It’s Christmas! And unlike Halloween and Thanksgiving, we do celebrate this one in South Africa (what a relief)! Last year I made a wish list with The Broke and the Bookish, and I got two of those books. Here are my “Top Ten Books I wouldn’t mind Santa bringing me”. Pretty please, Santa! I should note that I don’t generally buy normal reading books, as I feel I’ll only read them once, in which case I could get them from the library. So a book’s gotta be pretty special for me to want to own a copy thereof.
1. A Bantu in my Bathroom by Eusebius McKaiser – this book has made headlines in South Africa this year. Written by one of the best debaters and public speakers in the country, it addresses the sticky issues of sexuality, racism, politics and patriotism in South Africa. From the blurb: Why are South Africans so uncomfortable with deep disagreement? Why do we lash out at people with opposing views without taking the time to engage logically with their arguments? […] He provokes us from our comfort zones and lures us into the debates that shape our opinions and our society. With surprising candour and intensely personal examples, McKaiser examines our deepest-felt prejudices and ingrained assumptions. Don’t expect to read this book and escape with your defences intact. I NEED THIS BOOK.
2. The Secret Lives of Men and Women: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren – or any PostSecret book! I already have Extraordinary Confessions of Ordinary Lives, and it is definitely one of my most-loved books.
3. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor – Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing—she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. I work regularly with African Albino children, and I see the trouble they experience. So I am intrigued by this book of magical realism. I am worried that it might be perpetuating the African belief that Albino’s are cursed, but I’ve heard very good things about this book.
4. Teach Us To Live: Stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by Diana Wickes Roose – a prescribed reading for my Illness Narratives Course which I’ll be doing for Semester at Sea. The hibakusha – survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – are asking us to hear their stories. These stories do not end “happily ever after.” Rather, they are threaded through with sorrow, with chaos and ugliness. But the time has come for us to try to listen. And in learning about their experiences, we can learn about ourselves and help shape our world with new hope for peace and understanding.
5. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman – also SAS prescribed reading. The story of a three-month-old Hmong child (a family of refugees from Laos) who is diagnosed with epilepsy, but “her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.”
6. On Being Ill by Virginia Wolf – again SAS prescribed reading. We cannot quote Shakespeare to describe a headache. We must, Woolf says, invent language to describe pain. And though illness enhances our perceptions, she observes that it reduces self-consciousness; it is “the great confessional.” Woolf discusses the cultural taboos associated with illness and explores how illness changes the way we read.
7. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan – The story of a relationship beautifully constructed in the form of a dictionary. This seems like a book to own.
8. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – I really want to read this book about the woman whose cells were used in a myriad of medical research programs, but died a poor Southern tobacco farmer. And it sounds like the kind of book I’d like to own.
9. But Will It Stand Up In Court by Zapiro – one of South Africa’s best and most controversial cartoonists, I would love to own one of his books.
10. Conversations with my Sons and Daughters by Mamphela Ramphele – A South African academic, businesswoman, medical doctor and anti-apartheid activist who is still extremely verbal today. An inter-generational set of conversations about the country of our dreams and the reality on the ground. It concludes with a section that focuses on the need for healing of our woundedness as individuals, families, communities and the nation. It includes findings from a study that show how unleashing the energy of poor people can make a significant difference in the choices they make as they become agents of change.