Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book #18: South Africa - Spud by John Van de Ruit

Sooo... I have had a long break. And this will be the last round-the-world book for a while, because soon I will actually be going round the world. It’s also the first book representing Africa, so now when you click Africa on my awesome map, you will actually get an article (go on, click!).

I’m not sure whether this counts as a YA book because the protagonist is thirteen-fourteen, but there’s a reasonable amount of YA material in it. Spud is the story of John Milton, a boy with a scholarship to an elite boys boarding school in South Africa. The book is told through diary entries (and he must have his diary glued to his person at all times, because the entries are pretty frequent) and treats of John/Spud’s first year at boarding school in 1990.

I am really, really glad I didn’t go to a boys boarding school. I’m sure most of them aren’t like this one, but probably some of them are, or at least were back in the dark days of last century. Some of it sounds fun, like illegal late night swims and dormitory camaraderie, but 6.40am classes and traditions like torture on your birthday would be hell.

It makes for great reading, though.

Spud’s woman trouble is impressive, with no less than three girls after him (despite, or perhaps because of, his beautiful soprano singing voice). His father and grandmother (named Wombat – unexplained...) are teetering on the edge of insanity, and his mother enjoys filling her handbag with club sandwiches at school gatherings. His cubicle mate is semi-bald for a large proportion of the book, and one of the boys in the dormitory enjoys catching and eating his own bats. Spud’s never quite sure where he is on the student hierarchy. South Africa is undergoing a huge political change with the release of Nelson Mandela, and Spud would do anything to be a freedom fighter.

I snickered through a lot of this book – the writing describes absurdities clearly and with a certain matter-of-factness, and you can’t help but be both amused and appalled. I’m glad I’m not Spud.

As a point of interest, the boy on the front cover looks a bit like my brother (hi ecl!!!!).

Any books set in South Africa you know and love?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The State of Bookshops

I’m getting worried. In NZ 70% of our bookshops (Whitcoulls-since-1888(?), Borders and Bennetts – basically all the chains) are under voluntary administration because their parent company is semi-bankrupt. They keep telling us they’re pretty sure the NZ stores won’t be affected that much, but said NZ stores seem to be selling off most of their stock.

I was in Whitcoulls yesterday and they have sale tables throughout the shop, with pretty recent titles going for $10 or less (normal retail is about $20-$30). I was nearly tempted by some of them, but luckily I’d forgotten my wallet and I am GOING OVERSEAS SOON so I will not buy paper books. In the young adult section, they’ve started putting ALL the books face out to use more shelves and fewer books. The vampire invasion is even more obvious – I guess they’re the books they can be sure of selling.

I understand that if the chains go, the independents will get a lot more business. Whitcoulls has felt a bit like a pharmacy for a while now and Borders has always been the big corporate (though now I guess it’s one of the last Borders chains still standing) but it’s not fair that we lose 70% of our bookstores in one foul swoop. Whitcoulls, despite the clinical feel, is a New Zealand institution.

I’d like to support Whitcoulls. I have a few books I would buy from their ebook store, if they were there. And they’re not. So I look on international ebook stores instead, which won’t help Whitcoulls, and I find them. But they are not available in NZ. If I lived in Albania, I could buy them. If I lived in Tajikistan, I could buy them. I can buy paper copies, but not ebooks. Except if they’re kindle books, apparently – I can buy those from NZ. I almost would, but then I’d have to read on my computer.

Maybe I’m a product of the want-it-now generation. Maybe the want-it-now generation has had a hand in the downfall of the bookshops. But I don’t understand why you can get the paper version but not the ebook. Except if it’s a kindle. Or maybe (after further sleuthing) Whitcoulls just haven’t got it together and put the ebook up on site.

Right. Rant over.