen only very few authors whose writing to stalk and obsess over.

But – to the novel.

Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster of an elite New England boarding school. He’s found naked in Central Park and gets into loads of trouble, at which point he recounts a bizarre story to the police.

But Arthur’s memories crash into one another, yielding a winding narrative of love, grief, nostalgia, mystery, family and tragedy. And as the reader you begin to wonder:

What’s this story actually about? Is it a tale of marriage, a family, and the terrible things human beings experience? Is Arthur a bad guy or just a sad guy?

The interesting thing for me, having already read it, is that I don’t really know.

It doesn’t really matter.

I don’t want to give too much away because, as another reviewer has put it, “The Headmaster's Wife is a book that should be read blind.”

You can expect lush descriptions of a top private school, its internal workings and its campus culture. You can expect class differences and romantic entanglement. But that’s all you should expect. The writing is so beautiful and the characters so full that the story resolves itself, sort of, and a few weeks later you want to read it again.

Here’s an extract:

…If you learn anything in a marriage it is when to give up. I used to think that all marriages ran the same trajectory. They start with wanting to climb inside the other person and wear her skin as your own. They end with thinking that if the person across from you says another word, you will put a fork in her neck. That sounds darker than I mean it to, for it is a joke. The truth usually lies in between, and the most one can hope for is accommodation, that you learn to move around each other, and that when the shit hits the fan, there is someone to suffer with.

If you like Wally Lamb and Gillian Flynn, you’ll adore Thomas Christopher Greene.

You should also, once you’ve read this novel, watch the author explaining why he wrote it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTC2K1TnfAE&feature=youtu.be.